Take Advantage Of Disruptions

The traditional businesses like Gulf Oil have not been IT savvy. The connectivity that is going to happen with our end-customers, intermediaries and OEMs will be one of the disruptors for us. Today, to manage the fleet we need to have on-line data continuously with readily accessible and relevant analysis. This would include interaction on servicing orders, and online retail scrutiny to make sure the customer has the product at the right time. Use of our mobile App ‘Unnati’ has many features to assist customers. Now, in the IT environment, we get connected to mechanics, OEMs, our distributors, retailers and of course customers.
We are not so much into AI (Artificial Intelligence) but we are talking about analytics which will help us to understand what the end-customer is demanding. Social media bursting in communication will also help us since we are a well-known brand accepted by industry. We can focus on the new-age customer and young India to understand what they want; this is a disruption through social media that is much helpful to us. With GST coming in, a lot of fleet will become larger, so the question is how do we improve infrastructure to cater to all their needs on time? IT will intensify, and analytics would come about in a big way.
Industry 4.0 is more towards manufacturing. We will take advantage of the disruptions, see the opportunities and grow, using AI to take decisions on what is to be produced. We are revamping our system so that the demand triggers turn into actual sales in the market and connecting that to what the plants should be making. The demand will be picked up directly and sensitised to our planning process that would tell the plant what to make.
We always keep two months stock of base oil, which is the main ingredient, for conversion to different types of end-lubes. Industry 4.0 will certainly bring in disruption in terms of connectivity and how we service our customers. With electric vehicles coming in, we don’t see a major threat for the next 15 years, but after that, probably consumption and growth levels would come down. We need to prepare and equip ourselves to meet that challenge.
Opportunities will arise in the new energy era. You have to adapt the lubricants to the needs of passenger cars that would need lubes of much higher quality and value, but consumption would certainly get impacted if it goes in a big way. We have to be cognizant of that though diesel and combustion engines would take a long time to get replaced. Our lubricants are evolving; we have global brands to meet global quality. We are equipped for all that but now we must think beyond this. We have long-drain lubricants; we are also thinking of fuel economy; different types of coolants will be required to cool down the EVs; these are all areas one could look at to evolve future strategies.
From the manufacturing perspective, the cycle of change about skill-sets is going to become shorter as disruptions continue to crop up. When equipment gets upgraded, the skill-sets of the people controlling them will become less manual and more analytical and quality conscious; such skill-sets will have to come in and be optimised. Earlier, there was physical testing of samples but today they probably get tested at the suppliers’ end. Testing online is another facet of quality control. Many sensors are in place now in machinery; it would require more of machine interaction than physical checks. Machine maintenance today is all about analysing data to make predictive maintenance decisions. So skills would alter according to technological changes. There could be a drop in headcount but people would get re-deployed in different ways. For example, the services sector could take up the numbers found surplus in manufacturing.
From the manufacturing point of view the industries most affected would be heavy industry, including automotive, which have a lot of mechanisation in them. They would have to evolve. The headcount in engineering and auto could go down. In the service industry also many things now do not require manual intervention; computers troubleshoot and come up with solutions. Automation can make remanufacturing give you a product as good as the original as most processes are automatic now. People would still be required but the skill-sets will have to be different. I think the service industry will gain. As analytics expand in importance, many people would get into research. Good infrastructure is vital, if that is well organised the stress levels of people would come down; we have to learn from some of the European countries like Germany where everything is in place and standardised.
Coming to big data, you should not only have the right data but should put it in the right perspective for decision-making. That is the skill-set that is evolving more and more. For example, we have people in our sales team that look at data daily. How they look at it and put up relevant data for senior management to take decisions becomes important. Sifting through data, picking up the right ones and putting it all together is now becoming a significant skill-set. In sales, pertinent and timely data helps you understand the needs of the customer, forecast future demand and plan supplies accordingly. It helps in focusing on the key result areas (KRA) for company employees.
We have a simple manufacturing process. Though we have automated our new plant we would still require analytics for improving productivity, removing leakages and eliminating waste. Quality control and product development is very important for us; this is where data analysis can help considerably.
Increasing automation and AI could result in the headcount coming down but HR would continue to play a vital role in the organisation. The way I see it, it is in two stages. First – the business size will dictate the size of the manpower you need. If you get into new business areas it is important to retain and reskill available talent and look for business opportunities. HR’s role will be in training-retraining and skilling-reskilling people, and continuously motivating them to put their best foot forward for maximum results. Also, recruiting the right people to meet organisational needs; this is always an on-going process.
The second would be to design programmes that give proper input to the different teams, to guide people in their various daily operations and management functions. For example, we have web-based training modules that workers go through. These are reviewed once in two or three years; now HR may have to do it every six months to keep pace with industry demands. Evolving necessary skill-sets with adequate training would be the key focus.
(Ravi Chawla is the Managing Director of Gulf Oil Limited)

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