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Digital transformers in the pandemic

California-based Tom Fishburne’s marketing cartoon, Marketoonist, recently had a comic showing a man addressing the board, saying, “Digital transformation is years away. I don’t see our company having to change anytime soon,” just as a Covid-19 wrecking ball hits the building. This about sums up what has been happening with many companies across the world after the pandemic shut down, well, everything.

The unprecedented crisis, however, is also helping vault us “five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks”, states a McKinsey report. As social distancing norms are strictly enforced, companies are scrambling to put in place digitisation and automation protocols. The India story falls somewhere in the middle.

In the Asia Pacific region, India is one of the top three digital adapters for hardware, along with Japan and China, but we are farther down the list in implementing software and automation, despite the over 560 million Internet users in the country (about 50% of our population). Fear of change is hobbling many, especially the legacy companies, while others are slowly exploring digital transformation (DX). And helping them are experts who strategise how cutting-edge technology can be used to bring in revenue, to automate internal processes and more.

DX and grow

Sri Manchala, founder and CEO of Trianz — which reimagines a company’s products and services, and reinvents the traditional business chain into a customer experience chain — says that it is a matter of concern that only 7% of companies globally (and across industries) understand what digitalisation entails. “It is not just creating a web presence and rolling out software; it is about reimagining value propositions and delivering exceptional experiences to all stakeholders,” he says. In simple terms, their clients must figure out how they can use tech to ensure that both customers and employees are satisfied.

Do your prep
  • Be very clear about why you are making the change, especially ensuring your company culture is ready for it
  • Identify areas that are human intensive and dependent on human subjectivity. These are the best areas to implement DX
  • You will have hits and misses. When a hit happens, your system should be ready to scale up and respond to higher volume and not become sluggish
  • Try new things but take quick decisions. Success belongs to those who find the best fit fast

In the current scenario, customers and revenue channels are the priority. Eddie Chandhok, President, Global Delivery, Infogain — a Silicon Valley-headquartered company with a majority of clients under high-tech, retail, insurance and travel sectors — says the most successful brands/companies are those who “combine the sentiment of the day with software”. For instance, in retail, DX involves creating an online presence and an omni-channel experience, especially with more customers moving to online shopping. Brands like Future Retail are making a push for market share with their Future Pay super app, which offers products from their brands like Big Bazaar, eZone and fbb, despite previous failures in e-commerce.

In India, consumer product companies have been the most proactive, as have telecommunications and financial services, says Kiran Menon, CEO and co-founder of Tydy, a Bengaluru-based platform that offers automated HR solutions. “The late ones, surprisingly, are IT companies. They just assumed they could build it internally, but now that they need something immediately, they are starting to realise [whatever they cobble together] will just be a quick-fix,” he says. Manchala adds automotive, logistics, travel and hospitality to the list, but he admits that most players “either react to pressure or digitise processes without adequate analysis. Construction and infrastructure, insurance and energy are languishing in a state of inertia, lagging on both analytics and digitalisation efforts”. At SignDesk, which helps companies with paperless workflow, founder Krupesh Bhat says financial services, education, healthcare and FMCG companies have been quick adopters. “Unilever is our client and Nivea and L’Oréal are currently in the process of deploying our service,” he shares. “With banks, typically, it was a hard sell before Covid. But now, especially with internal operations like HR and invoices, they are coming to us.”

Change for the better

Indian businesses are traditionally seen as slower to adopt and less experimentation-friendly. But with more Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies setting up Innovation and Capability centres in the country, these attitudes are changing. “When comparing India with South East Asian markets, China would be faster. But we are definitely ahead of the others and the Middle East. Indian businesses are adopting tech earlier and faster,” says Aneesh Reddy, co-founder and CEO of Capillary Technologies. He notes that the last three months specially has seen adoption really zoom through.

The biggest difference, according to Kiran is that “Indian businesses are becoming much more methodical in their ways of deployment. They also want to take advantage of every capability and feature of a product, and ensure every rupee spent is made full use of”. For example, CHROs (chief human resources officers) in companies like Unilever and AB InBev, the beer manufacturer, are exploring how Tydy can be used to virtualise training or approval workflows. Others are looking into creating single digital hubs [since people are working outside the corporate intranet] that employees can access.

There have been several success stories so far. When Unlock 1.0 kicked in, India’s second largest private insurance company was faced with a huge number of break-in (lapses due to non-renewal) policies. Since the law mandates physical verification of a vehicle before it can be re-insured, they needed a viable solution. CamCom, a start-up that harnesses computer vision and deep learning to automate quality checks using smartphones, stepped in. Ajith Nayar, co-founder and CMO, says the company “integrated our automobile defect/damage assessment platform on their app to enable contactless self inspection, based on which a score was provided. The underwriting team then used this to calculate the premium”.

Bots and budgets

Of course, almost all the apps, software as a solution (SaaS) models and platforms that are currently being used were available before coronavirus changed the world as we know it. But now, instead of being mere “nice to have” options, they are “must-have” investments to future-proof businesses. As Milan Sheth, EVP-IMEA, Automation Anywhere, explains, “Sooner or later, the world will go back to what it was. And for that continuity, you can use bots. The companies only have to be convinced about productivity, ease of use and whether it increases revenue. If I could service 100 customers in a day, can I now service 120? And if those 100 customers used to cost me $1,000, can it now cost me $150? This is what makes them decide.” Their bots are presently being used by a Swiss German biotech company “to process clinical trials to find a vaccine for Covid-19”.

Kiran adds that while earlier conversations around DX would stall at the budget stage, companies are now moving a lot of their finances to address automation requirements. “We are seeing a much faster sales cycle. We’ve had companies making decisions in a month’s time, where earlier it would take over four to five months,” he says, sharing that in the past month, they have closed deals with two companies and three other prospects are set to close this month. Kishore Manohar, co-founder of Chennai-based Incite Brand Consulting, finds that marketing budgets are being put towards customer experience. “A lot of brands have cut back on generic ‘digital presence’ spending. And rightly so... Investing in a solid communications person/team to watch over your brand spend can get you a lot of bang for your buck.”

Future ready
  • According to Massachusetts-based International Data Corporation's recent report, Digital Transformation Spending Guide, this year, globally, companies are spending around $1.4 trillion on cloud services and related hardware and software.
  • This is up from $1.18 trillion in 2019. The budgets have been increasing at an average rate of 17% per year, plateauing only because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile at TCS, automation is in the top three in the allocation of their technology budget. They have teamed up with Automation Anywhere and are looking at RPA (Robotic Process Automation) enablement for everything from customer onboarding and to supply chain management and compliance. And over at ITC Infotech, the company is looking at providing each of its 9,000 employees a software bot to execute all mundane tasks by the end of the year.

Sustain the momentum

But Sanjay Menon, Managing Director, Publicis Sapient, India, says that companies must understand that digital transformation is a journey and not a one-time exercise. “They have to stay in a constant state of being able to respond and act to sudden changes,” he states. In the Indian context, one of the things holding people back is a rigid mindset. “For companies that have been around for 50 or 100 years, their longevity is their identity. But it can also indicate a sense of self that has not changed.”

It is not just about changing your way of working; it is about adapting to customer requirements. “Once people get used to a certain way of sourcing, their behaviour will harden. They’ll also prefer to stick to brands that adapt first and offer services they’re looking for,” he says, adding that in crunch situations, even the most established have to adapt to survive. He cites ITC Maurya’s iconic New Delhi restaurant, Bukhara, as an example. “A few months ago, it was unthinkable to get [their signature tandoor dishes] home delivered. Now they are on Swiggy!” But his favourite example of how Indians are phenomenally adaptive is “how my mum and grandmum have quickly moved to Zoom. People in urban areas easily use chat boxes and are open to email interaction. They don’t have resistance to change”.

Indian companies are surprising strategists, too. “For a long time, it was convenient for many industries to just adopt what was happening in the world. The ‘Make in India’ sentiment is now driving people to create solutions here,” says Chandhok, adding that we have the people, the expertise and “the best payment and security systems comparable with anyone in the world”. To keep any company on top of the digital game, he recommends changing leadership every five to seven years. “Sometimes the way of thinking becomes old. You must see a significant change in your technology leader on a regular basis and if the person on top comes from somewhere completely different, you will have a fresh perspective. Otherwise, digital transformation will remain a mirage,” he concludes.

With inputs from Rosella Stephen, Nidhi Adlakha and Surya Praphulla Kumar

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 3:31:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/digital-transformation-experts-on-how-indian-companies-and-businesses-are-adapting-to-automation-and-ai-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/article31982466.ece

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