Economy

We will bring in more India-focussed products, says Salesforce chief

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on June 03, 2020 Published on June 03, 2020

 

Arundhati Bhattacharya, the former Chairman and MD of SBI, has donned a new role after being a banker for nearly 40 years. She surprised the industry recently by taking over as the CEO and chairperson of the Indian operations of software products company Salesforce, a global leader in CRM. In an interaction with BusinessLine, she shares the challenges ahead for the Indian operations. Excerpts:

How has the transition been, from being a life-long banker to heading a technology company towards the end of your career?

I am still transiting. My colleagues will tell you that I am very much on the learning curve. To get back on the saddle is very good. At the core of it, both Salesforce and SBI are similar in many ways. Both are services companies. SBI delivers financial services, while Salesforce delivers tech services. Both have their hearts in the right place. SBI contributes 1 per cent of its profits for CSR activities and has been doing it for a very long time, while Salesforce swears by Ohana, which means family in Hawaiian, just as SBI is one large family. It adheres to its philanthropic model of 1:1:1, which translates to giving 1 per cent of Salesforce’s product, 1 per cent of its equity, and 1 per cent of its employees’ time to philanthropic causes and the non-profit sector. Therefore, transitioning from SBI to Salesforce has not been that difficult or a culture shock.

You have taken over at a time when the world is in a crisis. What are the challenges for Salesforce.com in India?

As we negotiate out of this crisis, our role becomes more and more important. We have products specific to healthcare and for the corporate sector during these times. Deloitte has implemented the Salesforce health cloud platform for the healthcare programme for the Orissa government. Another product which has been recently released is Work.com, which allows corporates to reopen offices safely and remain open. It helps to monitor your locations, people, allocate them into shifts. It is an open API application. It can also integrate with Arogyasetu app. This hiatus in the daily grind of business has enabled a lot of people to sit back and think about strategy and change, on how to remain competitive in the new normal. We have been part of these conversations and we help them navigate through these times.

The government has recently been emphasising on self-reliance. How does Salesforce.com view the government’s stance?

We have a headcount of 2,500-plus in India. A large number of them sit out of Bengaluru and work on technology and products. They are branded as Salesforce products, but they are made in India. So, we don’t think there is any conflict about made in India and we being a US company. We are innovating and engineering here. We are creating an ecosystem of clients, employees, partners, and we are also hiring from India as well. I don’t think the PM has ever said that we are going to cut off all links from the rest of the world. It doesn’t work like these days, and we have to take advantage of the globalisation and what it brings to you. Yes, it also does bring the pandemic, which is unfortunate.

Salesforce’s India operations have been struggling with growth being quite muted. How do you plan to turnaround the operations here?

There is a lot more focus on India now. Now they understand that there is the depth of knowledge here, and I don’t think we were leveraging what India can contribute. There is a large market that we can develop. My being onboarded is a result of that India focus to give the company a face that people can relate to. My job is to get employees to get together as an organisation and contribute much more than what we are already doing. There is a lot of potential here, which has not really been explored in a more focussed manner. What is also significant to note is that Salesforce is now recruiting from the customer’s side of the table. Because they want to understand what are the pain points clients deal with. I know the pain points of the Indian market and what the customers are looking for, where we need to innovate more, and where we could go wrong. We are going to expand our operations here and bring in more India-focussed products into play.

One of the major changes that one can see is that Salesforce’s largest and fastest-growing business is now ‘Platform and Other’, while it has always been known as a leader in SaaS. Also, the recent quarterly results aren’t too encouraging for the company. How will it impact its business in India?

As businesses evolve, certain things will change. Our bread and butter business could be quite different from what it was earlier. As far as results are concerned, our APAC region has seen a growth of 26 per cent and 28 per cent in constant currency. I don’t think there are any immediate concerns as of now. These are short-term blips, which we can overcome. I actually see a lot more opportunities here. Recently, we got clearance for hiring more number of employees. Salesforce has not rescinded a single offer so far.

Several rating agencies have said that the Indian economy is going to fall off the cliff. You have been in the midst of all this as the CMD of State Bank of India. How do you see India emerging out of this crisis?

We are a very resilient country. We are also quite innovative. Look at what happened during demonetisation. I don’t think there is any other country than ours that could have bounced back after 86 per cent of its currency becomes invalid within a matter of four hours. More than the monetary side of the economy, what we need to do is carry out the confidence-building exercise. There are qualitative issues that we need to focus more on. For example, the banking sector needs to consolidate more. Today, a lot more investments are needed in upgrading technology and compliance. If you don’t do that, you will end up becoming a dinosaur. If the banks are large enough, they can these things much faster.

Published on June 03, 2020
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