Connect: Aligning Business with Technology – Gains & Pains

business with techThe keynote panel discussion at ReTechCon 2013 by Alok Tandon-CEO, INOX Leisure Limited, Himanshu Chakrawarti-CEO,The MobileStore Limited, K.Radhakrishnan- President, KB Fair Price format and Future Freshfoods Limited, Mukul Bafana-Co-founder, Jabong.com and Rajeepan R-Director , Microsoft Corporation India Pvt.Ltd was “Standing Room” only as the moderator Jamshed S. Daboo, CEO, Trent Hypermarket Ltd. (Star Bazaar) led the panel through a series of provocative and interactive questions.

 He warmed up proceedings by asking the panel – “What is the disruptive forces unleashed by IT on your business in the last five years?”  To which the answers were wide and varied:

Alok Tandon  “Digitalization has been disruptive. Gone are the days of film rolls carefully packed into aluminium canisters.  Inox now controls all its screens from its Network Operations Center in Mumbai. “

So for Inox, “Technology has compressed time.  Today, digital movies are seen by tier 3 audiences – the same day, same time as Mumbai audiences”

“For The Mobile Store – Technology is a strategic differentiator “ – Himanshu

Not only is it a business necessity for front end staff to be well versed in technology (given that 45% of sales comes from value added services / devices such as SIM cards, data card etc) but Mobile store has also been able to cross-pollinate technology (and process) applications from other industries.  Faced with a change in customer identification norms for reactivation of SIM Cards – thanks to changes in regulations, the company was able to adapt the Aadhar projects e-KYC process as a solution.

One of the questions posed to the panelists was “Is IT curtailing innovation in Retail?” In times past it took Rs 20,000 and a few days of a fox pro programmer to make changes and tricklet them down to customer touch functions – but now all IT projects seem to be 9 month long, million dollar budget initiatives.  The view was that how IT is used is business specific – however all the panelists unequivocally agreed that there is a need to start small, prove the concept and then scale up.

On the issue of IT absorption in Inventory management – a telling point, made by Rajeepan was that even in markets like India and China, talent is getting scarce.  As these markets reach a tipping point where scarce labour resources become expensive – they will need to be replaced by technology.

As a market, India tends to leap “generations” in technology adoption. But, Retailers are not always clear – where they want customers to absorb technology. For grocery retail, that’s at the till – i.e. ensuring that billing times are low creates significant customer value – but for other segments of retail this “Moment of Truth” may be elsewhere in their value chain.  Also, traditionally, companies have chosen to automate the “controllable” moments in their value chain – witness the focus on inventory, assortment automation. Customer facing processes are more unpredictable but focusing on automating them creates greater value.  The decision of where to automate has to be a strategic call by the Business as a whole – it cannot be left to the IT function alone.

Mukul summed this up succinctly:

“Any company that does not put customer experience at the forefront of technology adoption is being myopic”

A final dimension to “connecting” technology with business: Consider the relative investments that retailers make in IT versus what they make in process.   The business folk who run the business day to day are not take enough time to step back and look at “process leakages” which compromise on the promise of the “moments of truth” to customer.

“Technology cannot drive process” : – K. Radhakrishnan, President, KB Fair Price – “if anything – it should be the other way round”. 

Any major scale IT rollout must first focus on what the future “process” reality will be and then get technology to deliver to that vision.  “If you compare the relative investment in process redesign versus technology implementation – it’s less than 1%. Its that 1% which can make the difference between significant changes in customer experience”

To the moderator’s final question: How do you keep pace with technology – the answers were varied:

 “Taking to IT companies and  Social Media” – K. Radhakrishnan, President, KB Fair Price

 “Rely on my gut as a customer” –  Himanshu Chakrawarti, CEO, The MobileStore Limited

“By talking to my daughters!” –  Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Limited

 “Benchmarking with what’s happening across the world!” – Mukul Bafana, Co-founder, Jabong.com 

 

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