We have increased digital initiatives many folds during Covid time
- Rajesh Kumar Singh,Vice President – IT, JK Lakshmi Cement
Kindly share your views on role of technology in cement industry today.
Cement being a high-density and mass consumption item, requires a prompt supply chain to serve its consumers. The scale of production of cement is another important aspect that is helping consumers in getting the product at a reasonable price. Characteristics like high density, Mass consumption, prompt supply chain, and scale of production are facets where the industry can innovate immensely with use of technology. Care of the environment is another area where this industry can use technology to reduce its carbon footprints and to consume industrial and domestic waste for a cleaner environment.
What are the various digital / IT technologies deployed in your company and what was the objective behind the implementation?
In JK Lakshmi Cement, IoT and AI enablement have been deployed at Crushers, Clins, and Cement Mills to improve productivity through consuming lesser raw materials, fuels, etc, and to control wastes in the form of heat and any other by-product. The supply chain cockpit has been set up for the planning and execution of logistics. This digital investment has facilitated optimising the supply chain and has enabled a swifter fulfilment model and better service to our customers. AI-ML and Auto-ML solutions have been deployed for Predictive Maintenance and automation of Packing Sections. A digital platform has been created to digitise our customers and channel partners. IoTs have been deployed in the health monitoring of hydrant systems, borewells, and water flow systems to conserve water to the maximum level.
Please elaborate on the stages of implementation. Was it done in a phased manner? How much time did it take? Did you find any hurdles?
These digital initiatives have been deployed in a phased manner. Criteria for phased deployment was primarily based on the readiness of the context where these solutions have been deployed. In cases, maturity of core technologies or availability of complementary technologies or its pricing has pushed us to go for a phased approach.
A transformation whether it is related to production processes or predictive maintenance or setting up a supply chain cockpit is generally spanned over 16 to 18 months and phased in two sprints. Through one sprint it can be complete in 9 to 12 months, but it is getting too risky to go ahead with one sprint as the degree of success will be known only after the sprint is over, thus limiting opportunities to refine the strategy in case something is not going as intended.
Managing change is a hurdle that needs to be planned judiciously to overcome. Any shortcoming on this will impact the timelines of deployment. In some cases, we faced challenges wherever planning on change management was not perfect but luckily it has impacted only on timelines of the project and not on success and its deliverables.
Kindly provide project cost/allocation of budget for technologies deployed, if possible.
We were very aggressive on investment in digital. We are ensuring that yearly returns from the initiatives are in multiples and not in percentages.
What benefits have you derived after IT implementation? How are new processes better than old methods?
With these initiatives, we are having better control over the cost of production. We have reduced the unplanned shutdown of machines and have improved services to our customers. With the new digital platform, now our customers feel that we are closer to them for every interaction they are doing with us.
In the new setup, we are sensing the situation early enough to respond in a timely manner and appropriately. In some cases, the ease and efficiency of processes have increased because new processes have got simpler and automated.
How was the upskilling done for training the staff with new technologies and processes? Were there any challenges?
Barring AI-ML, upskilling was not a challenge at all because the deployment of technologies has simplified the processes so it can be performed with lesser skillset and with higher efficiency and accuracy.
Even in the case of AI-ML, deployment of data science platform has de-skilled analytics tasks, which were otherwise possible by only skilled programmers and persons having high proficiency in data science.
Having said that, training would require for the teams who are transforming the processes through the deployment of technologies. But this training was lesser on technologies and more on how to manage change which will be inevitable because of transformation.
Training to the teams who were engaged in the transformation was a mesmerising experience and not a challenge.
How has IT played an important role in expanding your footprints in India/abroad? Do you think it helped you to compete with others in the market?
IT or digital platform which we have created for our customers has helped immensely by taking us closer to them. It has also enabled us to increase our reach and penetration in the markets we were operating or in the market where we were not present. More important is that it has helped us in identifying the market where we can operate more profitably.
Certainly, these IT deployments are helping us to do much better than what we were doing earlier. It might be resulting in increasing our competitiveness, but our focus is still to do better than what we have done the day had bygone.
How has COVID-19 emerged as a need for IT implementation in the cement industry? What initiatives did your company take during Covid times to achieve better efficiency even during lack of resources?
The need was always there for the implementation of IT solutions in cement or any other industry in India. As it happened for other industries, Covid-19 has amplified the requirement for digitisation and has also triggered the intent.
Our resources were very much there with us during Covid-19 breakdown, but they were not moving freely. In the beginning, they would not be connected adequately. So, we rushed to connect them securely, and then things started to fall in place in no time. Seeing the new normal, a lot of mindset and cultural issues have transformed instantaneously.
One big positive change worth mentioning during Covid-19 times was that acceptance for the change came with zero cost. We leveraged this opportunity and have multiplied digital initiatives to give a boost to our digital initiatives and succeeded. to a great extent. Increasing interaction between internal teams and business partners by use of digital technologies was the key to our success during the Covid time.
What are your future plans in terms of IT implementation and overall company goals?
As said earlier, we have increased digital initiatives many folds during Covid time. So, in immediate future, we would like to tap the benefits of newly deployed solutions.
Embedding AI-ML to every function and every process is the next goal we are aspiring for.