What a Scooter Ride in India Taught Me about IT
By Shivani Saini, CIO, Asia, Middle East & Africa, GSK
Driving through Delhi’s infamous traffic can teach you quite a few lessons that can be useful in your personal and professional life. You learn the value of maneuvering your way through gridlocks, of spotting and grabbing the small windows of opportunity and keeping calm amid chaos.
However, I never imagined I would gain insights into how to get the best out of your IT investments, from following a scooter on Delhi’s roads.
As a technology leader, my aim is to turn IT into a competitive advantage for GSK, rather than being just a support function. I believe this goal can be achieved by addressing three key things: Simplifying the use of IT for our employees, ensuring we fully exploit the digital and e-commerce opportunities and empowering our sales teams with technological capabilities that allow them to connect with the customers like never before.
A lot of companies, including our competitors, have been making investments in all of these areas. The winners will be the ones who know how to leverage and adopt these technologies, and bring back true value to the business and the users. My quest to understand these aspects was what took me to India.
India is one of our biggest markets. I was keen to understand how our sales representatives are leveraging technology. Along with the global head of IT at GSK, our team followed the sales representatives in India as they rode their scooters across the busy town. Here is what I learnt:
Market nuances matter
One of the biggest focus areas for technology investments is getting a 360-degree view of the customer and engaging with them in a multi-channel environment. This is where tools such as social listening platforms, CRM technologies, data and analytics –are enabling companies to react quickly to customer needs.
For example, GSK Expert representatives meet dentists in person to explain about a product such as Sensodyne toothpaste.
One of the biggest focus areas for technology investments is getting a 360-degree view of the customer and engaging with them in a multi-channel environment
Our IT team enables them with sales force automation capabilities and hand-held devices to help them deliver better results. However, as IT experts, we can get fixated on the technology part and lose sight of the fact that user and local in-market nuances are key to ensure that these tools are being fully exploited.
Luckily, our team in India gets this. As we followed the representatives in India, we noticed an interesting thing. They visited the local pharmacy before going to see the dentist to understand and capture data on market dynamics and consumer behaviour.
That is because, while dentists are important for recommending Sensodyne, in India a large number of consumers actually go directly to the neighborhood pharmacy and often they end up buying the product recommended by the store owner.
This data helps the representatives to have a more informed discussion with the dentists to better serve consumer needs. This market nuance was understood and the “use case” was identified and enabled on the sales force automation tool. Thus, the technology truly enables the representatives’ day-to-day work and helps meet their business objectives.
It’s about frugal (and effective) innovation
Technology is changing the way businesses are run on almost every front. For example, data and analytics are providing insights to sales representatives like never before. It equips them to show customers what specific products can do, the kind of promotions that can be run, what benefits the consumers and how.
However, there is a risk of companies getting carried away and investing too much in technology and then struggling to show the returns.
My India trip delivered a valuable lesson on this front as well. The team in India has developed a minimal viable product mindset. This mindset is about understanding clearly what the sales force really needs to carry out its work effectively and ensuring that those few processes work seamlessly. So rather than investing in multiple fancy functions, the team in India has identified the three or four that are really helpful to do their daily job effectively and efficiently, thus provide the biggest bang for their buck. It’s all about frugal innovation and understanding how to keep the costs low and returns high.
Delivering value to the business as front-end leaders
The India team’s strategy to visit the pharmacy ahead of the dentist is a great example of finding a solution to a particular business issue. We can learn a lot from this. Too often IT departments build solutions and then go about finding problems that the solution can help fix. We need to understand the business problem first and then develop a technology-driven solution for it.
IT can be the growth engine of the company. That will happen when IT executives consider themselves as front-end business leaders with a technology background, rather than just technology experts. We will need to constantly keep our eye on user and market needs, keeping our solutions frugal, and delivering value to the business.