How Asian Paints leveraged digital innovations to become customer centric
The company found its next big act in the B2C painting services with its Ezycolour Consultancy for offering color, décor, and Vastu inspired solutions to customers.
The company found its next big act in the B2C painting services with its Ezycolour Consultancy for offering color, décor, and Vastu inspired solutions to customers. This marked Asian Paints transition from being a product company to a services company providing a wide range of home improvement solutions. It is worth noting that at the heart of every reinvention exercise is the urge to get closer to the end-customer and rediscover core customer choices.
In 2013, a company specializing in modular kitchen space showed up on its radar. This was the kind of company Asian Paints would do well to acquire. Acting upon the perceived opportunity, it snapped up Sleek Group to diversify into modular kitchens segments, as a logical step up the value chain. Close on the heels of this acquisition, Asian Paints scooped up the front-end business of Ess Ess Bathroom to foray into the bathroom segment.
Asian Paints is best known as a paint manufacturer, and that remains a vibrant part of its business—but it is also reinventing itself as a home decor company. At Asian Paints, reinvention is the key to unlock the next phase of growth and customer centric innovation.
The reinvention code is hard to crack, more so when you have to get it right, time after time. But the payoffs- agility, customer connect and the ability to snatch business from less nimble competitors- is well worth the effort.
Reasoning from this fact, the Rs 17085 crore company has set out to reinvent itself every generation.
But when your company is high on constant reinvention, it makes life as a CIO something short of peaceful. But Manish Choksi isn’t complaining. His multi-faceted career spanning two decades at Asian Paints has seen him heading IT, Corporate Strategy, Supply Chain, and Strategic Planning. And now as the President – International Business Unit, IT, Supply Chain & Chemicals, Choksi is ready and willing to steer Asian Paints into the digital era.
At Asian Paints, business and IT have always been close like two coats of paint. As the IT custodian, Choksi calls himself a facilitator of corporate growth in the digital age. And he is well positioned for this kind of mandate. Choksi has been a part of the corporate advisory board for little over a decade. This gave him the ability to respond effectively to business demands, communicate the value of technology in business terms and champion IT’s cause to top executives. He knows how to translate vision into execution. Choksi has been there, done that and is going back for more.
The strength of the existing platforms that enable Asian Paints to chase growth, as well as appreciate the need for it, is drawn from the company’s past, particularly the last decade. As a company with a passion to push the future, Asian Paints stepped up its efforts on the digital front when the word had not even entered the corporate lexicon. Take for instance, Asian Paints’ adoption of automated storage and retrieval systems in 2008. This was the time when robotic warehousing was unheard of in the Indian manufacturing industry. The company had no reference points. Did that deter the company? Not one bit. Stirred by the courage of its conviction, Asian Paints adopted robotic warehousing and integrated it with ERP to solve the problems of a bloated inventory, increased opex, supply chain efficiency and factory level losses, in one stroke.
Measured risk taking has helped the company stay relevant in a dynamic business environment. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough how hard it is for a 75- year- old company to stay agile. But Asian Paints has demonstrated just as persuasively that it’s possible to be agile even when you have a lumbering legacy in people, processes, culture, and technology. Apparently, Choksi views legacy both a challenge and an opportunity. “Legacy gives us scalability, extensibility, brand equity and to some degree reality and you can build on all those elements,” he asserts.
Asian Paints has decided to bust the paradigm that legacy companies cannot be nimble. The need to push the boundaries and shake up its operations keeps Asian Paints agile. So when the company sensed that its hobbling ERP needed an upgrade, it decided to adopt the highly scalable in-memory platform and the new S/4 HANA. This was one of the first implementations of S/4 HANA in India’s manufacturing industry.
The platform helped Asian Paints target customers with personalized real time offers and reduces operational costs with a 60% reduction in database requirements. The project set the foundation for future innovations by allowing IT to rapidly integrate the core transactional platform as newer business models emerge for the company.
At home with Digital
IT effectiveness is reflected in the strength of fundamental business operations. The decorative major has upgraded its demand forecasting platform which allowed better predictability of the sales patterns across various geographies and brands. This will help in improving the ability to service an ever increasing range of products while keeping inventory levels within control.
Investments in the data mining platform are being leveraged to gain insights into a wide variety of business problems in logistics, people analytics, and material sourcing. “We are continuously striving to explore key emerging technologies that are relevant for the business. As an organization we have matured on the analytics journey and are now on the path towards predictive and prescriptive analytics,” shares Choksi.
The company is moving up hand over hand like a champion in the digital era. Asian Paints has harnessed the cloud model to facilitate its business operations. Its journey on to the cloud has been gradual wherein it started with the website going on cloud followed by enterprise mail. As the comfort levels increased, the company shifted quite a few critical enterprise processes like the entire employee lifecycle processes, frontline sales engagement processes and customer visualization processes to the cloud.
Choksi and his IT team have successfully conducted PoCs in emerging technologies like IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Conversational chat bots, Natural language translation and 3-D visualization of home décor.
The company has used the combination of industrialized sensors, automation, and social media analytics to catalyze both internal operations and customer-driven product development and marketing outreach.
“Social Media has been an area wherein we did make early investments. We first used it to address customer complaints. Any customer complaining about our products was reached out to and engaged till mutually acceptable solutions were reached. We have run quite a few successful campaigns on the social media to inspire, educate and help our customers make better choices on colors,” he reveals.
Be home and dry
Asian Paints is creating a compelling digital vision and driving appropriate synergies to build technology platforms that foster customer focused innovation.
“Digital will transform us from being a brick-and-mortar business into a click-and-mortar business. We are marrying digital technology with the physical network we have built over the past 75 years, to service our customer. Winning in a digital world is all about how you weave and create an ecosystem that is digitally connected,” he states.
The company has a strong web presence and this serves as a strong platform for consumers looking for painting and decorating their homes. All key websites of Asian Paints, www.asianpaints.com, www.sleekworld.com, www.beautifulhomes.com and the websites of international units have been significantly revamped. “We believe that in every interaction with the customer, she tries to tell us a little about herself. By leveraging advanced web analytics and personalisation technology, these websites understand the online behavior to position the right content and offers to the consumer in line with their preferences,” he says.
In the home décor space, having the right visual look goes a long way in helping the customer make the right choice. In order to address this customer need, Asian Paints has invested in 3-D visualization technology for the ‘Asian Paints Homes Stores’ and for the kitchen business. This empowers the Asian Paints consultants to create an intuitive visual model within a short period of time thereby not only reducing the consulting time but also nudges the consumer to complete the buying journey,” he states.
Asian Paints is devising innovative ways to help customers help themselves. It is in the process of deploying bots which can assist customers in taking the right decisions.
Asian Paints has implemented an ideation software “Eureka” for capturing ideas around new products. This software has helped in generating a significant number of ideas and has seen an encouraging response across.
Persona-based IT systems that are tailor-made to cater to employees in sales function have been implemented. This has significantly enhanced not only the productivity but also decision making and speed of execution. We have created a Virtual TSO (Territory Sales Officer) App for the smaller dealers to increase the connect with them and provide focused service to this segment.
These initiatives are happy outcomes of Asian Paints ’s IT strategy which had been devised keeping the customer in mind.
Driving home the importance of customer focus
A business without customers is like a stage without light. That’s a lesson Choksi learnt early. And he incorporates it as a guiding principle of his digital strategy. He has always put customers at the top of his pyramid of priorities, a mandate passed on to him during his stint in across business functions. He has gone to great lengths to ease the customer journey.
Over the last 75 years, Asian Paints has delivered value to its customers by keeping the customer at the center and understanding the unmet needs. It is this laser sharp focus on the customer experience that earned Asian Paints the fourth spot as one of the most valued Indian brands, ahead of the ICICI Bank, as per the BrandZ study conducted by Millward Brown and WPP.
Decor and paint are categories that people want to share with their friends and family and get their inputs on it. So Choksi wanted to wrap the customer experience around it. That’s the journey of which he is leading Asian Paints in the near future. “Visualizing a home is an immersive experience. Our Signature stores inspire people to fully stamp their personality on their living space. Similarly, the evolution of our Ezycolour consultancy service, offered at consumers’ homes aims to inspire change. Our efforts culminate at one point, the point where customers see their perfect home, and Asian Paints is an integral part of it. We have strived to offer relevant and contextual interactions to our customers by identifying their needs at different stages in the décor cycle,” he enumerates.
Asian Paints is leveraging digital to engage customers, dealers, and influencers. “We are looking at customer experience through a multichannel lens. We have set up an IT architecture that supports personalized consumer journeys across physical (Colour Ideas, Signature Stores), digital (Website, Mobile, Kiosks) and human (Colour consultancy, AID) touch points through seamless integration of multiple systems,” he states.
It’s a matter of finding out what can ease the pain points of customers. The company has created unique color visualizer apps that allow customers to experience color and décor. These are also used to offer color consultancy services which offer a unique value proposition in the market.
As a part of his digital strategy, he is trying to stitch together the online and offline experience and be by the customer’s side throughout the journey. “We believe that our customer experiences would be the differentiator in a tough décor market. We are banking on digital to enable disruptive transformations in this space,” he says, sketching out his idea of digital innovations in the near future.
Asian Paints’ well thought out business strategy is welded into its technology roadmap. And this attribute has helped the company go from strength to strength.
“We have made significant progress around creating Next Generation Omni Channel experience for our dealer community. This will allow a seamless experience for Asian Paints dealers across voice, web and mobile channels. Thanks to the e-commerce wave, Asian Paints dealers expect a similar experience when they interact with us through the digital medium. We have launched a comprehensive mobile app for our dealers. The app has now become a very popular channel of interaction for the dealers. We have gone beyond and extended the eco-systems for our contractor community who play a key role in delivering beautiful homes. Today a contractor can engage with our customers and us through an easy to use the mobile app. We are extending our digital eco-system even our AIDs which play an advisory role for our customers,” shares Choksi.
Going forward, Choksi wants to explore virtual reality for designing better homes. Such initiatives give a glimpse of how well the use of IT is integrated into the business plan.
“If you don’t take customers on a digital journey you are paving the way to a parallel ecosystem which would be tough to manage and extremely expensive to sustain. So, disrupting your own ecosystem and embarking on a journey that marries the digital channels with the physical world, is the way forward. When it comes to digital, small beginnings lead to big transformations,” he opines.
This urge to transform itself helps Asian Paints dismantle a whole set of assumptions about legacy companies. And this is what helps it deliver value to the customer by identifying his unmet needs.