At Maruti Suzuki, digital takes the wheel

India’s largest car maker is investing in digital technology, collaborating with the startup ecosystem to find new solutions using data analytics, ML, AI and IoT and put itself on the digital transformation highway

By:Updated: Aug 26, 2021 10:12 AM

Vehicle manufacturers are not just limiting digital technologies to their factories and vehicles. The other aspects, such as, the sales, customer service and various other touchpoints in the value chain, are undergoing digital transformation at a very fast rate. In addition to cost savings, customer retention and scaling up operations are some of the main reasons that manufacturers opt for digital transformation.

In India, Maruti Suzuki has been adopting digital technologies at various points on  its supply chain, across urban and rural areas, with significant investments in capabilities and talent. More recently, the company has allocated around `20 crore to collaborate with the startup ecosystem via mobility challenges, with an aim to scout for new capabilities, investment opportunities and find new solutions using data and innovations in AI, IoT and allied technologies.

“Currently, via the challenge, startups will be working on two problems. One is related to remote diagnostics in the car. And the other is about the service experience of the customer at an MSIL service station,” says Rajesh Uppal, member, executive board (HR, IT, Safety & DE), Maruti Suzuki India. “These two are very broad areas. What we are looking at through this process is how we can bring about faster throughput across our service stations in the country,” he adds.

Other digital initiatives at Maruti Suzuki India are focussed towards ensuring that the whole customer journey is digital and self-service oriented. “Internally we called this CRM 2.0,” says Uppal. “We have been running an online system to manage our dealership for over a decade. We are now running a customer experience journey layer on it, which also integrates with our existing applications on the system. We have many partners who are helping us in this journey to ensure that these touch points are digitalised,” he adds.

So far, Maruti Suzuki has identified 26 such touchpoints to work on and nearly 23 of those are fully digital. More recently, for instance, the company has been leveraging digital to expand its subscription programme across India. In short, the programme lets a customer select a Maruti vehicle and use it for a period of time by paying a fixed monthly price without actually owning the vehicle.

“Today a customer can book a vehicle, pay their monthly subscription and do everything during the subscription period on their apps. We have also taken our marketplace online. All the NBFCs who provide credit support to customers buying new cars are also aligned to our platform,” says Uppal. This means that the NBFCs can perform a customer’s credit eligibility check and process the credit from the digital platform directly. Finally, it also wants to stay in touch with the customers via social media channels. So the platform integrates with the social channels as well, creating a live feedback loop, in addition to the physical interactions that the customers may have at sales and service centres.

Uppal believes that the digital transformation journey is different from traditional IT augmentation initiatives in that, as a business, it would derive real value only when it sees the end-consumer adopting and using the solutions. “Our resource allocation and team allocation are also based on this. Along the way we find more opportunities and create new use-cases,” he shares. These initiatives are also designed for the whole of India, keeping in mind the urban, rural and vernacular needs of Indians.

According to Maruti Suzuki, within three months, some digital projects have yielded 2.5x-3x returns. In order to achieve this, there are Centres of Excellence (CoEs) within the company. “There are AI, ML, automation, agile development and IoT CoEs today, to name a few,” says Uppal. With programmes reaching out to the startup ecosystem, the company has also set up separate teams to work with them, breaking out of the traditional rigid process-oriented image.

According to company officials, the startup programme team and digital teams function with the same values of Maruti Suzuki but in a much more agile way. “The real challenge is not with the technology or budget or company culture, but in finding the right opportunity for digitisation along the way,” says Uppal.

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