Flipkart wants data scientists to build future retail

The logo of India's largest online marketplace Flipkart is seen on a building in Bengaluru (Photo: Reuters)

Sachin Bansal, the co-founder and former CEO of India's most successful venture capital-backed firm Flipkart is putting together a team of data scientists and artificial intelligence engineers to build smarter solutions for customers and stay ahead of rival Amazon.

Flipkart, which claims to have over 100 million customers on its platform, is sitting on one of the largest piles of consumer data the country has ever seen. To utilise this data for making better recommendations, improving speed delivering and increasing operational efficiencies, the company wants to utilise Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).

While artificial intelligence and machine learning are said to be disrupting pretty much every business sector globally, given the lack of technology penetration in India, their use could be revolutionary. For this, Flipkart says it has put in place a five-year vision where it harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to solve complex problems that are unique to India.

"In Indian retail and commerce, the overall use of technology is very low right now as we're still reliant on traditional practices. It's not just in the front-end where the use of technology is low and scattered, but even areas like manufacturing and distribution...So, I think, the impact of technology will be even greater in India than other places," said Sachin Bansal, in an interview that appeared on Flipkart Stories on Thursday.

 

While Flipkart already makes use of AI-related technologies in areas such as image recognition, personalization and recommendations, it says it also wants to deploy the technical expertise to weed out fraudulent transactions on its platform. Logistics, warehousing and customer service would be another area where AI and ML will give the company a leg up over its rivals.

Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce retailer, has a robust development team which already builds solutions using the latest technologies. However, Bansal says that in order to win in India, solutions using AI will need to be tailored to local needs and problems and one can't simply transplant global solutions and expect to be successful in the country.

"If you're passionate about applying data sciences and AI to solve India's unique problems, then Flipkart is one of the best places to work at in the world right now. Given that e-commerce is going to be transformative in people's lives, I believe we're the best place for any data science and AI professional," Bansal added, making a call to engineers and data scientists to come work for the company.

That said, there is a big shortage of talent trained in these new technologies in India. Flipkart estimates that there are only 500 data scientists and AI engineers in India. Moreover, these brightest minds would be employed at large global technology firms or will be part of academia and research, leaving only slim pickings for a firm like Flipkart.

Bansal also makes a call for the whole Indian industry to work with academia to ensure their requirements are known so that schools and colleges can focus on training the next generation of workers with the right skillsets. Flipkart claims it is already working with top institutes in the country to work on problems together.

"We execute ideas swiftly and our projects go through probably the shortest time span from ideation to implementation. We may be big in size but we're a fast-moving organization. And our culture empowers our engineers and data scientists to own solutions and bring them to market at a rapid pace," Bansal said in the interview.


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