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Intelligent Process Automation for the Retail Industry – Human & Digital Workforce

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The last few months have imposed a steep learning curve for businesses across the globe. Organizations of all scale and sizes were compelled to re-think and reinvent operations, processes as well as roles, to sustain the catastrophic affects of the pandemic. Especially, CFOs were at the heart of this evolution and were forced to assume greater roles in wake of the pandemic.

 In an attempt to re-invent the CFO toolkit enabling process automation to be future ready, PHYGITS LIVE (India’s fi rst Digital Transformation Strategy Summit) conducted a session titled, ‘Intelligent Process Automation for the Retail Industry – Human and Digital Workforce’, on January 12, 2020.

The session, which was powered by Automation Anywhere, was moderated by Sumeet Pathak, Digital Workforce Evangelist – IMEA, Automation Anywhere.

The other panelists were:

  • Tanmay Kumar, CFO, Spencer’s Retail & Natures Basket
  • Pratap Swarup, CFO, Bestseller India (Jack & Jones, Only, Vero Moda, Selected Homme and Junarose)
  • Arun Ganapathy, CFO, House of Anita Dongre (AND, Global Desi, Grassroot, Pinkcity)
  • Pramod Dangaich, CFO, Infniti Retail (Croma ) Harshal Ambani, Executive Director, Intelligent Automation, Digital, KPMG India

Sumeet Pathak kickstarted the session by welcoming the panelists and also introduced the topic of discussion to the panel.

“It’s no longer enough for CFOs to simply oversee the finances at the companies where they work. Organizations are now looking on them Digital Architects, expecting them to solve problems that the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have brought upon them. We now expected to create agile, forward looking and decision centric financial organizations,” said Pathak.

A sound digital transformation strategy has become indispensable to retail today. While there have been numerous discussions and debates on the meaning and benefits of digital transformation, there are few real-life references of successful digital-led 360-degree retail evolution. PHYGITS LIVE walks the talk with a first-of-its-kind CASE STUDY PRESENTATION showcase involving retailers and tech partners jointly presenting a crisp PoC narration from challenge to solution.

How the Industry Has Changed

The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts are like nothing the world have ever seen. It has changed the entire temple of doing business almost overnight.

After the lockdown was relaxed in India, the businesses across the country immediately shifted focus on strengthening their digital commerce capabilities. Although most brands and businesses were already present on leading e-commerce marketplaces the pressing need to bolster their individual capacities was highly apparent. After stores were allowed to re-resume operations, businesses across the country concentrated on utilizing innovative ways of re-connecting to their loyal consumer base. From Social Media sites like Facebook and Instagram to instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, digital platform quickly became channels of commerce.

“While business has picked up since the last two quarters, it is yet to reach pre-COVID levels. The fear of the contagion still persists and that is hampering footfalls to go back to normal levels. But the silver lining is that, the conversion rates have gone up significantly. So, as of now the focus is solely on the digital medium, as well as integrating it seamlessly with our offline channels so as to increase business even with poor footfalls,” says Arun Ganapathy, CFO, House of Anita Dongre (AND, Global Desi, Grassroot, Pinkcity).

Along with changes in business formats, the consumer has changed in massive proportions as well. The pandemic has completely changed consumer behavior, as businesses knew it, with most of this change being irreversible.

For one, consumers have become super comfortable with using technology and this change is expected to persist in the years to come. The consumer is expecting technology to touch him far more closely than ever and they expect businesses to make thing more seamless for them.

“We are now compelled to exploit every channel possible to ensure seamless experience for the consumer. We are doing and are planning to continue doing things like phone deliveries, reaching out to Resident Welfare Associations, etc., in a bid to do catchment deliveries. Out of store as a channel is the second big evolution and there is a lot of technology play here as well,” says Tanmay Kumar, CFO, Spencer’s Retail & Natures Basket.

In fact, a fair section of businesses witnessing surge in sales over the past few months. While most of them have confessed of achieving sales at par with pre-COVID levels some have experienced even more sales. Experts have related this to the Revenge Buying Syndrome, i.e., overindulgence in retail therapy by consumers who have missed shopping at their favourite outlets due to the lockdown.

Embracing Automation & Technology

As businesses focused on their own websites to push sales and traffic increased, they were faced with a slew of challenges. “In our case, the challenge was to navigate logistics oriented customer support. There were so much queries related to shipments & deliveries, and that’s when we decided to opt for automation so that there is clarity regarding consignments. Back at that time, there were surprise containment zones and atleast automation helped us to assure the consumer,” says Ganapathy.

Bestseller concentrated on working on the internal processes after the pandemic hit including deploying Robotic Process Automation. “The idea was to keep a daily track on the receivables. Because when we talk about cash flow, it has to be a two way approach. If I receive money, only then I can pay it to my vendors also. We spoke to our partners, created dashboard internally and started tracking weekly sales,” says Pratap Swarup, CFO, Bestseller India (Jack & Jones, Only, Vero Moda, Selected Homme and Junarose).

The pandemic has totally changed the structure of sales. This has brought the data and data analytics to the fore. As a result, implementing technology like automation and machine learning have become a priority for everyone in the retail industry.

“In our kind of business, about 80-85 percent of the cost is inventory cost. Conserving cash, that became the sole mantra during the early days of the pandemic, depends mainly on how efficiently you can conserve cash. But creating a dashboard and optimum utilization of inventory is a big challenge. And hence we started thinking about automating the whole process of inventory verification. We have also implemented RPAs in lot of finance areas as well. I think automation has become the key in all retail process from communication, cash flow to entire reconciliation of the receivables ,” says Pramod Dangaich, CFO, Infniti Retail (Croma).

From a consulting analyst perspective, Harshal Ambani, Executive Director, Intelligent Automation, Digital, KPMG India expounded on how businesses around the world are working towards minimizing human involvement in their processes although their needs may be different. “Talking on a global level, we witnessed a lot of different demands coming from different places. eg., markets like China might be more inclined on machine learning models to help with stock out situation whereas, markets in UK might be more inclined on using these technologies for compliance work or clearance, etc. This is besides all the routine work where automation helps like back office functions in finance, HR, IT or supply chains. But as a whole, we are seeing this trend of increasing reliance on automation,” he adds.

Key Things to Keep in Mind While Embarking on Automation Journey

According to Tanmay Kumar, there is a divide between the digital capabilities that are supporting the need that organizations are diving to sort. “So organisations have to be very clear that each of the initiatives that they are driving is scale-able. Because, as we have seen the future could be very unpredictable. So it is important that solutions have the bandwidth of being scaled up when the need arises,” says Tanmay Kumar.

According to Pratap Swarup, the need should be defined first and only after that comes relevance and ROI. “And the most important thing is blue printing. We can think of any projects but it will be only successful if you are very clear of the objective and the process to achieve it,” he adds.

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