Puneet Wahi has had a unique life journey. An alumni of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, he graduated in 1990 as a commissioned officer in the Indian Army. At age twenty-two, Wahi was wounded in combat, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He made a remarkable recovery to regain normal overall function, with the exception of one arm. During his recovery and rehabilitation, Wahi was determined to do more than just recover. As part of that process, he enrolled in a computer course to learn system analysis and design—a decision that changed the course of Wahi’s life.
When he returned to active duty in early 1992, Wahi leveraged his newly acquired skills by working on the desktop computer in the office, a machine that no one else in his army unit knew how to use. Wahi began by automating basic office tasks and then moved on to creating software for training and databases to manage the inventory of spare parts. He later automated entire procurement processes, leading to exponentially faster bids and a vendor assessment process which was previously not possible.
“Realizing what I could accomplish through computers was truly a liberating and empowering experience,” he says. “My background and training has taught me to be agile and to have situational awareness. This, along with the logical thought process of a computer programmer, has helped me more than anything along my journey.”
From the Military to Leading I.T.
Now senior director of information technology at TPC Group, Wahi has carried those lessons with him throughout his career. He retired from the military and immigrated to the United States to attend graduate school, obtaining a masters of science in computer engineering. After the professor for whom he was supposed to work as a lab assistant encountered an unforeseen emergency, Wahi took over his classes and was made adjunct faculty the following semester.
Technology Giving Back
For more than three years, Puneet Wahi has been volunteering with the Northwest Austin Universal Health Clinic (NAUHC), which provides healthcare for uninsured families and the underinsured. He has developed NAUHC’s entire technology infrastructure, including web design and user analytics.
Wahi’s volunteer work has helped him take a much broader view than the traditional linear approach used in typical IT projects. “At first, my efforts were only technology-specific,” he says. “I was encouraged to expand my participation in the mission, and that has made me feel good in ways that go far beyond the results of my specific contributions.”
After graduation, he took roles in application development, risk, audit, IT management, and even a four-year stint at Accenture consulting in technology strategy.
“Most people gravitate toward what they’re familiar with,” Wahi says. “However, my background helped me recognize and be open to new opportunities in unfamiliar territory. Nothing is impossible.”
Over the course of his career, Wahi has faced several disparate, overlapping challenges; there have been poor business processes, underutilized technology, aging infrastructure, unaware users, and siloed IT support organizations, to name a few.
To succeed in the face of these challenges, Wahi has a simple mantra: understand and align to the business, create the appropriate operating model, and ensure that the organizational structure addresses the foundational elements, such as architecture, security, and the support model. Inventorying all available technology, educating and aligning IT staff on business and operational needs, and inviting the other technology organizations and users to the table to discuss integration and optimization are a natural progression once these are in place.
“Including everyone in the process helps give them ownership in the resulting solutions,” Wahi says. “It also reduces defensiveness and helps create relationships for moving forward.” This approach has led to a hybrid infrastructure that now blends public and internal clouds with onsite architecture for specific plant operations at TPC Group.
Successfully addressing these challenges cleared the way to allow Wahi to focus on eliminating gaps between TPC Group’s advanced manufacturing technology and new capabilities in analytics, artificial intelligence, and Big Data. That has meant emphasizing data aggregators to organize the massive amount of data related to details such as time and location, identifying what products are being processed, and manufacturing data like pressure, volume, and temperature.
“Real-time data, intelligent devices, and analytics enable us to generate insights into operational reliability and to develop predictions for preventive maintenance,” Wahi explains. “In a business that depends on volume and capacity, those are critically important capabilities.”
The Human Element of I.T.
Perhaps because he has always worked closely with end users, unlike many technologists, Wahi is always keenly aware of the human component in the success or failure of his IT projects and initiatives.
“If an accounts payable clerk’s assignment is to process a certain number of invoices in a certain amount of time, it doesn’t matter that they have the best artificial intelligence at their fingertips or the most powerful computer available,” he says. “Your solution needs to be simple, reliable, and available quickly for users to create value and achieve their goals while addressing all security aspects.”
Looking forward, Wahi is focused on building on TPC Group’s existing safety culture to increase user awareness and engagement on cybersecurity. This includes employing game theory, monthly newsletters, and ongoing training, as well as emphasizing the importance of harnessing existing data in order to boost the company’s business intelligence capabilities.
“If we can demonstrate how data provides insights that we did not have before, the company will be well on its way to harnessing an existing resource and converting it into a value-added commodity,” Wahi says. Once again, he is seeking opportunity in unfamiliar territory to take advantage of what some might think is impossible.