Technology and business acumen are a common thread among IT leaders across all types of companies. But how they apply those technologies and business processes can be as individual as the company or the person. This is one of an occasional series of IT leader profiles that takes a closer look at the individuals behind IT and the projects they are working on right now.
Know a great IT leader who we should feature? Let me know! Send an email to Jessica Davis with “IT Leader Profile” as the subject line and include the name of who you’d like to nominate along with their contact information. Yes, you can nominate yourself!
The global head of ERP and IT services at Vistaprint, Cimpress USA, Inc. Mukul Agrawal has been climbing the corporate ladder at the company for 8 years. Here’s a look at his work and his current focus for this business card and custom printing company, part of the Cimpress holding organization that includes more than a dozen other customization brands.
Describe your strategy
The technology strategy I’m leading at Vistaprint is organized into three very important pillars: technology, people and process. The technology pillar is focused on building a platform for a modern era that equips our business partners with the tools they need to drive value for their customers. Many IT leaders are often challenged in this regard, especially when IT and the business operate in silos or when the business isn’t enabled to take full advantage of the technology tools at their disposal. This part of our strategy is focused on building this cohesive relationship between IT and the business, one that enables the business to make critical decisions that support near- and long-term goals.
The second aspect of our strategy is focused on people. Employee engagement is a critical driver of positive cultures and business performance. Your employees must see that you’re invested in their careers, development and engagement as they support your mission. Our people have helped Vistaprint become the high-growth company that it is today, and we reached this point by providing growth opportunities for our employees and a clear sense of purpose in our company mission.
The last component is all about process, examining when and where we can simplify, streamline and enhance. Are there unnecessary silos that we can remove leveraging technology? Can we make the process of recruitment or financial reporting easier for our employees with an integrated platform? This is a significant part of our overall technology strategy and will continue to be essential as we grow further as a company.
I got my first job 20 years ago, helping a small business in India grow their business by identifying and engaging the right markets, customers and regions. This experience helped shape how I approach my current role because I was able to support a variety of operations and get experience forming company strategies. It also helped that I had the opportunity to meet and work with people with different personalities, perspectives and approaches to innovation.
Most important lesson you learned from your mentor/a teacher/a boss
I’ve had the privilege to work with several exceptional mentors in my career that gave me the advice on how to build high-performing teams that are empowered to drive success without micromanaging. People must be allowed to grow in their roles and there are always more than a few ways to get a job done.
The red thread in the advice I’ve received from mentors over the years is that entrusting your teams with autonomy and flexibility can have lasting impacts on your organization and drive incredible value creation. Trust and accountability are some of the best operating principles for leaders to instill with their teams.
Biggest challenge for IT organizations today
Keeping up with the pace of innovation happening daily (and even hourly). If COVID-19 has taught leaders anything, it is that digital transformation is an ongoing process that must be prioritized and, at times, accelerated to establishing resilience and create opportunities to grow.
Innovation is essential to establishing and maintaining a competitive edge, and there is no such thing as “I’m done with innovation for this year.” For this reason, value stream-based funding models are becoming more and more effective compared to traditional project-based funding models.
Furthermore, IT leaders must be able to answer how each investment will make their company better and enable growth for years to come. With the acceleration of cloud and vertical industry solutions, IT leaders will be expected more than ever to constantly monitor the latest innovations coming to the market and determine where it makes sense to activate.
Big project you are working on
We’re focused on two large efforts right now: realizing the value of the SAP S/4HANA implementation we just led and optimizing our data organization in a way that makes analysis easy for the business. We just implemented SAP S/4HANA and are focusing on value creation across finance, analytics, manufacturing and supply chain. We’ve already seen early return on this project and now we’re driving capabilities using the solution that we couldn’t do before, such as advanced warehouse management. The second effort revolves around data lakes — publishing our data so the business has more real-time access to insights and self-service control.
Biggest accomplishment of 2019/2020
The one I’m most proud of is Vistaprint’s successful, global implementation of SAP S/4HANA during COVID-19. We made the strategic decision to implement SAP S/4HANA as the backbone of our digital transformation journey and cloud strategy. What makes this remarkable is that we successfully implemented the solution in a very short period of seven months, managing the production cutover, stabilization, and modifications with a team of 120-plus members and business partners — and all while working remotely. There’s a big misconception right now that large enterprise projects can’t be successful in this remote work environment. In reality, all it takes is collaboration and partners with experience delivering virtual implementations. Thanks to SAP S/4HANA, we’ve optimized our ERP landscape and are now able to continue driving new innovations across our organization.
Best book or online course you recommend
Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet. It tells the story of how Captain David Marquet successfully transformed the USS Santa Fe from the worst-performing submarine to the best of the fleet in less than a year. He presents a different approach to leadership. His “leader-leader” model is fascinating.
Advice for newbies or mid-career IT pros
First, center everything you do and the projects you lead as an IT professional with the customer’s experience at the core. Put yourselves in the end user’s shoes and do not make assumptions about features and capabilities that you believe the customer will react positively to. Include feedback loops and remember that your goal is to deliver viable products that you can iterate further, not perfect solutions. Second, explore any and all opportunities to expand your experiences across the business. Take on responsibilities across supply chain, finance, operations and more that give you additional perspectives.
Interesting or unique hobby
Cooking! I find it gives me an opportunity to keep learning, unwind, experiment with different cuisines and make delicious food.
Anything else you want to share
Just an observation regarding operating in this new environment. Especially for IT leaders, 100% remote work environments are a challenge, but they can be done very well if you have the right technology strategy in place and the right mindset with regard to culture. You can deploy collaboration tools to help your teams coordinate but it’s much more about a positive, team-based culture. Micromanaging is not a culture. For example, constantly following up with your teams on where a certain ticket is doesn’t help performance; in fact, it ultimately hurts retention and morale. Focus on open communication, find ways to optimize your collaboration (e.g. team meetings earlier in the day) and provide flexibility to your team on how to get the job done.
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Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG’s Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise’s eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology’s MSPmentor. She’s passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, … View Full Bio