Cutting process friction for sales teams to help drive revenue growth
Asian Paints deploys automation to simplify and speed up trade promotion execution

There’s a common visual thread woven through practically every sphere of life in India: bold, dizzyingly vibrant color. It’s in the fabric of its clothing, the signage on the street and even in the multitude of cuisines across the country. And it’s seen, perhaps most intensely, in the springtime festival of Holi, a literal celebration of color that culminates in a playful but no-holds-barred color fight when paints and powdered dyes fly.

If color is a kind of language in India, its message is one of exuberance, joy and beauty. Not surprisingly, that same instinct to express through color is leaving a mark on the walls of India’s households, especially among its rapidly growing middle class. Amidst this colorization boom, Asian Paints stands out—not just for its paints, but for its bold strategies.

Today, the Mumbai-based company is India’s leading paint maker, and is ranked seventh among the top coatings companies in the world and second largest in Asia. While many factors contributed to its current market ascendency, those that made the biggest difference have come from a willingness to embrace audacious strategies that have paid off. Asian Paints was, for example, the first company in India to use technology—at the time, a supercomputer—to better understand and react to demand patterns.

But what truly set Asian Paints apart was a pioneering, game-changing distribution strategy in which the product moved straight from the manufacturing facility to dealers. For all the logistical and fulfillment challenges of this approach, it got the company closer to its channel partners and established its dealer network—now some 60,000+ strong—as the strategic pillar and key to growth it remains today.

More recently, Asian Paints began a major transformation journey from paint to décor, aimed at redefining itself from a paint products and services company to a provider of more diversified home décor solutions, including bath fittings, kitchens, fabrics, wallpapers, rugs, furniture, furnishing and lighting. To the company’s top business and IT leaders, the shift was a natural evolution in strategy that further broadened its décor reach to consumers and diversified its revenue sources.

But they also recognized that it presented a new set of challenges and opportunities for the company’s dealer-centric distribution strategy. One key opportunity was streamlining the execution of trade promotions, which are designed to increase revenues. The company’s new and expanded mix of offerings threatened to complicate promotions processes, potentially restraining growth. For Asian Paints, it was exactly the kind of issue that brought IT and the lines of business together to address.

We recognize that a broader range of offerings changes the length, depth and breadth of customer engagement quite a bit, making it more complex. In that scenario, we saw a strong business case for bringing in automation to simplify those processes for our field sales teams. Deepak Bhosale General Manager of IT Asian Paints Limited
Simplifying the sales process through automation

As General Manager of IT, Deepak Bhosale had overseen a series of technology-driven transformation projects, including the widespread incorporation of analytics into business decision-making. Now, with the shift into home décor, the imperative was to streamline, simplify and speed up the sales processes for field sales teams as well as dealers. “We recognize that a broader range of offerings changes the length, depth and breadth of customer engagement quite a bit, making it more complex,” Mr. Bhosale explains. “In that scenario, we saw a strong business case for bringing in automation to simplify those processes for our sales teams.”

Some of the most important factors that govern a dealer’s order are the discounts and incentives for various products, generally referred to as schemes—which in turn are based on parameters like historical ordering activity, seasonality variables and dealer credit history. As part of periodic sales planning, multiple such schemes are rolled out to drive sales. Under the traditional process, dealers contact their internal sales rep with their ordering “wish list” by phone or at the centralized contact center. From there, the rep or the contact center agent goes about gathering that dealer’s data from multiple systems, spreadsheets and other manual sources to evaluate achievement against the scheme targets. Only then—after a process that can take hours or sometimes more than a day—does the dealer place its order.

Mr. Bhosale and his team recognized that the rules-based nature of the promotion and discount calculations made it an ideal use case for automation. To address the key remaining question—specific technology options—they tapped into their long-time association with IBM Consulting™. “IBM has been our partner for more than a decade and has supported us at every stage in our transformation journey,” he says. “IBM’s track record, along with its thought leadership in the process automation space, gave us a high level of trust in the approach they proposed.”

We recognize the need to continuously adapt to changes with agility. Culturally, there has been close collaboration between business and IT teams—and also with partners like IBM, which makes such rapid adaptation possible. Deepak Bhosale General Manager of IT Asian Paints Limited
Process automation delivers for dealers

The foundation of the approach they chose is IBM® Operational Decision Manager (ODM), an element of the IBM Cloud Pak® for Business Automation solution used to optimize rules-based business decisions. As designed, the project was an exercise in co-creation, with a team from IBM Lab Services deploying the solution and developing the initial business logic, and Asian Paints personnel taking over to optimize and further enhance the solution. The sales data that drives the business rules comes from Asian Paints’ SAP S/4HANA ERP system.

When sales teams log in to the new portal-based solution, they’re able to see the discount and promotional schemes that have been automatically calculated for each dealer by the ODM model. With the same underlying model and data, they are also able to propose the mix of products to order that will maximize the dealer’s revenue and minimize their costs. “That speed and efficiency was simply inconceivable under the traditional ordering process,” says Akhil Gupta, Associate General Manager of Systems at Asian Paints and a key figure in the project. “It’s a powerful example of how business automation—fueled by enterprise data—can deliver a demonstrably better experience and drive key business outcomes for the organization and its dealers simultaneously.”

And that, Mr. Gupta adds, gets to the question of what matters most to Asian Paints’ all-important dealer network. “Whether you’re a paint shop or a décor company, our dealers want to focus their time and effort on selling to their customers, not on ‘overhead’ activities,” he explains. “So in the big picture, it’s highly strategic for us to make their lives easier and their processes more efficient, because it helps their growth—and ours.”

Cutting through tax complexity

When the Asian Paints team sought the next big use case for rule-based process automation, they found a strong candidate in the finance department: specifically, tax payments related to India’s Goods & Services Tax (GST)—a framework first implemented in 2017. Say, for example, a dealer buys an order of paint. As the seller in the transaction, it’s up to Asian Paints to not only calculate the tax incurred by the dealers, but also to pay it to the Indian government on their behalf. That amount is then added on to the invoice sent to the dealers. Similarly, while making purchases, Asian Paints needs to ensure that the right calculations for GST are done and accounted, so as to enable complete claiming of GST input tax credit, thereby keeping the net tax liability at the right level.

The pain point comes in a process known as tax reconciliation, a tedious, time-consuming stage in which purchasers compare their purchases/invoice booked data with the GST returns filed by their suppliers, to ensure that their tax calculations were based on the right information. Under the worst-case scenario for Asian Paints, purchase invoices can be unavailable or, even when available, incorrectly state the tax liability—and not be discovered until it’s too late. This can cause Asian Paints to potentially pay excess tax or even penalties to the government. “In terms of benefitting from automation-based decision optimization, GST reconciliation checked all the boxes,” says Mr. Gupta.

Using ODM business rules, Asian Paints’ IT team and the IBM Lab Services team co-created a decision tool that automatically retrieves purchase invoice data from the Asian Paints’ ERP system and compares it with the GST returns filed by the suppliers. When an invoice mismatch is found, ODM issues an alert, flags the invoice for review and, most importantly, blocks its payment on the vendor invoice processing platform, which was built in-house using the IBM Business Automation Workflow solution, another component of IBM Cloud Pak for Business Automation. Preventing tax headaches for suppliers is one way Asian Paints is making life easier for them, thereby strengthening their loyalty and partnership.

But as Mr. Bhosale points out, the GST tool also demonstrates the benefits of automation on internal efficiency. “Traditional, manual GST-invoice matching took as long as four days—and that’s for thousands of transactions per day,” he explains. “Through rule-based reconciliation and automation, we are able to reduce that to one day, cutting significant time and cost.”

Adaptation and agility as the key to growth

Now nearly a decade in the making, the expansion of Asian Paints into more décor domains—its most recent addition being decorative lighting fixtures—has been a high-profile success. Behind the scenes, the company’s digital transformation continues apace, and automation is front and center of the effort. Working with the lines of business, Mr. Bhosale and his team are continuing to define new use cases, and applying a pragmatic, agile approach to building them out. “Once we agree on priorities, we follow an agile approach to test value through rapid proofs of concept,” he says. “If it works, we scale it to our entire business.”

Through both of these parallel transformation efforts, Asian Paints is positioning itself to grow faster and gain a growing share of India’s burgeoning home décor spending. Asked if there’s a theme underlying his company’s success, Mr. Bhosale kept it simple: “We recognize the need to continuously adapt to changes with agility,” he explains.  “Culturally, there has been close collaboration between business and IT teams—and also with partners like IBM, which makes such rapid adaptation possible.”

    Asian Paints logo
    About Asian Paints Limited

    Based in Mumbai, Asian Paints (link resides outside of ibm.com) is India’s leading paint and décor company and ranked seventh amongst the top coatings companies in the world. Asian Paints along with its subsidiaries have operations in 15 countries across the world with 27 paint manufacturing facilities, servicing consumers in over 60 countries across Middle East, South Pacific, Africa and Asia through Asian Paints, Apco Coatings, Asian Paints Berger, Asian Paints Causeway, SCIB Paints, Taubmans and Kadisco Asian Paints. Asian Paints also offers a wide range of Home Décor products and is an emerging strong player in the home improvement and décor space in India.

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