“In the customer management fold, if we zoom out, our mission statement is helping customers to leverage data to transform their business. We believe that data analytics has the same potential to transform the business that technology did to business.”
Jassi Chadha, Founder and CEO of Axtria, the Big Data analytics company based in the US and Europe; and now expanding to Asia, enlightens us in this interview about the need for the Indian companies to invest in Big Data analytics on a large scale if they want to compete with the global corporate companies in a significant manner. He spoke to Dr. Archana Verma of the Dataquest on various issues related to Big Data Analytics. Excerpt follow:
Q – Are you based in the US?
Yes, we are based in New Jersey.
Q – And you’ve already expanded all over the world because Big Data Analytics is becoming such a big technology.
We have expanded to 40 countries, where we have our customers.
Q – And are your customers in these 40 countries spread across the whole world or have you focused on specific regions?
Our customers are mainly in Europe and US.
Q – So basically you have presence in the North America and Europe. Not in West Asia, South East Asia etc.
Not yet. Today we had a meeting with an Asian airlines company. We were trying to see how we could help them with big data analytics in their work. We are beginning to do that.
Q – It seems that you have expanded across North America and Europe and you are now exploring Asian markets.
Q – And is your major focus in healthcare?
It’s in 3 sectors – healthcare, banking and what we call as consumer businesses; consumer, retail, CPG and e-commerce. These three sectors have rich data-driven needs and we bring our expertise to them. Our key areas of operations include customer, sales, marketing and risk management. These sectors have a lot of potential for risk management, sales operations, market acquisition etc.
Q – Do you feel that there are going to be different types of challenges as you spread across Asia and especially in India? What are those challenges?
The key challenge in India is that the availability of data is very poor. And that’s largely because industries in India have so far under-invested in data technology – in capturing big data, building data warehouses, handling visualization and having the right CRM and ERP systems. Manufacturing is probably the only sector in India where data availability is good. But when it comes to customer data, when you go to private banks such as ICICI and HDFC, there is a lot of scope for improvement in terms of understanding the customers, customizing their offerings, etc. So, the key challenge is availability of data (largely because of under-investment in data technology) and the level of maturity to use elaborate analytics to talk from your business. And it’s very interesting to see that people only change behaviour when they face problems or when they are struggling. They don’t harness data when things are going good. For the large part, most businesses in India have been booming. I remember my conversation with the CEO of an insurance company in India, where we were pitching on producer analytics. The CEO shared, “My business is already growing at 30% a year and I am doing well. Why do I need to spend more money on analytics? I might as well have more sales people and spruce up.” So I think that maturity level to leverage analytics to transform it into sales is still not there in India.
Q – So you feel that R & D needs to be developed more?
Not R&D, but data technology. Companies need to spend a lot more money in actually building data warehouses, capturing the data and experimenting with analytics to transform the data.
Q – Do you provide solutions or services? Could you explain?
In the customer management fold, if we zoom out, our mission statement is helping customers leverage data to transform their business. We believe that data analytics has the same potential to transform business the way technology did to business. If you think about it today, every company is a technology company. We believe that every company is going to be a data analytics company, because it enables you to run the business better. We help customers manage their data, visualize it and analyse it to make better decisions and transform the business. So we build software products and also provide managed services. For example, one of the things that we do for customers is to build not just data warehouses, but in this era of Big Data (what is called the era of data links), new strings of data which leverage disparate data sources, placing them all together, so that you have access to the data whenever you need it. Because most people spend a lot of time capturing and analysing the data, they run out of time and resources to do something with it. So, that is data technology where we have built some products and provide solutions and services for customer management. Once that data is available companies can get insights from them, using visualisation. There are a lot of great technologies available in the world now like Tableau, Spotfire etc. The questions to answer are how do companies actually use this technology to visualise data, who is the best customer, where is the highest appreciation rate, what region of the country is not doing well, why is it not doing well among others? That is how do we actually provide the value of analytics in the hands of the business user. Next comes analysis, which is where we use predictive analytics. How do you predict the next customer to lead you? When is this customer going to buy the next automobile? That’s predictive analytics. Then, how do you transform it into business growth? We also help with sales operations. Companies need to decide where to deploy the sales, how to measure the sales activity, how to set the quotas and targets, how to intensify them and all those things. That’s sales operations. And we actually run sales operations for our customers using data analytics. So, that’s an end-to-end thing. The best way to visualise it is like this – you have the data layer, you have the visualisation layer, you have the analytics layer and the business sits on top of it. We provide the entire gamut to the customer, from data technology to visualisation to analytics to running the business.
Q – And all this comes in the form of software?
Software and managed services. The software is in the cloud. So, by definition that software is a service. We host it, we manage it, and we enhance it. Then you have managed services on top of it. We are generating the field reports and doing the incentive compensation and plan-design administration for all the sales representatives. This is largely run through a combination of systems, which includes our platforms and people (who are our managed service professionals), because the customers typically don’t have this skill set. So let’s say if you want to do the territory management of a sales person, you need to understand sales, local markets and geography, you need to know how to operate GIS software and you need to know how to do advanced analytics. Typically, customers are not that savvy. We actually have trained manpower, which enables firms to use software and provide services from the database.
Q – That’s very interesting. And from there we come to the point of India. Where do you see India’s potential for your work?
We can look at the India market from three perspectives. One is India as an investment market, looking at the huge growth potential in India. Second is India as the delivery centre for services. Third is India as a product development hub. And I think India is in different stages of life cycle development on each of those three aspects. In terms of leveraging analytics to grow customers, I think India is largely primitive. Presently there is a very popular, slugfest going on between Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal that you read about daily. And what most people do not realize is that Amazon is actually a data analytics company. They have the most experienced data scientists all over the world. How many data scientists do Flipkart and Snapdeal have? They are just beginning to have them. Amazon is the world’s largest data analytics company. So, this is the evolution. India needs to invest a lot more in data analytics and its resource pooling ought to be globally comparative. The reason that Facebook has a revenue of $200 billion is that it’s one of the best data analytics companies in the world. They also have the richest customer data of any company in the world.
Q – Would you say that if Indian companies begin to invest equally in data analytics, they can actually give a challenge to Facebook and Amazon?
Q – Which means they can spread across the world and can have the same kind of leverage?
Absolutely. Look at Fed-Ex. They are the largest employers of data scientists in the world. Look at companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. They are all building large-scale data analytics. Indian companies are not aware of this. They totally underestimate what it is to compete against these companies without data analytics.
Q – When you say that you want to expand in India, is it your vision to help these Indian companies to grow and compete with these global players?
Absolutely. We work with global companies all over the world.
Q – Will that not require a lot of resources?
We already have – most of our employees are in India. We are already helping global companies all over the world. We can easily help companies in India. The challenge is, do they know that they need help? Amazon has the world’s best supply chain, inventory management and customer behaviour insights providing customisation to individual customers. Flipkart and Snapdeal still have to figure this out.
Q – Can you tell us something about the healthcare sector?
Healthcare is at the cutting edge of data analytics in today’s world. We work across the spectrum of healthcare manufacturers where real innovation happens: Pharmaceutical, device and diagnostic companies, then the service providers viz, hospitals, doctors and finally the payers (an emerging field in India eg: Max). A lot of data is being created in healthcare for digitization. Earlier when you went into a hospital, they used to have a register. Now they have computers and that means data. So there are patients, admission letters, discharge letters, health information, who treated you, what products were used, all of this data is there. You can actually start using this data by looking at product consumption, patient treatment, outcomes, etc to know whether it works or not. So actually healthcare across the world is getting digitised. And anything that is digitised generates a lot of data from which you can get insights to improve the business.
Q – How do you see your expansion plans in India? Can you talk a little bit about it?
We’ve been in India for about five years now. We have two offices in Gurgaon and we’re embarking on further expansion largely in the NCR area. There are two large hubs for data analytics viz, Bangalore and Gurgaon.
Q – So you’ve begun with NCR and then you plan to venture into other cities.
Yes. Once we have say a thousand employees in the NCR that will be a good critical mass for us to expand to other places. We haven’t figured out whether it’s going to be Bangalore, Jaipur or Chandigarh. These are example, not specific names. The question is what kind of talent you have access to and on what scale you are thinking. We think that Gurgaon can easily scale to 5000 people. That doesn’t sound a lot. But 5000 people will handle the largest data analytics company in India. So you can imagine how nascent this industry is.
Q – Yes. How do you compare it to the US?
There are three aspects. Services is the first and product is the second and the third is market potential aspect. If you look at manufacturing, BPO, IT outsourcing services, India has not been number one in terms of scale. Actually in the analytics services area India stands first. If you look at any analytics services company, the largest of them are either based in India or have significant presence in India. And as data explodes, so does analytics. Like China is the manufacturing hub of the world, India has got the opportunity to be the analytics services hub to the world. Analytics products are a completely different matter. Most of the analytics product companies are based in the US and a few in Europe. None of them are based in India. So in terms of products, we have a long way to go. This is a classic issue with India where the DNA of people is in the service industry. Third is the market aspect which we have always talked about. India has the potential to be a significant market for data analytics. But they have to crawl before they walk and walk before they run. The crawling part is investing in data technologies to capture data.
Q – What do you think are the reasons India is lagging behind in products?
Ultimately it comes down to whether they have the mindset to invest. Do they invest in what is necessary, or do they invest because it will increase productivity? Largely, even though India has been the IT hub to the world, it has actually not been a consumer of technological products in the world. Even now it’s painful to book a railway ticket online. Redbus would be an amazing success story if they could figure out how to sell bus tickets online. So, I think India generally lacks in consumption of IT.
Q – Ok, so do you also have partnerships with other businesses?
We have partnerships with software product companies because we are consuming their products or embedding their products in ours. We also have partnerships with larger software companies. In pharmaceuticals for example, the largest CRM firm is a public company called Viva Networks. It is a highly successful cloud based software company. We have a strategic partnership with them; they provide CRM for sales people while Axtria provides its SalesIQTMthe cloud platform to do sales operations. Our partnerships with software products tend to be complementary in nature. We typically do not partner with services companies for market reach or distribution. In that we are pretty much on our own.
Q – What about India; do you plan to have a partnership programme, involving channel partnership programme here?
I think once our products are more developed and mature, we’ll look for implementation partners in India.
Q – And will it be available online, or how do you plan to go about it?
Well, this is going to be a B2B product. Typically, business to business products are not generally available online. These are highly customised implementations in large enterprises usually done through other system integrators.
Q – So, system integrators will be an important part of your expansion plan in India.
Q – Do you feel that smaller towns and rural areas will benefit from your work? You will definitely provide a lot of jobs to people in the larger cities.
Actually, it’s more about attracting a lot of talent. But we don’t touch consumers with our products directly. We touch them indirectly. If a bank with mobile banking for example, is providing its service to rural areas, (which is becoming more and more prevalent), we would be the ones doing the customer analytics, so that the bank can provide more customised services..
Q – So if the bank wants to have more customers in the remote areas, you can help them to provide their services to them.
Correct. For example in US we are working with a number of customers who are working online with peer to peer lending companies. It is not exactly micro-finance that is happening in India because its not at a micro-level, the chunk is somewhat bigger. Its peer-to-peer online lending and it will come to India. We are basically providing analytics for marketing, customer acquisition and evaluation, credit press, fraud detection; these are all analytics for online peer to peer lending platforms. Those are the kind of ways by which not directly, but indirectly we can help customers in small towns or rural areas.
Q – Of course, you know about the government’s Make in India plan and they are helping people to have their own start-up businesses. Do you think that your kind of business will be very valuable to them?
I don’t know if we can help them directly, but we can help them more in terms of training people to become better entrepreneurs. This is my second company. Manish Mittal (Managing Principal, India) and I were running another company called MarketRx before this. And in this 15 years old journey, it’s amazing how many people left us and started their own companies successfully. So, I think it’s more about creating incubators.
Q – So, in a nutshell, if I want to start a Facebook-like platform, you can help me compete against Facebook.
It’s good of you to be that ambitious. But in the Internet world the winner takes all. And the winner has already taken all. So you’ll have to think of a new one. But how I can help you is actually to steer you in a different direction than to go and build another Facebook. You can build a new Facebook if you’re in China; because China is like the walled garden and Facebook doesn’t work in China. Unfortunately, Facebook works in India and already has 200 million customers! China has a competing product for every product in the world. But most entrepreneurs and investors in India have failed to recognize this fact. Their expectation was that we are just like China with the same population, same number of hand-held devices. In all those things we are actually running 5 to 10 years behind them. India is not China. It’s a Fools’ Paradise to think that India is China. India is India. This is exactly what happened in the 1990s. We had a lot of MNCs coming to India thinking we are the big middle class. They came out with a large number of consumer products, but what they didn’t realize is that India’s middle class is very difficult from that in other countries. Their paying capacity is very different. It’s a very price-sensitive market. China is very different. In the area of software and internet, because of the government controls, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp do not work in China. They have their own apps in their place.
Q – You are based in the US and you want to expand to India. You may be working with some large Indian companies that want to expand out of India. Do you feel there may be challenges in your way in terms of rules, regulations, government policies etc?
I can talk about software and tech-enabled services. I think India has been a very entrepreneurial and business friendly market. A remarkable thing that India did was to introduce a single-window scheme to STPI. It’s not gone away but they have taken away most of the benefits. For example Axtria’s present offices are in SEZ. It works for the most part but I think the process of passing the approval is still very painful. All those incentives have been taken away and being in a SEZ is harder now. One of the positive impressions of foreign companies coming to India was that the single window was very progressive. But now there are too many people involved in operating the system. The government should make it easier for those wanting to start companies to raise capital, do business, write off debt and provide incentives for exports. Even small businesses in China get these incentives in terms of facilities and guarantees. When we want to do business here, our papers are in order, everything is clean, but still we face delays and complications even though the process appears to be there. If you are in the US or in Europe, you never have to worry about all this. Rules are very well defined there. In India the administrators have a lot of discretion to decide whether we should work here or not. There is no reason why an IAS officer should have the discretion to decide whether I as a software company should function in India or not. It should be a standard rule for all. You are making it harder for an entrepreneur to do business.
About Axtria: Axtria combines industry knowledge, analytics and technology to help clients make better data-driven decisions. Its data analytics and cloud-based platforms support sales, marketing, and risk management decisions. To know more, visit: www.axtria.com