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technology | IST

COVID-19 learnings: Real digital pivot still in the offing, says Accenture's Piyush Singh

As India experiences a massive second wave surge and partial lockdowns across the country, Accenture's India Lead, Piyush Singh says a real digital pivot is still in the offing and nothing short of a purpose-led reinvention of the business model will engender future success.

For many companies, the ability to make a digital pivot was crucial in surviving the unprecedented global disruption of COVID-19. But that won't be nearly enough for business success in a post-pandemic world. As India experiences a massive second wave surge and partial lockdowns across the country, Accenture's India Lead, Piyush Singh says a real digital pivot is still in the offing and nothing short of a purpose-led reinvention of the business model will engender future success.
Q: What would you say is your headline thought on what the COVID-19 experience has revealed about the business economy and the organization of business?
A: To say the obvious, this is such an unprecedented event. The challenges that we are faced with are unique and the changes are irreversible. So that's the first part.
The second part is that what it has also shown is that the resilience that our organizations and our people have, especially in the organizations that in my view, have a deeper purpose to their being, is just well beyond what anybody would have expected. So I do think, one, irreversible changes, two, the kind of resilience, both are something that I would not have imagined at the start of the year last year.
Q: So there will be a before and after COVID-19 in the way companies and businesses are organized?
A: Absolutely, there is no doubt about that. Those organizations who are not sitting there right now thinking about how to reinvent their business models to respond to the whole set of irreversible changes that is in front of them, are not going to be successful in the future. Sitting here in the environment that we are, doing nothing or doing very little is not the mantra for success.
Q: You mentioned that reinvention of the business model has become an imperative after the COVID-19 experience, what percentage of companies in India in Accenture's experience, would you say are doing this?
A:  Today, when I look at structural reinvention, and a concentrated effort at that, that is the minority part of the industry. Everybody is very concerned. I don't envy a CEOs life today because they are having to deal with deep paradoxes. And so they are all deeply concerned that they must undertake the journey of reinvention. But there are a number of factors that are holding the pace of reinvention for a whole number of organizations.
Number one, is what I call the capital paradox. We are living in a world where on one hand, there is an imperative to say you must conserve your capital, hunker down because you don't know what levels of upheaval lie ahead of you. On the other hand, if you are talking about business reinvention, no reinvention is going to happen without investment. So it is how do you manage that capital paradox? Should I conserve capital, and then that may lead to long term capital erosion, should I invest capital by putting out the right story and get my stakeholders to buy into the fact that that will lead to long term stakeholder growth? So that's the first part.
The second part is the organizational paradox, which is, on one hand, I am seeing my consumer preferences changing irreversibly at a pace that would have not happened in the last 10 years of my life. On the other hand, I am seeing technological advances that have happened at a pace that I have not seen the last five years of my life and I say 10 and 5 years because generally, the speed of change of technology was faster. So we had already seen a whole lot of speed of change in the last five years, this has gone even faster than that. But then in the middle, I am concerned, is my organization ready and have the ability to consume that change even if I put in the capital and enable that change?
So for a CEO, there are these paradoxes that he is stuck between that he has to navigate and those who can navigate through this are the ones who are now on a path of reinvention. Those who are still deliberating and somehow still managing these paradoxes are slightly behind. I empathize with them, but they are at risk.
Q: To make this digital pivot over the past year was the difference between sort of surviving and even thriving in the last year, and we saw a lot of companies do that. The fintech companies were at the forefront of that for obvious reasons. What are the other sectors where you saw the digital pivot being managed in an easier way or in an easy fashion?
A: The digital pivot if you want to call it that happened across sectors. When you say the management of the digital pivot, that has only started because most of the part that you have seen so far is resilience. As a small example, of an internal pivot, if I can call it, people went on to zoom meetings, which is not the same as digital collaboration. The underlying work processes, your underlying employee collaboration models, they were not digital, yes, you started to talk to each other through a zoom meeting or like MS Team's like we are doing here right now or any kind of digital platform.
But that pivot has not happened yet, that reinvention of work processes hasn't happened yet. That's why I said the reinvention of the business model is only starting now and organizations will have to invest heavily. There is possibly an inefficiency that has been generated in your business model in dealing with the digital pivot, it's by stealth so far. So can you reinvent your business model to respond to the digital pivot with efficiency and with differentiation, because the consumer is expecting differentiation? As a consumer, you and I may have also accepted a level of lack of quality.
Q: So it's not necessarily efficient yet in the way this digital pivoting is happening?
A: That I can say for sure. Most organizations were not designing their business model where the primary mode of consumption of their product, their touchpoint or their service was digital, we were still living in a physical predominant world with also digital. Now, that pivot is quite drastic and that requires relooking at capital investment structures, relooking at business model reinvention, relooking at underlying technology infrastructure. So all of those layers have to be looked at and that was not possible to do that in the past period and it will require a sustained level of future change. If you do not reinvent now, you will not only be under threat from those who you thought were your traditional competition, but also under threat from the organizations that are traditionally not your competition.
Q: At Accenture, marketing – as a service - is something that has been prioritized as a service that Accenture offers companies and its clients. You want to tell us how the marketing function has had to be reimagined after the experience of COVID-19 given that in the past year market access was not possible and people were focused on market access?
A: Marketing as a service is one thing, being the world’s largest digital agency is another. That is who we are.
The marketing function has gone from a world of building the brand to the hyper-personalization of the power of one of the brands - which means that the kind of capabilities that the marketing function has to focus on or the bouquet of capabilities is much broader today.
It is a lot about data, it is a lot about analytics, it is a lot about the digital footprint of your consumer, it is a lot about hyper-personalization of the content that you put forward for your consumer. Hyper-personalization in the sense that it is not static anymore. It is all about the intervention of the consumer journey at the point of need and getting your message across. So I do think that the way the marketing functions underlying capability needs has drastically changed. That is why we have been able to disrupt that industry so well.
Q: You have mentioned data and analytics, is that now core to marketing because that is relevant to all other business functions as well, isn’t it? But is the marketing function today completely based or built on data and analytics and company’s abilities on those two fronts?
A: Absolutely. That is undoubtedly the case. You have to be a data driven organization, a whole organization but at the end of the day if as a marketing function you are here to deliver your experiences that define your brand and then in today’s world, my expectation as a consumer is that your experience you offer me needs to be down to the power of one and there is no way you can do that without being extremely smart and efficient about the use of data.
I use the word smart and efficient because today we are spoiled about how much digital data I, as a consumer, am willing to offer to you about me. So therefore, we have gone through the evolution. At first, it was about finding data about me as a consumer. Then we came to the point about using the data as a consumer. Now you are at a point where you have access data about me as a consumer. So how can you be smart and efficient about using that data, generating the analytics and consuming the analytics? Because people don’t know about how to use or consume the analytics that comes out of it.
Q: You have mentioned that journey of data and people providing data and companies being able to use it, I dare say that we are on the verge of another phase, which is where governments across the world come in to manage and we see evolving regulation to manage how data is being shared, used and offered up for commercial reasons. What are the challenges on that front? Will there be a little bit of a slowdown in the kind of growth we have seen of digital media and social media and the big tech-owned media?
A: I think digital world has added another burden of responsibility on every organisation. Because every organisation has chosen to accept data from their consumers, protection of that data has become a burden of responsibility on all of us as organisations. Therefore we will have to be responsible about building the right infrastructure to protect that data. If we don’t market forces, consumer forces will take us down.
Regulation, on the other hand, is also important, I do not necessarily believe regulations will slow things down, but yes an absence of regulation or our ability to not have an underlying infrastructure that can respond fast enough to regulation will keep organisations behind. If you are going to have this business model pivot to a digital business model your technology infrastructure will have to change. In that, if you do not have a digitally native infrastructure, your ability to respond to security regulations which are necessary, then your ability to respond to them at pace will be missing. So as an organisation you will lose out, but if the market is functioning correctly, it will produce organisations that will respond at pace and fill that gap.
Q: You all work and collaborate with some of the really big tech companies, in your assessment how ready or perhaps even willing will they be to deal with the changes that government regulation will offer? We are just what a few months back, we heard Google say that they are going to turn off Search in Australia, we had the WhatsApp new terms and conditions in India going through a government lens, so how are you seeing the ability of the big tech companies to be able to and to be willing to change with what the government’s mandate around the world?
A: Your question has multiple layers, there is one part which you talk about the ability, well they are variable right in terms of the work that we do with them. I can tell you they definitely are very able and quite proactive in trying to protect consumers and to respond to regulations. So that is a big tick in that sense.
There is a layer that you had about - particular incidences and ongoing discussions and consultations with various stakeholders. That will always be the case because there are commercial aspects involved for all stakeholders in that discussion and therefore it is a consultation process, it obviously gets a lot of media coverage because these are such big brands and they are so much in our lives, those episodes in my view are appearing into the consultation that will take place quite publicly for the final outcome of where some of those either government or regulatory lending points come.
There is a third point you made was willingness - yes I do think most of the big tech organisations were founded on the principle of providing a whole lot of freedom, access and the principle of protection so I do not believe that there is a lack of willingness. As I said there is going to be an ongoing consultation, there will be stakeholder interest on all sides and that process must be quite transparent and must be fought hard by everybody to come to a conclusion and in that as a consumer, I always hope that I am going to be the winner.