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Guide | January 05, 2022

Commerce and the path to digitalization with Bhavin Patel of CT Corp

Commerce Talk with SmartOSC finished 2021 with a look at digitalization and all things digital transformation with Bhavin Patel of CT Corp.

Host Adrian Wakeham and Bhavin went on a step-by-step journey to digitalization. Bhavin is a digital transformation veteran, so his top tips for taking a business digital are worth their weight in gold.

Bhavin Patel currently has a dual role as the Group Managing Director of Digital, Omnichannel & Platforms of CT Corp & President Director / CEO of CT Corp Digital. He has more than 15 years of experience in digital across the UK market for FTSE 100 companies, global roles within multinationals across Central Europe and Southeast Asia, and group roles in-market Indonesia. 

His experience spans multiple disciplines within digital, product, UXUI, tech, data, digital marketing, eCommerce, and so on. Bhavin Patel has been successfully translating the vision of each business into digital solutions leading to profitable business growth, increased competitive edge, and enhanced brand engagement.

You can subscribe and listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and elsewhere podcasts are found.

You can also check out this Q&A from the episode (edited for clarity and brevity) for all those yummy digital insights.

Adrian: You came from a very mature market in the UK and you’re now working in emerging markets in Southeast Asia. What differences have you observed between taking a company digital in a mature versus an emerging market?

Bhavin: In mature markets, they've been doing digital transformation for a very long time and consumers are open to taking things slightly slowly. So for example, the desktop view is still predominant in some of the mature markets. What you realize when you come into Southeast Asia is that it’s definitely a very mobile-first market. 

In mature markets, the brand is really important, but one of the things that was a lesson for me in Indonesia is you've got unicorns that start from scratch and become multi-billion dollar businesses and have millions and millions of transactions and users, and they don't have the backing of a brand. It's a brand that started from scratch. Consumers are more open to trying multiple platforms and services, so use cases become really important and customer experience is very important.

In a much more mature market, functionality is very important. In Southeast Asia, people can wait four or five days for delivery, but in the UK market, or a very mature market, speed of delivery is very important, quality of delivery is very important, insurance guarantee is very important. Brand plays a big, big, big part in that. 

I'm not saying that brand does not play a part here. From a digital transformation perspective, what also works very well in an emerging market is being able to feel the customer's needs.

Adrian: Looking at CT Corpora, an organization with more than 100,000 employees, how does working at that scale impact digitalization?

Bhavin: At CT Corpora we’re quite lucky for a conglomerate as our chairman is a very innovative individual. He’s always believed in transformation and adaptability. From a digital perspective that works really well. 

Digitalization requires the ability to be able to move without friction. It comes from the top to ensure that there is alignment and getting the right sort of leader in place to drive digital transformation and really become a sponsor within the organization and make sure that alignment is there, especially for a group like us with so many different brands. 

The second part is to make sure that, at a working level, that same strategy, vision, delivery, and KPIs are put into place. At a top management level, most of the time, we really want digital transformation to happen. But the challenge happens more when it moves down into the working level. That's where you need the same level of alignment. The way we've been able to do this is to make sure that there is a digital center of excellence and organization that’s responsible from a PMO perspective. 

Whatever journey we’re taking, we make sure that there are stakeholder committees in place wireframes, charters, and that we create real visibility and champions within the business at all levels. So you want to make sure you target management level, head level, VP level director level, across all of the organizations and track that, making sure people are accountable for the KPIs. Bringing that together is the only way you're going to really drive the speed. I'm a very big believer in having a structured approach.

Adrian: What are the sorts of goals for digital transformation that should be set outside of profit and loss?

Bhavin: Number one would be, what is the business case? What do you want to do from a digital perspective? Is it a brand new eCommerce platform? Do you want to sell on a marketplace? Do you want to run digital advertising? What might be a use case for you might not be for another business. So number one is building a business case with very strong use cases, and then turning them into a short-term, mid-term and long-term strategy. 

I say that because if you wait too long, you might be too late. If you launch too early, you might do it wrong. Therefore, it's very important to set the three stages in place. What is your minimum viable product? Then how are you going to scale that into something that is market-leading for your organization? 

Then number three, you need to have a separate digital organization. It doesn't matter how big or small your organization is, you need a digital champion,as there will always be conflict, there will always be the P&L of the main business that you're up against. So you need a team that is going to focus on delivering this project and be responsible for running this digital business.

I'm gonna say this quite lightly, and I don't mean to offend anyone, but there's a saying that it's really hard to get an offline person to run digital and it's true, and it's the same way of a digital person to run an offline business. Because they require completely different skill sets. They require completely different knowledge. 

I've already seen this many times where businesses have launched eCommerce businesses, and the sales are horrendous. And they're scratching their heads as to why they’ve spent millions of dollars trying to launch this platform but it's only 1% of their total business. Probably because it's run and operated by traditional individuals within the businesses who never had exposure to digital. 

It's very important to have a mixed team, not purely old digital, but you want a mix, you want a 50/50 mix of people from traditional backgrounds and digital backgrounds and bringing them together.

Adrian: How do you suggest approaching the digital transformation conversation with people at different levels of an organization who may be hesitant or afraid of change?

Bhavin: One thing we tell new people who join CT Corp Digital is that they’re going to be working in a corporate environment, but with a startup mindset. We tell them that as they have to be quite mindful when working with the rest of the business, because they will be disrupting things their counterparts are used to doing for a long time. 

You have to take the time and listen to people. A lot of people walk in and say they’re going to make big changes. People may not buy into it and let it happen. You may have senior management on board, but on the ground things aren’t moving, you're facing loads of conflict meetings, things are taking a lot longer and approvals are taking a lot longer. So the first thing is really listening to their point of view, understanding their individual KPIs.

A simple question might be, “What are you working on this year? And how can I help you achieve your goals?”

I think digital is supposed to make you adaptable as well. If you're not adaptable, people will start doubting how good your platform is, because they have this vision of digital making a change overnight. So you have to be adaptable with that type of thinking as well and managing that expectation.


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Adrian: Are there massive differences between mature and emerging markets in terms of attracting and retaining talent?

Bhavin: Yes. In the more mature markets, people have a lot of experience, which doesn't always mean that they're more skilled or educated. As digital is so new in Southeast Asia, we do lose individuals and retaining employees is much more difficult in an emerging market versus a mature market purely because, in a mature market, they started that digital journey a long time ago and they know where they fit in it. There are more specialist roles. 

Here, it's a lot broader. In emerging markets, people tend to move around more because there's much more demand. You're up against other organizations that are selling new innovative things to employees and they're also willing to give pay rises at sizes which you just don't see in a mature market. 

Adrian: What would be your top three tips for anyone setting out on their own digitalization journey?

Bhavin: Number one would be make sure you have a very strong business case. And the use cases within the business cases are very relevant, you can use that for influencing stakeholders as well. And what I mean by that is make sure it's data-driven and not opinion-led. Use cases, user journey and customer experiences are all covered in that one tip.

Number two is to be adaptable, be willing to change. We’re always good at pointing fingers at traditional business systems and saying that they're not ready to adapt, but as digital native individuals, we also need to adapt. That includes being mindful of what the core business really wants to do, and how you can apply that. 

Number three is have a really strong organizational framework of how you're going to really operate this business, or how you're going to really make sure this is there for the long term. Even if you're not creating a new digital business, or you're not creating a new eCommerce platform, but you just want to run a new campaign, how are you going to make it last longer? Is it enough that there's only one of you? Do you need two or three more people to help you out? What does that team look like? I see that a lot, even in non-eCommerce businesses, around digital marketing efforts. For example, you don't want to take someone from Facebook to run TikTok and move between the two and just do it once; you want to be on that platform for a long time. How are you going to make sure that it's sustainable for the long term, and not just sort of a one-off campaign? So really look at your organization quite hard if you're at a managerial level, but you can talk to upper management and talk about how the team needs to change and adapt towards the strategy you've got at the beginning. 

If I can have a fourth tip, it would be don't always look at the competition if it does not fit your business case. So it's very easy to say, “Amazon does this, or we should do that”. Amazon has a very strong business case, a very different business case to what Google has, or to what eBay has. They all have their own unique business propositions and unique selling points. So you really need to find your own and compare yourself to someone who's very similar to you, not just someone who's best in class.

Adrian: How do you tiptoe along that line between not deviating from the business case because you believe in it, and being adaptable?

Bhavin: The way to do that would definitely do proof of concept. Build a business case for the use case and then don't build a product or don't build a campaign. If you're running a marketing campaign or building an eCommerce business or FinTech solution, don't build all of the features, build a PLC, and get feedback very fast. The faster you get the feedback, the quicker you can be adaptable, the better the product can become. And you will end up still following your business plan and use cases because you'll always use that as a reference point. 

So you would have done the proof of concept, someone might have changed their mind. And you'll say, “Well, do you want to change your business case back then?” Then that might impact the ROI, or it might impact the customer journey. So you're using that business case, your business requirement document, and your product requirements document as your foundation. 

From that you build a proof of concept, and then you move into minimum viable product (MVP), and then into a final product. The more feedback you get earlier on, the clearer the gray areas are, and the challenges you can close off quite quickly and make sure that there isn't deviation. But let's be honest, that product features change so quickly which is why I'm saying do a proof of concept very quick to get the initial feedback and buy-in so that you can finish it quicker. But by the time you launch, it will probably be out of date and you'll probably have to update the features anyway. But at least you've got there. 

Whereas if you wait too long, and you're doing it silently and it's quite closed, and you show the product six months or three months later, and if it’s not a hit, you start that three or six month journey again.

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