Before the COVID19 outbreak, companies were on a steady path of a digital-led sustainable growth. However, the sudden outbreak of coronavirus in early 2020 shook the industry and impacted almost every single one both in India and globally.The one question every business was grappling with was “how to create a solid business resilience?”. The printing and packaging industry was hit hard too. The specific areas in the packaging industry that got disrupted were sudden spike in digital printing, changing consumer preferences, rise in eCommerce. There is also a massive thrust on hygiene and consumer safety.

While the disruption caught a large part of the industry unawares, it also had a positive impact its performance. It has set new benchmarks for the Indian packaging industry. Post pandemic, companies will need to relook at their sustainability goals since issues like better hygiene, heightened use of eCommerce and cost optimization will stay forever.

Digitization in packaging industry is translating into better opportunities. To talk about challenges and future opportunities, Smruti Gandhi , Director, Community Engagement and Executive Editor, DynamicCIO (Henceforth DC) spoke to Udit Pahwa (Henceforth UP), Head Information Technology, Huhtakami India.

Below are the excerpts of the conversation:

DC: With the speculation of 3rd wave of the deadly Covid19, businesses will have no easier route to sustainability than hyper digitization. How did you navigate through the tough time and adapted to the new reality? Any noteworthy challenges that you would like to share?

UP: Among many things, the current situation has certainly altered the role of CIO. We are now more empathetic towards wellbeing of our workforce, tech staff and also about their productivity. We all are responsible for our share of people.

Huhtamaki had always had a formal WFH (Work From Home) policy for its employees. Hence, from a setup perspective the building blocks were already in place. However, nobody anticipated the scale and magnitude of the problem and the prolonged WFH scenario. From a mere 1-2% of the corporate workforce being in a WFH scenario to nearly 100% of workforce, the endurance of systems was stretched and put to the test. My team had to do work hard to scale up and reconfigure many elements including the networking to ensure that the performance was not never compromised. We also had to arrange for more endpoints for the desktop users to empower them to WFH. The policy was underwent a revision by the HR and Admin to align with the new normal. The challenges were basically around collaboration and communication, as this was a situation that no one has ever imagined.

DC: We are still not out of the pandemic. Would the plans made in 2020 need more fine tuning? Is there any long-term future roadmap or it is largely dependent on situation?

UP: The plans laid out in 2020 were and are still relevant for Huhtamaki in India. Indeed, the 2nd wave has ben deadlier and devastating. The WFH situation has ‘kind of’ stabilized now. ‘Virtual’ is now the new normal. In terms of a longer-term roadmap, a hybrid working environment is on the cards. It would be more applicable to the corporate staff as the colleagues at manufacturing facilities continue to work out of the plant since our organization has been classified as ‘Essential Services’.

DC: Software solutions including ERP have gained ground quite swiftly across the world. Also, customized ERP software gives the ability to enhance the digital outreach of the packaging sector. What are your observations?

UP: ERP has been around for over 40 years now, in some cases even 50+. ERP is still considered as the backbone and the epicenter for any transaction processing. However, the current thrust is on the peripheral systems attached with the ERP. Industry-specific ERPs, which you mentioned as ‘Customized ERP’, would now be more relevant to take care of the add-on functionalities in line with digital transformation. While an ERP is the backbone, it can certainly not be the looked at in isolation when we talk of digital transformation. Industry has to look at ‘best of breed’ solutions to fast track growth.

DC: In context of the packaging industry, how would you describe the overall maturity level of digitalization. Where does the industry stand today?

UP: Quite frankly, the packaging industry, in general, has been a laggard in terms of digitization adoption. However, given the current context of business and prevailing workforce scenario, a significant acceleration has been noticed . It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that packaging industry will come on par with its FMCG counterparts on digitalization in next couple of years.

DC: What elements of digital transformation excite you the most?

UP: Usage of technology to bring value to business, by way of increased process efficiency, improvement in employee or resource productivity, better planning or predictability of trends, data visualization-based effective decision making are the elements of digital transformation that are both exciting and effective. Going forward, there will be a greater thrust on agility and customer-centric apps. However, it’s also a fact that we have to align with the business prioritises and not act in any haste.

DC: What is your agenda for 2021?

UP: We are already in 7th month of 2021, However, the agenda for near-term is to have a sharp focus on tech-enabled growth for the company with elements of cost-optimization always in mind.

Technology wise, the focus will be on the following four areas:
1. Data-driven business; analytics
2. Business process digitization
3. Adopting Industry4.0
4. Stronger cybersecurity posture

Udit Pahwa is Head – Information Technology at Huhtamaki India Ltd. He has more than 25 years of experience. He is leading Digital Transformation and Business Process Digitization with the objective of enhancing Business Value. He is a technology and business visionary with executive and hands-on experience of implementing Enterprise Applications for large billion dollar enterprises.

By Smruti Gandhi

Smruti has a rich academic & professional background. After completing post graduation from S P Jain Institute of Management Studies , Smruti has worked with Dun & Bradstreet, Great Place to Work before joining Grey Head Media.

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