Despite claiming to have “accidentally fallen into the technology industry,” Ashith Piriyattiath’s extensive CV has empowered him with a broad knowledge on the importance of IT across a variety of verticals.
Following an initial setback when pursuing his original career path in hotel management, Piriyattiath enrolled on a Bachelors of Computer Science at Mahatma Gandhi University in 1997, before being offered a position at the Indian Institute of Management as a trainee IT professional following his graduation. “IIM is one of the top IT institutions in India, so this was a fantastic opportunity for me so early on in my career,” says Piriyattiath.
He enrolled onto a Masters course at the LBS College of Engineering in 2001, and simultaneously took up part-time employment in the field at E-Com Technologies in India. In 2006, Piriyattiath moved to Muscat to join National Bank of Oman as an associate software developer, before relocating back to India and joining Red Entertainment Distribution – one of the largest games distributors in the region – in 2008.
Having concentrated the majority of his industry experience on the business application side of IT, Piriyattiath switched his focus to ERP, and was hired by logistics company Red Orange in 2009. “I was recruited to complete an ERP implementation after numerous failed attempts, and was offered a position as head of IT,” explains Piriyattiath. “I began working across the infrastructure, which was a challenge for me as it was outside of my comfort zone.”
The stakes were high at the firm, as the company was a major supplier to the United States’ military and artillery defence unit. “There were offices spread across Dubai, the GCC and India, but I was also frequently travelling to New York to correspond with our team over there,” he says. “There was a lot of pressure to bring state-of-the-art infrastructure across all of our bases, coupled with the fact that we had to comply with very strict standards and regulations when working with the military. In a way, this experience was like going back to college; adapting to this corporate culture was a whole new way of learning for me.”
In 2011, Piriyattiath began to apply his technology acumen to yet another industry, when he became Heinz’s IT manager for the Middle East and Africa region. “From an infrastructure perspective, my job was to maintain and enhance it as best I could as the major technologies were already in place, which made my life much easier than it had been in previous posts,” he quips.
During his time at Heinz, Piriyattiath was reporting to both the global CIO and regional CFO under a dual reporting role. He primarily focused his tenure at the company on enhancing ERP systems, but also overcame a number of challenges surrounding robotics and business intelligence within supply chain management. The position also saw Piriyattiath take his first trip to the UK, which would become a bi-monthly ritual. However, following the $28 billion acquisition of Heinz by Berkshire Hathaway in 2013, Piriyattiath opted to leave. “A completely new management team was brought in, and all of the strategies we’d worked on changed, so I had to go,” he says.
His next step – joining Aspen Pharma Care as IT manager of the EMENAC region – was a particular achievement for Piriyattiath on both a personal and professional level. “When I joined in 2014, Aspen was undergoing a major global migration of the IT infrastructure into this region, which involved transferring all of the ERP and business intelligence systems across from the global office in Mauritius,” he explains. Between travelling to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Mauritius and Ireland – where Aspen’s IT head office was stationed – the project was completed within a year. However, despite successfully decoupling the IT department from the global office, Piriyattiath didn’t stop there.
“The Baan ERP system that we were using was around 20 years old, and there was resistance from management to move ERP systems before or after the migration,” he says. “That being said, one of my biggest achievements at the firm and in my career to date was initiating a roadmap to transfer Aspen’s IT systems across to SAP, and the company is now in the process of implementing SAP across the organisation. The progress we made at Aspen is my baby.”
Piriyattiath moved to his current post as group head of IT at Al Masah Capital in January 2016 following his one-and-a-half-year stint at Aspen. The investment firm oversees four verticals: asset management, real estate, corporate advice and private equity, and all except one private equity firm’s IT delegates answer to Piriyattiath.
A major challenge upon his posting was to enhance the IT security across the firm’s corporate offices and private entities, following prior incidents of data breaches across the business. “Before I arrived at the company, there were a few incidents where large sums of money were lost, particularly through email spoofing,” he explains. “Previously, our private equity firms were just concerned about the running of the business; no one gave a second thought to IT security.”
Piriyattiath has since implemented a data leak protection system, based upon an infrastructure that he claims “could compete with the top banks in the region” with regards to IT security. “When I first joined Al Masah Capital, I started restricting employees’ access, and the initial bout of feedback I got from my staff was that ‘the police had arrived,” he says. “I’m not a person that says no to everything, but I know that my team and I can add real value if the correct processes are put in place within the business.”
With corporate offices in DIFC, Jumeirah Lakes Towers and Abu Dhabi, Piriyattiath must ensure that any project he instigates aligns with the regulatory guidelines put in place by the Dubai Financial Services Association (DFSA) and DIFC data laws. “If I say no to a proposal from my staff, I always try to offer an alternative solution that properly aligns with DIFC and DFSA guidelines,” he says.
Aside from this, he has implemented his own internal regulations with regard to information security within the company. This is following an incident before he joined, where an ex-employee lost their laptop on holiday, and the firm’s IT department was not advanced enough at the time to remotely wipe it or protect any of its files.
“At my first meeting with my CEO, he told me that he wanted to replace all laptops with desktops, to prevent this from happening again,” he says. Instead, Piriyattiath compromised. Laptops at Al Masah Capital are now physically locked to the employees’ desk, and a request has to be made to the IT department if a member of staff wishes to move it. The laptop’s activity is then heavily monitored by Piriyattiath and his team.
“I explained my CEO that instead of replacing 200-plus laptops and incurring that expense, we could find a solution to this problem that would ensure security but also flexibility,” he says.
Piriyattiath’s longstanding “greed for technology” has been the driver behind these transformational directives, and his ambitions are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. “I am always looking for ways to involve any new technology trends in my business,” he admits.
One of his main focuses for the remainder of 2017 sits with Al Najah Education – the education division under Al Masah Capital, where he hopes to implement a cheaper and alternative solution to RFID scanning, which would enable the school to track both its students as well as its assets.