Why 'One Size Fits All' Is Wrong Approach To Digitalization

Richa Sahni

Digital transformation, a key priority for businesses today, requires clarity of vision and deliberate planning. The Mahindra Group, a US$19 billion organization with over 200 companies and 200,000 employees across 20 key sectors, factored in the multiple facets of its diverse businesses before making its digital leap.

All the companies in the Mahindra Group are extremely independent and diverse in terms of sector, size, business maturity, performance, and more. Each carves its own destiny and has its own strategy. Keeping this in mind, the organization embraced a distinct digital transformation approach for each one, leading to better customer engagement and satisfaction levels.

According to Jaspreet Bindra, senior vice president, digital transformation, Mahindra Group, “The digital transformation strategy of every company in the Mahindra Group is distinct.”

Three-pronged approach

Bindra and his employer are clear that digital transformation is not about technology but stands on three pillars: business models, customer experiences, and people.

Bindra joined the Mahindra Group in 2015. One of his first initiatives was to put together a top-notch digital team, based in Mahindra’s headquarters city of Mumbai, comprised of thought leaders with business and digital expertise for a group that wasn’t necessarily a tech company. He met hundreds of people to arrive at the star digital team of seven.

“Be clear that there is no substitute for hard work. You just have to meet people,” says Bindra. He leveraged his and his colleagues’ networks to spot the right talent because he believes that people come for people.

Given that Mahindra calls itself “a federated structure of diverse companies,” it was decided that a decentralized structure that focused on individual companies would work best. The other key reason was that different businesses require different solutions.

For each company in the group, people from the core digital team co-led digitalization along with that company’s business team. This resulted in an embedded model, with a few people in the digital team eventually becoming chief digital officers of some of these companies.

The final step was to work on pull rather than push. Instead of guiding the companies on what should be done, the digital team reached out to those that wanted to change. The company strategized the road map for change, and the digital team played the part of an enabler by bringing in deep expertise and accessibility to the table.

“Unlike outside consultants, the digital transformation team goes and builds things for the Mahindra companies. We build up their capabilities. This ensures that when we exit, they have the requisite digital IQ to take things,” says Bindra.

Digital customer engagement

Bindra’s team was tasked with building a mobility strategy and product for Mahindra Holidays.

They designed the interactive Mahindra Holidays app to boost customer engagement at Mahindra resorts, extensively using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in the process. The app is designed to boost engagement with customers. Its user-friendly interface allows easy access to various services in the resort, like booking a spa, enabling real-time community access at the resort, stitching together a personalized photo album, and identifying vantage points en route to the resort by using real-time location mapping. IoT-enabled sensors in the hotels coupled with the app allow easy access inside hotel rooms.

Citing customer engagement as a crucial metric for Mahindra Holidays, Bindra remarks, “Most new customers come through referrals, so, higher the engagement, higher the referrals, the higher, therefore, the revenue.” It has “radically, massively impacted their business metrics. Multiple metrics like revenue, booking percentage moving to the app, customer satisfaction, downloads, uninstall metrics… all these have been off the charts,” says Bindra.

The engagement didn’t end with building the tech. It also involved what Bindra calls “capability building.” Mahindra Holidays hired product managers and a new CTO. It even brought on an ex-Google guy as the chief digital officer. “Now they are working on a full scale, end-to-end digital transformation,” says Bindra.

The Mahindra Holidays app exemplifies how user-experience (UX) can be a key differentiator.

Business model innovation

Bindra believes that digital transformation must be linked to business benefit. The group evaluates the business value of a new technology before adopting it by projecting its future impact on four or five key business metrics: revenue, cost, profitability, customer engagement, and employee satisfaction.

“It’s about celebrating failure, it’s about breaking things and moving on, it’s not about having perfection all the time. It’s about building stuff that works and then rapidly iterating and improving things,” says Bindra.

Mahindra was one of the pioneers in India to build a proof of concept around blockchain. Built in partnership with IBM, the product is ready and a business is being built out of it.

Mahindra Group is extensively deploying digital technology in various projects across various sectors, including agriculture, automobiles, farm equipment, tractors, and finance.

Mahindra’s launch of Trringo, an Uber for tractors, is its foray into the shared economy model. Trringo is a tractor and farm equipment rental platform based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Its simple user interface has been designed with the end customer in mind – the rural base in India. Trringo is a business model innovation centered around technology.

Nurturing the digital mindset

The most critical element of the digital jigsaw is people with the right capabilities. Chief digital officers are just one layer, but capabilities in product management, data analytics, intuitive UI design, and customer empathy need to percolate to every member of the team. In short, a digitalist mindset is not just critical; it is imperative.

Bindra emphasizes that the culture of a company is the single most important thing in digital transformation. But in an area that is evolving so fast, how can companies sustainably compete in attracting the best talent?

“One of the big mistakes people make is that they think it’s IT talent that drives digital. Design thinking, UI design are not IT. There’s a scarcity of people with a digital DNA. They are very few because it’s new, especially in India,” says Bindra. Most young people still prefer the more conventional career path, which doesn’t necessarily fit in with the work expected out of a digitalist.

“The biggest issue around talent is the thinking around softer aspects of the digital wave and the business impact of the transformation,” he says.

Other areas with serious talent gaps are emerging digital technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. “But, to be honest, I don’t think we should be too worried about that. The world is turning that way and multiple people are getting into that,” says an optimistic Bindra.

That combination of what goes into being a digitalist is the tough part. “And it’s still not appreciated how difficult it is,” says Bindra. “There will be a war for such talent.”

As machine learning and AI become more sophisticated, digital experiences will become increasingly multisensory and more convincingly “real.” Use them to deliver information in new and compelling ways by Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Richa Sahni

About Richa Sahni

Richa Sahni is presently a part of the strategic marketing team at SAP. She is the Program manager of Digitalist and a part of the India team responsible for Digitalist India print magazine.