Realty Goes Virtual: How Rustomjee is Spurring the Next Wave of Digitalization

Samir VM
Corporate Head – Information Systems

The real-estate sector is a high-value industry that has been ripe for disruption. Samir VM, Group CIO of Mumbai-based Rustomjee in this interaction with Ashwani Mishra, Editor, shares how the company is making sure that it is near the top of the list when it comes to innovative digital disruption. The second wave of covid-19 yet again disrupted construction activities at real estate project sites due to shortage of labour, just when the sector was recovering from the initial impact of the pandemic in 2020. It has witnessed a massive shift in labour force patterns, and saw raw material supply getting affected. Overall, projects hit delays, some ran over budget as frequently as before, and productivity has barely budged upward. For Mumbai-based real-estate developer Rustomjee, this period has been an opportunity to step up its digital efforts, rethink the scope of operations and accelerate the digitalization of its core services. “We broke down our strategy into three areas, viz. our customers, team members and suppliers,” says Samir VM, Group CIO, Rustomjee. Once the lockdown was set in motion the company immediately triggered its business continuity plans, which required people to work from home by establishing virtual workspaces. From day one of the lockdown, working from home became the norm, particularly for those in administrative roles. “We already had cloud-enabled desktops that enabled users to access all applications and data from the cloud. Cloud technologies have played a key role in enabling our business, and data was made available across secure connections,” says Samir.

The Switch from Physical to Digital The IT team felt an even greater sense of urgency than before to digitize and provide a better—and more distinctive—customer experience. They wanted to focus on the pain points, not merely install IT solutions. For instance, customers who had made property bookings with Rustomjee were anxious and wanted to know the progress and status of construction of their apartment. However, there was hesitancy from a large section of homebuyers to visit project sites physically, and rightly so. “Video played a key role here to enable a virtual connect. We addressed this concern by providing our buyers with virtual video tours. A customer self-service portal is being rolled out for customers that provides all the details in terms of the documents submitted, the current status of work in their apartment etc.,” shares Samir. Such virtual connect have also been present in areas like online customer interaction, virtual tours or site visits, and video chats, among the many other things. The only time when a customer needs to be physically present is during the registration process.

Superior Value through Digital Procurement Imagine a procurement team so deeply connected to every tier of its supply base that it has access to all relevant data on cost structures, supply availability, lead times, service and quality metrics. Easier said than done, and more so in the real estate industry where a majority of the supplier ecosystem is unorganized. Rustomjee undertook a project called as a Digital Supplier Network to digitize its supplier ecosystem. The initial challenges were aplenty. Firstly, suppliers were comfortable with the traditional ways of working that involved physical copies/challans. Secondly, when it came to purchase and delivery of construction materials, many processes were not digitized. In addition, both parties had never experienced-a digital only channel- for carrying out business. Suppliers were anxious as to how they would get the copies of their purchase orders, how would the acknowledgment between parties occur, etc. “We were able to overcome these initial hiccups,” says Samir. The purchase orders are now prepared and uploaded on Rustomjee’s ERP. Suppliers then receive a link to the order and can validate the order in terms of the scope, materials quantities, rate and can acknowledge the same from their mail. Once the scope of work has been finalized, suppliers can access the same through a mobile app or a website and track the order. This completely eliminates the need for in-person travel to deliver and acknowledge the order copies. The only physical interaction that happens is during the negotiation process or when the scope of work needs to be finalized. “Now that the order is available in the digital form, the suppliers can digitally notify us when they will ship the materials at the construction site. If there are any iterations, they can communicate it back to us using the digital channel, rates can be validated online and also provide us with the information related to delivery of supplies or when they are going to commence work,” informs Samir. With this process in place, there has been complete elimination of paper/physical invoices or challans.

The process that took a few weeks is now completed within a few hours. It has also enabled augmentation of job roles in a more meaningful manner. This in turn means that the supplier and developer can focus on supply and consumption of goods, respectively. The mobile app and website display in real-time the goods that are delivered and accepted. The suppliers can then generate invoices by submitting a digitally signed invoice on the portal. Invoices whether accepted or rejected are also visible on the same portal. Updated status of payments against the corresponding invoices is also made available to suppliers at their fingertips from devices of their choice. “Digitization of our supplier ecosystem has proved to be a game-changer and helped us drive efficiencies, improve process quality, and increase transparency and trust for both us and our suppliers,” says Samir.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this feature article are of the author. This is not meant to be an advisory to purchase or invest in products, services or solutions of a particular type or, those promoted and sold by a particular company, their legal subsidiary in India or their channel partners. No warranty or any other liability is either expressed or implied.
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