PUNE, INDIA: If you are in the dairy industry or in Pune, chances are creamy that you may have eavesdropped on the name ‘Chitale’ in some or the other conversation about milk, sweets or cattle. But what is striking is the fact that you can catch the mention of this name in equal probability at IT conferences trying to whip up sense out of virtualization or data centre consolidation as well. For instance when one sees Vishvas Chitale, partner, Chitale Dairy, milking the lessons of timely and smart application of new tech-disruptions for an IT audience at Dell Storage Forum, it makes one wonder if this IT-suave man who fills curiosity glasses with tech-lessons with panache, is indeed someone who belongs to the land of cows and sweets.
Yes, IT is not only about those who live amidst ERPs, data centre farms and huge IT teams or support benches. It can be shepherded with equal prudence in a soil where farmers may have not even had heard of mobiles till a short time back. What matters is vision and the deftness to mix silicon with calcium in the right proportions and with the right timing. That’s why this dairy major that almost rules the industry in cities like Pune, can today talk of RFIDs, BI, mobility apps, Cloud, Virtualisation in the same breath as it would mention dahi, butter or mawa. It has tried and proven ways of skimming fat in many areas, be it with high-level pedigreed bulls with tech-enabled breeding approaches, or for increasing milk productivity in a country that lags behind many not-so-endowed countries in daily production levels.
Chitale can today boast of Asia’s Ultra Modern Buffalo Research & Development farm with activity meters tagged on buffaloes, Nursery for calf breeding, Frozen Semen Laboratory, Blood Profile & Pathogenic Lab and automatic feeding stations, If the lab helps in providing the right dietary supplements for animals with early detection, diagnosis, prevention and control of diseases; there are also mechanisms for frozen semen for dairy farmers so that they can rear healthy, high-yielding buffaloes. It also helps with genetic records spanning over ten generations of certain breeds are available at the laboratory. So one cannot be surprised to spot a warning lamp that glows if the buffalo has not eaten properly or if it has not produced milk as much as expected, thus enabling good strengths in terms of control over buffalo productivity.
From satellite farms spanning the farmers’ villages to datacenter virtualization and management platform, and consolidating two datacenters, this dairy has skimmed it all well. When producing some 400,000 liters of milk per day as well as cream, butter and yoghurt, this organization faced operational challenges with 10 physical servers spread across two datacenters server sprawl became an issue to confront. It took the bull by its horns and consolidated its two physical operations into one virtual datacenter using VMware Infrastructure, thus cutting server hardware acquisition costs by 50 per cent, software acquisition costs by 75 per cent, and power consumption in half.
Two years back, the Dairy made another leap into the Cloud with Dell. As he stresses, technology at the right place, right time, speed and price, can help build vibrant communities. Information and data analysis can lead to better genetics, better calves and ease in selective breeding, as he has discovered. With two million doses to farmers this year, and one million calves born, ambitions to take this number to 20 million semen doses do not sound too huge now. With only 800 to 1000 liters of milk per lactation against a corresponding figure of 15,000 for Israel and 12,000 for UK, there was surely no dearth of challenges and gaps that Indian dairies needed to address.
But in Chitale’s reflection, technology has not only enabled progress on that but also on areas like reduction of Greenhouse Gas emissions, while increasing milk yield per cow. All this has been bolstered with information productivity and data mining. In this interview, he tells us more on how he milked these ideas and still avoided curdling of risks and doubts.
What was your approach to virtualization? Pilots or ‘first chew the cud well’ kind of investments?
The whole idea was to do more with less. We never had any projected investment figure unlike some CIOs. The idea was first triggered by a German geek who mentioned this randomly during his visit five years back. He was also a strong proponent of open source and we aligned in our thoughts well there. We thought of virtualization seriously. We evaluated some majors. When we picked Dell to help us here, we chose them for their modular approach and scalable architecture. That’s how we started and now network, storage, server etc are all in the virtualization scope.
How has your role been through this journey? Mired in the same challenges as any other CIO? Is it tough to push IT beyond cost centre mindset?
I treat myself as more of a CTO and work with that approach. Technology can and should make products better and cheaper. ROI from hardware is itself a hard thing to extract usually. But to add value to IT, one can look at many other ways. In a way, yes, we can sell genetic part of information to pharma companies to explore revenue ways.
Usually virtualization is sold strongly on cost factors and yet there is a perception of it being great on capex fronts but not so much on TCO. What would you say?
We had a DR (Disaster Recovery) incident once but we have partnered with the right choice of people, and best-of-breed services. So availability etc was never an issue.
Were there no culture, basic infrastructure and people issues with this big a transition that you have made to dairy industry?
Actually, farmers are open and hungry to improve. This is contrary to what we usually assume. The bondage and connection happens well when the guidance and transition is done smoothly. Earlier they could not afford a bindi but today can buy a lipstick too. Why would they not want technology if it can improve their lives? But we did need appropriate end-point solutions as back-end mobiles or PDAs do run into some issues, specially connectivity parts.
What next are you cooking with technology?
We are planning on RFID enabled retail chains to make t easy to do shopping with cards. Vehicle tracking will also help us a lot. We are thinking of business process information so that information travels well between factory and farmers, with each user able to get KPIs and centralized information.