Are we there yet?

This is the question TCS should be asking it self. Given the market size, its operating experience in Pakistan and the scale that has made it ‘case study worthy’ at Harvard; nothing notable besides a spade of layoffs has put TCSs in the limelight recently. That and hiring an ex-banker to lead its re aligned strategic holding company. At the face of it, some change any change, with a positive glow would make sense. But nothing besides an ad campaign and billboards that say “hazir” void of even the basic contact details of TCS like a phone number or URL have shown up.

TCS is/was poised for a lot of things, namely a large play to vertically integrate its logistics and warehousing to squash the other players in the e-commerce space, by owning the last mile logistics and delivery along with years of distribution experience. It seems, TCS has executed many uncoordinated strategies and like others of a lesser corporate/technical pedigree slapped around a quick and dirty “online site” without thinking through the end game.

There is a sheer market advantage to being in business since 1983, having about 2000 locations within the country and 5000 people to support a phenomenal business. A few easy steps would have ensured sustained top and bottom line growth in a space that could be dominated for years to come. TCS was an innovator, a one of a kind hall mark in Pakistani business that created things like Sentiments express, way before it was fashionable to send roses on valentines in Pakistan via courier. They had the pulse of the industry/country and always sensed it a mile out. So what happened? An outsiders view in would lead one to think that they became fat and happy. It happens to the best of us.

While this was happening at TCS, local, regional, international players all sizing up the opportunity of a 200M people population have jumped in to the space them selves. Their success in diversification/online e-tailing and distribution is varied. Not for the lack of trying but for the lack of the missing pieces. There is still no real online payment solution in Pakistan, there is still lack of trust buying online, there is further the dilemma of distribution and warehousing, the last mile where in exchanging goods for a fee from the client.

TCS would be on top on all of these fronts, had it only tried. They are as trustworthy as a brand gets in Pakistan (many years ago I was at a DHL center in Karachi and a middle aged woman walked in and said “bhai is ko London TCS karwana hay” )so that their first check mark. TCS also has its own delivery network and warehousing hence its own people making deliveries and collecting payments thus that’s three checks in one, So why haven’t they leap frogged in and left every one biting the dust? For one, lack of vision. Its not just them its every one around them.

Lets explore this phenomenon. Go to any mid/large sized Pakistani enterprise, ask the CEO to meet their Head of Strategy and or IT, you’d be shocked at the response you get and further shocked once you meet the typical Heads of IT. If the conversation already hasn’t gone to, “Zara IT walay ko boliyae ga, (please call the IT Person)” there may still be some hope.

The average IT Leader in Pakistan hails from one of 4 areas, A Bank, An FMCG, Pharma or at best a mix of all plus some Saith experience thrown in for fun. With a potentially solid operating background but 0 to imaginary exposure to real  e-commerce , technical proficiency and web 2.0 style agility. It’s pretty much a lost cause when it comes to scaling and building technically competent sales, delivery and distribution channels. Yet by owning the newest smart phone and attending every conference in Pakistan and Dubai on (tech) some how the perception and industry worship is evident for the old guard in this space. Typically followed by the Sahab title at the end of the name.

This old guard is doing a dis service on many fronts, first by literally holding back organizations and subsequently the country as they try to enforce their limited know how on to problems much larger than their own comprehension. Secondly by systematically weeding out and not hiring people smarter than them selves and marginalizing the talent pool. Last but not least putting out products and services that come pre-packaged (at a pretty decent price tag) and slapping them with their own logos. Eventually the owner operators of firms will figure it out, hopefully not before its too late.

Lets re-direct our focus to TCS once again. I would like to see them position them selves as a worthy competitor and eventual acquisition target for Amazon.com. It’s a matter of time when Amazon comes knocking to Pakistan, that journey may be a few years out, but they are most certainly in India and they will come across the border.

The population density demands it and soon their shareholders will too for neglecting a market this size. Rocket Internet feels the same way, with nothing besides a marketing budget and an army of “Western oriented, 20 some thing marketing minions” they don’t have a lot going for them. But if TCS continues to disappoint, they have will every thing to gain. They have started consolidation wars within various channels where they were afraid they were loosing ground and on some not so honest to goodness advice from their minions.

TCS, you are almost there, I want to see Pakistani companies in the league of the best of the world, but you have some course correction to do. Don’t let traditionalist general managers run e-commerce and give strategic direction without having ever operated in the space before, take a leap of faith, don’t hire people you know and don’t put people in charge who come from the old guard. The Leadership should be asking some very hard questions, around break up value of the business units, the potential of an IPO , structuring for tax efficiency managing revenue leakages and things of that nature, way before any thing else. Last but not least, PR-Marketing-Branding need to be refreshed, the brand recognition is almost as good as Shaan Foods but its economic value hasn’t been cashed in nearly as much as Shaan. More on Shaan an other day, right now the task at hand is to really force some critical thinking at TCS not on just an e-commerce play but a host of other things. Advice is always free, so whilst we are at it some valuable services for TCS to consider:

  • Merchant to End client Delivery (Think Mall presence to collect, package and ship goods directly typically to overseas Pakistanis)
  • Using its expertise to get in to the food delivery business, using the same infrastructure to start with test markets in the evening.
  • Ebay-like store fronts for home based and other vendors to showcase via TCS and ship and collect cash on delivery via them.
  • Using its presence across Pakistan to be a true grass roots level survey company and data collection entity.
  • Hiring strategically at every level within the organization and taking hard decisions without emotions when it comes to right sizing

I neither have all the answers nor the course correction strategies, but as a fan of where the company started and how far it has come, only a well wisher who’d like to see this TCS in the same league as a company that’s shares its name across the pond.

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