Being a key player in the dairy sector, Mother Dairy has been an active technology user, right from being the first dairy company in India to implement SAP to using the buzzing Internet of Things.
Annie Mathew, CIO, talks about her decade-long stint in the dairy industry, about whether it is really difficult for women to break the glass ceiling, and how technology can prevent quality-related issues.
Here is what the big cheese, Ms Mathew, has to say:
You have been at Mother Dairy for 10 years now. How has the experience been so far?
It has been an amazing journey and at a personal level too, I have learnt a lot. Working in the Dairy sector is a very rewarding experience due to the focus on empowering the farmer through technology initiatives. And any process improvement which strengthens quality and other controls has a long term benefit to the consumer. So there is a real sense of contribution to society. The freedom to define IT strategy for the organization aligned with the business drivers is gratifying. Being able to drive technology adoption in Mother Dairy has satisfied my dream of contributing to institution building in India which was a key reason to return to India. But most importantly, the people I worked with have helped me transform my perspective from purely technical and towards leadership. The organization has always encouraged innovation and the confidence reposed enables the individual to step out of comfort zones and take calculated risks. It is inspiring to see the dedication and commitment levels of my team who have imbibed the legacy of Mother Dairy and are focussed on ensuring that the quality and supply efficiencies are continuously strengthened.
Technology has changed tremendously in this period with several new innovations. How has Mother Dairy evolved as a technology user over these years?
Mother Dairy has a history of leadership in technology adoption and over the last 10 years, this has evolved into adoption of best of breed products. We have addressed each layer of our IT strategy over the years to ensure that the end-to-end supply chain is empowered through judicious deployment of technology. We were the first dairy in India to implement SAP. We have been early adopters of virtualization and cloud especially software as a service. We have deployed mobile applications for order collection, dabbled in IOT through GPS tracking of our tankers and temperature monitoring of the warehouses and products despatch vehicles. We have strived to delight the consumer through social media engagement and monitoring and by building responsive feedback management systems across all processes. The organization has moved from initial resistance to change and is now an extremely demanding customer.
In the technology sector, we do not see many women in leadership roles. Is it still difficult for women to break the glass ceiling in technology?
I see more women getting into leadership roles in the technology sector now compared to even 5 years ago. However, what is important to note is that technology is the fastest changing sector and quite often if a woman takes a long break from work, it is very difficult to re-enter the workforce without significant retraining. Apart from that, even today women are driven by family priorities to a greater degree than men. I am hopeful that this mindset will change with the newer generations and family responsibilities will be more evenly shared. For women to step into leadership roles, strong family support is essential. I believe the perception of a glass ceiling is primarily because fewer women are able to give equal importance to their careers or work long enough to move into senior roles and thence into leadership roles.
What are the interesting projects that Mother Dairy is working on from an IT perspective?
We are in the midst of our sales force automation and retail application projects. We have partly migrated out of our on-premise datacentre into a hosted managed infrastructure. We are in the process of deploying a robust secure platform for mobility. SAP Hardware refresh is an immediate priority. Omni-channel shopping experience for the consumer is on the anvil. We are in the final stages of evaluation of a MES system to integrate SAP with our plant automation systems. We need to embrace IOT wherever possible. We have just kicked off a pilot on energy efficiency monitoring through IOT. Analytics to make sense of the plethora of information is a key focus area. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s dream of a solar powered India has already been embarked upon by us through our solar-powered milk collection systems setup in the villages.
Recently we have seen the food industry engulfed with quality issues, such as the Maggi case. Do you think that technology can help avoid such quality-related issues in the near future?
Technology is an integral part of the milk supply chain. At each stage of the milk collection process, multiple tests are carried out to prevent any adulteration or quality issues. The milk received at the factories again goes through the quality tests prior to acceptance. Any batch with test results that deviate from acceptable norms automatically gets rejected and cannot be processed further. The semi-finished and finished goods are also tested. All the test results are captured in SAP and monitored. Mother Dairy has an extremely stringent quality control process for finished goods after despatch too. Samples are collected from the field and tested at random daily. While technology is already part of the milk supply chain, newer technologies like IOT will take this further and provide tighter integration between the physical and the data layers.
The Internet of Things has become a new buzzword lately. What is your take on this phenomenon and do you see it transforming the way Mother Dairy functions in the days to come?
While IOT has been gradually becoming ubiquitous, I expect it will be the technology that will completely revolutionize the way we work. Sensors and devices will replace all manual touchpoints and data will seamlessly integrate into the supply chain processes. The combination of IOT, mobility and big data along with seamless connectivity will transform the way Mother Dairy functions and truly bring about a responsive supply chain. Right from tagging of cattle for animal health and nutrition information to monitoring stock levels at the outlets and homes, from automating the entire process of quality and environment monitoring, there is no area which will be left untouched. Some processes like vehicle tracking and temperature monitoring have already transformed and efforts are underway to extend the technology. Though IOT technologies are becoming affordable, costs and complexities of milk testing and flow metering devices are still deterrents in large scale process automation of the supply chain.
Moving forward, how do you see the dairy industry evolving and how do you see technology impacting the business?
As already stated, the dairy industry will be transformed. Consolidation of dairy farms and introduction of technology in cattle breeding, health and nutrition management and milking practices is already happening. Technology will create newer models for engaging with the consumer. Global entrants are likely to increase. Increased competition will drive the need for consumer driven innovation with shorter time to market. Technology should be able to deliver products to each consumer as per their specific needs. This will also make the supply chain agile as demand will continuously influence supply and production cycles. Ability to accurately manage stock and expiry at every node will be delivered through IOT. 3D printed ice-creams, anyone?