Mahindra group takes a digital drive to boost growth

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Mumbai: Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M) is sharpening its focus on digital technologies such as blockchain, Big Data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and even augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to boost growth.

While some of these initiatives are pilots, others are already yielding results, according to Anish Shah, group president (strategy) and member of the executive board at M&M. Shah spearheads the group’s digital drive.

The Mahindra Group has “narrowed down some interesting use cases in financial services, supply chain, solar charging and electric vehicle charging, among others, where it can use blockchain technology”, Shah said.

He added that IoT is being explored in many units of the group including automobiles. “Mahindra World City has some good IoT applications for real estate and we are exploring IoT for Mahindra Holidays and Mahindra Powerol (generator sets)”, he said.

The group is also looking “at AR/VR technology for Mahindra Holidays and Retail”, Shah said.

For instance, in automobiles, if there’s a potential part failure, you can use blockchain to know exactly who supplied that part, etc.—traceability becomes much easier, he said.

In the auto sector, the Mahindra Group already performs car diagnostics through a smartphone by connecting it through Bluetooth. Besides, Trringo, Mahindra’s organized rental business model for farm equipment that was launched this March, is aimed at helping small farmers across India who do not have the necessary funds to buy farm equipment, according to Shah. Trringo, in its pilot stage, will be available in as many as five states by August, he said.

The Mahindra Group is now extending its digital capabilities to consumer-facing companies such as Mahindra Holidays which runs Club Mahindra, Mahindra Lifespaces and Mahindra Finance.

Shah’s team, for instance, is currently developing an app for Club Mahindra customers to make “their entire journey becomes seamless”. It is also working on how to “leverage analytics to differentiate it in terms of sales and booking process, thus creating a compelling experience”.

This also implies that databases across the group could potentially be synced and lead to better data mining. For instance, “once we know this is a Club Mahindra customer, we can do cross-selling”, Shah explained.

Currently, each Mahindra Group company has its own database even as “we have done a lot of work in the recent past to create a common database so that we have the same data architecture”, he said. But now, Shah’s team is insisting that all Mahindra arms fill some “mandatory fields” to help sync the databases meaningfully. All these, according to Shah, will tie-in with M2ALL.com—the Mahindra Group’s online marketplace.

“The strategy is to take ideas from within the group for adjacent businesses where we can leverage technology,” Shah explained.

He acknowledged, however, that using data to cross-sell could raise privacy issues if not handled with sensitivity. “Many of these are publicly listed companies, so what we do should have enough value and shareholders should see merit in them. We are doing pilots as of now to see if we can get this done in a seamless way, and maintain control and don’t violate any rules of usage in the process,” he added.

Shah also wants to build the Mahindra Group’s digital portfolio by investing in cutting-edge start-ups. The group has “already launched 10-12 start-ups (excluding those done by Tech Mahindra Ltd, its IT services arm)”.

Consider the case of SmartShift, a digital mobility start-up that the Mahindra Group incubated and showcased last October. SmartShift is a technology-enabled marketplace for intra-city logistics that enables cargo owners find the right transporter based on the shipment size, weight, and other requirements. The service can be accessed through the Android mobile app, website and a dedicated call centre.

Today, SmartShift is operational in Mumbai and Hyderabad, with “close to a thousand transporter partners enrolled on the platform”. The SmartShift platform, “with its three-minute load-booking algorithms, price transparency, curated transporters and live tracking of vehicles, has already garnered hundreds of loyal customers who perceive high economical and emotional value in being connected with the platform”, according to Shah.

“We have also invested in an IoT company in Silicon Valley, and we are looking at making investment in the shared economy (transportation) business as well. We are looking at various start-ups around the world—they span across the healthcare, consumer devices to transportation sectors,” he said, adding that the group is “also looking at setting up an accelerator, which will allow us to dip into the entrepreneurial talent in India. The important aspect is the entrepreneurship DNA that exists within the company. We consider ourselves as enablers and not drivers.”

As part of its Big Data push, rival Tata group has already built a data warehouse and has begun investing in technology that will help it make sense of the massive amount of structured and unstructured data captured by systems provided by group firm Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

Going digital is an imperative for the Tata group. This was stressed by chairman Cyrus Mistry in his 29 July address to employees, where he said the group needs to embrace a digital future to remain successful. Mistry also outlined critical enablers for sustainable profitable growth that included developing unique consumer insights, diversification of profit pools, creation of intellectual property rights, deployment of robust risk management processes and creation of financial flexibility to seize opportunities.

Last month, the Tata group entered India’s $20 billion e-commerce market by launching TataCLiQ.com, which will sell apparel, electronics and footwear among others.

Customers can order on TataCLiQ and get the items home-delivered, or pick them up at designated stores—a model the company calls “phygital”, a combination of physical and digital.

According to Sreedhar Prasad, partner (e-commerce) at KPMG, the Mahindra Group has a diversified product-market presence targeting various customer segments.

“It is imperative for them to be present wherever the customer wants and whenever they want. The various digital initiatives being undertaken are a right step in that direction. Since the digital models are also evolving at a fast pace, these initiatives give the group an opportunity to test the waters without heavy investment,” he said.

Prasad, however, cautioned that customizing the operating model to different business unit needs without impacting scalability is a challenge. “Domain understanding, understanding of customer need-gaps, ready customer/vendor base, proven use cases are some of the advantages that Mahindra can give the start-ups they are incubating,” he concluded.