COVID-19 has accelerated the use and development of digital platforms in Mauritius. This acceleration has empowered both individuals and businesses in 2 critical areas during the lockdown: work from home and online shopping. If some companies have been able to respond to the crisis thanks to technology, it has also helped them understand that digital transformation can be a powerful driver a for business outcomes. Diya Nababsing-Jetshan, Head of Digital Transformation at IBL Ltd tells us about the increased adoption of digital by IBL companies and in Mauritius at large during these unprecedented times.
To what extend has COVID-19 accelerated the development of digital platforms in Mauritius?
Let’s look at the ways of working, schooling and living that have been completely disrupted. A large part of the workforce has adopted videoconferencing and collaboration tools that have enabled them to continue working from home. Prior to COVID-19, these tools were used mainly to deal with customers, suppliers and partners operating overseas but their use has grown exponentially with all workplace interaction going virtual. Schools have also shifted to the use of Teams and Zoom for conducting live classroom sessions and online school platforms are used to post and receive homework. Katapult, the startup we partnered with for our coding camp in February also provided online coding classes during the lockdown. Because of the confinement, family reunions are being done and birthdays celebrated virtually using group video tools.
Access to food, one of our basic necessities, was a real issue at the start of the lockdown when all supermarkets were closed. The Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) published a list of online grocery stores that Mauritians could use for their shopping until the supermarkets would reopen. The other players quickly reacted and one after the other, there were e-commerce grocery and vegetable and fruit stores being set up every day. Winner’s was one of the few established e-commerce grocery platforms on the Mauritian market and they experienced an incredible surge in demand. PriceGuru.mu also added food packs for the elderly in its marketplace in the first few weeks of the lockdown. Other marketplaces like MyT Market, eshops.mu and morisstore.mu were also launched which retailers and wholesalers could use to sell their products. There was a wave of panic as we did not know how long supermarkets would be closed, so a lot of people had recourse to shopping online and many e-commerce shops not prepared for the demand took a lot of time to deliver, some even had to cancel the orders. Thankfully, things have stabilised now with the supermarkets reopening and people realise that there won’t be shortages for essential products. Some e-commerce players, unable to manage their business online, have closed their sites while others have stabilised their e-commerce operation.
Prior to COVID-19, there has been a clear shift in consumption of news and information towards digital platforms. With the sudden rapid spread of the virus across the globe and over half of the world population in lockdown, national and international health institutions have had recourse to digital platforms to keep populations informed of the situation. In Mauritius, BeSafeMoris is the reference for keeping updated on the situation in Mauritius. Hundreds of thousands of applications for Work Access Permits (WAP) have also been conducted through this platform.
Telemedicine has also emerged from this crisis. Medicine.mu, our partner on the COVID-19 HealthBot provides free consultation to people during the lockdown. Another platform recently launched is Abler Digital.
Many companies seem to have been forced to embrace digitalization during this sanitary crisis. Has the Digital Transformation that had already started at IBL made the group better prepared for the situation?
Well before COVID-19, the leadership team of IBL Group have been engaged in the digital transformation of the IBL companies and are rolling out their digital roadmaps in line with their business strategies. Some businesses are more advanced than others in their digital transformation, so they did not face major challenges in managing their business continuity. Others, although using information systems to manage their business processes were not necessarily prepared for their workforce to work from home for 2 reasons: most of the staff were not equipped with laptops or tablets and remote access to their information systems running in their office premises was not available or limited due to security policies. Nevertheless, the majority of them managed to find solutions to enable most of the workforce to operate from home.
It is important to highlight here that digital transformation alone would not have made the companies better prepared in sectors like aviation and hospitality where the business itself has come to a halt. If we take the example of Lux* Resorts & Hotels, their digital maturity is commendable especially the use of digital in customer experience and digital marketing. In the logistics and manufacturing sectors, there are certainly opportunities for a higher level of automation to enhance productivity, but these initiatives need to be carefully assessed as their viability are often based on economies of scale.
How will IBL Digital Transformation team help operations of the group be better prepared for facing similar crisis in the future?
A number of business units have already embarked on replacing or upgrading their core information systems which will take between 9 and 12 months on average. Many of these core information systems will be hosted on the cloud, hence accessible from anywhere. Our team focusses on assisting the operations teams in managing these projects and the changes they entail within their organisations using methodologies that we customise according to the context. Our team has also worked closely with the corporate Human Capital department on the digital human resource management platform that will be rolled out across the group.
COVID-19 has put businesses in situations of increased financial strain as uncertainty prevails around the future economic situation which we all know will be tough, but no one can really measure its depth and breadth for now. Nevertheless, businesses should still identify quick wins that digital transformation can address where efficiency gains clearly outweigh the cost to invest.
Data analytics is also crucial in understanding the new consumer behaviours and in identifying opportunities for increased efficiency. However, without a proper data governance in place, issues around data integrity and reliability will undermine the generation of meaningful insights. Since the past 3 months, we have run awareness sessions with several business units on the importance of having a proper data governance framework which consists of having a clear vision for data, data management structures and regular data cleansing. One of our objectives is to support several operations on this journey going forward.
What are the lessons learnt from the boom in e-commerce and how businesses thinking about embarking on this journey can be supported?
Building the platform should not be the starting point in any e-commerce venture. Many of the e-commerce platforms setup during the crisis might quickly die down if it was merely opportunistic or was addressing a specific need during the lockdown and there is no long-term strategy behind. The value proposition, the marketing strategy, the business case, all need to be well thought out before embarking on the e-commerce journey. Investment in cutting edge technology is key but customer experience is equally important and not limited to user friendly navigation and purchasing experience but meeting the expectations of the customer right through to delivery. If the value proposition includes a delivery timeframe of 24 hours, there is a cost associated to it and failure to meet this service level might compromise the business altogether. Last mile delivery represents a major cost element in the mix. In the group, we already have a number of businesses engaged in e-commerce from which others can learn from:
- Winner’s operating their online supermarket for almost 2 years pivoted their model to a grocery convenience store, branded e-win.mu during the crisis;
- MedActiv with the upload and collect for prescriptions and online store of health and beauty products;
- Desktop Supply specialising in office stationery and printing materials and offering food packs since the lockdown;
- Alalila enabling individuals and businesses to book their taxi online;
- PhoenixBev offering branded textile collections since last year and introduced beverages since the lockdown;
- Espace Maison online shop offering Drive-in Click & Collect during the lockdown;
- PriceGuru.mu being one of the pioneers and one of the largest players in Mauritius.
The Digital transformation team can support operations in co-creating the business strategy, assessing different options for the technology platform and logistics as well as working on defining the customer journey.