Back in 1984, when very few girls opted to study mechanical engineering, Shikha Rai, Vice President, HRO, IT, QEHS and HRD, Canon India chose to specialize in that area and became the only girl in her batch in Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. And that’s how her journey of breaking the glass ceiling began.
From beginning her professional journey as Senior Engineer on the shop floor in BHEL to implementing software in Bausch and Lomb, she now heads the HR function in Canon India Private Ltd. Besides heading HR, she also leads the IT team and QEHS.
Sharing about her journey in Canon, Shikha says, "I have been at Canon for 16 years. When I joined them I was part of the IT team and then later took on Quality, Environment, Health and Safety (QEHS) as an additional role. Then about four years back, I took over the role of HR."
As HR is no longer far away from technology, the combination of IT and HR for Shikha has been quite interesting. Here’s what she thinks about the relationship between technology and HR,
"Whether it is HR or any other domain, no function today can remain away from technology. Technology has made life simpler. You can have all the questions and to a large extent, you can solve all your problems. Particularly in HR, technology is helping in various ways. It is improving employees’ efficiency and in Canon’s context it is helping us in delivering delights to the customers.”
Taking the interaction on technology and HR further, Shikha Rai talked about the technologies adopted by Canon India to digitally empower its employees and shared some tips to ensure a smooth digital transformation.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
You joined Canon in 2002 as Senior Director IT and HR, with a strong background and experience in IT before that. How was the experience of handling the two of the most important enabling functions of the organization?
When I was in IT, there was another team working on HR. When I made the shift, the first important thing to do was to get the fundamentals right.
While IT has 0-1 kind of thinking, HR is all but 0 and 1. When these two come together, they make a good combination.
And when we combined the two, we ensured that we get the basics right. This means instead of having multiple systems for hiring, retiring and promotion we created a common platform for all. When the organization was small and we were dealing with about 150 people, the work was manageable in excel. But gradually as we grew exponentially, it became important to have an all-pervasive and robust system in place. That’s when we implemented an HRIS system.
Interestingly, Canon India was the first one to digitize the HR process, and then the other regions inspired by its success also implemented the system. This was an achievement for us that National Sales Organization (as we call them) picked something for us. By putting a basic HR system in place about ten years back, Canon India created a legacy within the brand.
Can you elaborate more on the technologies adopted by Canon India to empower its employees?
As we are a sales service organization, we worked on automating the sales process and making the lives of our sales force better. And for this, we built a system called – I CAN and launched it in 2003. ‘I’ refer to the salesperson and ‘CAN’ stands for Canon. At that time, we launched it on Domino lotus notes because we used to have those replications, and then we made a web version of that and rolled it out in 2008. And now, everything is on the mobile. I-CAN enables them to work efficiently and the best part is that they don’t have to take their laptops when they are on the field, they can access everything from their mobile.
I-CAN now is a way of life. Employees can put their calendar into it. For example, field staff can see what all the activities they are required to do. Then their conveyance reimbursement is linked to it. They can put the place they need to visit in the app and after calculating the distance from Google, they can multiply it and make their conveyance sheet.
Besides the I-CAN, the second tool we built was for our service force. We built a CMP - Customer Management Program for service people.
Sales and Service are two of the most important part of our business, and they form 60 percent of our population.
The aim behind building CMP was to make the work of the service workforce easier. The service staff is not supposed to come to the office, and they usually have to be at the customer place. As service is a very process-intensive part, some of the important parameters there are- ‘what is your response time to the customer query?’; ‘what is the downtime of the machine?'
The tool that we have created impacts both, the response time to the query as well as the quality and hence, increases the productivity of the employees. Now, the engineer doesn’t have to go all the way and identify the error or the problem. For instance, someone can just connect the copier to the server and the error can be read directly. Then based on the category of the problem it is, we send the appropriate engineer. As soon as the engineer reaches he/she can check-in and the time he/she reached the customer gets recorded. It also enables the managers to see where their engineers are. It gives a green or red symbol showing whether engineers are free or not, so the next thing can be allocated. If they are free, the system automatically allocates the next assignment.
With both these tools, we are digitally empowering our employees and helping them in becoming more productive.
Did you face any challenges while adopting these new solutions? How did you ensure a smooth technological adoption?
Yes, of course. Where there is change, there is resistance. It takes times to get used to a particular way. But the starting and the crucial step towards adopting change is quite simple. You have to start by asking yourself ‘What’s in it for me?’ And this is how we started the process of transformation at Canon India. We communicated the benefits of the change in the context of employees and organization and worked on building consensus.
One of the things that I have learned after working in the Japanese company is "Nimawashi" It is a term in Japanese which means that how do you build a consensus. For any project to be successful, having a consensus is imperative.
You cannot start an initiative just by sending out an e-mail. You have to include all the stakeholders and people who will be impacted by the change from the first step. Ask them questions, identify their needs, learn their thoughts, take their feedback and then go ahead with any decision. And this is what we did. Starting right from the top, from the CEO to the Senior Management Team, we communicated the value these tools would bring both to the business and the people.
What should the HR keep in mind to stay updated and ahead of the curve in the context of new emerging technologies?
I think HR people will have to be genuinely interested, fair and transparent in their thinking. This should be the core of an HR person. And from the context of digital transformation, focus on continuous learning is essential. HR has to be more flexible and agile. They have to be updated about the trends and be familiar with all the terminologies. Otherwise, they would face difficulty in partnering with the business. HR should have a good balance of both people management skills and business acumen to be able to stay ahead of the curve.