AI To Impact

PODCAST: COVID 19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises

Episode 5: COVID-19 and Changing Business Landscape in Australia

Listening time: 11 minutes

COVID-19 and Changing Business Landscape in Australia

In this episode of AI to Impact, Muthu Kumar, Senior VP and Region Head, APAC & ME at BRIDGEi2i, discusses how the pandemic has affected various sectors in Australia. This island nation is heavily reliant on China for export of its minerals, natural gas, and coal, and hence exports have been impacted. Tourism and hospitality are also significantly affected, but in financial services, insurance, and consumer packaged goods, the impact is limited. Spurred on by COVID-19, B2B industries are trying to replicate successful B2C models and drive digital transformation. And since this involves taking better decisions using data-driven insights, AI & analytics-led applications are leading the way forward.

Anushruti: Hi, everyone. You’re listening to AI to Impact by BRIDGEi2i, a podcast on AI for the digital enterprise. My name is Anushruti, and I’m part of the CEO’s program office at BRIDGEi2i and the custodian of data around the sales pipeline. We are in the middle of a crisis and safe to say, almost every aspect of life has changed in the past couple of months. To address some of the burning issues that businesses are coping up with, we will be chatting with BRIDGEi2i business heads, digital transformation advisors, and reputed AI and Analytics leaders in our AI to Impact podcast.

With them, we’ll be discussing the impact of COVID-19 on enterprises and how they can recalibrate their focus to remain resilient. Today we have with us Muthu Kumar, Senior VP and Region Head, APAC & ME at BRIDGEi2i. To give a brief introduction, he has over two decades of experience in Analytics, Big data and AI delivery across banking and financial services, commercial finance, insurance, e-commerce, retail, and supply chain. He has worked for brands like GE, Amazon, Citibank, Standard Chartered, and a host of start-ups like BankBazaar.

Hi, Muthu. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today. Thank you so much for making the time.

Muthu: It’s my pleasure.

Anushruti: Likewise, Muthu. So, to begin with, what does the overall business landscape look like in Australia? And how are businesses dealing with the current situation? How is it affecting the enterprises at scale?

Muthu: Anushruti, as you know, the whole world is going through this COVID-19, and Australia also is going through the impact. There are a few sectors that have been impacted a lot in Australia—exports, education, tourism, and Hospitality are kind of the highly impacted segments, and also the overall supply chain is broken due to the reliance on China. On energy and minerals, which are kind of – part of the export segment actually, like natural gas, coal, and iron. They have a lot of impact because the majority are exported to China.

And as you know, education tourism and non-education tourism are really very, very big in Australia. They are also affected and Hospitality is also affected. So, there are areas which are moderately affected, you know, take financial services, insurance, and CPG. These are all moderately affected because when it comes to financial services, they raised funds in Jan- February this year due to low cost of funds, which helps in the liquidity for next six months.

On insurance, the business interruptions are largely excluded, whereas the life is included, so it’s kind of a moderate impact. On CPG, the impact is moderate except for the luxury & expensive cosmetics – their sales are going down; otherwise, it’s good. When you come to IT and technology-related spends, the expense will go down, but they will go up in specific areas like remote working communication, collaboration, security products, and things related to digital transformation.

Anushruti: Right. Right. And as you mentioned, due to reliance on China, the entire supply chain is broken, and hence businesses are suffering huge losses with existing products and services. Can we say that that’s the reason the adoption of digital channels, digital products, and services is the new normal for these companies?

Muthu: Yeah, it’s one; obviously, there is an impact of the exports to China. But in general, because of the COVID the digital transformation is happening a lot. Let’s see it from B2C and B2B perspective. All the B2C customers are thinking of working under remote channels for delivery of their services, customer experience, and products. From the customer reach perspective, the B2Bs are also moving from the traditional workshop, road shows, gathering based promotions to digital promotions. Also, what the B2B companies are doing is basically they’re trying to adopt the digital journey taken by the B2C, especially successful B2C like Amazons of the world and following the same process. They’re increasing the content, availability, variety, bringing in recommendation systems and digital customer experience, and so on. So that’s kind of the overall transformation.

Anushruti: Very true Muthu, we can clearly see a trend of how companies are reprioritizing their projects and recalibrating the focus on building more and more digitized services. In this scenario what are the key themes we can observe in the upcoming future?

Muthu: Yeah, the key themes, definitely companies are moving to digital like digital sales, digital customer experience – in total a digital transformation they’re going through. Given that this digital transformation is the overarching theme, it’s evolving across verticals like retail education, CPG, financial services or insurance or even any B2B, as you say. It is also seen at every functional level, it’s not just in specific functions, they’re implementing this digital transformation, but it’s happening in sales, in the process like intelligent process automation, customer experience, marketing, everything is moving into the digital space, and so these are emerging as kind of hot areas.

Anushruti: Got it. Got it. So how does this data and analytics enable these models? And can we see rapid adoption of AI in making this digital transformation possible?

Muthu: The companies are focusing on the digital delivery model of products and services, as they say. In this model, understanding the customer, knowing their needs, recommending to them, understanding their anxiety—all of this happens to be data which used to happen earlier through face-to-face interaction. In fact, any B2C company has a website these days, but the interesting thing is that they are plain vanilla websites and apps and are not robust enough to be qualified like an e-commerce platform and are not tuned for that today they’re more vanilla projects. To make them more robust, they need to get a lot of functionalities like fraud control, risk management recommendation, the return refund processing in a digital form, abuse control, and customer understanding and service and experience. Also, if you think of big ticket, B2C businesses like wealth management, advisory firms; they are also moving to more digital processes. So, this brings a lot of opportunity to make these processes more intelligent, and in this context, AI plays a very strong role. For example, how will I use data to understand where things are going wrong, like anomaly detection and finding the root cause and fixing it? Also, recommendation systems or optimization systems are very important when things happen digitally. Also, with digital transformation, the customer insights are captured more through voice and video. In this context, you know AI applications like NLP, Computer Vision; they play an important role to reduce knowledge out of these voices and videos. So, in short, AI will play a big role in the post-COVID world.

Anushruti: Absolutely. We can then clearly say that adoption of AI technologies is foremost to make them your business models possible. And clients must already be getting there in one way or the other. Given that, what are you hearing from your customers?

Muthu: Currently, a lot of our customers, in fact, all of our customers are working on fixing the current issues—on making the team safe, working from home, co-ordination of a workforce, remote work—So these are all their obvious first priorities. Apart from that, for example, when it comes to financial services, you know a lot more customers. Their risk teams are actually trying to understand the portfolio change and trying to rebalance a portfolio and create new credit policies. Given the changed world, especially because of the pressure on the economy. There are other customers, of course, they say they are more into retail. They are working on making the processes contactless and more intelligent, using technology and analytics.

Also, some others say that even as they are looking into their services, they realized a digital customer experience is critical and need to set processes around that, especially to collect data and make it more intelligent. So, in a nutshell, this is their thought process at this point in time, all more towards digital. And as we work with our clients at BRIDGEi2i, and we are part of the war team in this situation, and also we create a roadmap for them and help our plans to go through this digital transformation.

Anushruti: Very well put through Muthu. So basically, AI is no longer an option and is playing a key role in all industrial sectors. There’s an ample amount of data available with companies, and companies should look for more advanced ways to monetize their data and build more and more relevant solutions given the current scenario, and that seems like the best way to remain relevant and agile. Again, thank you so much for taking out the time, Muthu. It was a delight talking to you.

Muthu: It’s my pleasure Anushruti.

Anushruti: And thank you so much for listening to the episode of AI to Impact podcast. That was an interesting conversation with Muthu, Senior VP and Region Head, APAC & ME, BRIDGEi2i.

Do subscribe as we will continue the conversations with business experts and thought leaders in our upcoming episodes. They will be discussing the business impact of COVID-19 on various industries. And how does the journey look for them in future. Once again, thank you so much for tuning in. Bye. Stay home. Stay safe.

2020 will long be remembered for the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the global economy and disrupted communities and businesses in unprecedented ways. In our latest podcast series: COVID19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises, we will be interacting with several thought leaders, BRIDGEi2i Business Heads, Domain Experts, and reputed AI and analytics leaders to understand the various challenges emerging out of this crisis and the way forward for enterprises in the new world order. Tune in to know more!

Meet the Speaker

Muthu Kumar

Muthu Kumar. Senior VP and Region Head, APAC & ME

Muthu Kumar is Senior VP and Region Head, APAC & ME at BRIDGEi2i. He is a senior leader with 22 years of experience in Analytics, Big data, and AI delivery across banking and financial services, commercial finance, insurance, e-commerce, retail, transportation, supply chain, and media. He has worked at leading companies like GE, Amazon, Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank, and a host of start-ups like Bank Bazaar. Muthu holds a Masters in Engineering from Anna University.

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