Some months ago, the folks at Shalimar Paints, India’s oldest paint company, decided to paint on a much larger canvas. From focusing on just industrial paints (think paints for steel plants), the company decided to enter the decorative segment and offer paint solutions for houses like yours and mine. The move has meant big changes at the 100-plus-year-old Shalimar Paints. Its newfound B2C focus has meant the need to transform IT, for example. At the helm of those changes is Ashok Jade, a CIO Shalimar Paints brought in for the job. Jade has a lot work ahead of him, but he made the time to talk to us about what it takes to drive transformation at this level. Shalimar already has a strong presence in the industrial paints segment and now it’s decided to enter the decorative segment. Why?
First, let me give you some background on Shalimar Paints. We are celebrating the company’s 112th anniversary this year, which makes Shalimar Paints India’s oldest paint manufacturing company. Shalimar is a pioneer in the protective coatings segment and has projects in steel plants, marine plants, radiation resistant coatings, and railway coaches, among others. We paint some of India’s most iconic structures, including the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Howrah Bridge, and the Vidyasagar Setu, among others To answer your question: The Indian paint market is expected to grow over 50 percent–mainly in the decorative segment. There’s been a visible shift in the paint industry towards the decorative segment. This growth is driven by changing lifestyles, increased frequency of painting among the middle and the higher-middle class, and the increased availability of solutions for end-to-end paint jobs. This shift cannot be ignored. Hence our decision to focus on the decorative segment. That said, we will also continue to drive the industrial paints segment. This industry needs innovation beyond colour and we are currently focusing on that. We want to fulfil the unmet needs of our consumers and make sure their pains are addressed. As a CIO, were you part of this plan from the beginning? Or were you brought in after the decision to foray into this new area was made?
Yes, I was a part of this plan from beginning. Our MD, Sameer Nagpal, took on this assignment in the middle of 2013 and was key in charting our strategy. He is passionate about IT and was looking for CIO who could work with him on strategy formation–and accordingly plan IT strategy. I met him in last quarter of 2013 and he briefed me of his overall plan. It was a very exciting proposition and that’s when I decided to join Shalimar. What are the benefits of IT being involved in a shift in business strategy from the start?
In any organization, the CIO needs to play a critical role in transformation at several levels. Traditionally, CIOs connect with their peer group from business units, take their inputs, and plan technology strategy, which supports their needs–from a more operational perspective. When IT is part of a business’s initial strategy, then CIOs can take technology-powered business decisions that are aligned with the expectations of the other CXOs. They can introduce emerging technologies, and suggest ways to drive a technology-driven business model. Read more about business-IT alignment.
CIO can help by introducing competitive advantage by offering technology-grounded, business-friendly decisions. There’s another benefit: Being there from the start allows a CIO to differentiate between ‘must-have’ and “good-to-have’ initiatives. In our case, it made me realize that business analytics was a must-have project. The consumer business is very different from the industrial paints business. Shalimar will now have to interact with a much broader base of customers. How will that affect IT strategy? Won’t applications like CRM, social listening tools, interactive kiosks, etcetera, become more important?
In my opinion, like in many consumers businesses, the paint business also essentially has a large connect–with trade partners and consumers. The difference here is that in the paint industry, painters and contractors play an important role in influencing customers and connecting to them is very important. Certainly, solution like CRM, and FFA (field force automation) are more important. However, considering the overall lifestyle and the educational level of painters, high-level technology solutions may take more time to implement and hence we need to plan solutions carefully and implement them in phases. Social listening tools from a brand visibility perspective are very important. The paint industry also has two different sets of customer: Regular and premium. Social listening tools play an important role among premium consumers. How Asian Paints Uses Robotics You said that painters have a lot of influence on what paints a consumer uses. How you are factoring that into your IT plan? What is IT planning to do to win over painters? Other paint companies, for instance, have tablets that allow consumers to simulate what their houses will look like according to different paints.
As I’ve said, painters and contractors are key influencers in our business, so we can’t ignore them in our IT strategy. The challenge with painters is their overall lifestyle and education level. We need to have very basic and user-friendly solutions for them. And they need to be very cost effective, too. This is a challenge for all paint brands. We have planned an IT solution for them. Painters will be able to connect to us though mobiles, either by SMS, or a mobile application, or a call center. In short, we have kept all option open to them. They can connect to us and avail of schemes, and discounts, and they can redeem points to avail gifts, cash, rewards, and so on. We have also planned field force automation for our sales team. To compete with well-established paint companies, Shalimar will probably attack non-Tier-I cities first. And this will need IT backing. What is your IT strategy for this? Is there a Web or mobile strategy for this?
Our business strategy is very clear: We are competing with ourselves and leveraging our strengths. We already have presence in 2,000-plus cities. SMAC is obviously part of our IT strategy. It will be used for various business needs, whether to increase our reach in cities, correct the existing network, expand our network, or enable people in the field to connect to their customers and dealers.