Technology helps turn crisis into opportunity: Khushru M. Mistry, Eureka Forbes

Technology helps turn crisis into opportunity: Khushru M. Mistry, Eureka Forbes

From a 90 percent slump right after the lockdown, Eureka Forbes, one of the best-known consumer brands in India, witnessed its sales zoom on a double-digit in the last couple of months. This miraculous turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of technology and innovation.

Khushru M. Mistry, CIO & Senior Vice President - Information Technology of the company, was quick to convert every single challenge into a new opportunity by leveraging the power of digital/contactless tools, cloud and data analytics.

From rolling out a customer app in flat three weeks amid the lockdown to banking on even the simplest tools like a WhatsApp video, Mistry has it all covered.

In this exclusive interaction with CIO Dialogues, Mistry shares some key turning points from his fascinating journey in Eureka Forbes.

 

Edited excerpts:

As a technology leader, how do you view the impact of COVID-19 on the IT landscape of enterprises? How do you see this disruption – a challenge or opportunity for the CIO?

To talk about the impact of COVID-19, I was involved in a similar situation during my stint at HSBC in Hong Kong, when the SARS outbreak happened. To a large extent, utilizing those experiences, I was able to react for Eureka Forbes much faster in as early as January 2020, when the pandemic came to be known.

Taking into consideration the impact a pandemic can have on a business like ours, which is more direct-to-customer and requires face-to-face communications, we could be more proactive. We were able to provide alternative technology to facilitate continuity of business, whilst liquidity management was embedded to ensure that expenditure is prudently managed.

I consider the global disruption more of an opportunity, though there were challenges initially.  Our first priority was to see how people could talk to each other. Usually, we would have people coming to offices, have the standard meetings every morning, etc. So, now our focus was to see how would you do that sitting at home? Microsoft Teams was leveraged extensively to enable a collaborative environment.

 

What are the new technologies and processes you have invested in to meet the increased demand for Eureka Forbes products during the pandemic? How has it helped in enhancing the customer experience?

From a customer perspective, we have come up with a lot of initiatives that help them in making the right buying choices. We rolled out a customer App in three weeks post the lockdown, in May, so that they can effectively communicate with us from wherever they are. We have seen close to five lakh downloads till now as it is completely touchless.

Based on the suggestions from our staff and business partners, we also started utilising WhatsApp video. In places, where our technicians cannot go, we send the spare part, and the customer can get it fixed from the local technician or by himself as we explain it to him through the video call. We successfully did this for 63,000 customers.

The other issue was that people refused to touch the products when they went into a retail store. So, we came out with a demo from a distance, where you can scan the QR code on your phone and it will showcase the entire product and inform how it can be utilized. This was specifically helpful for the vacuum cleaner category, and the sales went up. Here again, a simple technology helped us.

We also introduced Virtual water tests for our water purifier line of products. We perform extensive water tests across the country and have an exhaustive database of the quality of water (TDS – Total Dissolved Solids) available to the household.  This database was monetized and utilized to help customers who want to buy our purifiers through digital channels.

With the outbreak of the pandemic, we quickly rolled out digital payments, which is now seeing 99% adoption level. We earlier had a 70:30 split of cheque and cash payments respectively!

I believe that people have adopted the Digital Payment methodology much faster during this pandemic since it provides a “contactless” environment embedded with transparency in monetary dealing.

Further, we will demo all our newer products through virtual platforms and give them a 3D experience based on Augmented Reality.  There's a lot of work going on towards this, and we should be in a position to launch them by the next financial year.

 

How are you leveraging new-age technologies such as AI and ML to increase sales?

We have commenced using the Data Lake Cloud concept where our Business Partner information is stored.  Using ML techniques, we are now able to draw insights into the KPIs of our partners and how we can assist them in increasing their performance on a month-on-month basis.  This has been well received by our Business Partners since the dashboards provide in-depth performance indicators of success.

The Data Lake will also house our customer information and we intend to utilize ML and AI to garner a 360-degree view of our customer.  This encourages and fosters dialogue with our customers to provide key information on water purification and the importance of drinking water – thus providing emphasis on our commitment to Making a Positive Difference to our Customers.

 

How has cloud helped you with the kind of agility and scalability that these host of initiatives called for?

Cloud has ensured that Eureka Forbes is ‘Future-Ready’ and it has been a tremendous gain during the Covid-19 lockdown situation since we were able to flex the requirements, based on business requirements.

When I joined Eureka Forbes in 2017, almost all of the front-line software and mobile apps were being built specifically for our usage.  Our SAP systems and sub-systems were housed within an on-prem data centre.

To overcome some of the nuances and issues faced with our on-prem IT infrastructure, the requirements for a business to induce flexibility and a positive RoI metric, we migrated our Tier-1 data payload (entire SAP ecosystem) into the Azure Cloud using a risk-based Project management approach. Post the migration of SAP into the cloud, the month-end run of SAP capacity issues was fully alleviated.

To infuse best-in-class front-end mobile applications for our fleet-on-street staff, we demised our ageing mobile apps and migrated to Cloud-based SaaS applications.

Our journey to the cloud has been expedited and within two years, we have migrated over 80% of applications from on-prem into the cloud.

From the SAP CRM, we are moving to Microsoft Dynamics, with the data warehouse being staged in the cloud. We went from a completely on-prem ERP system to a cloud-based ERP system. Though it was a bit risky, it was well quantified and well measured, and we went straight into the Cloud.

From 2018 onwards, we were able to manage the traditional problems which we had with on-prem equipment and month-end issues with sales, etc. Our costs became better managed. Information Technology supported the business in a much more effective way by going to the Cloud. We were able to have a good Disaster Recovery strategy at a third of a cost as well and bought a newer generation of products and interfaced it directly.

So, in my opinion, our cloud journey has been a success. We use Microsoft Azure, and the kind of benefits we have accrued from it is not only in terms of the speed of operations but the speed to assist the business and being an enabler to the business.

 

Have you looked at implementing IoT-based products?

IoT is a journey that we are commencing. Since our product is mainly used in the kitchen, and with WiFi connectivity not being that effective in India, we are working with Reliance Jio to utilize their LTE technology which utilizes the narrowband IoT. And once we have done that, we will launch our IoT products by the end of this financial year as it will then allow us to enhance our products to the next level.

 

In all, how did technology push the business for Eureka Forbes?

Our business was down by almost 90% since March. But from the end of October, we are on double-digit growth, and it is better than last year despite the pandemic. Next year, we will probably be looking at more data analytics, data engineering, and enhancement of the Customer App, integrated with IoT- based products. The most important aspect is to enhance the experience of the customer and to ensure that they are safe.