Gaurav Mehra on viewing digitisation from the customers’ viewpoint

It’s crucial to plan and design digital initiatives thinking through the end-customer’s lens, to be able to create value that can be sustained. 

Gaurav Mehra currently works as a partner with EY (Greater China) in the Financial Services division and leads the Business Transformation competency. He has more than 22 years of experience in the financial sector and has managed large projects focused on operational and technology transformation, cost optimisation, customer journey redesign, design thinking, systems implementation, risk management, predictive analytics, target operating model and strategy.

In his previous work, Gaurav also established the offshore operations for a Big 4 company and has consulted multiple global banks on the setup, operations, and optimisation of their captive offshore operations.

As someone who enjoys cooking and reading, Gaurav is also into running and coaching students who are on the cusp of entering the workforce. His role as a leader extends to his work at EY, where he leads their Business Transformation competency in the financial services sector. 

Gaurav is one of the judges in the HKB Excellence Technology Awards 2021. Here, he shares some of his insights about the changing consumer behaviours, aligning core business values in digital initiatives, realigning business models to the new normal, and putting customer needs in the centre of all transformation—digital or otherwise.

Can you share with us your work experience or a backstory that has contributed to your expertise? 

First, thanks for inviting me to be part of this prestigious HK Business Technology Excellence Award 2021 judging panel. It’s an honour. To share a bit about me – I have more than 22 years of experience in the financial services sector and consulting, and have worked for leading MNC banks and financial institutions like RBS, ABN AMRO Bank, and GE Money.

I’ve worked across multiple countries (including US, UK, EU, India, and SEA markets) covering an array of banking, capital markets, payments, and insurance companies; and a majority of this experience has been in setting up new functions/businesses, driving large scale transformations, technology implementations, and strategic cost reduction.

What are some of the most important business trends that are being driven and enabled by technology? 

Before we talk about business trends driven by technology, it is important to appreciate that, ultimately, what shapes a business is customer behaviour. The degree of shift in customer consumption patterns in the last three to four years has been substantial. The way customers expect to engage, decide, buy, consume, and perceive value has evolved in nearly all industries and businesses have grappled to keep pace and to adapt. The ones that have succeeded are the ones who have adopted an outside-in approach to product/service design and aligned their operational engine to meet the customers’ expectations. 

Technology is enabling most of these shifts and has allowed businesses to deploy techniques that facilitate hyper-customisation, influence buying decisions, accelerate delivery/fulfilment, instant access, seamless payment experience, up-sell, integration with marketplaces, etc. Advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning,neuro-linguistic programming, natural language generation, and Cloud are fuelling this shift in an accelerated way.

What's your advice to businesses that are slow to adopt company-wide digitisation despite a growing demand and enthusiasm for digital technologies?

We are still seeing many businesses, including successful ones, struggle with digitisation despite having the resources and the ability to undertake the shift. This is primarily because they continue to think of technology purely as a means of “automation” and not something that can transform the customer experience. 

Hence, it becomes the job of IT to deploy new tech, which can take ages and not deliver the expected return on investment, especially if the core business is not aligned to the digital initiative. Hence, it is critical to think of digitisation from the end-customer’s lens and keeping that as the starting point. This enables the core business to own up the initiative, architect the right solution along with the rest of the organisation (IT and other support functions), identify and deploy the right technology and drive it towards success. 

The other important factor is involving the customer and the staff as part of the design process, and to continue evolving/improving the technology based on how they respond to it, whilst the focus remains on overall experience (and not just on making the technology work). This approach also tends to accelerate organisation-wide digitisation as it encourages a “digital mindset” across all levels.

Almost all industries in Hong Kong have been severely affected by the pandemic. What's your advice to those who are in the early stages of recovery? 

The year 2020 will forever be etched in our minds for some of the most unexpected events and outcomes that we have all experienced. It has impacted businesses and individuals in various ways. It is evident that we will not completely revert to pre-pandemic ways of life even after the pandemic subsides. 

Some of our habits, routines, and behaviours have been altered for good. Hence businesses need to start realigning their business models to be relevant in this “new normal”. How they market their products/services, engage with their clients, influence them, deliver the product/service and create a memorable experience, will all need to change. 

Technology can help accelerate this journey. However, it will be critical for businesses to be able to quickly assess the changes needed, develop a holistic business case, and quickly move to execution. The ones who move slowly or wait for the others to lead the way may not survive as they may not be left with enough resources to catch up.

Many experts are espousing digital transformation as the key action that will keep businesses afloat during and after the pandemic. Is there a possibility that it can also be a hindrance--much less an added problem--to their survival and progress? 

Digitisation will be an essential ingredient for future success; however, it is not the complete solution. As I’ve mentioned in the previous point, the key to success will be determined by how your product/service is perceived and consumed by customers. Hence, the overall experience will be the most important area to focus on. Digitisation needs to be seen as an enabler and an accelerator to deliver the right customer experience. If businesses ignore the customer in the pursuit of blind digitisation, then they are very likely to fail. Therefore, the customer needs to be at the centre of all transformation—digital or otherwise.

What key factors are you looking for when judging who should win? 

There are few different aspects that will be important to emerge as a winner. First, the novelty of the solution will be a key criteria. It’s not just about using cutting edge tech to develop the solution, but more about the uniqueness of the approach, the way it solves a business problem and its application keeping the customers at the centre. 

Second, no innovation is worth its salt unless it adds value to the business, its consumers, or the society in general. Hence, a clear articulation of the expected outcomes supported by facts and numbers and the value created by the outcomes would be a key factor. 

Lastly, we will also consider the sustainability of the solution, performance in the live environment and its ability to operate seamlessly within an existing ecosystem of moving parts.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions and thoughts shared by Gaurav are solely his own, and do not reflect his company’s views on any of the issues discussed in this interview.

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