Mr. Anantha Sayana, VP & Head - Digital, L&T Construction, believes that to effect digitalization in a true sense, practitioners need to have a distinctly digital attitude. He speaks to News & Views about the digital state of affairs at L&T.
Q: In terms of L&T’s overall readiness – the collective preparedness of its businesses across the Group – how well placed do you think we are on the digital front?
A: We are well on our way and more than two years into that journey. Digitalization was identified as a major thrust area in our Lakshya 2021 plan and we are on the job. We began our Digitalization programme with the Construction business in early 2016 and over the last two years, have made good progress.
We have developed our strategy, identified areas for digitalization largely focusing on our core operations at project sites, evaluated technology options, selected partners, developed solutions and our implementations have reached hundreds of project sites and touched thousands of users and equipment.
With respect to the other businesses, Digital Leaders have been appointed and niche solutions in each business are at various stages of development and implementation. A pan-L&T Digital Council has been formed with representation from all the businesses to enable synergy and learnings from each other.
Q: Which one of our businesses are especially primed for digitalization according to you?
A: Globally you will find that the most successful stories of Digital are in sectors like retail, travel, hospitality, banking, insurance, telecom and so on. However, when we started looking at these new digital technologies with respect to construction, we realized that the opportunity was immense and we could actually do digital in literally every aspect of our operations in construction. So construction is huge for digital and we are already seeing success and are all set to do more.
There is big opportunity for our businesses in manufacturing. Key businesses like Defence, Construction Machinery, Valves, Power, Hydrocarbon have a large manufacturing footprint and we could do much for these businesses. A few initiatives have been started across these and deployments are currently on at various stages of implementation.
There is a large opportunity also in our products business. We could make all our products “smarter” by implementing IoT in everything that we make. This will give us an edge in the market and enable us to combine services and analytics along with our products to even evolve a changed business model and disrupt the market.
Q: You’ve led L&T Construction’s digitalization drive for some time now and have tasted success doing it, can you share some of your key learnings from your experience so far?
A: I think we did a few things right and it has stood us well. The Digital team needs to be distinct from the IT team and have a distinct “digital attitude” – be very customer centric, be on top of all new technology trends, focus on speedy and agile delivery, take risks, partner with small startups etc. Building this team has been one of the reasons for our success. At Digital we have a fantastic team that is a wonderful mix of internal and lateral talent, lots of young people, all enthusiastic and passionate about Digital. Across all the construction businesses, we have smart young Digital Officers and Digital Champions who work diligently to bring it all to fruition.
Change management is another very important factor. We are very fortunate that our MD & CEO Mr. S.N. Subrahmanyan is extremely passionate about Digital and is a very active, vocal, and visible sponsor. He has been espousing the cause of digital at every forum and every interaction that he has. The message from him has been very clear - that we need to Digitalize and that it is the future.
The other learning is that we need to design applications with better, more user-friendly UI for greater usability and adoption. We need to use innovative means to reach our users to tell them about the business benefits of using digital applications and to take actions for realizing the benefits. We are focusing on this in a big way right now.
Q: For businesses testing the digital waters for the first time, what would you say are some of the major pitfalls that they need to avoid?
A: Digital is not about doing a few small pilot projects or proof of concepts with technology. Digital solutions have to touch our core in a large and pervasive way. Therefore we need to be bold and big and reach for a very large program. Digital solutions need to scale and cover all areas of operations and need to be implemented at scale. We need to do all our design keeping this in mind.
Another thing is that we need to act with speed. Digital cannot take too long to show results. Solutions need to be made to reach the users fast and their benefits have to be seen.
Q: Given the hype around digitalization and the big payoffs being ascribed to it, do you think that there is a danger of organizations setting their expectations too high?
A: Yes, expectations from Digital can be at times too high, given the hype that has been created. One has to realise that the Digital Transformation is a process that involves not just a technology implementation but also its absorption by the business, the users, the customers and all the stakeholders in the value chain; therefore it will take time.
But it is good to set milestones, push for speed and coverage, and aim for a certain level of gain through benefit realization. Digital is not being pursued for fascination with technology, it should result in tangible benefits for the business, some in the short term and some in the long term.
Q: Tell us more about your role as the convener of the Digital Council and how it’s likely to aid digitalization efforts across the Group?
A: I have been guiding the digitalization efforts of many of the businesses at L&T informally even before the formation of the Digital Council. The council is a formal arrangement that brings representatives from different businesses to come together, share and learn. As the convener I not only bring them together but also provide guidance, inspiration and support for the digitalization efforts at their respective businesses.