With Covid-19 radically altering the way businesses are conducted, industries across domains adapted to the new normal. Business processes which traditionally evolved with time as well as according to business requirements, witnessed an accelerated shift towards digitalisation.
At Maruti Suzuki, we shifted to the hybrid mode of working in record time. This, despite being a manufacturing firm with varied business functions, each with its unique challenges. While it was easier for functions like Marketing & Sales, critical functions like R&D and Supply Chain, where there were concerns about data security and confidentiality, required a thought-through approach. With detailed analysis and nuanced study within a short timeframe, the team was able to transition to a hybrid mode of working quickly. Another big transformation was moving to the digital onboarding of our employees. The entire activity of shortlisting, interviewing and onboarding was done using new-age digital tools, a radical shift from the earlier approach where face-to-face personal interaction was an integral part of the process. This way, Maruti Suzuki was able to continue its recruitment process and honour all the job offers that were rolled out just before the pandemic-induced lockdown got underway.
Another area of transformation was digitalisation of 24 out of 26 touchpoints in a customer’s buying journey. This digital transformation was seen in domains ranging from selecting a car online to digital payment and finance options. This was also aligned to the increasing prominence given to safety during the ongoing pandemic. All these were possible because of the employees’ willingness to adapt, learn and overcome the challenges.
A significant positive change seen during this time was that innovation took centrestage. Companies leapfrogged towards new innovations and new ways of working.
One of the key pillars of this transition is the workforce. Only a happy and motivated workforce can enable such largescale transition in a short span of time. It is imperative for companies to adequately equip individuals with the right resources, atmosphere and platforms to convert their thoughts into actions, thereby contributing to the greater good of the organisation.
Based on my experience, I feel four important areas—Innovation, Collaboration, setting up Centres of Excellence and Promoting Research, that every B-school should consider in order to provide the right atmosphere for its students, making them industry ready and excel as skilled professionals.
To be successful as well as sustainable, a company has to constantly innovate to bring new products and solutions to delight its customers, and remain relevant. The onset of the pandemic accelerated the speed of innovation, while concurrently leading to emergence of many new skill domains. Notably, disruptions and innovations in domains like data science, high-end business analytics, digital, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), etcetera, have changed the face of the business. There are multiple examples of companies using data to their advantage. Maruti Suzuki started its operations with the much-loved Maruti 800, and now has 14 models in its overall product portfolio, offering an array of features that are technologically advanced. Effort has been made to expand the sales and service outreach over the years. The means of customer interaction has also evolved over the past three decades. At present, we have put into place innovations like the Maruti Suzuki Smart Finance to offer customised finance offers to customers in the comfort of their homes, all online. Within the company, apps are being used to monitor the health status of the employees since the start of the pandemic.
The entire activity of shortlisting, interviewing and onboarding was done using new-age digital tools, a radical shift from the earlier approach where face-to-face personal interaction was an integral part of the process
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Although all companies have embraced a digital way of working, its usage continues to evolve. Earlier, companies used to buy an ERP system which was used by employees across the company for a duration spanning years. However, in the digital age, the systems have become more niche and specialised. For example, in case of an AI project, the hardware intelligence does not mean than an individual can just develop an algorithm, which can directly be implemented. Based on the changing business needs, companies need to keep on evolving new models. These might need to constantly be upgraded even if it is as recent as every month, or every week. To this end, the individuals also need to be trained in using the systems to their full capacity, and need capability building to consume this information and draw relevant insights. In line with resultant higher level of efficiency with these technologies, the enhanced capability to consume is also high. Thus, the students at B-schools have to be equipped with skills to handle such changes.
To encourage innovative thinking within our organisation, we have introduced the Intrapreneurship Challenge, where employees suggest disruptive ideas to bring about changes to traditionally managed business operations. Further, through our initiatives like MAIL we aim to attract startups with innovative ideas in the automation and mobility space. Dedicated teams work with these startups to co-create customised solutions to address specific business problems.
Traditionally, the engagement between a B-school and the industry was limited to industry leaders addressing the students through occasional guest lectures, or at seminars. Or, the students engaged with corporates through summer internship programmes across companies.
What technological advancements have done is enable a more dynamic integration between the industry and B-schools, making it more collaborative. In earlier scenarios, it was very time-bound wherein a short project could be undertaken which ended with the summer internship. Today, the students could continue working with industry through additional evening projects for a longer period alongside their college curriculum. This is a win-win for the student, the institution as well as the company. The student gets exposure to working, while the company is able to get the project completed. This provides students the opportunity to expand their horizon beyond theoretical learning and work on real-life business challenges.
Today, technology has erased physical boundaries. Now, with the hybrid mode, many experienced professionals are available for mentorship programmes. These mentors, comprising industry leaders and CEOs, also apprise the students of the actual work environment and guide them towards developing their skills to become industry-ready.
Additionally, the renowned B-schools also have a huge and well-connected alumni network which offers the opportunity to connect with well-placed individuals who share the same alma mater. Colleges, on their part, also organise mentorship opportunities, in addition to leveraging global mentorship platforms. The colleges need to further explore ways in which such platforms can be institutionalised.
Today, there are multiple opportunities for students to explore their potential and broaden their horizons. They use platforms like Hackathons and Open Innovation Forums by technology companies to exhibit their expertise on the topic, while simultaneously enhancing their knowledge
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Establishing Centres of Excellence (COEs) in college for new-age skills and technologies will help build relevant skillsets. Till a few years back, innovation used to take place in other countries and then come to India, after a lag. But that is not the case anymore. India today has a bustling startup ecosystem which works towards solving problems—domestically, as well as globally. Creating platforms to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship at the B-school level is crucial to hone these skills. These can then be scaled to have a better impact. Even the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has introduced programmes to teach entrepreneurship in B-schools.
Starting a platform for B-schools to promote entrepreneurship and create those capabilities has helped aid the development of a startup mindset right since the formative years. A student thus becomes more passionate and enthusiastic about the possibility of initiating a startup to solve a problem or offer a solution. Here, they are taught to assimilate resources, understand the dynamics of production, undertake sales and marketing—in a nutshell, become aware of all aspects and functions of running a startup. Even if the individual decides to join a corporate later, the depth of understanding a B-school student is able to get on these subjects is phenomenal. So, creating COEs and maturing them with constant industry connect to source relevant business issues surely provides a deeper understanding of real-world problems. These COEs can further work towards aiding research on new-age technologies and solutions which are yet to be explored in India. Aligned to the Government’s Startup India initiative, we even joined hands with IIM Bangalore to set up an incubation hub to help startups and B-school students bring industry-ready solutions and expand sales while addressing new-age mobility requirements.
B-schools today are not just ranked by the placement of students but also the research they do. Creating an extensive research environment in the institute can help develop new solutions to better our collective understanding. Deciding upon a few key focus areas in each of the B-schools could also encourage the creation of intellectual property with respect to the research being undertaken. Further, connecting with a specific industry and working on practical use cases is an area worth exploring.
Even when the pandemic wanes, it is evident that the learning methodology will continue to be in the hybrid mode. The vast opportunities provided by the hybrid model have allowed the students to continue working on industry projects alongside their college curriculum. For both offices as well as institutions, this will be a way of life. Based on our learning over the past two years, this hybrid model displays a more connected, efficient and effective way of working. It has allowed the process of onboarding even before a fresher joins a company.
For some time now, I have been personally mentoring some students, and the innovation capabilities of these young minds are phenomenal. Today, there are multiple opportunities for students to explore their potential and broaden their horizons. They use platforms like hackathons and open innovation forums by technology companies to exhibit their expertise on the topic, while simultaneously enhancing their knowledge.
Although B-schools can effectively cover the standard template of course curriculum which is assigned, in the current competitive environment, developing those niche skills in addition to the curriculum is what makes all the difference. If students can build such skills as a part of their learning journey, it is bound to make them more employable. In addition, learning opportunities available through various digital platforms and courses considerably add to their profile. Many of these are either open source, or reasonably priced.
Creating capability is critical right from the time students enter a B-school. Further, they should be focused on the industry and role of their choice, connect with industry leaders, take up projects at various companies and gain industry experience. All of it goes into building a vision for the future.