Infogain: Servicing Through Relationships
Date: Wednesday , April 01, 2009
Infogain’s President and CEO Kapil Nanda loves golden-haired English Setters. His pet Sketch is gentle and affectionate and reminds one of how Infogain treats its clients. And just as how English Setters are known for their hunting abilities, Infogain has got its act right in spotting growth opportunities and winning customers despite the slowdown. Infogain’s business from its top ten clients has continued to grow since the beginning of the macroeconomic downturn. Also, the services company headquartered in the Silicon Valley (Los Gatos, California) has not lost clients but instead its clientele has grown to close to 100. And Nanda insists that the performance ? stellar, given the times we are going through ? has very little to do with the competitive rates Infogain offers its clients.
Instead, he attributes Infogain’s success to the relationship his company shares with the clients. Over the past 18 years, Infogain has acquired customers through its perfect understanding of the business elements of its customers’ products and their business landscape. Today, says Nanda, Infogain is what can be termed a development-to-deployment company.
“When we work with a client servicing a specific part of its business process, we try to understand the impact the process will have on the rest of the business. Based on that, we develop tools, deploy them, and integrate them with the other business systems in the company,” says Nanda, explaining how his company is different from the services behemoths that restrict their presence to the specific projects they handle.
“We are a long-term partner, and our clients look at us that way,” he says, describing the company he started in the early ’90s.Infogain has built deep domain knowledge over the years in four specific verticals: retail, the claims processing area of the insurance industry, enterprise, and independent software vendors (ISV) and software as a service (SaaS) companies. And underlining all its relationships has been flexibility, commitment, and mutual understanding.
Two Way Communication
“Getting started in engineering outsourcing was challenging,” says Nanda. He started his company in the ’90s, when competitors like TCS, Infosys, and Wipro were courting big companies in the U.S. with a value proposition based on economy.
“But we were dedicated to engineering. We understood that companies tend to outsource if it helps them increase their speed to market, not just because someone offers to do the same thing at a lesser cost. We wanted to win the trust of our clients and build long-term relationships,” says Nanda.
Database companies like Informix, Sybase, Unified, and Oracle were among Infogain’s early clients, and were followed by the CRM companies like Siebel, Clarify, and PeopleSoft.
“Working with these companies helped us understand the inner working of their products, thereby deepening our knowledge. We also worked on implementations at end-users of the products, and that broadened our picture,” says the CEO.
The company’s mission statement, which says, “Our goal is to understand your business, share a common business goal with you, and help you reach your objectives. We value the long-term relationship we create with our customers and ultimately become an extension of your business,” bears witness to Nanda’s opinion.
As a result of such ‘extensions of businesses’, Infogain acquired expertise in providing outsourced application management; product development, application software implementation, and building integration solutions at client companies. As their business widened and the India story started gaining ground around ten years ago, the company opened its first delivery center in Noida in 1996. This was followed by another development center in Pune, acquired just last year. It also has global footprints in the U.K. and the Middle East.
Over the years, presence in multiple locations has become one of the key assets of the company. Unlike competitors in the services space, which have 99 percent of their resources offshore in, say India, and one percent of the resources onsite in the U.S., Infogain’s presence is spread more equally. Prospective clients, therefore, are far less wary about outsourcing critical components of their business to Infogain. “They don’t have to worry about which number to call, and what time zone to adhere to. We are always within their reach,” reasons out Nanda.
Focus on Retail
Infogain started focusing on retail as an area of expertise about five years ago. What helped the company garner clients instantly was the presence of industry veterans in its team. The story about how they joined Infogain is fascinating.
Infogain’s Vice President and General Manager, Retail Business Practice, Ray Allen, began his association with Infogain as a satisfied customer with 360Commerce. Ray, who was a Vice President with Oracle after it acquired 360Commerce, was impressed by Infogain’s ability to add value to the client’s business. Since coming on board Infogain, he has taken that philosophy forward. “When we talk to clients, we talk not only about the project on the table, but also other areas of the business and the challenges they face,” says Allen.
He says that their retail knowledge and experience with Oracle Retail products help win trust and business from customers. “We have a unique capability to consult on retail best practices as well as ability to leverage our advanced engineering skills when we work with clients. That puts us in a unique position.”
Nanda says that clients who are with Infogain would probably need more than two vendors to manage their business if they were not with Infogain.
“For instance, large retail companies have legacy solutions, and they try to extract maximum value out of them. Making legacy solutions work seamlessly with new systems involves heavy integration work and could be very difficult if one has no background knowledge,” quips Nanda. His company has, on several occasions, developed applications for legacy integration. The company has a framework that allows adding modern store system functionalities such as e-receipt to existing legacy systems. Infogain counts several large retailers among its clients. Nanda says the list includes ‘a $10 billion retailer with multiple brands’ and ‘a large electronics goods chain’.
But so do players like Infosys and Wipro, where’s the difference between them and Infogain, one might ask?
Nanda is quick to answer. “They surely can, and do come in, as approved outsourcers of projects. But when clients want specific point solutions, they look to communicate with experts. Not only do we have experts who have considerable experience of working in the retail space on board, an added advantage with us is that clients do not have to deal with a huge bureaucracy. CIOs are at ease when working with us,” he claims.
Also, says Allen, Infogain helps clients deploy best practices from across the world. For instance, when a retailer wanted to adopt a new payment solution, Allen’s team first gave them a lowdown of the different payment options from across the globe: encryption system like the ones used by European companies, debit facility from Canada, chip system from the U.K., et al. Allen says that his team has often enabled solutions that were not otherwise present in the U.S. market.
In addition, the company also has deep expertise in Oracle stores space, merchandising, and integration of all this with middleware components. Some of its recent projects in retail include full implementations of Oracle Retail Suite, including ORPOS (Oracle Retail Point-of-Sale) and ORMS (Oracle Retail Merchandising System). It has also recently implemented Retek in the front end and Oracle Financials in the back end, handling tricky integration issues and impressing observers in the industry.
Nanda offers a simple reasoning as to why retail has become one of the key growth areas for the company in recent times. “Most of the challenge for retailers is on the customer transaction side, which are typically large projects and also highly prone to risks. Our track record and the spectrum of work we have done in the space helps take the risk out,” he says.
Glenn Gramling, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Infogain, says that the company entered the insurance vertical incidentally through a client.
“A large insurance company brought us in to provide them with integration capability. In turn, we ended up expanding; leveraging our skill set in QA and testing. We subsequently extended our involvement to development and application management as well.
The breadth of experience of that encounter gave Infogain in-depth knowledge about the insurance vertical. It has since built its strength in the claims processing area, both in claims management product development and in providing services to claims management companies.
“Claims processing might seem like a small and simple thing, but it isn’t,” Nanda says. It involves payments to multiple claimants; also, fraud is a major concern. Infogain’s past experience in other industries enables the company to provide data pattern recognition and fraud detection systems yielding an immediate RoI to claims processors.
Infogain also offers other business intelligence solutions for claims processors. Many companies in this space are trying to understand what is happening, says Gramling. Insurance companies need business intelligence to understand their claims exposure and the processing time for claims. Such information help insurance companies understand their business better.
“Our clients have also rolled back portions of such captured information to their clients, which in turn has made the insurance company’s client relationships more robust,” opines Gramling.
Most of Infogain’s early customers were in the database and CRM space, and a vast majority of them have since been acquired by Oracle. The company therefore, by default, is strongly aligned with Oracle’s tool set. This means that it is conversant with many of Oracle’s products, ranging from database to middleware to applications including EBS, Peoplesoft, Siebel, and Oracle Retail.
The long association with Oracle has put Infogain in a unique position; this assumes more importance given Oracle’s recent emphasis on Fusion middleware transition. “We are among the very few partners who transitioned from BEA to Oracle,” says Nanda.
Infogain is, as a result of its expertise in Oracle tech stack, involved in identity management and master data management along with BI for many of its clients. Infogain has experience in Oracle’s BI product, OBIEE, and recently hosted a BI forum to discuss and evaluate the product.
Over the years, Infogain has also built skill sets with Siebel, OnPremise, and SaaS versions. It has created services for the customer support area and, as Nanda says, is also uniquely positioned to provide long-term application management for the solutions.
“We provide performance management and long-term application support, along with deployment services,” he stresses. “Our flexi-model approach enables the customer to dynamically adjust his portfolio of app management skills as his needs change.”
Weathering Rough winds
The honchos at Infogain say that the company is relatively doing well in the face of the global economic downturn. This is more so because Infogain has kept up its strategy of customer engagement, providing executive level attention and responsiveness to changing customer needs even mid-stream in the service delivery process. The company has won over tier1 competitors by combining this responsiveness with its technical expertise, be it in technology area, business processes, or deployment, as the need may be.
In cases where the company approaches small to medium sized firms, it brings the big-picture consultative approach on stream. In such arrangements Infogain focuses on evaluating and providing a vision for the clients’ evolving IT landscape, and Nanda says that Infogain beats competition in such cases on the basis of its ‘long-term’ argument.
What has helped Infogain through the years, and increasingly now, is its forked presence, in the U.S. and India. Presence in the U.S. has helped mitigate a large part of the clients’ fears and win their trust, while the India connection has helped rope in a 1,000-strong talent pool while keeping the cost manageable.
Going ahead, Infogain seeks to align itself to changes in the technology cycle. It seeks to enhance its integration technologies and evolve with Oracle’s technology direction. Nanda also sees the company playing a big role at clients transitioning to Web 2.0, characterized by rich Internet apps and user experience.
Clients have also started looking at the pay-as-you-go model, and Nanda is mulling starting that service to boost customer numbers and trust. He also sees a lot of potential spending in the healthcare segment, in terms of hospital records and electronic data integration.
The economic downturn too has led to a new business prospect, in a way, for Infogain. Clients are now looking at SaaS, in effect migrating to new business models to suit the economic condition. Nanda has his eyes set on these waves; always a skillful player, he has his sail set for a long haul.