The expertise managers need to possess in new-age India

The world is going through what is popularly being called as the fourth industrial revolution, driven by digital technology and artificial intelligence (for representational purpose only). Photo: AFP

The world is going through what is popularly being called as the fourth industrial revolution, driven by digital technology and artificial intelligence (for representational purpose only). Photo: AFP

I would like to look at the skills and expertise that the manager of the future has to possess with specific reference to the Indian context.

At another level, I am also looking at the skills and expertise, questioning myself as to its implications for management education. Relative to many other countries in the world, India is far more culturally, socially, environmentally and economically diverse, crying for solutions as we seek to improve the quality of life of the 125 crore plus population.

Towards this, the most important expertise that a manager must have is an understanding of the reality of the large grass root level population in India.

Accountability and responsibility are no longer limited to customers, shareholders and employees, but also the society and the environment.

Associated with this is the understanding of how government policies, systems and regulations work in influencing lives of people and can work in unleashing economic growth potential.

The world is going through what is popularly being called as the fourth industrial revolution, driven by digital technology and artificial intelligence. Smart phones, sensors, GPS, intelligent robots, driverless vehicles, drones and wearables are some of the digital devices, all powered by software and apps are elements of this revolution.

This revolution not only requires speedy adaptation, but also offers opportunities to address the problems arising from the Indian reality.

Platforms like Jandhan and Aadhar, and the mobile penetration are key catalysts. However, in the Indian context, while technology may not be an issue, the physical infrastructure and the human element of leveraging the technology is often the bottleneck.

As examples in the transportation domain, app-based taxi services have revolutionized urban transportation for the middle class.

So also, the trucking industry in India is on the cusp of a major revolution, using digital technology. Problems of asset utilization, driver availability and supply chain visibility can be better handled.

In the rail context, the passenger reservation system was one of the early digital revolutions.

Today with the usage of GPS and/or wi-fi connectivity, value added services to the passenger can be enhanced.

There is even room for operational efficiency. However in all of these, the basic Indian reality of poor physical infrastructure quality could millstone the potential.

In keeping with this revolution, the manager of the future must have the capability to unlearn and learn, reskill and conceptualize the opportunities as a business model.

Since many of the business models would be new, an entrepreneurial mindset would be essential.

Let me draw on the traditional time-tested functional model of an organization, which is set in a context, as described above, in which there are customers who need to be served in a market, using the primary resources of finance, information and people.

As a marketing concept, while identifying customer segments, it is also important to identify all other segments who are likely to be affected by the concerned activity from a social and environmental responsibility perspective. Positioning a brand and reaching customers digitally rather than physically would provide the competitive advantage.

As a service concept, understanding digital technologies would be essential. More and more products and services would be co-created, rather than though a buyer supplier relationship. Many talk about design thinking as a new expertise to create and deliver what the customer wants.

However, in its basic form, it is a problem solving process, putting the customer needs first. In my view, this has always been a core expertise that managers were expected to have.

Financial management in a digital world requires understanding of not only sourcing from traditional equity and debt, but also venture capital, crowd funding, adaptive advertising and may be none at all from the customer. For example, e-mail services and social media do not charge customers.

Information management needs skills of big data analysis. Such analysis provides huge opportunities in terms of targeted marketing and value added services. Attendant focus on data quality and data privacy would be a key expertise.

People management needs a greater understanding of developing an emotional connect while spanning distances with customers, teams and co-creators.

It would also be interesting to see what type of expertise would get de-emphasized. The retailing function would slowly give way to direct to home as a delivery mechanism. Centralized principal driven large scale asset management would give way to a shared economy driven small scale asset management. Centralized large office/factory based people management would give way to small group and individualized people management.

Finally, as a bonus, a global mindset to learn from successes and failures from any part of the world would add value.