Havmor’s VP IT Dhaval Mankad on ‘melting’ hurdles with a scoop of digital innovation

Selling sweet treats to millions of Indians since 1944, India’s beloved ice-cream brand, Havmor (now part of Korean conglomerate LOTTE), has grown beyond its humble beginnings to stupefying heights. While several factors have contributed to its success, it is apparent that without a secure technological backbone, this business would not reach the magnitude that it has. Sweet delicacies are a kid’s delight, but managing a business this big is no child’s play.

At the hub of affairs is Dhaval Mankad, Vice President of Havmor’s IT operations running like a well-oiled machine as its 72,000 retail stores dispense sweet goods in 18 states and 5 union territories across India. With nearly three decades of IT experience, Dhaval wields a formidable expertise and has ideas galore about how to take things to the next level. In this conversation with Foundry, he talks about IT’s evolution, the tenets of leadership that he espouses within his team, fostering innovation in Havmor, and the growing value of IT in business.

When did your career begin? Can you tell us about your journey and your greatest career achievements so far?

I’ve seen some twists and turns in my career. Due to my father’s transferable job, I attended school in various cities in Gujarat. After finishing high school in Gandhinagar, destiny led me to pursue electronics engineering at NIT Surat, and subsequently a degree in Communication & Electronics followed by a career in IT management.

Just when I joined the electronics industry, recession struck, leading me to take up odd jobs for almost a year. But fate smiled upon me when I moved to the IT field in 1994. I joined an IT firm in Ahmedabad and never looked back.

As a network engineer, I gained hands-on experience, visiting factories, managing the FMS IT help desk, and setting up network connections. I’ve witnessed technology evolve from primitive PCs like the Microsoft DOS to current advancements alongside my own growth.

I have been fortunate to work with companies like Reliance, L&T and now Havmor. During the last decade, I have led digital transformation initiatives which added two lac hours of productivity for various organizations. My prominent achievements include managing the intricate implementation of GST and its setup in L&T in 2017 and at Havmor, where I recently completed 5 years, the SAP S4 HANA Greenfield implementation.

Could you tell us how digital innovation works in the backend of a customer-facing business like Havmor?

In the current context, most businesses thrive because of IT. We have around 40 billing locations, over 500 distributors, and 60,000 secondary dealers who we coordinate with every day. Digitization has become so integral, that our business will come to a halt if the IT systems falter for even a minute. Accessibility and 100% availability of the system is extremely critical for all billing locations, operations, and distributors.

Technology has enabled us to operate in a very cost competitive market, allowing us to do more with fewer people. To add perspective, since I joined Havmor, the company has grown significantly, but not the workforce, having reduced by 30% compared to our numbers in 2018, thanks to digital innovation and transformation.

What are some of the unique data and cybersecurity challenges that Havmor faces as a vast customer-centric business?

Data and cybersecurity issues challenge every IT leader. With cybersecurity and data protection, end-user awareness presents itself as a key challenge. At Havmor, we continuously upskill our security, as well as run security awareness campaigns for employees. Thus, in the last five years, we have ensured 100% connectivity of all our systems without a single cybersecurity incident.

When we implemented SAP HANA in 2018-19, data was one of the biggest influencing factors, with the IT and cross functional teams putting humongous efforts to clean the system and provide it with newer data sets.

It’s about possessing meaningful data that helps make decisions around product launches or product discontinuations, because we have information at the product and region level, as well as margins, profitability, transport costs, and so on.

How is Havmor leveraging emerging technologies such as cloud, internet of things (IoT), and AI?

We’ve undertaken a digital transformation journey encompassing all our systems, implementations, and process reengineering while simultaneously evaluating emerging technologies in the last few years. While we have been using cloud for last 5 years, we are currently migrating our processes to cloud native applications.

Currently, we have not implemented any full-fledged AI solutions, but internal discussions with the management are underway to develop dashboard solutions with data analytics.

Since we already have the cloud native data lake, we are generating actionable business insights using that data, and plan to leverage them with AI and other new-age tools to uplevel in business. We need to define our business objective before adopting those new tools, because AI is simply algorithm.

We have undertaken small pilot projects last year under IoT, which have been scaled to more production lines. The objective is to have visibility on our operating efficiency, productivity, and the overall utilization level. This will improve machine efficiency, while simultaneously cutting down the manpower requirement on the production floor. Ultimately, all our projects are driven with business and not the IT agenda, and hence need to be backed up with robust ROI calculations. We are working on similar projects for supply chain as well.

How do you foster a culture of innovation and experimentation in your team to ensure consistent learning, and achievement of your digital transformation goals?

I work with a very lean team of four people. It’s part of a strategy we adopted in 2018 to outsource all standard support, including SAP support, IT helpdesk, and miscellaneous coding, so that the core team is free to focus on business over technology management.

We like to align some KRAs and KPIs of members from both from the IT and cross functional teams with learning and certification, so that they are encouraged to gain them. By delegating work effectively, I have ensured complete empowerment of the team.

How do you walk the tightrope of business and IT alignment? Have you experienced any roadblocks in having tech initiatives adopted across the organization?

In IT, it is integral that we stop operating as an internal vendor, and work as a business partner at the leadership level. As an IT leader, the department is meant to drive change management, but without buy-in or conviction at the functional leadership level, your initiatives are unlikely to work out. Ultimately, it’s a mix of people, processes, and technology.

At Havmor, initially I have encountered challenges where application silos were working without integration, there was a lack of buy-in from several counterparts, and people were resistant to trying out new ways of working.

Over the years, I have realized that it’s not about the volume you manage, but the value you deliver to the business. One needs to know the business, speak the business language, continuously challenge the status quo, and help business discover a new way of working. At Havmor we call it ‘The New Wow’.

Could you tell us about Havmor’s sustainability goals?

We are working on sustainability as part of our CSR initiative. The major focus is on zero plastic waste organization. We have already migrated to cloud, so we have reduced carbon emissions and cause lesser damage when compared to on-premises data centres.

We’ve also digitized 90% of our new processes, dramatically cutting down paper usage. Additionally, all our IT scrap is being disposed with certified e-waste vendors, thus contributing to sustainability.

How do you groom the next level of leadership that wants to ascend to the role of a tech leader?

Some traits that I consider vital are delegation, avoiding micromanagement, standing by your team, and instilling trust in them. My team knows that I am the kind of leader who will support them.

When grooming the next level of leadership, I believe in offering constructive feedback, and entrusting them with as many important responsibilities as possible. While this can be challenging, I do believe that’s the way to guide them, as that makes them well-equipped to manage the uncertainties that come with this mantle. Someone who holds these high aspirations can triumph over all challenges.

Digital Transformation