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Tech Gurus: Blackberrys’ Harcharan Singh on omnichannel business model, need to evolve with technology, and more

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The repercussions of Covid-19 have impacted the fashion industry especially hard. With outlets and malls closing down, consumer behaviour changed drastically as they switched from brick and mortar to online channels. Though the country is beginning to get back to normal, the behaviours, preferences and mindset shifts are here to stay for a long time. These changes are shaping the entire fashion industry, including accelerated adoption of e-commerce, revenge shopping and consumer income bifurcation. 

Consumers have shifted to a digital-first approach, and are spending more on online shopping than the pre-pandemic times. For brands, the acceleration in online shopping, omnichannel distribution, and using data analytics for decision making are shaping up the business models and strategies. With a dramatic drop in offline sales, brands have been forced to take the digital route.

One of the leading menswear brands in India, Blackberrys used this time to redesign their strategies, upgrade systems and technology. The brand also partnered with Omuni, India’s leading retail enablement platform to maximise their revenue.

As part of our Tech Gurus Series, we talked to Harcharan Singh, Head of Technology at Blackberrys Menswear to discuss the after-effects of the pandemic and the company’s plans going forward.

Singh has over 24 years of experience in business transformation through technology solutions for various domains. Well versed in strategic planning & management, IT operations, program management, and project delivery and team management, he is known to have re- engineered processes, which brought agility, accountability in the system, resulting in top line and bottom line controls and improvement. He has also won many awards and accolades at various platforms for delivering ‘industry first’ solutions for specific Business problems.

Rapid Fire with Harcharan Singh, Head of Technology, Blackberrys menswear
Rapid Fire with Harcharan Singh, Head of Technology, Blackberrys menswear

Perils of the pandemic: Remote working, drop in offline sales, and more

Singh talked about connecting virtually, both with the employees and the customers. “As an Organization we shifted to Office 365 on cloud just before the pandemic which helped us in a great way when immediate lockdown happened. We were in a position to connect virtually through MS teams which resulted in office work continuing as usual.”

“Moreover the company also gave access to all critical applications like ERP, WMS, PLM, report server to the end users and they were able to access the system seamlessly. Analysis, statutory compliance, product designing, inventory planning etc were carried out as usual.”

Speaking to Indiaretailing, Singh focussed on the importance of evolving with technology in order to leverage its benefits. He believes that Covid has impacted customer buying behaviour significantly. People are now more comfortable with online shopping than offline.

E-commerce has been a key lever for growth in FY20-FY21 for brands and Blackberrys is no exception to this. Blackberrys invested in a digital platform and partnered with omnichannel partners to boost their online sales. He also shared that the brand is focussing on enhancing the consumer experience as well.

“We digitized our customer complaint system too through an advanced customer complaint management system in which we are able to keep track of customer complaints over phone, SMS, social media, emails and take feedback post resolution. It also enhanced productivity, saved time and lowered the costs”

For Singh, it’s not all about revenue generation and leading technology operations at the company. He believes that one has to rise beyond the leadership role and be compassionate towards family, team members, organisation and society at large. Talking about the same, he said, “One has to be helpful to others and give them hope. It’s necessary to be emotionally attached with people. A little support and a few kind words can make a big difference in someone’s life.”

Plans ahead: Reduce, revamp and replenish 

Singh talked extensively about the company using technology as a lever to design strategies. He also shared about investing in a digital workflow based solution. “All the approvals that used to happen on paper were not fitting the purpose as physical presence and approving was a challenge. We implemented a service and incidence management system.” 

Blackberrys also digitised various other processes such as vendor creation, customer creation, item/warehouse master creation, and offer promo approvals. One groundbreaking solution he talked about was goods return process from different channels, i.e. LFR, MBO, FOFO. He claimed that this solution helped in reducing the goods return cycle to 15 days from 45 days. 

Talking about the short and long term growth trajectory, Singh shared about the company’s plans to invest in technology that optimises supply chain operation, in order to reduce the overall lead time. 

“This will help the organisation in managing inventory so as to prevent overstock or understock aiding reducing the amount of wastage. This tool will enable us to optimize the OTIF. It will improve overall visibility of each stage of the product life cycle,” said Singh.

The brand is also revamping their website to make it more customer friendly, linking it to omnichannel partners and marketplaces.

“We are bringing in features like try-on and buy where customers can try on the product virtually and then can buy it. We are making the backend engine of the website more robust by using new technologies so as to make use of plugins more flexible. We will be promoting our website through different marketing tools and commit- ted to increasing the customer base of the website.”

The company is also planning to expand its horizons and implement their CRM to not just physical stores but online channels as well such as FOFO, e-comm and Blacberrys.com. The plan is to increase the reach and analyse the consumer behaviour in order to enhance the overall experience.

Invest in people, not just things

Singh believes that agility is driven by investing in people, especially IT professionals. The brand invested in training all the core team members of IT. Singh, himself pursued a course on business transformation in the digital era from ISB, which has been very effective, as shared by him. 

Other team members were trained based on their core domain such as Cloud, Azure, Python, BI, cyber security, project management, incident management and more.

“We always go for a hybrid model of solution where we leverage the expertise of consultants or outside available technology and train our internal team on that. This approach always helps us to close the projects within budget and timelines.”