By Srikanth RP and Sandhya Michu
The digital wave is encouraging channel partners to build digital skills rapidly and prepare for the future
India is in the midst of a huge digital revolution. This can not only be seen in terms of common people using digital platforms to access basic services, but also in terms of business models of companies changing completely. A recent Boston Consulting Group report, for example, highlights the intent of Indian companies who are using their digital capabilities to accelerate faster than their competitors. The Boston Consulting Group report says that a majority of Indian global challengers—71 per cent compared to the average of 100 global challengers with 59 per cent—is leveraging digital capabilities to succeed, in other words, they are either digital natives or significant digital adopters. The report highlights the example of Mahindra & Mahindra, which is using digital models to transform itself.
The company is preparing itself for a huge digital leap and relooking at how digital technologies can be used to create massive competitive advantage. For example, the Mahindra Group has quickly learnt from startups and digital leaders like Uber and Ola. The group has launched SmartShift, an online aggregator platform that connects cargo owners and transporters, which has become extremely popular among cargo owners due to its transparent and competitive pricing. In a first, the group has also launched an agricultural rental equipment service. Using an app, farmers can take on rent tractors and equipments on a pay-per-use basis. Orders can be booked using an app, which are then passed on to the nearest franchisee using location based mapping.
Another case in point is HDFC Bank, which is using algorithms extensively to automate every process where technology can improve efficiency with minimal human intervention. One of the best examples of this approach can be seen in the personal loan segment. The bank uses an algorithm that allows it to process loans in just 10 seconds.
This is an era of instant consumption, and banks like ICICI Bank are capitalising on this trend by launching a slew of products. Backed by powerful analytics, the bank has created several instant products – instant credit card, instant PPF facility, instant digital credit. There are several such examples, where leaders are taking a cue from startups and creating new revenue paths.
Impact on the channel
Digital technologies have completely changed the way customers are consuming services. This is best summed up by Jayantha Prabhu, CIO, Essar Group, as he explains how the role of the CIO has changed. He says, “The major disruption is happening in the role of the CIO. Earlier a CIO’s KPIs were measured in terms of data centre uptime, connectivity uptime, cost savings etc. Whereas, today CIOs are measured on four major KPIs – improving revenue, improving efficiency within processes, risk management and customer experience. The way we evaluate technology has also changed in today’s world – every CIO is now connected on social media, where they discuss about channels. For technology finalisation, there’s no requirement of meeting with OEMs, because everybody can access content on the internet. Moreover, proof of concept is a must in present times – it’s not about technology, the integration is important. Additionally, support and OEM backing is equally crucial. Today, we don’t buy technologies in pieces, we have a detailed roadmap planned for digital transformation. Another thing I have observed that if you’re not talking ‘digital’, nobody will entertain you.”
While traditionally, the focus was on selling hardware, the demand for customised solutions and value added digital services, is making channel players reinvent themselves for the digital era.
This is also reflected in the way some of the biggest players in the industry are empowering their regional partners. A case in point is Ingram Micro. The company is building a whole business model on providing services that would enable its retailers to create a digital presence. Right from helping them to set up stores in multiple market places, managing their product portfolios, publishing their inventories, managing their shopping cart, warehousing and inventories, and last mile supply chain, Ingram is providing a complete end-to-end services for online business.
Similarly, Mumbai-based Orient Technologies is also seeing a rapid growth in its business specifically with respect to digital transformation. Says Ajay Sawant, Managing Director, Orient Technologies, “We are looking to close 20-30 cases where we will be helping our customers automate the process and taking on-premise applications to cloud in this financial year. For us, cloud and mobility are the two main offerings of our portfolio.”
Partners like e-Zest have built their own IP for accelerating their customer’s digital journey. Devendra Deshmukh, CEO and Founder, e-Zest Solutions, says, “We have created our own cloud orchestration tool that enables us to manage cloud infrastructure optimally. Known as the CloudMAP, this helps you effectively manage the applications running on cloud. With CloudMAP, you can configure complex systems which can be configured and deployed as per requirement with ease. We also came up with a Tabit framework that develops rich and easy-to-manage mobile apps in the shortest possible time. Besides this, the Centre for Excellence (CFE) groups that we have built PoCs that helps in understanding the issues of implementing the project saving crucial time on client projects. Besides, we have acquired the SmarterMe sales productivity tool. This tool has brought AI expertise and sales domain knowledge on board.”
Digital skills shortage
Digital skills shortage is being felt across the industry, which is creating a massive opportunity for channel partners. For example, Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 75 per cent of organisations will experience visible business disruptions due to I&O skills gaps, which is an increase from less than 20 per cent in 2016.
Training in digital skill sets is necessary and critical for channel partners to thrive in the new age. Tarun Seth, Managing Director, Hitachi Systems Micro Clinic, says, “Today, every company is trying a digital-first approach, and we are trying to help our customers in their digital journey by ensuring that the customer’s IT infrastructure is ready for a digital leap. From our perspective, we are training and retraining our teams to help our customers get the best possible outcome.”
Partners realise the importance of the right skill sets in winning deals. Sunny Sharma, CEO, Foetron Systems, says, “Our success mantra is adopting a ‘Digital first approach’. We have been investing heavily on digital channels to reach out to our potential customers, drive consumption with projects like Foetron Cloud Academy and resolve their technical issues digitally with our very own Foetron Cloud Support portal. We are also investing heavily on leveraging digital to build up scale. One such project is Foetron Cloud Academy with which we aim to help, not only the working professionals to understand the basics of cloud, but also the young college graduates to get the basic overview of what is cloud.”
Digital is now considered to be a mandatory skillset, and essential for winning the respect of global OEMs. RS Shanbhag, Chairman and Managing Director, Valuepoint Group, opines, “In one of my recent meetings, the scope of the entire conversation changed when I brought in the AI piece for L1 and L2 support. The MNC had a mandate for reducing manpower by automating L1 and L2 support. Our AI skills proved to be the right fit and a big opportunity for us. Digital transformation is five times faster than traditional transformation – you should be either the first to get in, or fast to follow and we have adopted both approaches in different scenarios.”
Digital in action
With the required niche skills, some channel partners are already winning the respect of global players by delivering digital projects effectively. A case in point is Fragma Data Systems, which helped one of India’s leading financial players to develop an advanced customer segmentation model for running monthly campaigns. Since the client’s existing analytics model was not able to scale with large volumes of data (>500GB) (550cr+ records ), it was taking almost 24 days to run each campaign, which put a damper on campaign success. To help the customer resolve this issue, the team of deployed the Spark model on Microsoft Azure HDInsights, which effortlessly supported the scale and flexibility. “Following the implementation of the solution, the overall processing time came down from 24 days (on SAS) to 25 minutes (on Spark/HDInsights), paving the way for the team to run monthly campaigns within the stipulated time to drive USD 100 million revenue,” informs Varun Kumar Reddy B, CEO, Fragma Data Systems.
Another IoT and AI focused partner, TheDataTeam, carried out an IoT based project at one of the large oil and gas retailers in India. The project allowed the company to automate its geographically distributed retail outlets across India by providing live data to the operations team which enabled quick decision making on the operational activities of the corresponding outlet. This provided the operations team the ability to monitor and manage retail outlets seamlessly, ensuring transparency and a better customer experience. The completed phase of the project achieved the targeted rollout to 80 retail outlets and better consumer engagement improved operations.
Prior to this project, reporting of retail outlets failure used to take 2-3 days, leading to shut-down of outlets. Since the data provided by retail outlets are live now, the operations teams now can access specific data from the outlets and act on it accordingly. Besides, operations teams are now equipped enough to plan proactive maintenance of outlets so as to avoid interrupted working of specific retail outlets. With the successes witnessed in the current phase, the organisation is now deploying the solution to other outlets, eventually covering all its outlets pan India, informs Rangarajan Vasudevan- CEO and Co-Founder, TheDataTeam.
Going forward, it will be imperative for channel partners to keep investing in digital technologies, as India is on a huge path of digital transformation and offers tremendous opportunities. The best example of the power of digital technologies can be seen from the revenues generated by digitally enabled companies. Sanchit Vir Gogia, Founder, Greyhound Research, says, “There are more than 300 channel partners in India who are a one-man show, having one product and making one million dollars per year. $300 million is being made by these new age-partners and it is a missed opportunity for these channel players.” Sanchit points out that a majority of these partners depend totally on digital avenues to raise revenues. As one can see, in the digital era, the sky is the limit, and the ability to accelerate depends totally on the channel partner’s abilities.