CIO Leadership: Navigating COVID-19 response and beyond

Piyush Chowhan, CIO, LuLu Group
highlights the importance of technology, strategy and culture necessary to drive success going forward.

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted all of us in different ways. But for organizations around the globe, it has represented both their greatest challenge and their shining hour.

Take the case of Abu Dhabi-based LuLu Group International, an Indian-owned multinational conglomerate company that operates a chain of hypermarkets and retail companies.

“Being an essential services company, we experienced a massive peak in demand during the COVID-19 lockdown. Innovation wasn’t optional when facing this massive rise in demand—it was absolutely essential,” says Piyush Chowhan, CIO, LuLu Group.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a jarring impact on virtually every facet of life and business — including IT. Chowhan and his IT team navigated the first wave of the crisis by shifting their strategy of reacting and starting to get ahead of it.

Lulu Group “But before this, we had to put our people first, whether they were our customers, employees or partners. The health and safety of all our stakeholders was prioritized over short-term commercial gains. Secondly, in this part of the world, people are not accustomed to work-from-home (WFH). New ways of working required a culture change,” says Chowhan.

The first step for Chowhan was to stabilize the company’s business operations. From day one, all their operations were intact across locations. The IT team provisioned thousands of virtual desktops for the workforce, and within a couple of days it enabled all of them to work from anyhwere. The company was already on its digital transformation journey, and it has now accelerated with use of cloud and other digital collaboration tools.

Amidst the crisis and the lockdown, the company transported 2-3 times more number of supplies for customers. Their supply chain availability was put to test, and they fared pretty well in the process. The speed at which goods were transported was remarkable within such a short period of time. This ensured food safety and security in the countries of operation.

Agile mindset for rebound and growth

According to Chowhan, agile mindset and methodologies have a lot to teach us about how to work most effectively when we are working differently, especially through a crisis like the one we are facing.

“When things are ambiguous and uncertainty prevails, agile provides for regular patterns to move work forward and allows for quick shifts. Agile canhelp us make quick adjustments to priorities,” explains Chowhan.

Agile is also empowering. Teams and team members can make quick decisions in the moment rather than asking/waiting for permissions. “This increases speed and responsiveness to customer needs,” says Chowhan.

With the COVID-created pressure on many systems to react even more quickly than usual, this kind of approach makes sense.

Now that restrictions have eased, and the country having returned to more normal conditions, many of the new ways of working that were introduced during a pandemic are likely to stick, Chowhan shares.“One thing that is constant is “change,” and it is the ability to learn from this change that creates a winning proposition,” Chowhan sums up.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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