Innovate. Transform. Grow. When it comes to words that make for themes at brainstorming sessions for ideas to push business, these three are the usual suspects. The order might change a little. But for a business, or any entity, to stay relevant, it comes down to these three words. Innovate. Transform. Grow.

As the economic impact of Covid-19 pans out, it is no coincidence then that these three words formed the theme of the first-ever virtual edition on Friday of the Microsoft Envision Forum, a platform for senior business executives and decision-makers to discuss solutions and explore possible applications of real-world digital transformation. Tata Sons’ group chief digital officer Aarthi Subramanian said that the pandemic would give a push to digital adoption, and spur investments in technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence, and in cybersecurity. And reskilling would assume greater significance.

Subramanian, ranked 36 on the Fortune India Most Powerful Women in business list for 2019, said that even before the pandemic, companies had been pushing to reskill employees “to adopt new ways of doing business”. And now, this process would be accelerated.

“Within our group companies, there is a clear shift in investment beyond the traditional learning management systems to investment in digital learning platforms. And these digital platforms will enable nugget-based learning, learning on the go, learning on-demand, and anywhere anytime learning,” she told Microsoft India president Anant Maheshwari during the keynote session. “The entire canvas for reskilling has become broad-based. So reskilling is not only for the tech roles; there is a significant focus on reskilling for enterprise consumers of tech. I think we’re going to see a lot more acceleration and broad-based adoption of talent development across enterprises.”

Maheshwari said that now was the time to work together. “Covid-19 has changed our businesses, communities, industries and world forever. No one company is going to solve a challenge like this alone, and it is going to take the private and public sectors working together to turn the tide on Covid-19… As we continue to work through the current situation and plan for the future, it is clear that the change required is significant—as is the potential opportunity across industries. Technology will play a stronger role than ever before—enabling economic recovery and helping each one of us achieve more.”

<em>Anant Maheshwari,&nbsp;</em>President, <em>Microsoft</em> India.
Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India.
Image : Narendra Bisht

Subramanian said she expects to see significant disruption in commerce due to the pandemic-induced change in consumer behaviour. “I think, as a country, we will see the emergence of a new commerce model. The entire Covid-19 situation has induced certain changes in customer behaviour, which we believe will disrupt how online product discovery will happen. Purchase and sale as we know it, is going to get disrupted. Customer engagement and delivering the next level of customer experience is going to intensify. Customer engagement is going to become more contactless and more connected than we ever saw in the past,” she said, adding that contactless purchase will “redefine the model of physical purchase that is prevalent today”.

She expected to see an increase in online penetration in categories such as automobiles, home appliances, and consumer durables. “What we are also expecting to see is enterprises adapting to these new consumer preferences, which are emerging and responding with agility. Beyond that, some of the new emerging opportunities for India that we are going to see will be healthcare transformation at scale, telemedicine, e-education, and e-learning.”

Maheshwari said that technology would play a major role in the management of social sector programmes across education, health, and public distribution, helping to strengthen the economy. He also highlighted the need for robust security solutions.

“In a post-Covid world, every business will consider mainstreaming the new work-from-home model by making it resilient, secure, productive, and effective,” Subramanian said, in the context of a recent announcement by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which said it aimed to have only 25% of the workforce in offices at any given time by 2025.

Talking about the salt-to-software Tata group, she saw four areas of transformation: new end-to-end customer journeys; increased adoption of automation in manufacturing industry; improved employee engagement due to distributed workplaces; and investment in digital infrastructure as a horizontal capability.

At the session on BFSI, the speakers said banking and financial services providers have adjusted operating models and services to support customers and help those who need the most assistance, while meeting regulatory and compliance obligations. Anoop Mahapatra, deputy managing director, State Bank of India, the bank “has been investing heavily in building a robust IT ecosystem to digitally transform the banking experience”. As a result, it has been able to run the entire ecosystem seamlessly during the lockdown. “Our 22,000 branches and network of 58,000+ ATMs are working seamlessly on a robust IT platform. Around 90% of the total transactions go through anytime channels, i.e. other than branch channel, the post-Covid impact on customer service is insignificant. Although there has been some drop in loan requirements, to overcome this SBI has a strong end-to-end AI/ML platform with number of AI-based pre-approved loan products, to provide loans with ease and we hope the traction for the same will be built up in the coming days,” he said.

Speakers also dwelt on the need to reinvent manufacturing to cope with fluctuating supply and demand, and the disruption in production. “Manufacturing has always been a traditional business but post Covid, the sector will have to reinvent to enable a seamless partner ecosystem. Use of IoT to drive shop floor efficiencies and the use of digital collaboration, predictive analytics, bots and gamification of experience to drive engagement with end-users and channel partners are likely to be the norm going forward,” said Pidilite CIO Mayur Danait.

As for the retail sector, while technology has helped transform the value chain, the pandemic has pushed the sector to steer through major health and safety concerns for its employees, mandated store closures, drastic shifts in demand, and evolving customer needs. “The way customers shop has and will change dramatically… How brands are interacting and engaging with their customers makes a lot of difference. Going digital is the key to enable a virtual experience for customers—right from viewing products on the app to booking a product to its delivery,” said Sanjay Bhattacharjee, head-CRM, Titan Company Limited.

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