Digitalise or Perish
The industrial products sector was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. What are they focusing on as they strive to recover? What were the main challenges they faced, and which of them remain? How can sustainability also be pursued alongside the recovery?
These were among the questions debated at the ET-IBM Reshape Tomorrow roundtable of industrial sector CEOs titled ‘Racing from survival to revival: Industrial Products in 2021 & beyond’. The discussion was moderated by ET’s senior editor Alokesh Bhattacharyya and senior assistant editor Suchetana Ray.
All the participants agreed that the pandemic had given a big fillip to technology adoption.
“The digitalisation of everything is happening, and whoever does not move in that direction will perish in the next four to five years,” said Arvind Goel, MD and CEO, Tata AutoComp Systems.
Agreed Sandip Patel, MD, IBM India and South Asia: “Companies accelerated their digital transformation over three months of the lockdown more than they would have done in the next few years. This in turn has made data a new national resource.”
Some even claimed that the pandemic had enabled their companies to improve. “In many of our factories, we are operating at 20 per cent higher productivity than in pre-Covid-19 times, because of our investments towards Industry 4.0,” said B. Santhanam, Chairman and MD, Saint-Gobain India.
“Our investments have not been in trendy technologies, but in empowering and training entry level employees to take better decisions.” Sectors that lagged in digitalisation are rapidly catching up. “Real estate has been a laggard in digitalisation,” said Arvind Subramanian, MD & CEO, Mahindra Lifespace Developers. “Customers rarely buy without visiting the housing site. But we have now taken steps to make our customer engagement process more virtual.”
Yet all agreed that some of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic remain.
“The main challenge was the sudden stoppage of all our mines and plants,” said Arun Misra, CEO & Whole Time Director, Hindustan Zinc Limited.
“If you stop something suddenly and restart, there is always a problem.” Safety of the workforce was also a prime concern once business resumed. “We had 30,000 migrant labourers on our projects, of which 15,000 fled when the lockdown was announced,” said Vimal Kejriwal, MD and CEO, KEC International. “That was bad enough, but how to keep the remaining 15,000 safe was our biggest issue.”
Even industries such as packaging, which functioned through the lockdown as it is linked to essential services, faced major supply chain problems.
“We say globalisation is an equaliser, you can buy anything anywhere and supply it anywhere,” said Anantshree Chaturvedi, Vice-Chairman and CEO, FlexFilms International. “But the pandemic taught us that local supply matters, and if you don’t have local manufacturers, that segment suffers.”
Can sustainability be pursued even as industries are recovering from the pandemic? All speakers agreed that going green could improve the bottom line in the long term.
“Saving water and power are more important now when we are trying to conserve cash and reduce costs,” said Misra of Hindustan Zinc. Added Subramanian of Mahindra Lifespace: “In one of our housing projects, an apartment’s maintenance cost was cut by half due to sustainability measures. The response was tremendous.”
In the power industry, pursuit of sustainability was already irreversible, with nearly a quarter of the total supply coming from renewable sources.
“The power sector is going through a complete upheaval, as we move from coal to renewable,” said Harsh Shah, CEO, IndiGrid. “In the process lines are changing, customers are changing, patterns are changing. We see the movement towards renewable energy continuing and the regulatory environment moving in tandem with the technology.”
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(This is a partnered article)