Reimagining Business in Disruptive Times


A big thank you to everyone for the overwhelming response to my webinar on ‘Reimagining Business in Disruptive Times’. Thank you for the tremendous interaction then. However, due to paucity of time, I could not do justice to the Q & A round. We gleaned through the chat window later and noted the unanswered questions therein. This post is an attempt to address some of them. These questions cover a broad spectrum of industry ranging from digitization in the banking and financial services industry to education to interior décor to WFH (Work From Home) & possible de-urbanization to government functioning to issues faced by small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19 

Gaurav Sharma says, “Digital has been adopted well in the Banking & BFSI industry. However, the % of the existing customers interacting in the Digital space has stagnated. How to promote enhanced usage of Digital platforms in Banks?” 

Hi Gaurav, I would distinguish digital platforms as follows:

Payment methods. The first push towards digital currency in banking was ‘Demonetization’ when a roadside vendor selling tea or vegetables and fruits began hanging a QR code on her/his cart. Now, as the lockdown ends, people are going to be wary of anything that involves the touch of strangers, i.e. non-contact modes will be preferred. People would be wary of even accessing an ATM. So payment platforms would definitely get another push due to the COVID crisis.

Utilisation of mobile/web-based route for availing bank services s.a. asking for account statements, applying for loans/products/services, complaint redressal etc. I feel people have adapted to the first one. While applying for products that need payments to be done, we, as Indians, probably need to speak/connect with an individual to get an acknowledgement for the payment made, as an assurance. The government has already put in place certain measures s.a. asking banks to operate at 33% capacity, maintaining social distancing etc. which will mean longer waiting time to get things done physically. That is going to be a big push for customers to adopt digital modes.

So, basically please analyse the new user-journeys that are evolving and will evolve post-COVID and be prepared with measures to address those. 

Ankur Gupta asks, ‘Sir do you see a shift to home-schooling and fully virtual instruction?’ 

Well Ankur, due to the lockdown, online sessions have definitely got a fillip. In the last forty days, online platforms have picked up many nuances that would enhance the immersiveness of the experience. Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality modes would get better. However, it cannot really replicate a face-to-face interaction in a classroom. Moreover, learning doesn’t happen just through the teacher, there’s a lot that happens through the social connections that kids make through personal interactions. But certainly going forward, the percentage of online education would go up a lot. Maybe the concept of large schools might gradually fade away and small, neighbourhood schools might emerge. Why? Because they will have lesser numbers plus a parent could occasionally walk over to keep a watch on the safety of the kid. Due to the need for physical interactions (group projects etc.) despite the enhanced online content, schools closer in the community would be preferred, whereby parents could walk kids to school back and forth a few times during a day. So maybe the large school model needs to be relooked at as a combination of home-schooling, online modules and group learning. 

Bipin Chaubey has a query regarding real estate and specifically Interior fit-out. Lack of labour, money flow how can he tackle these situations.

Hey Bipin, Real estate has been under the weather for a long time now and COVID-19 has certainly put brakes onto it. You have rightly pointed out lack of labour (that has reverse migrated), lack of liquidity as some of the reasons. That is the supply side. At the demand side, consumers will be conscious about spending due to uncertainty on the job scene, liquidity etc. They will postpone non-essential, discretionary spending. Interior décor certainly falls under that category. However, restaurants, hotels, offices will have to rejig their layouts because of government regulations regarding social distancing, hygiene etc. That would lead to some opportunities for new ideas in the furniture space. Could you generate concepts for the same? For your existing clientele, could you think of some other services that you could provide and engage with them? In short, how can you keep on engaging with your existing customer base with something beyond interior décor? e.g. In March ‘20, at the beginning of the lockdown, Swiggy and Zomato lost their then existing business. However, in three weeks they had commenced home deliveries of grocery, i.e. they capitalised on their existing capabilities and reached out to their existing customer base with a new service.

Nishant has a point to make regarding urbanization. As WFH becomes the norm, people would prefer to stay in their native places and asks what are your views about the same?

Yes Nishant, IT companies (TCS, Infosys etc.) have already announced that 75% of their staff will be permanently WFH. Other services-based companies too will follow suit, though may not be to the same extent. These fifty days have made a lot of processes leaner and companies would like to improve them even further. So, WFH has kind of become a norm for many. Employees would prefer to stay at their native places and work from home. That gives them the added advantage of a lower cost of living as they don’t have to be at the head office in the metro.

HR will have to rethink the allowances in pay packages since employees will be utilising their home wi-fi plans, electricity and such other services. They may have to be reimbursed for the same as well as a part of the home rentals/maintenance charges etc. because they will be using a part of that real estate for office work.

In our country, non-metros have issues of power cuts and erratic bandwidths. So there are opportunities for companies under the umbrella of network providers.

Piyush enquires about how marketing/digital marketing is going to change for small and medium businesses?

Piyush, Digital literacy has got a big push due to COVID-19. SMEs that have been staying away from digital media have been pushed into using them. As they experience the results of the digital push, they will embrace it. Good digital marketers will be in demand. If you are in the business of providing Digital marketing services, conventional logic says that you should cash in on the higher demand with higher pricing. However, I would rather have you focus on building a strong, long-term relationship with your SME clients by building a win-win model, which in the long run would be a lot more rewarding. Evolve a ‘Pay as you Gain’ model with your SME customers. Create some metrics, jointly with your SME customers, that monetise certain milestones based on their growth. In this way, you win as the SME wins and that will keep the SME and you both happy.

Ashutosh has a valid query about how a a start-up can harness these opportunities as they lack resources, especially access to high-end technology.

As a start-up, Ashutosh, one has the advantage of being nimble (easier and faster to change approaches) and more connected with customers. Think of different modes in which you can stay connected with your existing customers in these times, I would once again cite how Swiggy and Zomato got reconnected with their existing customers by quickly getting into grocery deliveries, a couple of weeks into the lockdown.

As far as technologies required for going digital are concerned, most are available on the cloud either free or almost free. So I don’t see a problem there. One has to creatively use those.

Sanket wants to know my take on governments looking into healthcare, sanitation and last-mile connectivity on priority and not as a rolling 5-yr plan?

Sanket, I think over the last six years, these issues have been a priority with the government with the Swachh Bharat and Ayushman Bharat initiatives. In fact, India’s successful polio/smallpox/tuberculosis eradication campaigns have created a well-entrenched healthcare delivery arm, not only in the rural hinterland but also among the urban slums. That is proving to be very useful in India’s fight against COVID-19.

This pandemic will speed up the push for the provision of medical hardware even more. The government has ordered for procurements of various medical devices/supplies at unprecedented levels. The government has resources but lack the last-mile execution capability. The The private sector has the execution capability but doesn’t have the trust of people. NGOs have the trust of people but lack the ability to provide services at scale. That is where collaborative approaches between these three entities, the Government, Private sector and NGOs have to be explored to establish last-mile connectivity. Any entities/start-ups that can manage this will encounter a plethora of opportunities.

Shreya Bhutada observes that certain businesses have almost stopped due to broken supply chains, so how do they survive as enterprises?

She feels, “Diversification is easier said than done for individual run businesses...”

She also raises the question of whether contractual professionals will have more opportunities or risk in the long run. 

Aptly noted Shreya,  Some businesses are bound to be hit beyond repair. Most SMEs run thin on cash flow. More often than not, the reason for this is, because over the years profits have been directed towards personal wealth creation (farmhouses, second and third homes etc.) by the owners rather being reinvested into the business. Such companies are the worst hit today as they do not have the liquid reserves to run operations (paying salaries to staff for the next month is the biggest challenge). Smart employees may not linger around with such companies (though opportunities might be low in times such as these, good talent is always sought after). Diversification is not easy and not an option at such times, for such cash-strapped organisations. However, exploring different avenues to engage with the existing customer base is a lot easier. This would need time invested in understanding the psychology of the existing customers and identify opportunities there. That would need effort and time to be spent. These are unprecedented times and to face them, one needs a mindset that is open and willing to try different things. Unfortunately, a lot of people use approaches that worked in the past to tackle emerging scenarios that are completely different and unprecedented. More often than not, such responses hit a wall. And failure makes most people apprehensive about attempting a different route.

While broken supply chains could be looked at ruefully, one can see opportunities for collaboration between different stakeholders in the supply chain. A lot of vendors/processors may be idle or may have gone under due to lack of sustaining ability. Can one utilise these idle assets and create win-win situations, that help both, you and the vendor with idle capacity? Can such synergies be found in your existing supply chains? Can such synergies be found across supply chains of industries that you were not a part of till the end of February ’20? Can some holes that have gotten created be plugged with creative collaborations? E.g. during the webinar, when I talked about a collaboration between an appliance manufacturer and a logistics company, wherein the logistics company sets up a compact assembling unit for downstream activities of the appliance manufacturer, whose subsidiary that used to carry out the assembly operations has gone under due to the lockdown. This is what I refer to as ‘Cross-Domain Collaborations’ that should be explored.

Coming to your second question on whether contractual professionals will have more opportunities in the coming times. I definitely see that coming true. In fact, over the last decade, that has already become a trend. Companies want to operate lean, i.e. they want to convert as much of their fixed costs into variable costs as possible. Contractual professionals offer the best option. Not only do they constitute a variable cost, but they also provide a basket of choice from which the company can choose the best options. So, if you are one those freelancers who prioritise freedom and variety over a steady-state, then fear not. The future might be rosier than you think!


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