From Finance to Information Technology: How CA Manoj Kumar drives digital transformation as Head of IT

  • Meet Manoj Kumar the Head of Information Technology at  HPCL-Mittal Energy Limited who happens to be a Chartered Accountant. 
  • In 1997 as a CA fresher while working in the accounts and finance department at Electrolux, Manoj got introduced to an ERP system named J.D. Edwards Systems. He developed a keen interest and was given an opportunity in the system department as a Functional Consultant since he had both business as well as technical knowledge... there has been no turning back ever since.
  • After taking on various responsibilities in different companies such as Electrolux, Ness Technologies Singapore, Capgemini Consulting, he eventually ended up at HPCL-Mittal Energy Limited in 2009 as the Head of SAP.
  • Finally after 6 years of hard work and zeal to learn new things he became the Head of Information Technology.
  • As part of the Digital Transformation series powered by Dell Technologies, we spoke to Manoj to discover how despite having a CA background he became the Head of the IT department, what role does he play in tech adoption and transformation at the company, and most importantly how does he understand technology.

 

Can you go back in time and tell us why you decided to become a CA? Was it always a career plan?

Coming from a small city called Alwar in Rajasthan I didn’t have many choices regarding further education. The only option I had was to study Chartered Accountancy after I completed my graduation in Commerce.

So you could say it was by chance and destiny that I took the CA route, it was never planned.

I qualified in 1997 as a Chartered Accountant and soon after that like any other CA fresher, I had this big question in front of me – What Next?

Back in the late ’90s, I had two options, either start my own CA Accounting Firm or join the corporate world. I did not have the luxury to start my own, so I joined a CA Firm named SS Kothari & Company as an Auditor.

Here I was exposed to very big clients with huge offices. Coming from a smaller city, to see the massive corporate offices was a delight!

And here started my corporate journey. 

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In spite of being a Chartered Accountant, you are the Head of Technology? Tell us how did you go to the other side?

After completing a few statutory, tax and internal audits in Oct'97, I got an opportunity at  Electrolux, a Swedish Multinational Fortune 500 company where I was appointed to their accounts and finance department (just like any CA!).

But as luck would have it around the same time, Electrolux was implementing an ERP system named J.D. Edwards and there was a mess regarding balances not matching between the legacy system and ERP system. I was given the opportunity to reconcile the financial statement between the two.

It took me 2-3 months to reconcile the legacy and the new JD Edwards system but during this period it made my understanding of the system much better and ultimately this proved to be a turning point in my life. 

I was soon offered an opportunity to join the corporate office in Delhi in the system department as a Functional Consultant since I had both business as well as technical knowledge. I did not even think twice and took it up….since then, there was no looking back.

Throughout my journey, I got the opportunities to implement the JD Edwards System and later SAP for various companies in India and abroad thus helping companies drive digital transformation. In fact, when I joined Capgemini I even moved to France for a couple of years.

After almost 7 years at Capgemini, in 2009 I joined HPCL-Mittal Energy Limited as the Head of SAP.

But in 2015 the unbelievable yet exciting thing happened as I was made the Head of Information Technology at HMEL.

Today I am managing the entire IT of the organisation that includes - IT infrastructure, SAP,  various manufacturing execution systems, integration, cybersecurity, our  Enterprise performance management, and various other digital initiatives namely (RPA, ChatBot, IIOT, Advance Analytics, AR/VR, Mobility, etc).

I would say it was one of the best things that have ever happened in my life.  

It is not very common that a finance person becomes the Head of Information Technology. Did you ever think twice before applying for such roles which are tech-heavy?

We need to realize that a lot of CIOs or Heads of Technology today are civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, MBA’s but not necessarily computer engineers.

So when I was making a transition to the IT side in spite of being a CA – I realized when an engineer of any stream can become the head of the IT or CIO why can’t a finance professional like me.

Yes, I certainly did not have the technical knowledge but it was very clear in my mind that with continuous learning and a desire to understand technology I could achieve excellence of the highest level.

In today’s world, it is not just about qualifications. The qualification is there just to establish your credentials but ultimately it’s your job profiling and your attitude that takes you further.  

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To become the Head of Technology one needs a lot of brief technical knowledge. Did you need to go through a lot of certifications to prove that you were capable of this role?

I did not need any sort of formal certification but through continuous training, whether it is on-the-job training or formal in-house or outside training I was able to achieve most of the technical learnings. 

For example, at Electrolux, I learned JD Edwards first on the job but later various formal training was organized for me to learn the subject thoroughly. Because unless you are sincere about learning the subject you will not get an opportunity.

Again when I joined Capgemini most of my colleagues were engineers, MBA’s by qualification where they learned technological skills much earlier in their career.

I strongly believe that if you have the right attitude and the determination to learn new things you can achieve anything. I am never afraid of learning new things and I gave my best in every role.

 

Heading IT comes with great responsibility. How do you make decisions on various technology adoption?

For any head of information technology, there are a lot of factors to consider when making a decision as technology keeps changing especially in today’s progressive world.

Choosing a suitable IT Infrastructure is a huge subject. We have to address various questions like should we go to the cloud or remain in our own data center, what should be the backup and other policies how many data centers we should have, where we should have, what kind of servers, virtualization, cyber security techniques and practices, so many aspects are there for this infrastructure.

Then when it comes to the application part the ERP is a big subject.

Even when considering various manufacturing applications a lot of decisions have to be made not to miss AI/ML, analytics, industrial internet of things, Robotic Process Automation, chatbot, augmented reality, etc…..as it involves selection from best of the technology and best of partners which at the time really becomes difficult task despite you have money to spend.  

So as a Head of Technology we have a lot of decision making to do and no individual can be the master or have the deep knowledge of all the technology at once, that is when subject matter experts come into the picture.

The process of decision-making is simple - we work with our people (we have our subject matter experts in the respective areas), we ensure that we are understanding their concept, understanding the technology, applying our common sense and then we contextualize that in our business environment.

Last but not least any digital transformation journey involves people, processes, and technology…and normally I rank people on top.

Why people first? Many might not agree but your people need to have the right mindset when moving towards digital.

So keeping these things in mind every day you need to decide, you need to convince people of what’s good, you need to be futuristic also, you need to justify your return on your investment.

Post all of this we finalize various technologies.

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What’s your process while figuring out the right technology / right vendor for the organization?

Normally our methodology is based on 3 “I” - Improvement, Integration, and Innovation.

When I  talk about the improvement I mean to say even though the new technologies are coming in it does not mean that our foundation technology becomes obsolete.

We have invested a lot in the foundation technologies and they are relevant even today the only thing is we need to continuously upgrade them. That’s how we do it.

The second “I” is about integration where we are introducing a lot of new software applications.  Nobody would like to see information in multiple places nor would they like to enter the data in multiple places.   It means we need to ensure that the applications are talking with each other smoothly.

The third “I” is about innovation which I strongly believe are the tools in the new-age technology.   We need to figure out a way to innovate using those techniques. Whether it is advanced analytics, where a lot of data is there, what insights we can generate for the business to take decisions, or to take decisions by the system itself.

We also need to keep an eye on what’s happening around us especially in the startup world, numerous energetic individuals are coming up with innovative solutions. We do that by continuously engaging and observing what our peers are doing, spending a lot of time with our partner ecosystem, and organizing various initiatives. 

All of this helps us with learning and shaping the digital transformation or tech adoption strategy for our organization.

 

Have you ever thought about going back to building a career in finance as you are a CA?

Life and career would be very different had I stayed in traditional CA roles. CA along with my on-the-ground learning about Information Technology has given my career a completely different dimension.

When I ventured into it it was very new and very few finance professionals entered this role. But today with the startup world and the way technology is shaping up, I feel that I am very privileged to be a part of the new-age digital world.

So If I get an opportunity today I would definitely like to work in finance along with an IT role, I need IT there also. CA and Information Technology is a great and important combination for the future ahead.

 

Lastly, what message would you like to send to other CAs that could broaden their horizon in this day and age? 

Since I come from a finance and digital background I would say irrespective of your career path, whether it is accounts, MIS, finance, taxation, audit have a digital mindset.

It would be really difficult for any professional if they don’t have a digital mindset no matter what the field is.

It is very important that you continuously ask yourself, “how can I make my job easier by adopting new technology”? If people develop this digital mindset they can do their job much efficiently than any other traditional professionals. It will not only help you survive but also help you accelerate your career.

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