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Consumer tech with ingenuity, can alter business models

The saying necessity is the mother of invention has never been truer than in these unusual times. While there is no minimizing the devastating human and economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis, every downside has an upside. While we saw large enterprises running huge programs to provide laptops, computer sets, and digital infrastructure to employees, we also witnessed an entire ecosystem of small-scale business folks, adopting digital methodologies, such as ordering via instant messaging platforms, using UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and making use of online aggregators to continue their business as usual. Not only did the crisis accelerate digital transformation across the world, it opened our eyes to the possibilities offered by technology solutions to enhance and support our lives and sustain and grow our businesses.

Here are some examples that elucidate on the grit and innovation displayed by some folks and how they have leveraged technology to pivot and grow their businesses. After all, the pandemic did not just propel enterprises in redefining their new normal, it also redefined what the new normal means for small-scale business folks (viz., vegetable vendors, cab fleet operators, etc.)

For example, a local vegetable vendor in the suburbs of Goregaon Mumbai, did not miss a beat at the peak of Covid-19 in 2020, when he transitioned from a store/mandi-led model to an ordering model via an instant messaging platform along with adopting a digital channel for payments. He did all of this using his smartphone. Right from taking orders from customers in quarantine through a show-and-tell approach, providing updates on latest vegetable and fruit arrivals, using an instant messaging platform, to securing digital payment on delivery, using UPI. His business actually flourished, since he started serving customers outside his delivery radius that he used to normally service. This also created a seamless financial supply chain model, which saw his competitors, who were non-digital savvy, either become suppliers to him for their sustenance sake or had to look at alternative means of livelihood to survive. Today, this vegetable vendor who now has had two years to experiment and improvise, is seeking to expand outside of the traditional service model. He is doing all this by creating innovative community offerings, early bird offers, etc., with a set of digital tools available that bring in remarkable levels of service-level predictability and technology, at almost no ownership cost to him. This is an example of true digital impact for the new Connected India.

Cut to an inspiring cab fleet operator in a rich middle-eastern country. This modest-seeming young man from Kerala had quickly assembled an instant messenger-driven cab-aggregation service of more than 100-plus cars, which offered loyal customers and locals alike feature functionalities that were available with the more popular ride-hailing services. This included crowd-sourced real-time traffic updates, approximate time to destination, cab sourcing from various parts of the city within 15 min, etc. So, when bigger and popular ride hailing services came calling to this middle-eastern country, their addressable audience was already accustomed to high levels of service, and the benefits and functionalities of a customer-first ride-hailing ecosystem. Today, this young man is well on the way toward building and creating an application-based ride hailing system, using a small IT vendor based in Kannur, Kerala. Add to this, he has also started a social media-based news network on a popular social media platform for the benefit of the Malayali diaspora in the Middle East.

The above examples showcase how new-age consumer technology, if blended with a bit of ingenuity, can help alter business models. If we think of it, fifteen years ago it would have been nearly impossible for a common man to aspire and own a business, leave alone running it without the help of large enterprises. Today, for a large part, enterprises are just playing the role of enablers by providing well-researched and robustly built-out IT tools for customers, which then form an amazing test-bed for innovation.

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