by March 4, 2003 0 comments

This is very true for IT, and the biggest technological challenge of all CIOs is to keep abreast of changing Technology, adapt to it, and use it for corporate advantage. 

Having spent about 19 years in IT in India, like many of you, I, too, have undergone a tremendous change each time a new technology has emerged. Each change is challenging and calls upon all your resources to assimilate and adopt. I have experienced many a high and low each time I have been called upon to make a change, but the single change that is closest to my heart is the change and adaptation to the e-world. 

The e-world technology has transformed every one of us and is constantly changing. At Sony we completed (in January 2000) the implementation of SAP R/3, after a grueling one year of hectic implementation schedules. Any ERP implementation saps you of your total resources and energies and you are left with a feeling of a total void once you have put all that behind you. It was at this point that Sony, Japan decided to transform Sony to e-Sony and leverage our strengths via the Web. The direction was clear: “Design and establish e-Business System Architecture to increase efficiency of total operation.” The e-business system architecture was to be driven by the MD of each sales company with a target of e-enabling every facet of our operations within our companies and all our interaction with our business partners and customers. 

The timing for this internal change was bad for me as at that point as I was mentally and physically exhausted, having just rolled out a highly successful SAP implementation across 15 locations. Internally, I resisted the change as I was looking forward to a 6 months period of low activity and rest which my body and mind were craving for. But, then the doctrine of Mujo dawned on me: change or be changed. And, we decided to re-orient ourselves and catch the e-transformation bull by its horns. 

Ravi Parashuram 

is General Manager-MIS at Sony India

B2B Network
The first task was to chart out and establish an e-business system architecture within the framework of our operations. A couple of days retreat to Mussorie helped me in drawing the framework of e-business. 

Strategize an e-commerce blueprint to transform Sony India to e-Sony; establish a B2B portal for our business partners, the dealer distributor chain and the authorized service centers; introduce e-CRM and direct marketing on the Web; make customer relationship the key initiative for a focused SONY customer retention program; initiate cross-selling and up-selling with CRM; establish an e-commerce portal engine; set up an e-commerce trading portal for NRI business, set up an e-commence B2C portal for local Indians; target at least 5% of total sales revenue wide B2C; leverage Sony group strengths in leveraging Sales vide WEB 

Our SAP systems, having stabilized within a month of its implementation, all our internal processes and procedures were now robust and it was time to look beyond Sony India and streamline the operations of our business partners by extending our SAP systems to them. We initiated B2B operations using, which enabled all our dealers, distributors and authorized service centers to connect to SAP system using the Web. Our B2B site called enabled all our business partners to log all orders for finished goods and spare parts, find out the status of all pending orders, view /print the total sales analysis, view/print the accounts statements, download the technical drawings of products. 

Setting up the B2B site involved making the team adapt to the new Web technology, getting the Web pages designed and set up and exploring the new world of 3-tier Microsoft ASP technology. It also involved setting up the Checkpoint firewall and the authentication process, including issuing security tokens for security authentication to all our business partners. It was a major technology jump for us in setting up the Web services by ourselves. The thrill of the site coming up and the first B2B order being logged in are moments that we would cherish for a long time. The B2B system became a major hit with our business partners as they experienced a new transparency in operations, especially in the areas of finance and sales and a great reduction in the cycle time from billing to delivery.

Customer e-enablement 
When e-commerce was in its nascent stage, doomsday pundits predicted the closure of the retail sector, expecting everyone to buy everything on the Web. B2C had its highs before it crashed out to ground realities, but it did kindle a wild idea in our heads in Sony of tapping the huge unexplored area of commerce with the NRI. The idea was to promote a ‘gifting site’ exclusively for the NRI. We believe that Sony has a fantastic brand image with the NRI community in the West, especially in the US and North America. It was also our belief that the NRI was extremely sentimental of his roots back home and wanted his loved ones in India to enjoy the best products that money could buy, and that he would want them to own a range of Sony products which he himself owns in the West. 

The idea was to promote a site where he could shop for a latest Sony product, pay via a secure payment gateway, and ensure that the Sony products were delivered anywhere in India within 24 hours of his placing an order on the Web. The theme was that of gifting, touching their loved ones with a SONY, to show their love ones that they care.

We realized that the key to our success would lie in ensuring that the products are delivered in time, with utmost care, and
problems addressed and resolved in the shortest possible time. We needed a highly efficient and spirited CRM (Customer Relation Management) team that could be the vital chain in the complete supply chain process–the human link. 

The CRM team had to be in-house, so as to promote the Sony branding with a passion which would be otherwise absent in an out-sourced team or call center. The key to our CRM success was the team that drove it. We succeeded in putting up a small e-CRM team including five existing telemarketing executives, located in our Zonal offices. They threw themselves whole-heartedly with a passion that I have rarely seen. We called them ‘Charlie’s Angels’ as the team formation coincided with the release of the movie by the same name. 

The e-CRM was driven by a bought out CRM package by Talisma, and the software was operational within five working days. The CRM team in a short span of three months became a highly dependable team and became the single window to the Sony customer. With the CRM team firmly in place, it was time for us to launch the B2C model that we had been dreaming of for more than a year. 

B2C business
The B2C business had to have the following in order to succeed.

  • An instant USP that would attract the NRI
  • A URL which would have an emotional recall in the minds of the NRI 
  • A payment gateway which would be reliable and highly secure 
  • A very personalized customer interface which should address every need of the customer, from delivery to the product end-of-life

An NRI should be able to log on to our B2C site and order a Sony product on the Web, pay using a credit card and ensure that the product was delivered at the consignee address of his choice anywhere in India within 24 hours after the on-line transaction had been completed. After days of brainstorming, we hit upon the name of the URL, and decided to christen it, hinting at relationship and a bonding that all NRIs felt towards their loved ones back home. 

The payment gateways available at that point were not very mature and we needed a payment gateway that an NRI would trust and feel totally secure while transacting on a B2C transaction. Since Sony Singapore had an existing payment gateway based out at Singapore, this payment gateway became a natural choice. We also signed up with a US-based company called TrustMarque, a pioneer in fraud detection relating to all B2C transactions. 

The business model of our Samabandh site did not make commercial sense as we predicted our sales to be low and the cost of operations high as we were using the complete hoisting and payment gateway infrastructure at Singapore. Commercially it was a non starter but strategically we had to have a presence on the Web as Sony feels the long-term potential of selling our products on the Web. We also realized that a single credit-card fraud could put our business model in the red, and had to improvise ways and means of customer and transaction authentication. 

Every transaction gets validated by TrustMarque and the donor gets authenticated along with the credit card. The antecedents and the address verification of the receiver in India gets checked and validated personally by the e-CRM team. We had to come up with a stringent process of do and don’ts before the actual delivery of the product to ensure that we were not hit by a credit-card fraud. Unlike any other B2C site offering low value products on the Web, our site was offering high-end Sony products averaging USD 1000, hence we were phobic to any frauds on any of our transactions, as we were aware that a single fraud on our site could push over our already precarious revenue model. Our processes and procedures worked and till date we have not had a single credit card fraud on our website. 

Our e-CRM team was able to provide a very personal touch to every B2C transaction, as they insisted on delivering every product themselves and capturing the gifting moment on a digital camera and ensuring that the donor receives a digital photograph via e-mail attachment the next day along with a message of thanks from the person to whom he had sent the gift.

The joy that this site has brought to us in Sony can never be quantified. We have not made money but it has brought us immense goodwill as people have been really touched by the gifts that they have received from their near and dear ones abroad. 

How do you change the company’s image, give it a digital persona and make it Web centric; how do you change the way your own employees transact business and make them think digital; how do you transform your own systems team to deliver e-applications…? These are some of the technological and mindset barriers we are still fighting with. What we have been able to do in Sony is to take the first step forward, well realizing there are miles of unfinished work and challenges ahead.

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