S V Prasad Gandhikota Of SAP America On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Digital transformation in implementing a cloud-based agricultural solution presents a significant opportunity for companies to modernize their operations and drive efficiency. In the case of the company producing an iconic ketchup brand with a revenue of $450 million annually, the imperative need to replace an outdated, home-grown application with a modernized, cloud-based solution is clear.

Digital transformation has become a crucial component for businesses striving to stay competitive and relevant in today’s rapidly evolving landscape. As technology continues to shape industries and redefine business models, companies must adapt and leverage digital tools and strategies to unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation. In this interview series, we aim to explore various aspects of digital transformation, including best practices, challenges, success stories, and expert insights. We are talking to thought leaders, industry experts, entrepreneurs, technology innovators, and executives who have firsthand experience in driving digital transformation initiatives within their organizations. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing S V Prasad Gandhikota.

Prasad Gandhikota is a Senior Business Consultant at SAP America. As part of his role, he assists some of the best-known Fortune 500 companies across North America in their digital and business transformation programs as a trusted advisor. Prasad has held various leadership roles in supply chain manufacturing functional consulting, project management, and program delivery management. He has consistently demonstrated his capability to make sound operational decisions by delivering excellence throughout the customer transformation journey, impacting the entire company.

Prasad is recognized by Marquis Who’s Who in America for his dedication to the manufacturing industry. Inclusion in this prestigious list is limited to individuals who possess professional integrity, demonstrate outstanding achievements in their respective fields, and have made innumerable contributions to society as a whole. Prasad is an alumnus of the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (India), with degrees in Science, Technology, and Management. He also holds certificates in Supply Chain Management, Sustainability & Business Innovation, and Leadership in Digital Transformation from MIT (USA) and SAP (Germany). Prasad has won several prestigious awards, such as the Rockstar of the Supply Chain Award in 2023 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2024 from Food Logistics for his invaluable contributions to the field of supply chain management. He has published scholarly research papers in reputable journals such as the International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology (IJISRT). Prasad is a fellow of SASS, SAIARD, and Nest, constantly sharing his expertise in scientific and business communities.

With over 18 years of experience in SAP advisory consulting roles and 6 years in domain manufacturing roles across APAC, UK, and USA, Prasad has reached the top of his field. He has a proven track record of designing innovative solutions for leading organizations worldwide, fulfilling their strategic objectives of achieving business transformation goals by delivering on multi-year roadmaps and implementing modernized ERP systems with cloud technologies. Prasad’s work has helped companies develop self-stabilizing supply chains that address mission-critical operational challenges and supply chain disruptions, preparing them for vital transformations in the future. Outside of work, he mentors graduate students at the Royal Academy of Engineering, regularly peer reviews research and scholarly articles at IJEIS, IJISSCM, and AOM, and judges research projects at the University of Michigan, Minnesota Academy of Science, DECA Inc, and FBLA. He also judges individual and corporate awards of excellence in business, supply chain management, and IT.

Before joining SAP America, Prasad worked at Conagra Brands Inc., USA, a leading company in frozen food manufacturing, as the IT Delivery Leader. In this capacity, he was responsible for leading four pillars named technology integration programs for mergers & acquisitions, ERP modernization programs for the US and International, Application Management Services, and continuous improvement programs. Prior to Conagra Brands Inc., Prasad worked at a big 4 consulting firm in the USA, where he assisted distinguished companies in life sciences, construction & mining equipment, medical technology, consumer products, and electronics component manufacturing in their digital transformation programs.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in India, thanks to my parents who understood the value of quality education. I studied at my maternal grandparents’ place in southern India until my 6th grade, and then moved to central India to my parents’ place, where I completed my bachelor’s degree in science, majoring in Mathematics. I then moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) for an advanced bachelor’s degree in technology from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai. I always wanted to acquire a technology degree, and I have accomplished my dream of becoming a technologist.

After completing my technology degree in 1995, majoring in textiles, I worked for textile processing and machine manufacturing companies in India. During that time, I had an opportunity to get trained in Germany on advanced textile machineries, which helped me to commission 65 yarn dyeing machines and set up processes for a leading textile company in India. For 6 years, I mastered the end-to-end supply chain processes from procurement, product costing, product quality, manufacturing to packaging, and delivery.

At this juncture, I was trying to do something different with my career and took a break from my work to upgrade my business and IT skills through a two-year full-time MBA program (2002–2004). Eventually, I acquired an industry-leading SAP certification in supply chain manufacturing in 2005, which provided me SAP technology skills to make a career shift to SAP consulting. I utilized my depth and breadth of manufacturing expertise gained over several years in manufacturing companies along with SAP technology and consulting skills when delivering on mission-critical digital and business transformation programs. I was hired by some of the best and leading companies in the industry to assist in their journey of technology-enabled transformations.

I played the role of IT Delivery Leader and business relationship manager as part of an $11 billion mergers and acquisition program where I led multiple teams and collaborated with business and IT senior leadership to complete the technology integration in a record 36 months. In another major program of significant importance to the company, my role was to deliver on a global strategy to modernize ERPs with Canada, Mexico, and the US and transition from multiple ERPs to one global instance of SAP S/4 HANA. I built 35 plus high-performing IT consulting teams in various workstreams across the supply chain and led different phases of the program by designing scalable solutions and providing enterprise architecture expertise. I received the CIO/GBIS Star award for Q2 & Q3 2021 for successfully integrating a billion-dollar brand during unprecedented times of the global pandemic, coming up with innovative ways of remote collaboration.

I played the role of manufacturing principal consultant for a global aerospace and defense company where I successfully delivered global SAP & demand planning deployments worth $2 billion in revenue generation across UK, US, Europe, Asia, and Mexico. I drove business teams, SAP application teams, and system integrator teams by providing expertise in architecture, change management, and business process mapping, which helped the entire company achieve the strategic objective of delivering on global ERP deployments and bringing the entire company under one global aero instance. I received team excellence, individual excellence, and partner awards for outstanding work in global deployments, making an impact on the entire company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

During the initial days of my career, I was offered a job in a multinational company that sent me to Germany for advanced training on textile machinery. That was my first flight ever, where I was supposed to take a domestic flight from Baroda to Mumbai and then an international flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt. I arrived at Baroda airport on time but missed my flight due to anxiety, causing me to overlook announcements regarding gate changes. The lessons I learned from that mistake are always keep your end goal in mind, be attentive to all forms of communication, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Yes, I completely agree. You often need assistance along the way to achieve success. One person I am truly grateful for is my mentor, Andre Hoffner, who played a pivotal role in mentoring me to bring out the best in myself. He taught me techniques to change people’s mindsets, especially those who are resistant to change, which can be particularly challenging in organizations where individuals have spent decades and are reluctant to step out of their comfort zones. He emphasized that withdrawing is not an option; instead, it’s important to make people responsible and accountable for the projects they are involved in. Leadership through influence is key, and influence should stem from knowledge and humility rather than solely relying on authority. He encouraged me to leverage his support to accomplish tasks, and he always stood behind me, providing protection and guidance.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The film “Theory of Everything” had a profound impact on me, teaching me that life can present challenges, but it’s essential to never lose hope, as it is through hope that challenges can be transformed into opportunities. After six years of working in textile processing companies, where I gained a deep understanding of manufacturing best practices such as just-in-time, lean manufacturing, inventory management, batch production, repetitive and process manufacturing, among others, I realized that I didn’t want to limit myself solely to the textile industry. I harbored a larger goal of contributing to a wide variety of industries through digital and technological innovations.

To pursue this goal, I honed my skills in digital technologies, with a particular focus on enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. I mastered demanding skills such as software configurations, customizations, and data conversions from legacy systems to SAP systems. Additionally, I gained experience in implementing modernized on-premise and cloud-based ERP systems using both waterfall and agile project management methodologies. Equipped with the latest skills in supply chain management and software systems, I became one of the most sought-after professionals in my field.

I was fortunate to be hired by some of the leading companies in the automotive, aerospace & defense, consumer products, and big 4 consulting industries. This opportunity allowed me to work across the globe, spanning locations such as APAC, UK, Germany, Mexico, and the USA.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

In my current role as a trusted advisor to Fortune 500 companies across North America, I am assisting some of the leading companies in the oil & gas, consumer products, and life sciences industries in their digital transformation programs. These companies have recently embarked on an ambitious enterprise-wide ERP transformation, known as the Digital Transformation Program.

The Digital Transformation Program aims to deliver efficiency, effectiveness, and technical modernization to support the growth and ambitions of each business segment, making business operations simpler and more accessible for everyone in the organization. By the end of this transformation, these leading companies in their respective sectors will possess a streamlined digital core, facilitated by radical standardization and the adoption of industry best practices. This digital core will be bolstered by best-in-class systems to drive differentiation based on business segments.

This transformation is business-led and enterprise-enabled. As individual business segments propel their digital transformations, the enterprise will expedite the process of designing a global template with common processes across all businesses. The Digital Transformation Program is a multi-year endeavor involving the entire organization and is governed by an Executive Steering Committee, Chief Transformation Office, and individual business segment steering committees.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. Digital transformation can mean many things to many people, from your perspective, how do you define digital transformation in your industry?

Digital transformation is an organization-wide initiative that is business-led and technology-enabled, aimed at streamlining end-to-end supply chain business processes across the organization. It has the remarkable potential to enhance efficiency for individuals operating in various functions such as procurement, manufacturing, quality control, finance, warehouse management, and sales & distribution by eliminating non-value-added activities.

These transformations represent cultural shifts in how day-to-day work is executed, emphasizing disciplined operations using modernized systems to track and trace products across the supply chain for audit trails and compliance with regulations and industry best practices.

Digital transformations typically consist of several overlapping phases due to the size and complexity of the program. At a high level, Phase 0 is the scoping phase, where current business processes are defined and documented, program governance is established, and specialist resources are identified. Phase 1 involves design and configuration, where business processes are designed and configured in the systems based on the system landscape, utilizing project management tools and best practices to build a global template.

Phase 2, technical design and build, focuses on developing system enhancements based on identified gaps, along with creating training curricula. Phase 3 is the testing and pilot phase, during which designed systems are deployed to select business segments. Based on the success and feedback from the pilot, Phase 4 involves the deployment of the global template in multiple waves across business segments and manufacturing plants. Finally, Phase 5 covers Run & Maintenance, which encompasses the ongoing operation and maintenance of the deployed systems.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Indeed, almost all companies across various industries can benefit from digital transformation, as it is not dependent on any particular company or industry. In my 18-plus years of experience, successfully delivering digital transformation programs for a wide variety of industries — including textiles, chemicals, automotive, aerospace & defense, life sciences, mining & construction equipment, medical & diagnostic equipment, electronics component manufacturing, consumer products, food processing, and oil & gas — I have witnessed significant benefits accruing to companies in these sectors through digital transformation investments.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Digital transformation can indeed pose challenges for any company if not strategically planned and executed. Research indicates that approximately 70% of digital transformations either fail or do not deliver the intended business outcomes. Some of the common challenges include:

  • Lack of senior leadership involvement: Without active engagement from senior leadership, digital transformation initiatives may lack direction and support.
  • Shortage of experts bridging the gap between business and information technology: The absence of individuals who understand both business processes and IT can hinder effective communication and alignment.
  • Insufficient organization change management strategy: Managing the significant changes brought about by digital transformation requires a robust change management strategy to address resistance and foster adoption.
  • Political motivations and resistance to change: Internal politics and reluctance to embrace change can impede progress and undermine the success of digital transformation efforts.
  • Lack of expertise at all levels: From program management to specialized skills, a shortage of expertise can lead to implementation challenges and delays.
  • Unpreparedness of employees: Employees may struggle to adapt to the rigor and discipline of digital transformation implementation methodologies without adequate preparation.
  • Inadequate testing and training strategies: Without proper testing and training, employees may not be equipped to effectively use new digital tools and processes.
  • Delayed decision-making: Procrastination or indecision can stall progress and disrupt the timeline of digital transformation initiatives.
  • Lack of integration and architectural skills: Integrating disparate systems and ensuring architectural coherence are critical aspects of successful digital transformation.

In my experience working on complex digital transformation programs, I have found that meticulous planning and execution are essential. There is little room for error, and adherence to planned schedules is crucial. While some work streams may lag behind, others may progress as expected. It is vital to closely monitor the overall health of the program both horizontally across different work streams and vertically within each work stream. Regular discussions on accomplishments, pending decisions, potential risks, and mitigation plans are necessary to stay on track.

Hiring key resources with specialist skills in IT, business, and project management is critical for the success of multi-year digital transformation programs. These resources may need to be sourced internally for critical roles and externally through strategic consulting partners for specific IT skills. Continuous performance tracking and timely resource management are essential to maintain the overall health of the program.

Effective decision-making is paramount in digital transformation initiatives. Speed and accuracy in decision-making are crucial, and stakeholders must be involved in defining problems, exploring available options, and selecting the best course of action.

In summary, successful digital transformation requires meticulous planning, active leadership involvement, effective change management, adequate expertise, and timely decision-making. By addressing these challenges proactively, companies can increase their chances of achieving successful digital transformation outcomes.

Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?

1. Digital transformation plays a crucial role during mergers and acquisitions, especially in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector where companies often experience both organic and inorganic growth. Drawing from my real-world experience working for a leading frozen food manufacturing company operating in the US, Canada, and Mexico, which acquired another company with 15 manufacturing plants across the US in an $11 billion deal, I can attest to the significance of integrating companies from financial, operational, and technological perspectives to achieve cost synergies.

In this scenario, a well-planned and executed digital transformation program was essential to facilitate the integration of both companies. Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, this mega-merger’s digital transformation program was completed within a record 36-month timeframe. My role as a delivery leader involved spearheading the supply chain business transformation to standardize business processes, aligning with the company’s strategic priority of mergers and acquisitions.

Throughout this process, collaboration and influence were paramount. I worked closely with various departments, divisions, and teams across the organization, including corporate finance, supply chain planning, product quality, plant maintenance, research & development, data management, reporting & analytics, and operations. Together, we designed, configured, and customized SAP systems to streamline end-to-end supply chain processes.

The implementation of these digital solutions led to tangible benefits for the company. By optimizing production schedules, reducing changeover times, and implementing lean manufacturing practices, we were able to reduce costs and increase efficiency significantly. These improvements not only realized the anticipated cost synergies but also propelled the company to the next level of operational excellence.

In summary, digital transformation during mergers and acquisitions is critical for achieving integration, cost synergies, and operational excellence. By strategically leveraging technology and fostering collaboration across the organization, companies can navigate through complex transitions and emerge stronger and more competitive in the marketplace.

2. Digital transformation plays a crucial role in modernizing ERP systems, especially as outdated versions become unsupported by vendors over time. This necessitates end-user organizations to upgrade to the latest versions, which often come with enhanced capabilities such as in-memory computing, promising drastic improvements in transactional processing speeds.

Drawing from my experience, I have spearheaded the implementation of the most modernized ERP systems, specifically SAP S/4 HANA, the 4th generation business suite, for a leading frozen food manufacturing company with operations spanning the US, Canada, and Mexico. This initiative aimed to propel the company to the next level and enhance competitiveness in the marketplace.

In my capacity as a delivery leader, I played a pivotal role in implementing SAP S/4 HANA systems for the Canada International Modern ERP program. This initiative involved executing a global strategy to modernize ERPs across Canada, Mexico, and the US, transitioning from multiple outdated systems to a unified instance of SAP S/4 HANA.

I assembled high-performing consulting teams across various workstreams, including manufacturing, quality, planning, warehouse management, and corporate finance, and led different phases of the program. By leveraging my expertise in enterprise architecture, I designed scalable solutions tailored to meet the organization’s needs.

One of the most significant challenges encountered during this process was change management and effectively managing leaders at different levels without direct authority. However, through my adeptness in knowledge dissemination, influence, and relationship-building skills, I successfully navigated these challenges.

My leadership contributions were duly recognized by senior leadership, culminating in the receipt of the Modern ERP award. This accolade underscored my impact in driving the organization forward and solidifying its position in the market.

3. The connected shopfloor program is a pivotal aspect of digital transformation in manufacturing, aimed at digitalizing manual processes and empowering end-users with real-time decision-making capabilities. Drawing from my real-world experience leading a connected shopfloor program for a prominent consumer products company in the US, I witnessed firsthand the transformative impact it had on elevating the company ahead of its competition.

One of the primary challenges faced by the company was the reliance on paper-based work instructions, which hindered collaboration and failed to capture the complexities of various standard operating procedures. Recognizing the strategic priority to enhance operations at manufacturing plants, the company sought to adopt a digital, mobile-first approach for frontline employees to execute work, access real-time assistance, retrieve reliable information promptly, and collect actionable data for informed shopfloor operations decisions.

To address these challenges, I developed an innovative shopfloor manufacturing solution tailored for a brand-new production facility. This solution seamlessly integrated enterprise resource planning systems with manufacturing execution systems, ensuring enterprise interoperability. Additionally, I devised a rapid implementation methodology to deploy the digital solution swiftly across over 40 manufacturing facilities throughout the US.

This highly complex digital transformation program delivered immense value to the entire company by closely monitoring and enhancing key performance indicators, such as reducing errors and machine downtimes, and significantly improving data quality. By empowering operators on the shopfloor with digital tools to autonomously manage their production processes, this company-wide program fulfilled the organization’s strategic priority of transformation, propelling the company to the next level by offering differentiated capabilities.

4. Digital transformation in implementing a cloud-based agricultural solution presents a significant opportunity for companies to modernize their operations and drive efficiency. In the case of the company producing an iconic ketchup brand with a revenue of $450 million annually, the imperative need to replace an outdated, home-grown application with a modernized, cloud-based solution is clear.

In my leadership role, I spearheaded the successful delivery and deployment of the cloud-based agricultural solution within a record timeframe of 6 months, specifically targeting the crucial fresh pack season for tomatoes. To achieve this, I assembled high-performing teams comprising business experts, ERP specialists, integration architects, and project managers.

My contributions extended beyond leadership to providing cross-functional expertise, particularly in designing complex interfaces between the ERP system and the cloud-based agricultural solution. This facilitated seamless data integration, resulting in a notable 50% reduction in invoice processing times. Additionally, I led the development and implementation of a robust contract management solution to efficiently manage contracts with farmers, further enhancing supply chain key performance indicators.

The impact of this digital transformation initiative cannot be overstated. By delivering a game-changing product for one of the top 50 companies in the world for tomato processing, we have not only sustained market leadership in tomato ketchup but also positioned the company for continued success and growth in the evolving agricultural landscape.

5. The digital transformation initiative undertaken by the leading aerospace and defense company has been instrumental in driving enterprise-wide change and achieving strategic objectives. As part of this transformative journey, the deployment of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system globally across regions such as the UK, Europe, APAC, and the USA has been a cornerstone of the company’s strategic priorities.

In my multifaceted roles within the program, including functional principal consultant and deployment leader, I have been involved in designing manufacturing and demand planning solutions as part of multi-year global deployment programs. Specifically, my leadership and subject matter expertise in manufacturing global business and ERP software configurations and customizations have played a crucial role in driving productivity improvements, which have translated into revenue and profitability growth for the company. These outcomes have provided a significant cost and productivity advantage, aligning closely with the strategic initiatives of growth, productivity, and cash flow enhancement, ultimately propelling the company to the next level.

Additionally, my dual role in global demand planning deployments, serving as both deployment leader and principal consultant, has been pivotal. By successfully delivering a pilot implementation project to address the company’s challenge of company-wide forecast visibility and subsequently rolling out the solution to six other locations across the USA, Europe, and APAC, I have contributed to the establishment of aggregated demand planning, improved inventory visibility and accuracy, and integrated sales inventory and operations planning capabilities across the enterprise. These achievements underscore the transformative impact of digital transformations, further solidifying the company’s position at the forefront of the aerospace and defense industry.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Companies can create a culture of innovation by fostering a culture of ownership among employees across the board, irrespective of rank and file. Companies should understand that innovation can come at any level, and for the same reason, companies should decentralize decision-making, giving the power of decision-making directly into the hands of individual departments and users executing day-to-day tasks to foster a culture of innovation and create new competitive advantages.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“True behavior is how you behave with powerless individuals”. I’ve met a few people in my life who are very humble, irrespective of their power and positions, and always treat others with respect and dignity. I truly admire and emulate them because it is very relevant in my life; power and position are temporary, while the character you show is permanent.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can follow my work through Prasad Gandhikota | LinkedIn

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.