Oshkosh puts digital solutions into overdrive

Sep 02, 2022
AnalyticsDigital TransformationMachine Learning

Global CDIO Anupam Khare’s targeted forays into AI and predictive analytics are fueling continued growth and paving new roads to success for the manufacturer of specialty vehicles.

Anupam Khare, global chief information and digital officer, Oshkosh
Credit: Oshkosh

Many people may not be familiar with the Oshkosh brand, but the manufacturer’s specialty vehicles are hiding in plain sight. Fire trucks, mail delivery trucks, tow and refuse collection vehicles, access equipment, and military vehicles — Oshkosh’s products are everywhere.

In fact, if you watch a network news program covering a skirmish somewhere in the world and spot a formidable-looking vehicle in the background, odds are it was manufactured by the defense division of this innovative company, based in Oshkosh, Wisc. In total, the company has 130 commercial and military vehicle manufacturing/distribution facilities in 24 countries worldwide.

What may not be as obvious is the company’s investments and activities in advanced analytics, digital manufacturing, electrification, intelligent products as well as autonomy and active safety, that are being applied in vehicles today and may one day be used by NASA as it returns to the moon with its planned sustained human exploration project.

While the company is leading technology development for the markets it serves, working behind the scenes is the company’s IT organization, which is charged with delivering digital solutions and useful business intelligence on market conditions, competition, supply chain, and customers. The person leading this effort is Anupam Khare, Oshkosh’s global chief information and digital officer, who keeps his teams sharply focused on key areas such as advanced analytics, AI, cybersecurity, business transformation, infrastructure, resiliency, and digital portfolio management.

Khare readily admits, however, that his most important and critical job is managing and motivating the people within the IT group and in the business. “The broad philosophy here is understanding people and their aspirations, and unlocking their potential to the fullest extent,” he explains.

Khare recently took part in a CIO Executive Council Future Forward podcast interview to provide details on some of the innovative technology initiatives at Oshkosh, as well as the challenges ahead in terms of supply chains, IT talent, and keeping the teams eyes on the road during unpredictable times.

Click on the podcast players below to listen to Parts 1 & 2 of the conversation. The following are edited excerpts from that discussion.

Tim Scannell:  Data is a major focus of most IT organizations today — collecting it from a variety of sources, transforming it into business intelligence, getting it into the hands of the right people within the organization. How extensive is your data-driven strategy today?

Anupam Khare: We started this journey into data analytics and AI in 2019 and it has become very pervasive within the organization. I think we were always a data-driven organization, but what we are doing through AI and analytics is creating a rich data- and decision-making culture. The approach we use is to develop analytical models based on use cases, with a clear definition of business problems and value. So far, we have deployed roughly 71 models with a clear operating income and impact on the business. We have models on safety and HR, but our larger concentrations have been more in supply chain and the sales area. It’s a question of prioritization where the value is highest, but we have scattered these models everywhere.

I imagine these models have a direct impact on the customer experience.

Khare: Yes, they do. If you look at the broader theme, we are making decision-making more intelligent, and therefore more predictive in nature. The result of that is the customer gets products on time. While we can’t directly attribute this to a single effort, it definitely helps our business help our customers.

How close do these models and intelligence initiatives align with the business in terms of objectives and priorities? Is there a multi-divisional decision process that takes place to decide projects and activities?

Khare: We have a two-tiered decision-making process. One is focused on enterprise decisions, where every year I outline a process, basically a white paper on digital trends and how digital technology can help the enterprise. An example of that enterprise-level digital strategy and alignment process was the creation of three advanced capabilities: AI and analytics, intelligent automation, and digital manufacturing. The CEO leadership is involved in this process. The second tier is at the divisional level, or business segments, where we look at focus areas for each segment’s objectives for a particular year and even three to five years out.

In addition, we also have a cross-business portfolio enablement process where we prioritize the value and investment and outline how we focus on higher value projects. This portfolio process has helped us in reducing the number of projects we do and increasing focus on those projects that have the greatest impact on the business. Portfolio enablement completes the circle.

Many organizations today say they’re committed to creating an innovative culture. What do you see being the characteristics of an effective and vibrant IT culture, and how do you as a leader promote the growth and development of this culture?

Khare:  We have what I call a competency framework and it is something that our leaders collectively create. We call it CARE because we care for you as a customer, and we care for your outcomes. There are two meanings, however. Internally, the ‘C’ in care stands for our customer obsession, ‘A’ represents agility, ‘R’ is for results, and ‘E’ stands for entrepreneurship.

What we are doing through CARE is nurturing an environment. Our leaders are highlighting and connecting individual employees through examples and how they are demonstrating these principles. We also have a celebration and award process to recognize people, in a broader setting, who exemplify any of these competencies in their roles. We started this journey three and a half years ago and what we are seeing are more and more ideas coming from team members in the incremental innovation side and also in the broader, disruptive innovation side.

We are living in uncertain times, where almost every day brings a new challenge. How do you deal with uncertainties and where do you see technologies like AI or ML helping out in this respect?

Khare: I look at uncertainty at two tiers. One is macro-level uncertainties, and the second is micro-level. The pandemic falls into the macro-level because we really can’t predict those kinds of events. Micro-level uncertainties, however, are good cases where analytics and AI can be injected to solve a problem. Last year, for example, we developed a predictive model for parts shortages that helps us better understand a supplier’s past behavior and the different sources related to that. Using the mode, we can predict with a high degree of accuracy whether the part will arrive late or not. We know this a couple of weeks in advance and are able to make a production decision on sourcing this part. There are so many uncertainties like this in running a business where analytics and AI can and is helping us.

Tim Scannell

Tim Scannell is Vice President of Strategic Content for the CIO Executive Council/IDC, a global community of IT leaders and influencers whose mission is to advance the profession, provide direction and resources to current leaders, and guide and mentor future IT executives through a range of integrated products and services.  He has more than 40 years of experience as a writer, editor and market analyst in the computer industry and is a frequent speaker on technology and strategic topics.

Prior to joining the Council, Scannell was the Editorial Director at the TechnologyGuide Media Group, a division of TechTarget, Inc., where he managed the activities of seven technology news and review Web sites and coordinated a worldwide editorial and freelance staff. He was also the founder of Shoreline Research, a consulting and market research and information services company; and a Managing Director at 2in10, Ltd., a Scotland-based strategic business services and venture management company specializing in product positioning and channel marketing. Scannell was also a member of the core start-up team of SOFTBANK Corp.'s U.S. division, and Editorial Director of its U.S. and Japanese operations for more than a decade. 

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