Asus is fairly new to India’s commercial PC space, a market that’s been dominated for years by the likes of HP, Dell, Lenovo, and others. But it’s been quick on its feet. Two years in, the Taiwanese major has already built up an extensive portfolio of products within the category. And the list is growing, as we speak. So are the brand’s ambitions.
In an exclusive interview with FE’s Saurabh Singh, Dinesh Sharma who leads Asus’ commercial PC operations in the country takes us through the brand’s two-year journey against the backdrop of ExpertBook B5, B7, B2, B3, and 12th Generation B9 and B1 India launch. Excerpts.
You forayed into the commercial laptop space in 2020. What are some of the learnings/observations you’ve garnered over the last two years?
At Asus, a lot of capabilities [on our commercial side] have come in because of our expertise in [building] multiple IT and mobile computing hardware products. We bring a fresh understanding of what the customer needs and we look at it in a uniquely Asus-way bringing our design thinking to the table along with the knowledge of best of performance, thermal and battery management, display, and multiple connectivity technologies like 5G or Wi-Fi. The security standards that we’ve gone up to [in our devices] are in fact even superior to majority of other options available in the market. We also tend to offer some unique innovations based on the capabilities that we have, like for example our trackpad with the numeric keypad in a 14-inch laptop is a big boon for users.
We’ve looked at service delivery with a fresh perspective, too, going and understanding in detail, the need gaps that exist for our customers and partners and after understanding those need gaps, we’ve been able to build our service proposition [better]. We don’t have a legacy. So, we are building everything from ground up and while doing that, we are questioning everything afresh and trying to see what is really required in this market, where there are gaps and how we can actually exceed [expectations]. What really helps us is that we are coming up with a lot of lateral knowledge of many other industries and categories that we manage [already] and what we do out there, bringing it to the commercial space, making it therefore very unique. That may not be the case with other brands who’ve been in the business for a very long time.
What are some of those need gaps that Asus is trying to address?
Customers need international warranty. Brands don’t give them as default, but we do. We’ve also kept adapter warranty standard with the warranty extension. We see all this as hygiene while others see them as value additions that they can encash later. We have also come out with an innovative digital catalogue to increase awareness and make decision-making easy. Customers can [now] get quick access to our product portfolio through something as simple as WhatsApp rather than going through tons of data.
What is your product strategy? Is it about launching a bevy of products and seeing which one sticks or is it also about differentiation?
We are very clear about the kind of segments that exist in the Indian market and which type of products [will] work in that particular segment. Our portfolio is being constructed basis of those learnings with a clear-cut focus on bringing meaningful differentiation for customers. It is not the other way around that we have a portfolio and we just bring it in. When you want to be a big, meaningful player in the market, you cannot go to the customer and say that we are missing in a particular segment. We want to be present across segments. When you’re in an organisation, you will have varying needs and you will want a few brands to work with, because you need full end-to-end support and therefore the brand needs to have that width of products, service, and solutions to be able to cater to all your needs and that’s what Asus brings to the table.
What works in the Indian commercial space?
There are three important things that our customers are looking for, really. #1 Does the brand have a couple of options. #2 Robust service support. #3 Value. Furthermore, they also look at whether the brand has the right set of processes for both sales delivery and service delivery and their capability to also commit and follow through in terms of supply chain management.
What is the average waiting period for your devices? What is the general supply/availability status like?
I am very proud to say that we’ve not made a single default to a single customer in India on supply chain since launch. If you go for a very standard configuration [like say Core i5/8GB/512GB] you might get immediate stock. If you go in for some specific configuration, then deliveries could go up to six weeks. That timeline commitment, when it is made to the customer, it is considering all the factors which are under control. So far, there has not been a situation where it’s gone out of control. I am not saying that it possible 100% of the times. There could be situations which could really be out of control because if tomorrow some really big disruptions were to happen, like it’s happening in some factories in China right now, it could impact supplies. This is unforeseeable but it would be reasonable. It is not going to be an excuse.
What does your current distribution network look like?
We are a highly partner-centric organisation. These partners cater to enterprises, both big and small. Then there are of course different types of partners and different layers of channels which exist in the market. We are present pan-India but we have a very strong presence in Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and we are spreading further. Unlike the consumer PC segment, the commercial PC segment is more concentrated in larger cities. The amount of width of distribution that you need in consumer, it’s far, far greater than what you need in commercial, relatively speaking.
Who do you see as your biggest competition?
More than the competition, we focus on customers. From a market perspective, obviously the big players are HP, Dell, Lenovo, and in the government segment and desktops we’ve got Acer also doing well. I think we are very competitive in terms of our quality of offering that we are giving to the customers and then the customer understands what Asus is and what is it bringing to the table.
What’s your growth story been like in the last 2 years? Is there any number you’re chasing now?
It’s been fantastic because we basically started with zero. It’s been growing at multiple Xs. That’s the minimum that we need to deliver with the kind of work that we’ve been doing, for the kind of brand that we come up with, and also the kind of product range that we’re bringing. The market size of commercial PCs in India is equivalent to that of the consumer side. So, the rough share of commercial versus consumer is 50-50%. It’s a very big market. For us it’s very clear, if in consumer space, we’ve reached a certain market share, it’s the same kind of market share that we should also reach in the commercial space. We are racing towards 20% plus in the consumer space and that’s where we should also get to with our commercial PC business in times to come.
Take us through your after-sales network and how has it grown since your debut?
One the service side, we did a huge amount of study to ensure that we gave best in class service to our customers and create that capability when we shifted to commercial side. That was in fact one of the key areas that we over-indexed upon. We’ve got an ISO9001 certified service now for India. This is end-to-end and extends to our service centres as well. We’ve got more than 230 service centres today. We’ve created a dedicated hotline toll-free number specifically for commercial, which is operational from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, six days a week. We have also created service delivery models including cam support for certain large customers who have very large install bases and require different kind of focus.
Talk a bit about your Make in India plans?
At Asus, we are already committed [to Make in India], so we’ve already started desktop manufacturing end-to-end in India. This is for both consumer as well as commercial desktops. And you will see that commitment developing further, the due announcements for which will come in due course of time.
Obviously, manufacturing is a journey and you start at a certain level and then you go deeper and deeper and it will go through those phases. As is true for the entire ecosystem, it will go through its stages and India is definitely accelerating in manufacturing across categories in electronics, and the extent of indigenisation will improve in times to come. Multiple large ecosystem partners coming in and co-investing in India would lead to further growth. So, we are committed to that journey for the Indian market.
In terms of number of units of desktops being sold in India, a significantly large percentage of them are actually made in India. Manufacturing is not easy. IT space policies are also developing from the government side so there is a lot of encouragement and we are looking up to lot more supportive measures which will hopefully be announced soon which will help further grow this ecosystem.
Your quick thoughts on 5G and future aspects?
The speeds are fantastic in the test networks right now. I mean, it’s unbelievable. Compared to 4G in general, because of the nature of the technology, the speeds are going to be much better [with 5G]. Also, the network is going to get free much faster and therefore you will have more capacity. With all this coming into play, you will see 5G adoption in multiple aspects. Of course, smartphones is a given but even on the IT side, 5G can support different kinds of wireless network infrastructure locally within the organisations and you will see multiple use cases. It will also lead to further growth of the cloud ecosystem, so you will see in future more cloud-oriented enterprise applications getting further growth because of 5G and therefore devices which are more cloud-first could see a higher rate of growth in India in the commercial space or even in the consumer space.