Is India Data-Averse?

I recall a conversation over a hot cup of coffee I had with one of the guest lecturers at my post-graduation ceremony. He was the CEO of a data analytics company, and we talked at length about the type and nature of clients they were going after. Mid conversation, he stated that he refused to go after Indian companies, especially in the MSME sector. He argued that payment defaults plagued the Indian market and that data projects were not as well-streamlined as, say, due diligence or acquisition projects. Consequently, projects were always short-lived and proved to have a negative ROI for him in terms of time and energy spent during the project tenure. India was and is a large market that can benefit from collecting, studying and utilizing data. However, it is understandable as only a few companies have the funding or the luxury to make and survive several mistakes. The conversation ended with all of us agreeing that India had the best chance amongst most countries to excel with data.

Fast forward to 2018. When it comes to data culture and data-driven decision making in the Indian MSME sector, the conversation still seems to revolve around the continued absence of focused data-driven solutions. We did identify the need for such projects in several companies we had discussions with, but we couldn’t get our foot through the door. 2019 saw us doggedly going after companies, talking to several of their staff and trying to identify the causes of resistance. 2020 and the pandemic threatened to undo the work that we had done for an entire year. We then shifted gears and changed our tactics. We started pitching to companies from the point-of-view of reviving post the pandemic. Come 2021, as things got slowly better, we started changing our modus operandi with every wave. It’s 2022, and we can now say we have taken the bull by its horns. Below are just 5 of the issues that I identified during this period as to why data projects tend to trudge along in the Indian MSME sector:

  1. Data analytics has a ‘nice to do’ approach in India instead of the ‘need to do’ approach of the developed world. Hence companies either refuse to invest in it or choose to axe data projects the minute they needed to cut costs. This brings to mind a project that we started with a stationery company. Their initial resistance was significant. So, we got our foot in the door by asking them to experience the benefits of data projects for three months only. In 2 months, the top management was quite convinced by the approach, and in 3 months, they implemented a company-wide learning program with the data collection tool and workshops to read graphs, charts, reports, etc.
  2. Companies, especially SMEs, assume that data analytics is just common sense. An enterprising manager/ team leader is always on top of his team’s numbers most of the time. However, cross-team references, market data comparisons, business best practices, etc., are things people may not have the time or the statistical mind to analyze quickly. One client was convinced that Covid caused a drop in his sales, his industry had slumped, and he was in recovery mode, including his competitors. A competitor analysis showed that their competitors had actually increased their online sales during this period.
  3. The foray of Indian companies into social media has been painfully slow. Lack of skilled workforce, lack of training, etc., were some of the issues dragging the momentum down. The fact that many people considered social media frivolous didn’t help either. We now have several examples of how good management of SM platforms, frequent well-written blogs and a robust online presence can substantially increase sales and brand value for clients.
  4. While we are on the topic of frequent blogging, it is essential that we talk about how a few companies looked at blogs as a waste of time. Many clients view blogs as long-form text that no one will read. It takes a while to get people accustomed to the wonderful world of SEO, Web & Social Media Analytics (WSMA) and Google page ranking. Once we get them hooked, it is always a pleasure to see them get blogs up every week.
  5. Overlooking reduction in costs and prioritizing only increase in sales is another bump on the road. To reduce costs, a company must first identify the right areas to collect data, compare costs over months/ teams and sectors, and then rework their strategy. Value can always be added to our client’s business to increase their top line.

The West has tasted success with data analytics, and its workforce is well-versed in using these tools. India will be there soon. We now have pockets of excellence. The key is to increase those numbers and create communities of practice.