How this CFO of Adama India a $300 MN company is driving digital transformation & embracing technology

  • Meet Vikas Jain, a Chartered Accountant and the Chief Financial Officer of Adama India Pvt. Ltd - a leading global crop protection company. They provide Indian farmers with the best service and solutions for their crop protection problems.
  • As part of The Finance Story Digital Transformation Series powered by Dell Technologies, we spoke to Vikas about his journey as a Digital CFO of a $300 MN company.
  • In today's conversation, Vikas who has been with Adama for over 10 years shares his thoughts on his role as the India CFO, how he has embraced technology and how he keeps himself updated to grow into a more empowered Digital CFO.

 

What is digital transformation for you?

It’s a very simple concept − It should make our lives simpler, make the process simpler, and provide data for decision-making. This is what we feel is a digital transformation for us.

How have digital technology developments impacted your company?

The last 3 years (2017-2020) have helped in this big transformation in the company because of the explosion of startups.

Earlier we didn’t think too much about technology. However, this noticeable start-up boom in India helped us in getting the products and different digital solutions. They have actually pushed us to adopt technology and do things in a better and efficient way.  

I still remember earlier if we wanted to do something, we had to do it on our own by turning it into an independent project which would take 6 months to 2 years, and then identify some solutions. So, it was a long-drawn process earlier.

By the time the product would be launched, the business requirements or the market conditions would have changed and it would no longer be the need of the hour. Also, one had to put in a lot of time, effort, and manpower.

But now, if we have a problem, it is very easy…we can go out and search the market and connect to various vendors who would quickly turn around for you.

It is possible to start a short-term project, run a test and check the performance. If it’s not performing well, we can immediately stop it and then run a different test on it. It saves up a lot of time and you don’t have to invest much manpower.

How have you and your team embraced technology in the last 5 years and especially last year?

Adama provides Indian farmers with the best solutions for their crop protection problems. So, we have almost 2000 off-role employees who visit farmers every day. 

Earlier we had to spend considerable efforts to manage these field assistants, plan their activities and tracking their performance, etc. One needs to understand that manually tracking 2000 employees on the field is not an easy feat! 

One day after attending the sales meetings (even though I don’t have to I attend to understand how they work and what issues they encounter on daily basis), I called in my IT head to discuss how we can work out an online system where we can record the off-roll employees’ work, the villages they are visiting, when they are traveling to the assigned places, etc. So, we worked on developing a system where the administrative work could be handled digitally.

So, sometime in 2016, we decided to build an app as a solution. We now have GPS which can capture the location and we can record it to see how effectively they are working. 

Best of all, with the app, all the details are updated on the system on the same day and we don’t have to wait till the end of the month. This has saved so much time and increased productivity.

Once the admin work is removed, they can easily concentrate on the core activity.

Developing an App for farmers

Another example of embracing technology is - starting an App for the farmers. 

Earlier, our employees used to visit the farmers and note down their details manually, and then that information sheet was sent back to us where we had to enter all the details into the excel sheet. This used to result in a lot of errors from spelling mistakes or errors in acreages of land.

But now, with help of the app that we have created, farmers themselves can enter all their details and this results in a lower number of discrepancies. The data is stored instantly and makes it easier for us to recommend adequate dosages of pesticides depending on the crops, seasons, and targeted treatments.

For instance, I can send messages to several thousand cotton farmers at the click of a button and inform them of any upcoming crop diseases and what pesticides they can use to handle the problem.

Depending on the states, the farmers can also choose their language of choice from the eight different languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, etc. So, by embracing digital transformation, the entire process has become simpler.

 

How was the technology adoption during the pandemic

How do you deal with resistance?

With the current digital wave, there’s resistance in every company as it can be seen as a threat to their jobs. But I think it’s important to have the technology and a human touch at the same time to operate these technologies.

We encourage them to upskill themselves to add value to the company.

Is the adaption of digital in your company the responsibility of the IT team? 

I would say, it’s more of a team effort. But then it differs across companies. However, in our company, I along with representatives from different teams sit together to discuss all the issues and then we work towards providing solutions.

 

How did you react to the pandemic as a CFO?

What technology you felt was missing in 2020?

How do you interact with them considering IT is normally not a core competency area for finance professionals?

If an IT person now comes up and starts talking all about the technicalities of hardware and software, I wouldn’t understand that!

But if he uses layman language and explains to me the issues, and what could work as an effective solution, then it becomes easier to communicate and understand.

Suppose an app is developed and at the final stage, I am testing it out as to how easy it is to navigate through it. If I can maneuver through it easily, a farmer definitely can.

We have to ensure that the systems are easy to use and the information is clear and coherent. At the end of the day, I am responsible for approving it and making sure the entire process is economical.

For instance, when developing the farmer's app instead of completely relying on an agency to develop the entire farmer’s app, we decided to assign specific parts of the process to a third-party vendor, and then the IT department of our company worked on the rest of the app development process. We contacted different vendors to decide which solution would be more economically suitable for us. This way the whole process was more cost-effective.

 

As a CFO how do you look at the ROI before considering any automation?

Over the years have you seen a shift in what the management expects from the CFO? Did technology create a shift in your role? 

Of course yes…there’s been a shift in the expectations and also in my role!  

Before digitalization, our work was concentrated more on finance and obviously helping businesses but then we didn’t have many solutions.

These days we CFOs act as business partners to different companies, are more involved in marketing and sales, and overall operations. Also, IT used to work separately before but nowadays, it works along with the CFO. So, it becomes more imperative for a CFO to identify the problems and provide solutions for them and not just stick to financial compliances.

Also, the management teams are more receptive to the idea of digitalization and have become proactive in identifying problems and suggesting solutions.

 

Digital Transformation is a Top-Down activity

Cybercrime is a major issue of late. Have you experienced any major hacking episodes and/or cybercrime incidences? 

Being the subsidiary of an Israeli MNC, we never had any major problem regarding hacking as they have one of the strongest cybersecurity industries.

So our company takes extra measures to protect users against data breaches. This also means our budget for cybersecurity has always been high as the standards for cybersecurity are the top priority of the Company. But we try to balance out the budget depending on the projects.

I have to mention that in spite of the best security we had to deal with a fair share of cybercrimes but luckily we have been able to avoid any losses to the Company.

With so much technology making decisions on what tech to adopt and what to skip - how do you choose the right technology for your company? Whom do you consult?

I definitely consult my IT head. Also, as the IT  Head, he has more information regarding the latest technologies.

However, as a CFO to learn more about technology and how one can adopt digital transformation, I attend different meetings, webinars, conferences organized by companies like Microsoft, Dell, Huawei and stay in contact with the vendors. This way I am able to learn about new technology which is relevant in the current times.

Everyone is talking about Technology being able to save millions and billions…have you experienced such a situation? 

In fact, with technology, the investment has gone up significantly by 20-25%. As mentioned above, IT and cybersecurity need a bigger budget.

However, using technology saves up a lot of time and ensures the secured collection of data. So, if we look at it that way, better technology will result in better efficiency and easier management of the tasks.

To answer your question, there are obviously huge benefits that we derive from digitalization, but the thing is, it is difficult to identify or quantify the benefits we get out of it.

At the end of the day, we assess the quality and the value that a project adds.

Have you faced challenges coping with the pressure of being a Digital transformation CFO?

I, actually, enjoy this whole digital transformation process because there’s a lot more scope for CFOs to explore and we can work on different solutions.

Earlier the role was restrictive. But now we have to stay updated to manage the overall image of a company and contend against competitors.

Lastly, would you like to suggest something to others about the continuously evolving tech world?

It is important to stay updated with the latest market trends and technologies that are relevant in the market.

It’s important to read and educate oneself on digital transformation.

Being aware is important.

Now It's Your Turn...

What do you think is the role of CFO in the next 5 years? Love to know your thoughts. 

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