The unfolding tragedy of COVID-19 in India has exposed many fault lines, not least the relative maturity of much of the country’s digital transformation efforts. Companies that had invested significantly in digitalisation have been far more effective in serving customers, maintaining supply chains and manufacturing, and connecting with and caring for employees in this time of need.
While the government of the day has pushed the digital agenda through multiple layers in society, many small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – India’s economic backbone – have struggled to keep pace, weighed down by a lack of ‘connected’ digital infrastructure, data and operating models.
It’s hard to engage with and support customers, employees, suppliers and partners when your digital lines of communication aren’t fully formed. True digital interaction goes way beyond a mobile app, website or toll-free number.
With revenues falling during the pandemic, SMEs face a digital dilemma: they need to urgently invest, yet often lack the cash to do so. Failure to digitise, however, will leave them even further behind more tech-savvy rivals, today and in the future.
In the wake of the pandemic, KPMG International commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey companies’ digital transformation plans. This global study* features 820 senior executives (including 68 from India), primarily from Operations, IT, Finance and Sales & Marketing. All the respondents have varying degrees of responsibility for digital strategy and investment.
Not surprisingly, the development of new channels and ways to serve customers was high on the current agenda, with 60 per cent globally saying this is either their top, or one of their top, priorities for the next 6 to12 months*.
In the immediate term, it’s essential to meet customers where they are. With physical interactions massively reduced, digital commerce, for many, is a must for survival, to enable customers to browse, buy, engage with sales and customer service, and track delivery – all digitally. This will involve capturing and cleaning up relevant customer data, and possibly outsourcing some services like last-mile delivery.
Encouragingly, 62 per cent of the executives taking part in the survey feel the creation of a seamless, digital customer experience has accelerated significantly during the pandemic, with 53 per cent speeding up their efforts to build new digital business models and revenue streams*.
They’ve also had to consider employees, partners and citizens in general. By establishing stronger digital relationships for communicating and transacting, they are able to help these vital stakeholders through incredibly tough times.
When the markets begin to open up and India starts to recover, ambitions should become loftier, to provide a consistent, frictionless experience for employees, customers, suppliers and manufacturers.
Respondents’ number one digital transformation priority is to improve the quality of the customer experience. And 46 per cent say they have been given a larger budget to increase the pace of digitalisation*.
In the medium-to-longer-term, the digitally equipped business needs to evolve into a connected enterprise built around the customer, linking front, middle and back offices and responding swiftly to local market signals. Digital channels improve reach and boost revenue, while digitising the supply chain and automating tasks helps efficiency, capturing and analysing data to better understand customers and refine the value proposition.
In such a connected, customer-centric universe, customers guide the business case, rather than vice versa.
How can Indian companies optimise their digital investments, to connect with customers today as well as build a connected enterprise tomorrow?
Looking further into the future, a smaller proportion are seeking to establish the foundations of a connected enterprise by modernising business operations (36 per cent) and aligning business functions and departments to better serve the customer (29 per cent)*.
Such transformation also provides an opportunity for some of the lower-tier cities and regions of India to bridge the digital divide, leapfrogging traditional business models rooted in physical infrastructure.
Striking a note of optimism
At a time of national crisis, it is sometimes hard to be hopeful. But we believe that India’s fundamentals – a young population, a growing, resilient middle class and a thirst for digital – can help the nation turn the corner once the worst impacts of the pandemic subside.
We should not forget that change was in the air pre-COVID-19 but now it is time for a sustained commitment to digital transformation, with customer-centricity and connectivity at the heart of organisational efforts.
India’s strength lies in its in-depth, local markets. By investing with a bit in today and another in tomorrow, its companies can succeed by offering the seamless experience that customers demand.
A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of KPMG, April 2021