[TechSparks 2020] Be quick, clear, and flexible: how businesses can adopt digitisation amidst COVID-19

At a virtual fireside chat at TechSparks 2020, Navdeep Manaktala, Director & Head, Startup Business, Asia-Pacific & Japan at AWS, Jumbotail Co-founder S Karthik Venkateswaran, and Vinculum Founder Venkataramana Rao Nott discussed the roadmap to digitise Indian businesses amidst COVID-19.

COVID-19 may have single-handedly upended businesses across the world, but it has also been responsible for digitisation at a faster pace than ever seen before.

The bigger question, however is: how soon can organisations shift to new operating models?

At a virtual fireside chat on Day 5 of TechSparks 2020, YourStory’s flagship event, Navdeep Manaktala, Director & Head, Startup Business, Asia-Pacific & Japan at Amazon Web Services (AWS), delved into how SMBs are coping with changes wrought by the pandemic and adopting digitisation with S Karthik Venkateswaran, Co-Founder of Jumbotail, and Venkataramana Rao Nott, Founder and CEO of Vinculum Limited.

Navdeep Manktala sets the context for the session. “The pandemic has exposed a clear digital divide. The continuity of operation for many businesses now critically depends on their digital capabilities,” he said, adding, “Many sectors are adopting technology, including doctors who are now telemedicine regulars.”

Digital transformation in India

Through his experience of working with kiranas through Jumbotail, Karthik said: “Surprisingly, I have a different take on whether these kirana owners can adopt technology. I have not seen a significant change in the willingness or ability to adopt technology, but a change in the ecosystem’s approach to solve problems.”

On the other hand, Venkataramana compared digitisation to the demonetisation move.

COVID-19 is doing for ecommerce what demonetisation did for Paytm. It has sped up at least five years in terms of adoption and opportunities for brands to scale,” Venkataramana said.

“Technology has created an opportunity for businesses to reach out to their customers. So you’ll have to think of engaging across channels and to make people more comfortable with these digital systems. While every country is looking inwards, a number of brands can help us go international this year, especially since online channels are a great route to get a market for your business,” he added.

Empowering businesses during the lockdown

During the lockdown, a number of businesses came to a standstill. The operation of malls and supermarkets was limited, but kiranas withstood the test of time and became everybody’s local hero. Jumbotail also had a role to play to ensure smooth operations.

“Kiranas are anyway 98 percent of the market. Consumer trust in them was strengthened as kiranas were their primary access for resources in these difficult times.

So, we, at Jumbotail, ensured is our supply chain to these kiranas stood rock solid. We were able to continue our supply chain, thanks to the passes we got during the lockdown,” Karthik said.

While people did not want to step out of home, home delivery was growing as a popular option. Jumbotail ensured that they executed this part of the chain as well, and also allowed kiranas to tap into their labour force for the same.

A screen grab from the session

From Venkataramana’s perspective in the omnichannel retail sector, there was a lot of traction for work-from-home products like paper and printers, and others like gym equipment during the lockdown. “The sales were going through the roof with about 170 percent increase, which has become the base now in terms of transactions, etc,” he says

“We found hyperlocal partnerships across cities in India, and could offer our platform to them. We also promoted and helped brands go D2C, including some of the biggest FMCGs like ITC,” he adds.

According to Venkataramana, a lot of players who were comfortably distributing their own channels had taken a hit. “You need to enable a system of reaching out through hyperlocal players, and directly reach homes,” he said.

While most people still believed in retaining their businesses through physical stores, the need for online marketplaces grew during the pandemic.

“The beauty of the ecosystem is that with readiness, and change in mindset and technology, it is becoming easy to move to D2C for big players and the SMBs. And right now, there is huge opportunity for this change,” Venkataramana stated.

Key learnings

“Technology drives efficiency, so you can no longer have only part of the value chain adopt technologies. Everybody has to be on the same system; you have to account for it as it is all in the same value chain GST,” Karthik said.

We have islands of progress that come together into a large territory of technology landscape where one value chain player is able to drive change in the adjacencies,” he added.

Karthik said there was rapid adoption of technology in many places. It was faster in established manufacturing value chains, but there were fewer opportunities to drive fundamental adoption in farmer value chains.

Value chains from different domains were triggering each other’s adoption of technology, with this trend creating a more organised system.

Breaking it down to two sides of tech ecosystems and brands and retailers, Venkataramana said: “When it comes to brands and retailers, projects that need long terms for approval are a thing of the past. Right now people cannot afford to do things slowly.

“People willing to experiment and do things in a quick and dirty way, if required, are seeing better results than those critically analysing things. Don’t wait for the perfect model; be flexible enough to trash.”

When it comes to the tech ecosystem, Venkataramana said whatever needed to be done in 12 months should be done in three months.

Do things quickly, be flexible, be clear about what business models you need to follow, try different things…something will lead to a solution,” Venkataramana said.

For more information on TechSparks 2020, check out our TechSparks 2020 website.

TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020. 

Edited by Teja Lele Desai