The pandemic has accelerated India’s digital journey and the momentum should also be leveraged to make a fundamental shift in not only business processes but also in other sectors such as education, healthcare, and governance, Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever said while virtually delivering a keynote address at the Amazon Smbhav event
This should also be used in creating jobs and easing the pressure on big cities while bringing development across the country, said Mehta.
“The pandemic accelerated our nation's digital journey, many of our fellow citizens moved online for the first time, whether to get news or to source essentials.
"City children have the first days of online schooling and office goers adapted to working from home, leveraging remote collaboration tools, it moved us from a state of theoretical debate on whether it will work or not to real hands-on experience,” said Mehta.
The enterprises which had adopted digital technologies in the core of the business were less impacted than others.
“Many SMEs in India are at a low level of digitization, and there is growing awareness of the handicap it creates,” he said.
The RBI’s financial stability report of July 2020 stated that it will be critical for small and medium businesses to navigate to a digital-first business model for the whole business value chain to survive and recover.
“In fact, leveraging technology in businesses will have a bigger impact on collective productivity gain that comes from widespread digitization, both from the transactional efficiencies and from the innovation multiplier that comes on top of digitized processes,” he said.
Global Impact of Pandemic
Over the global impact of the pandemic, Mehta said the advanced economies and few emerging markets may recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact but several developing countries could languish years to come.
The pandemic would not be “over anywhere until it is over everywhere” around the world and has pushed the social, economic, and environmental issues into stark focus.
“The major risk, which we face today is that the advanced economies and few emerging markets may recover faster but several developing countries could languish years to come.
"This will not only worsen the human tragedy of the pandemic, but also the economic suffering of the most vulnerable,” said Mehta.
However, history alters the events, they may be unfortunate but very often pushed the world into a new direction, he added.
“For instance plague, also dubbed a Black Death, which wiped out a significant proportion of the world population in 14th century resulted in better standards of living for everyone. Cholera pandemic in the early 19th century brought sanitization to the center stage, Spanish Flu in early 20th century resulted in social healthcare system adopted by several nations,” said Mehta while sharing his thought over leading a business during the pandemic.
It is now more than a year since "we realized that we were heading towards a major crisis, there was no playbook for a global crisis that threatened the lives and wellbeing of a society with the potential to fundamentally reshape our world."
It was quickly determined that for any business to survive and thrive, the focus must be on a few critical areas, he said.
2 Biggest Takeaways from the Talk
Here are the two biggest takeaways from the talk:-
Small Business Cost Management: Covid-19 related uncertainties impacted supply, demand as well as liquidity. The imperative for businesses was to maximize all growth opportunities, but manage costs assuming a worst-case scenario of muted growth and even a potential recession. This was the time to rethink and build cost structures that are variable and sustainable. Businesses should use this opportunity and make brutal choices to save cost, cash, and release the bandwidth, but at the same time, ensure that its extended value chain has the necessary financial support to maintain essential supply. So, we need to optimize cash and costs. I have always believed that without a healthy society, there cannot be a healthy business.
Supply Chain: The pandemic highlighted the need for a nimble supply chain that can be dynamically managed to cater to external changes. In fact, to stay agile and resilient, it brought home the point that businesses need collaboration, partnerships, and alliances. For instance, at HUL, we drove the fast recovery of operations through strategic partnerships. In some cases, even collaborating with manufacturers and other industries to meet the rising demand for some products. So, ensure supply lines remain open. With several consumer trends emerging out of the pandemic such as home cocooning, need for health, hygiene, and nutrition, e-everything, etc. Being close to consumers and understanding shifts in demand had never been as important. We have to innovate not only in products but also in communication and route to market to stay relevant and cater to evolving consumer needs.