Making the shift from being a pure techie, handling information technology, which he is passionate about, to looking at how the business can leverage IT helps Samath Fernando drive the digital transformation of the $900 million Hirdaramani Group multinational apparel conglomerate.
“I can merge these two worlds to bring out the best in both; bringing strategic IT to help out any business to scale,” he says. “There is a process engineer in me – I like to see how processes can be optimised.” The software group subsidiary H One has developed data-driven, real-time insights into apparel manufacturing processes across its far-flung factories.
“I want to leave Hirdaramani as a completely data-driven company, highly optimised like a fully automated self-improving mechanism.”
The Res.Q quality management system that drastically reduces wastage in apparel manufacturing is Fernando’s brainchild. It is the first step towards the smart factory in the group, which has plants in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ethiopia, employing about 60,000 people.
“We suddenly started capturing data in real-time, with data visualisation coming on the shop floor, on TVs and SMS alerts. Predictive analytics is going to be key,” explains Fernando. Res.Q, which has language localisation capability, is being deployed in group factories locally and overseas, and is also being sold as a cloud-based subscription service to others. It helps to cut defect rates and improve efficiency, helping manufacturers save money.
New modules enable monitoring of machine inventory, keeping track of all machines across the group, including movements, breakages, repairs and servicing. The software provides insights into the skills of workers, helping improve their training and deployment, and also how to plan out production lines.
Fernando thinks the software can be deployed in other industries such as shoe manufacturing. Development of such proprietary software can enable the island to be an IT hub, even though it lacks scale for it to compete with countries like India for manufacturing.
“We have the apparel sector domain knowledge which we can couple with our IT skills,” he says. “Sri Lankans are holding leadership positions in many apparel industries overseas, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. We can make Sri Lanka a hub known for world-class IP.” Fernando, who is doing a PhD in data analytics and its impact on process improvement, wants to ensure the entire Hirdaramani Group embraces next-generation software that will take them into the next decade. “I want to leave Hirdaramani as a completely data-driven company, highly optimised like a fully automated self-improving mechanism.”