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Levi Strauss’ Deepak Kishanchand on learnings from 2020, upgrading to new technologies, and more

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The fashion industry has gone through dramatic changes recently due to the pandemic and lockdown. Increased online shopping, shifting consumer behaviours and increasing pressure for digital, are some of the challenges to name a few. While some brands had to make tough decisions about their businesses, a lot were also able to find the silver lining and bounce back from the crisis.

In 2020, Nike announced the acceleration of its digital strategy and investment in its highest potential areas, which it said would lead to job cuts in stores. Zara said that it plans to cut 1,200 stores over two years and invest €2.7 billion in store-based digital. This represents the intensity of the impact Covid has left on the industry, as even the giants had to face some challenges.

Another leading brand, Levi Strauss & Co. was recently in the news for different reasons. As reported by Indiaretailing earlier, the brand is acquiring Beyond Yoga, an athleisure apparel brand to diversify its portfolio. According to the financial results announced by the company, “Net revenues through all digital channels grew 75% versus second quarter of fiscal 2020 driven by  strong performance across  all  regions; digital penetration  as a  percentage of total sales was approximately 23%.”

As part of our Tech Gurus Series, we talked to Deepak Kishanchand,  IT Head, South Asia & Middle East at Levi Strauss & Co. about the learnings from the pandemic and the need to upgrade to newer technologies. 

Kishanchand comes with technology leadership experience of over 20 years from Levi’s, Reliance Trends, Arvind, Siemens, Honeywell and Schneider electric. He works with an ecosystem of next gen tech and works on early adoption to power his business with the latest in technology.

Learnings from the crisis

The tech professional shared that he has learnt a lot from last year. Working from home became way more productive, as technology has evolved and is enabling remote work. He also talked about the teams being more than cooperative to go the extra mile for their work, representing the determination of the company to keep up with the crisis. 

Another key learning shared by Kishanchand is understanding the deliverables and business expectations is really important as it directly impacts the speed of the project execution. As Covid took the centrestage, digital platforms emerged as a favourite for customers. So the company focused on increasing the available online channels to their audience.

“The assortment that you get online and in-stores are generally different. Customers who are looking for the latest rush to the stores and customers who are looking for value generally go online. The challenge with COVID was to reach the maximum assortment to the customers. Strengthening the digital channels and ensuring availability were top priority.”

This also resulted in CX becoming more crucial than previous years. To tackle this challenge, technology teams took the initiative to enable opportunities for the company. The focus was on delivering workable architecture and scalable platforms that would eventually integrate into other enterprise platforms, when the markets get better.

“We delivered working solutions without worrying whether the solutions were in integrated form or just manual modes of data exchange. This opened up opportunities for business. Speed was an integral part of the effort and there was a stretch from teams. But the success of delivering projects after projects during lockdown in rapid speed wiped out the stress from everyone as we knew that we had delivered when it mattered.”

Implementing changes successfully

Talking about the internal change management, Kishanchand believes that it was not a challenge. Instead he said it was a revelation to the IT teams. “The collaboration with business, vendor partners and within IT has improved. Video and audio conferencing have positively changed the way we participate in meetings. There is more stress on adhering to processes and communication.”

He also believes that the focus on their deliverables has become sharper now. Everyone is mindful and respectful of others’ time and situation working from home without losing focus on business priorities. While this was something introduced last year only, the team has mastered remote working and have been keeping up with the changes successfully.

Aligning the vision

According to the IT Head, upgrading to a newer technology should always be done keeping long term goals in mind. It is crucial that this transition evolves with time and merges with the increasing consumer expectations in the near future. 

He also said that companies should invest in modern day technology only if it is going to uplift consumer experience or increase sales. If it is not going to impact any of these verticals, it better to not touch an already successful machine.

“While the evaluation of the next gen technology/platforms are done, the best strategy to ensure alignment and buy-in from business is to link the outcome to increased customer satisfaction and uplift in sales.”