ESI Team

How Innovative Technologies are Optimizing Workflows at GPI

September 7, 2022
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On the 9th episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, Vish Narendra, Chief Information Officer & Senior Vice President, Global Business Services at Graphic Packaging International, joins the show to share how he’s leading innovative technology initiatives at GPI and the technologies he’s using, how to find the right startup partners and the state of AR/VR for enterprise. Prior to landing at GPI, Vish spent over a decade at General Electric, working within their energy departments to drive impactful IT initiatives forward. In his current role, Vish is leading digital transformation at GPI through factory automation, supply chain optimization, and deploying exciting new technologies. Vish’s deep experience with driving IT strategy underpins his understanding of the benefits of innovating at the right time and he shares valuable insights on what digital transformation strategy looks like at scale.

When Vish joined Graphic Packaging in 2015, the company was emerging from a heavy debt position. As the company started paying these down, Vish started focusing on building a foundation to allow the company to scale, which “meant simplifying our infrastructure environment and putting in global platforms and solutions.” Ultimately, Vish focused business transformation efforts by “simplifying and standardizing, allowing people to operate in ways that drive efficiency and productivity.”

On the surface, the paper packaging industry might not be seen as the frontier of technology, but Vish describes a number of exciting initiatives happening at Graphic Packaging that are harnessing next-generation tech to optimize a variety of workflows. While most AR/VR headsets are allowing people to experience immersive experiences with video games and other visual content, GPI is using wearable technology to help collaborations happen in a more streamlined manner on the plant floor. A technician can follow along as a co-worker is wearing a headset and looking at a piece of equipment that needs repair. In real-time, often from different locations, teammates can work together to solve problems and make operations run more productively. In the future, Vish expects GPI to harness the use of private 5G networks that will further enhance these collaborations. In addition, Vish is looking ahead for more advanced mixed reality technologies, where teammates can fix equipment while being fully remote: “The VR and the mixed reality piece of it is going to be a combination of, when you're on the job and you need to pull up a digital twin, but at the same time you need somebody remote that can connect in with you and collaborate with you, and pull up a whiteboard, that mixed reality, and you are actually seeing the physical logic in front of you. That is a real-world repair technician use case.”

Like other CIOs we’ve interviewed, Vish was clear that technology itself can never be the reason to use new tech. Vish doesn’t mince words when he says “we don't introduce technology for the sake of technology. There are no shiny objects that we chase because that really adds no value.” When embarking on the deployment of new technology, every company faces the challenge of meshing together underlying business needs with the right technology. Vish also acknowledges a human aspect that can sometimes get in the way:  “As humans, no matter who you are, you are a creature of habit. If you have developed a certain set of habits over a while, it takes a lot of effort to break those habits. And understanding how we can drive that change within that organization and understanding the appetite for change is critical to the success of all the work.” As CIOs grapple with bringing in new technology to their companies, ensuring the business, the people, and the technology are working together towards the same goal is the single most important part of the journey. 

Additionally, as part of any digital transformation, working with startups is an important component of staying current and best utilizing the available tools, since building tools in-house can be excessively costly and time-consuming. Vish describes the rationale: “We really keep a very close pulse on the startup ecosystem just to understand who's doing what in that space.” At times, working with startups is less of a direct technology play, but still has an outside impact on the business. For example, Vish was approached by a startup that was providing transportation and logistics services in an “Uber for trucking” model. GPI integrated the service into their business, and it was a highly successful collaboration, leading to an expansion of GPI’s freight landscape. Keeping an eye out for ways startups can help the business is a crucial component of being a modern and progressive CIO.

As Vish looks ahead, he’s cognizant of the fact that the role of the CIO is adapting as companies face these larger transformations. At GPI, the digital transformation conversations Vish is having with the C-suite have gone from an IT focus to more of a process and change focus. The technology itself is less of a challenge; how to prioritize and structure the changes that technology brings is where the real work comes in. Vish sums it up nicely when he talks about needing to be a constant learner in the space: “At the end of the day, you've got to be super-focused on being an everyday learner. You've got to always ask questions and try to figure out how things work, how things happen. Don't just skim the surface.”

Listen to Vish's episode here and read the transcript here.