The Supply Chain Warriors
Date: Tuesday , October 31, 2006
The Manhattan Associates’ Bangalore Center is not just another technical programming factory. It is a full extension of the company’s domestic enterprise and engages in all activities from research to development and concept to design. Manhattan Associates recognizes the inherent value of collaborating with India and leveraging the innovation and talent represented in the people and culture. With globalization, supply chain engineering is an increasingly complex field that warrants the skills and knowledge of the talented Indian workforce. A global industry requires global perspective and participation.
This October, roughly 600 engineers working at the Manhattan Associates’ India Development Center gathered at the Grand Ashok. The anticipation among the employees was palpable that evening. The congregation was eager to welcome their CEO and President, Pete Sinisgalli, who had flown in from the U.S. to speak at the evening event. In fact, the entire board, had flown in for the occasion, braving the sultry October heat. “IBM is the only other Multi-National Corporation to have brought its entire board to India,” someone was overheard saying. It was truly a momentous occasion, not just for the engineers of Manhattan Associates, but for all stakeholders in the India story. The gathering was after all being held close on the heels of the company’s board meet, the first of its kind in the country.
When the supply chain management industry became captivated by the concept of store clustering last year, a knowing smile flitted across the faces of employees at the Manhattan Associates’ facility in India. Their amusement continued to grow when the media jumped on board and the buzz convinced companies that they needed to develop a product that incorporated the concept. After all, as part of the team at Manhattan Associates—they had all been introduced to the concept of clustering more than a year ago and were already close to releasing a product.
Manhattan Associates’ early lead in the clustering arena is one of many positive byproducts resulting from the establishment of the company’s Scientific Advisory Board. The board comprises leading professors from Columbia University, Georgia Institute of Technology, MIT and the Wharton School of Business along with key industry experts in the supply chain domain. Its main objective is to explore what the supply chain landscape will look like a few years down the line. They had long foreseen store clustering and alerted Manhattan Associates’ research team to this growing development.
Right away the research team started developing the set of algorithms necessary to create a tangible product and then handed the work over to the applied research staff at Manhattan Associates’ India facility. This team was in charge of turning ideas and numbers into workable solutions by developing prototypes and isolating the strongest algorithm. Sometimes, that meant working on multiple sets of equations simultaneously. For example, when the company developed its fleet management software, engineers pursued two algorithms in parallel for a period of six months, with the goal of determining the best solution.
“We ultimately discovered the best algorithm to use as our foundation for the fleet management solution,” says Pervinder Johar, Manhattan Associates’ Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. “Our goal is to engineer the highest quality solution and we recognize that can’t be done without dedicated up-front research.” About 90 percent of the work on the fleet management software happened out of India, with a dedicated team committed to creating a winning product.
What sets Manhattan Associates apart is its ability to bring more than just computer science knowledge to the table. Manhattan Associates offers a broader knowledge base that includes an understanding of operations research and management sciences as well. This depth and breadth is necessary to create a well-rounded product. Engineers at Manhattan Associates have access to these three disciplines, over and above the customary code writing.
As a result, there is heavy competition for opportunities in the company. In fact, when the company went to IIT Roorkee and IIT Delhi looking for prospective recruits, they gave presentations to packed houses. “Because we are a mid-sized company, there is more visibility to your contribution here. All our employees have access to senior management as well,” explains Venky Sivaraman, Manhattan Associates’ Managing Director, India Center. “The fact that Manhattan Associates operates in a financially stable space but still has room to grow helps it attract talent as well.”
“The excitement among the engineers here delights me,” says Pete Sinisgalli. He visits the Bangalore facility every six months, and validates the growing efficiency and impact of the team here. “On every visit, it seems like an entirely new setup, as the team here continues to evolve, and manages the unbelievable job of delivering on every expectation that we have of them.”
Techies at Manhattan Associates’ Bangalore center have moved a long way from the days when they used to work in older technologies. Today, they navigate across a fleet of platforms, which can broadly be classified into three categories. Each of the three groups has an architecture division that works in tandem with the team in the U.S.
1. J2EE and SoA Architecture Manhattan Associates is one among the few companies in India that is focused on Service Oriented Architectures.
2. .NET practice
3. iSeries & RPG.
“Although we face no shortage of engineers with substantial J2EE experience, the workforce in India is relatively young and there is a lot of energy and potential that needs to be harnessed and cultivated,” says Sujatha Saha, Manhattan Associates’ Senior Manager - HR, India Center. This challenge is mitigated by the fact that Manhattan Associates India is managed by many who have worked in the U.S. facility for almost a decade. Owing to the strong culture of mentoring from these experienced professionals, junior techies at the India center are almost certain to come out technically polished.
The India team has been prolific in developing many products for Manhattan Associates, the two most recent being—Store Clustering and Fleet Management—in a span of just over a year. For a product company, that is quite an achievement. “The culture of innovation comes from focusing on what we can do better for our customers,” explains Johar. “Every employee is encouraged to think from that perspective.” It helps to think of the newest algorithm as more than just numbers in an equation but as numbers affecting the clients’ bottom line.
Training & Rewards
It is not hard to see why 90 percent of managers at Manhattan Associates’ Bangalore Center are homegrown. The company has a calculated management program in place that supports several levels to encourage growth and initiative. Management 101 and 102 are training courses offered at an early or entry level. For more established staff there is management 201 and Manhattan Associates High Impact, a training seminar including people from all over Asia Pacific and Europe, held last year in Bangalore. At the highest end of the management program is the Manhattan Associates Academy. A few people chosen from Manhattan Associates centers across the world attend and discuss high-level industry issues and network with key company and customer contacts.
Apart from the management programs, there is an elite pool of employees as well—recognized for their achievements that went above and beyond company expectations—who make it to the Manhattan Associates President’s Club, an annual recognition program honoring select associates. The selected associates are recognized for their achievements above and beyond company expectations. Incidentally, four out of the 20 who made it to that pool the previous year were from India.
Performance is the key factor for both recognition and compensation. While only a few receive the high level recognition of President’s Club, solid performers are always publicly recognized in town hall or sales meetings and in various internal communications. Deserving employees get promoted and their career aspirations are met within the company. The career-planning program in the organization helps the engineers navigate their moves.
The presence of several career paths enables a QA engineer gain more domain knowledge and potentially move on to become a Business Analyst. “It is all up to the individual to shape his career. We facilitate, mentor, groom, and take care of their aspirations,” says Johar, adding that personal satisfaction is instrumental in organizational growth. To keep pace with ever-growing ambitions, employees at Bangalore are given an option—based on merit—of relocating to any of the Manhattan Associates Centers across the world. As part of that practice, over 30 engineers are relocating this year.
Recently, the company has undertaken an initiative to migrate from subjective evaluation to an objective one. This will help remove the manager-employee bias in evaluation, notes Venky Sivaraman. “We are coming up with a metric wherein we can measure the performance of an individual, in terms of qualitative as well as the productivity,” he says.
Senior Executives Commitment
Communication transcends each level in the management hierarchy at Manhattan Associates, with executives acknowledging the importance of each puzzle in the overall management structure. The company is peer oriented and the senior executive team is approachable and interacts with employees across all departments and levels.
For India, the frequent visits by the senior management from the U.S. act as a morale booster for the employees, in addition to giving the management a chance to network with its global talent and support them accordingly. The visits happen roughly once every quarter, and can last as long as a month.
Way Ahead: LEMA
Manhattan Associates is the first company dedicated to building an advanced technical architecture in the supply chain industry. It’s strategic platform—the Logistics Event Management Architecture (LEMA)—leverages Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and business process orchestration principles as part of a common application platform and data model. Manhattan Associates is one of the few supply chain companies to have built a component based UI.
This development is a result of the company’s product roadmap, decided upon keeping an eye on future developments. Johar is convinced that LEMA coupled with Manhattan Associates’ Integrated Logistics Solutions will help its customers not only deploy solutions on a targeted basis, but do so on a single, consistent architecture. “This is a critical next step in the supply chain evolution. Clients who adopt this architecture will benefit from technology alignment, simplified integration, enhanced scalability and lower total cost of ownership,” he says.
As the platform continues to evolve, most of the related engineering is being shifted to the India center. With no history of an architecture group in the country, this development shows the faith Manhattan Associates headquarters has in its India team.
The milestones of customer satisfaction and product innovation guide the way for Manhattan Associates. The company believes that these two elements—pivotal contributors to its present stature—will continue to fuel its growth.
“Our strategy has been to utilize and incorporate the feedback we receive from clients,” says Sinisgalli. He believes that focus and domain experience have given the company a decisive edge over competitors like SAP and Oracle. As for its products, Pete believes that continued investment in research will pay off for the company and its customer and keep its solutions the strongest and most relevant in the market today.