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MakeMyTrip Group’s Rithish Saralaya on technology penetration, need to upgrade with the times, and more

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As many countries including India come back to normal, one can not forget the impact it has left on the economy and businesses around the world. With travel restrictions and curfews, the travel industry was hit profoundly.

Tourism, one of the world’s major economic sectors, is the third-largest export category and in 2019 accounted for 7% of global trade. According to a report by IBEF, “India’s tourism sector is expected to reach INR35 trillion by 2029, accounting for 9.2% of the total economy.”

In FY20, the tourism sector in India accounted for 39 million jobs, which was 8.0% of the total employment in the country. By 2029, it is expected to account for about 53 million jobs.

Founded in 2000 by Deep Kalra, MakeMyTrip Limited is one of the leading players in the industry. The group also owns the B2C online travel aggregator Goibibo, and online bus ticketing platform RedBus.in.

As part of our Tech Gurus Series, we talked to Rithish Saralaya, SVP of Engineering, redBus, MakeMyTrip, Goibibo to discuss his role at the company and more.

Saralaya brings over 18 years of overall experience working on large scale tech platforms across travel and ad-tech. He has a penchant towards building systems from scratch with focus on reliability and scale. Prior to Goibibo.com, he was overseeing engineering development at TravelYaari.com. He dabbled with Ad-Tech during his stint with Ibibo, serving hundreds of publishers and advertisers. Saralaya started his career with Tally Solutions, where he built solutions for their business support systems.

Covid-19 struggles

Talking about the pandemic, Saralaya believes in the principle of agility. Listening to the customers and partners to find solutions is important. He also believes that there’s almost always scope for improvement, so one must be agile enough to be able to react to market demands.

As businesses shifted to remote working one of the most affected aspects has been communication. Almost every industry and business had to rely on online communication for even small discussions. Saralaya also mentioned communication as a challenge faced by the company.

“Some things which could have been discussed and settled easily by just leaning over and talking; now require to be closed through a designated video chat. In some cases, we have made small changes to existing processes, and otherwise made some processes stricter.” 

Technology- a vital tool 

The company, which used to use paid tools pre-Covid has started investing in building some tools in-house. To reduce ambiguity, they use platforms such as JIRA and capture as much information as possible in the ‘Product Requirements Documents’. Saralaya also said that HR teams have adopted HRMS tools to capture and track OKRs and IKRs, and thus performance evaluation becomes far easier. 

Talking about redBus, he shared that within the route share mix (bus routes that are being booked) of transactions; the share of tier-2 and tier-3 routes have increased in the New Normal, as compared to before. This new customer segment also caused a surge in UPI transactions on the platform. The company built-in real time features to identify and display the health status of the bus drivers and conductors, ensuring transparency with travellers.

As with most businesses, cost reduction took the centre stage for MMT Limited as well. The company built processes and tightened products within self-help and CRM/CX flows to reduce the fixed cost burden.

According to Saralaya, “This is the testament to technology penetration, and users moving from offline to online channels of booking.”

Investing in technology

Saralaya believes that technology should be adopted keeping in mind the best interests of the company. Firstly, the value this adoption is going to add, and the financial investment it will take.

Secondly, one should invest in understanding if the current technology itself can be optimized/improved to cater to the required need. If the reasoning shows a significant ROI in investing in newer tech, businesses should invest in it.

The tech professional also feels that it is worthwhile to evaluate the technology stack every few years. This also applies to the softwares being used as new versions might have better and enhanced features.

“As long as the technology is showing that it can help the business deliver significant value and is also future ready; along with being superior to current technology being used; I would go out on a limb and say that it’s worth investing. If the ROI isn’t material enough, we should stay away.”

Commenting on the company’s future plans, Saralaya mentioned that they want to double down chatbot initiatives and invest more in cloud technologies such as infra containerization, and better observability.