Small Biz Takes Digital Highway

Businesses Going Digital

A large number of companies have digitised a considerable part of operations ranging from supervision of manufacturing processes and order dispatch to data collection. Some are also using technology to revamp consumer buying processes. For instance, a big chunk of companies is tapping e-commerce and building omni-channel distribution networks. Some are even experimenting with emerging technologies like blockchain. “Today, a company has to go digital to reach customers. The case for digital transformation has become a no-brainer,” says Ashvin Vellody, partner at Deloitte India.

The pandemic, say businesses, has been the big trigger. Take Paras Spices. It started digitisation five-six years back. However, it digitised the bulk of operations only after the outbreak of Covid-19. Today, almost 70% business functions, ranging from production and accounting to quality control, have been digitised, says director Paras Budhiraja. For instance, Paras furnishes real-time crop and related inputs to farmers in five states with whom it has entered into contracts. “Remaining connected with such a large number of farmers is a challenge. This is where we thought technology could help,” says Budhiraja. The company has also digitised supervision of manufacturing processes, data collection and shop floor audits. “Digitisation is a necessity. Remote working has made process automation indispensable,” he says. Paras is also building in-house apps. For instance, it has launched an app on which it shares all farm-related data with farmers. It is developing a similar app for retail customers too. Its consumer brand Orika already sells premium spices, spice mixes and seasonings through online and offline channels.

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Even decades-old businesses have been touched by the trend. Orientbell Tiles, a 45-year-old company, is using technology to digitise the buying process. A feature on its website enables consumers to see how a room will look in tiles of their choice. “A large number of customers are using the feature. Consumers are spending more time online. Their expectations from dot.com businesses and traditional businesses are the same,” says Alok Agarwal, chief marketing officer, Orientbell Tiles. The company is also equipping ‘channel partners’ with digital marketing tools. “Dealers leveraging digital are seeing 8-10% higher growth in business,” says Agarwal. The company has also digitised transport management starting from hiring of trucks to loading and weighing them before dispatch. “Digitisation has improved efficiency. Technology is here to stay and we hope it is adopted by more businesses,” says Agarwal. The company is even present on the cloud. “A lot of internal processes are on the cloud. It is the best way to ensure that information and relevant applications are available on mobiles,” says Agarwal.

Paras and Orientbell are not alone. A Salesforce research conducted in September 2021 found that nearly 100% small and medium businesses that had some operations online deepened their digital presence in 2021. The list of digital converts includes even legacy businesses dealing in such stuff as edible oils and spices. Pansari Group, says managing director Shammi Agarwal, is more than willing to spend on technology. “Adoption of digital has helped us increase efficiency, smoothen operations and get real-time data,” he says. The group, which makes spices, oils and other food items, has digitised all processes right from production monitoring to order dispatch. It has equipped phones of employees with technology that allows them to remotely supervise production. It has also made huge investments to replace traditional servers with cloud storage. “Our investments in digitisation have gone up by four times. We have to keep ourselves updated,” says Agarwal. The company plans to add chatbots and automated sales calls as well. Pansari, which sells to e-commerce businesses like Blinkit and BigBasket through its B2B app, says online business has more than doubled in last few years. “Sales have moved online via e-grocery platforms. We will get our products listed on all online platforms,” he says.

Business success, after all, is all about reach. That is why shoe-maker Woodland has made its entire 500-store network omni-channel. Harkirat Singh, managing director of Aero Club, which owns Woodland, says before the pandemic, the company used to service pan-India online orders through its Delhi warehouse. Now, all outlets have been equipped to fulfil online orders and provide after-sales service. The entire inventory has been digitised. “We have deployed new software to integrate stores, supply chain network and manufacturing processes. The operations are now much more streamlined,” says Singh. Online now accounts for about 35% sales compared to 20% earlier. “We expect to be at 50:50. We are earmarking more funds for digital marketing,” says Singh. All businesses will have to keep adopting new technology, especially with concepts such as metaverse kicking in, he says.

Talking about metaverse, some companies are already working at the cutting edge of technology. MF Utilities —the mutual fund industry’s ‘shared services’ initiative—says it is keen on incorporating computer vision capabilities to reduce incorrect data entries. It says it is closely watching developments in AI and blockchain and will deploy them whenever it spots opportunities.

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Small Biz Takes Digital Highway

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