CN RAM: A living legend

By : |May 21, 2015 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: CN Ram, who was awarded the Lifetime achievement award at the recently concluded C-Change awards, remarked in jest, “I know all fingers are pointing toward my retirement,” to a standing ovation.

But the man, now in his late fifties, is hungry for more. One of the doyens of the IT industry, Ram has led an exemplary life, not because he was born with a silver spoon, but because of the various choices he has made in life, and how he leveraged each opportunity to inch his destiny towards the top goal he set for himself.

His journey from being an IT strategist at the Bank of America (BoA) to his notable career at the HDFC Bank is a part of the local as well as international lore. He started his second innings as Co-founder and Executive Director, of Ruralshore Business Services, in 2008, and proudly mentions that he is now doing what his heart always wanted.

A sneak peek into the IT maverick’s life.

Having acquired laurels in electronics engineering from IIT (Madras) and IIMA, Ram joined the Jamshedpur plant of Tata Steel as a graduate trainee in 1979.

Mumbai came calling, and Ram moved to Bank of America as its first IT employee in 1982.

A natural strategist, he soon rose the ranks, and was a part of the core IT strategy team at BoA.

Reminiscing the days at BoA:

“That was my stepping stone into this marvelous field of information technology. Back then, we were not spoilt for choice, IBM was the answer for all our problems. But the challenge was to choose the most appropriate technology even from whatever little was available at the time,” recalls a humble Ram.

He remarks that working at BoA was the best decision in the early stages of his career. “It gave me exposure to overseas work culture, and cutting edge technology, which I wanted to bring to our country, but bringing this good technology, was a huge challenge.”

Maybe Ram was ahead of his time even in those days. That is because India was not so significant for BoA, essentially because the branches were involved in non-retail banking. “While the BoA branches in the rest of the world were on one platform, the only piece of technology that was shared with us was the e-mail server which was linked to the networking infrastructure of American Express.”

Those were the 1980s. But in 1991, when the Indian government announced its liberalization policy, Ram and his colleagues wasted no time, and set-up a large mainframe infrastructure to support BoA’s retail functions.

Around the same time, BoA acquired See First Bank that had a large retail presence in Asia. While the mainframe infrastructure which Ram and his team had developed was equipped to support the technology and operational functions of the new entity, it was rejected for being too expensive. That was the time, the Indian team therefore volunteered to completely disband the all the Asian operations of BOA, and merge those will the global platform. Ram decided it was time to move on.

I unlearnt and learnt a lot at HDFC:

It was in the year 1994 that Ram joined the HDFC Bank as the Head IT, and the third employee of the bank. Over a period of 14 years, he set up the IT operations and was instrumental in making HDFC one of the successful banks respected for its innovative use of technology.

Says Ram, “Back then, we were just four people in the IT team, and our first major project was to implement the core banking solution for the bank. This was followed by the TCS BaNCS Treasury solution to manage our treasury business which was growing exponentially. Gradually, our organization became a key to not only strategic IT planning, but also business enablement and outcomes, and enable tech implementation to make our bank future-ready.”

What helped the IT strategist to maintain a cool head? Did he never bend under pressure?

“No,” comes a firm reply. “Yes, there was pressure all the time. But as a policy, we were firm that we will not follow others blindly. Take for instance the implementation of Internet banking. Many banks had gone online, and they were using templates to launch faster services. We refrained as we realized that it could be dangerous. Yes, we have been accused of being late entrants, but I know that our backend is safe and secure as we integrated the ATMs and the Internet to the core banking application before launching the Internet banking services.”

As the dynamics of banking changed, the IT organization at HDFC too kept pace. “We missed many opportunities at BoA; many projects did not see the light of the day. Here was an opportunity none of us wanted to miss,” Ram recalls.

As a result, the bank was prepared for behavioral changes caused by the volumes and the intensive work that went into coping with a truly 24X7 banking environment. HDFC implemented the business intelligence solution which enabled it to make predictive analysis and launch more customer-driven products. Today, the bank is running one of the largest big data projects in the sector, which helps it to determine the profitability of customers and enables the business to identify the target group for each of its products.

Asserts Ram, “We had a common goal—that we would be a responsible bank. Therefore, our goal was to always be attached to the pulse of the customer, know what he wanted, and in turn, it gave us insight into the kind of customers whom we wanted to be associated with.”

Keeping with this goal, over the years Ram completely overhauled the data center, and married IT with business when he took over the challenge role of Head, Business Solutions Group—the group that interfaced between the business groups and IT in the bank. “This role helped me to identify the process changes required to facilitate a new change or a new business vertical. This not only tied in the differences between the IT organization and the finance, but helped each to understand the intricacies and the challenges of the other; thereby creating healthy respect between the two divisions.”

During his technology leadership at HDFC Bank, two of the major highlights include seamless migration of all the IT and business assets post the HDFC Bank-Times Bank merger, and the HDFC Bank and CBOP merger.

Even toward his exit from HDFC, Ram implemented an information management software project to help the bank rapidly enhance customer care and identify new business opportunities.

Using the new software developed by IBM’s research unit, the bank was able to make full use of the customer feedback received from emails and phone calls from among all its branches.

After a stint as Group CIO at the Essar Group from April 2010 till January 2013, where he was instrumental in deploying disaster recovery solutions, and taking security of the company a notch higher by implementing DLP, Ram came to Rural Offshore and is now working full-time to develop the capabilities of the rural youth and in his bid develop the tier-2 and -3 cities of the country as alternate source for outsourcing activities.

As he puts it, “There is huge penetration of culture in the smaller towns and cities; we are becoming uncultured in urban areas. The invasion of TV, education, government schemes and opportunities for employment has increased the aspirations of the rural youth.”

Rightly so, the telecom and the retail sectors are already targeting this market. “Once you realize that you can include this part of India in your schema of things, you will have a brilliant India story to tell. But for that you need a digital platform that is equal for all,” he signs off.

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