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We are at the cusp of a breakout opportunity in modern retailing in India: Vinod Bidarkoppa, Group CIO, Future Group

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In the retail sector, technology can help in achieving one view of the customer and succeeding in an omni-channel strategy, opines Vinod Bidarkoppa, Group Chief Information Officer, Future Group, in a conversation with Ankush Kumar. Vinod is a global technology executive with over 20 years of experience in diverse operational and strategic leadership roles with consumer facing companies in the retail, airline/travel and banking sectors with companies like Tesco, HP, EDS and American Airlines/Sabre.

Some edited excerpts:

You have recently joined the Future Group. What are some of your primary goals?

We have a great opportunity to lead the business from the front. What really matters is how well we understand our customers and how well customers (both external and internal) perceive our products and services whether in the store or across the digital channels. Technology is the key ingredient for the success of any business today and retail is no exception. Understanding the customer expectations, making their shopping trip experience simpler, delightful and bringing better efficiencies to our internal processes has been our real goal.

And in order for us to achieve these, we need to have the right engineering (Architecture and Leadership) behind the projects we deliver – this will mean having a consistent and robust environment for delivering excellence. We need to constantly try and ensure standardizing and leveraging scale across our businesses. We need to re-imagine how we can bring agility and simplicity in all aspects of our work. Agile methodologies such as Scrum and DevOps are need of the hour. I am also keen to ensure we have the right people and training in place both at the leadership and in the technology areas to support our ambitions.

What are some of the immediate priorities?

The first is getting the technology for our customers, colleagues, store employees, warehouses for collaborating among 36,000 employees ourselves. We need to organize the portfolio of strategic projects, get the engineering behind and develop them in the best manner we can and get new products to the market in the least possible time. Second is addressing the talent aspect and help run the engine of this vast enterprise which relies on IT. I spend time thinking about how we can up-skill or hire the right talent at the leadership, technical and support level. Third is getting a standardized and converged environment so that we can build once and deploy multiple times across multiple formats/businesses.

You also have extensive experience in handling complex IT systems in sectors like airlines and banking. How has been the transition from the airline to the retail sector?

In my previous roles in the retail, airlines and banking sectors, I have witnessed how technology can create huge business opportunities. For instance, in an airline business, all employees have the same view of customer data, whether it’s accessing a company website or a kiosk, a call center or the travel agency. Everyone knows whether a particular customer has a silver, gold or platinum membership. Therefore, airlines as a business can monetize on that customer information.

In the retail business, we are on the same trajectory. It’s about employing an omni-channel strategy which helps to achieve one view of the customer, order and inventory (Stock) where technology becomes a key enabler to implement the business processes. Loyalty drivers and apps such as Big Bazaar Profit Club, Future Group Shopping Festival, Mobile Digital Wallet partnerships (Mobikwik), T24, Online and Mobile formats (Ezone) – all these are pure technological conveniences. It’s difficult to imagine a world in retail which can run an enterprise as large, complex, as distributed as ours without the secret sauce of technology. Further, technology also helps us to analyze customer preferences and choices through the use of data science and personalize offers.

What are the technologies that you believe can truly revolutionize the retail business in India? How are these technologies being used at the Future Group?

If you look across the Retail Reference Framework across the plan, buy, move, and sell processes, there is ample scope to drive massive change by employing technology. Broadly speaking there are things that can be done to improve the efficiencies of the internal operations — be it in the head office (enterprise planning, merchandise planning, assortment planning, product life cycle management, intelligent promotions and markdowns, RFID, auto replenishment) and warehouses (intelligent warehouse management and transportation and distribution) to name a few. Equally, there are a number of customer conveniences that can be brought in through technology both offline and online. Digital shelf edge labels, mobile POS, digital kiosks in the stores and whole gamut of online and mobile conveniences to make the shopping trip easier. Today, at Future Group we are either actively evaluating, or have implemented all of the above.

How do you see the role and impact of technologies such as Big Data and IoT in the retail business?

Big data is no longer just a “hype”. The industry has cut through that hype cycle a year ago. Today, we are talking about IoT, and according to Gartner, the market will be 20.8 billion worth of connected devices by 2020. At the Future Group, we are in a place where we are mining and analyzing a lot of data. Today, we have more than 30 million customers who use our loyalty program. We collect the sales data for all the transactions, and we bring it back into a data warehouse or into the databases. They have the ability to crunch this data and build insightful business models that tell us how we need to be selling and marketing in the future. We are in a very good position to harness and crunch all data that proliferates. It helps us make meaningful decisions. For us, Big Data is immensely relevant and we are already sitting on heaps of data which we want to analyze correctly and accurately.

How is the company maintaining privacy and data protection to safeguard sensitive information of its customers?

Ours is a retail business and like any other business dealing with customers, we need to have effective security practices, policies and frameworks in place. We have implemented DMZ (demilitarized zone) security rings where we interface with external systems. Customer details are masked when data leaves secure zones. PCI compliance is mandatory. Data needs to be dealt with utmost care and we also make it a practice to keep our colleagues aware of the need for the same. I believe we are at the cusp of a breakout opportunity in modern retailing in India and Future Group is uniquely positioned with a vast network of hypermarkets, super markets, convenience stores, digital stores all supported by industry leading loyalty program(s) underpinned by a strong workforce and technology to propel us into higher orbits.


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