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Saving livelihoods with digital imperatives

The B2B online virtual summit by WBR Insights, kicked off in early July with a welcome note by managing director Danny Levy. Before the keynote by Lenovo’s Global Head of e-Commerce, Ajit Sivadasan, Danny shared worldwide research insights that were gathered during an 8-week period prior. Danny said, “We spoke to B2B companies across Asia in order to figure out how COVID-19, has impacted their business.”

A few of the key insights include the following:

  1. Ninety-percent of respondents say the coronavirus has caused a massive increase in speed of digital transformation or DX. Of this, 55-percent have seen online sales increase during the first two quarters of this year.
  2. Key challenges include pivoting the business to meet consumer demand (60-percent), low demand for products (47-percent), financial instability (36-percent), stock and supply chain challenges (36-percent). Overall, 95-percent think it isn’t too late to adopt digital transformation. “Eighty percent of B2B companies, are planning to invest into new digital tools, for the next 6 to 12 months, with 51-percent trying to increase spending on personalisation and CX tools,” Danny said.
  3. The top 5 investment categories that the research revealed are CRM (45-percent), delivery and logistics (43-percent), e-commerce platforms (40-percent), data management and analytics (37-percent), and supply chain management (35-percent).

Out of all the B2B companies WBR spoke to, 24-percent are currently happy with their existing technology stack, with only 16-percent satisfied, and 20-percent having no digital tools in place. Forty-percent don’t feel that their current tools meet customer expectations.

A digital leader speaks

Ajit Sivadasan, Lenovo’s global head of e-commerce and digital marketing

With these statistics to frame the upcoming discussions, Ajit started on his keynote topic about the changing economic landscape and how to use the crisis to become even stronger versus just keeping lights on.

The significant thing to note is that Ajit and his global team located across 10 countries are responsible for driving Lenovo’s global online sales from 5 countries to over 35 countries today. Lenovo.com now has presence in over 90 countries, and over the last 13 years revenues, units and profits, have grown over 1000-percent.

With the coronavirus having dramatically shifted the landscape the past few years, what lies ahead for IT demand, IT usage and e-commerce platforms?

Ajit spoke about two current imperatives for the business, but of note for EITN is the second imperative – saving livelihoods, supporting affected businesses, giving back to work safety and more.

He shared that most companies and most leaders are of the opinion we are likely looking at an 8 to 12 percent trough before full recovery happens. This could be anywhere between the next 6 till 18 months.

Ten broad trends which Lenovo has always looked into even before the pandemic,was finetuned down to five trends which are especially relevant right now. These 5 trends are connected health, the notion of paying for what you consume, content as a currency, and the severely impacted sectors of retail and education.

Further focus is added to these trends based upon the audience which Lenovo broadly breaks down to consumers,SMBs and enterprises.

Thinking about audience you sell to

According to Ajit, when one really thinks about COVID-19 and how it is challenging everybody at work, at home and in their community settings, there are some key focuses.

For example for consumers, a big focus is upon family, basic needs, financial security, work from home, care for children and learn at home, among others.

“Most of you are doing that,” Ajit pointed out, adding that the implication of all this is everything has gone online. Entertainment and streaming media, online gaming and e-sports, restaurants and groceries are delivering their goods, education has gone online with studying and teaching from home.

SMBs are in survival mode, Ajit observed saying the pandemic has had the biggest impact upon SMBs because of their lack of cashflow. Many countries have put stimulus packages in place to help SMBs keep the lights on and be able to pay their employees, but they are only enough to help businesses get by.

Ajit observed that SMB are in a slightly different position and quite frankly at the most risk in terms of where they are in the whole situation because they are having challenges getting to work, having challenges accessing the things they need (to work), having challenges with customers coming to their physical shops.

And then there is the enterprise segment. This segment is trying to take care of their employees and customers.

First and foremost, they are thinking of preserving jobs and cash. building up reserves to tide over in the long term, managing expenses down, and even continuing operations with remote employees.

Online – offline

 What the pandemic has done is drive the digital agenda very forcefully.  It’s driving it at home, at work, and in education.

No matter who you read or talk to, the macro trends basically say that the e-commerce aspect, the e-business aspect, the online aspect of everything that we are doing is going to increase.

Whether it’s about sales, the ability for people to go to work, trying to teach or to learn, whetehr it’s about business models that affects SMB that want to get back on track but have to do it from a very different standpoint

Many companies have been trying to drive digital transformation for a long time with very little success. Suddenly people are realising that it has become existential, in the sense that without DX they are not only going to be left behind, but they may face the prospect of not being relevant, Ajit said.

“I think what companies have not been able to do for the past some years because of funding, because of lack of clarity on what’s needed; all that (digital) agenda is getting accelerated because of this one pandemic.”

How is Lenovo coping

When the pandemic happened and countries went into lockdown, a majority of office workers were sent home to work. But some work functions remained tricky in terms of the infrastructure required to be able to carry out tasks.

The call centre function is one of these, and Ajit shared call centres had seen impact in terms of staff readiness in handling calls remotely.

When asked, he told EITN, “Things are gradually coming back to full efficiency but lack of sustained bandwidth and infrastructure on par with formal work places has been challenging for call centre staff.”

For example in some cases, extending VPN and other capabilities needed for call routing and management, has been challenging.

“But IT teams have stepped up efforts to help drive needed upgrades and changes to ensure staff has the necessary tools and solutions to handle these challenges.”

On the plus side, Lenovo has successfully launched a Zoom- based consultative selling model for their small and medium customers in Japan, and that is doing well.

In conclusion, Ajit said, “We are seeing significant expansion of similar innovative ideas to help manage the ‘new normal.”