April - 2009 - issue > Cover Story
Jayakishore Bayadi
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
It takes immense courage even to state, “Yes we can.” Especially, for a startup it’s a must requisite when they have to and aim to compete with biggies. Two entrepreneurs, Swaraj Kumar Bontula and Vishnu Sunderam, who founded Interchain Solutions, a Bangalore headquartered Location based services (LBS), Telematics and Social media company, which operates on two verticals, Location Based Services (mobile and web applications) and Telemetrics (asset tracking and management solutions), had this gut feeling right from the inception of their venture. When founded, Interchain’s primary focus was to provide LBS to the consumer as well as enterprise clientele. Today, with the help of a knowledge team consisting of strong technical experts with varied knowledge on Embedded Systems, Electronics, latest software tools, the company is successful in building the best-in-class Hardware Platform for LBS software involving in-house design and even has manufacturing infrastructure for its hardware products in Bangalore.

Vishnu, who is the brain behind the company’s LBS products teamed up with a young businessman Swaraj, founder of Suresec and Almana Network Solutions. “Swaraj always believed in building a self sustaining company which can focus on long term opportunities, and hence we evolved the Telemetrics vertical which can captialize on short and medium opportunities available on hand,” says Vishnu. “Over the course of this journey, we realized that building an expertise in creating next generation hardware platforms to power our software innovations has become our key differentiator,” explains Swaraj Kumar Bontula, CEO.

In a short span of two years, Interchain transformed into a professionally managed company leveraging the experience of Kalyanaraman, ex-CEO in one of the Group Companies of ELCOT, who currently is the President of the company. He shares his 36 years of industry experience with the young innovative minds in building the right solutions to address the needs of the consumer as well as the enterprise sectors.

This is the age of information at your finger tips, why not empower people to get access to their asset information right on their mobile phones and computers. Now, undoubtedly, a businessman will always wish to track his field personnel who are on the move, a parent would wish to protect his child while on the road. So, how about the idea of extending GPS on mobile to vehicles? As its evident that security is an increasing concern today in all walks of life. Obviously, for Interchain, it was like a huge opportunity to tap in as they already had the required software technology, GPS on mobile with them.

Strong Foothold in India

Interchain set the focus of the company is in building state of the art telematics solutions for various departments of Government of India driven by the strong belief of Mr. Kalyanaraman that any solutions accepted and approved by recognized institutions like Indian Government would bring limelight to the company. Interchain, accepting Kalyanaraman's view, deployed a customized hand held online data collection solution based on GPS for the Forest Department of Tamil Nadu through ELCOT, beating six years of monopoly of the old school solutions & after facing a stiff challenge from Garmin. This, maiden success in the government sector, enabled me to participate in Government tenders, for GPS products and Interhchain’s success is 100 percent, as on date, says Kalyanaraman. Interchain now has made inroads into Karnataka beating sixteen other National and International competitors in an official tender through Infinium, the consortium partner, with its vehicle tracking and management solution offered to the Police department. Interchain, through Infinium, the consortium partner has also qualified complying to all the technical points specified, and has also emerged as L1 in the Delhi Police GPS tracking tender after competing with GPS giants. Outside India, Interchain enjoys a great reputation with the TeleAtlas project that involved building mobile-based disaster recovery data collection solutions.
With extensive R & D works, nearly more than a year, Interchain broke all hurdles by launching the in-house developed hardware platform, which starts from as low as Rs. 6000, a high quality product. The entire fleet management service is being provided as an out-of-the-box web and mobile service, which is as easy as accessing, your email account on your browser.

Mature Hardware Platform

GWTrack is Interchain’s platform for fleet tracking and management, is one of the most advanced tracking platform, combines a lot of features including Voice, LCD display. GWTrack uses FleetCheck, a centralized dashboard for managing the fleets and is well suited for long haul trucking, logistics companies, shuttle management for BPOs and schools, city taxi scheduling, utility services tracking for police, ambulance, fire service, and more. The solution can be used to perform activities like real-time location log, speed and distance calculations, arrival time estimation,, driver information, passenger status, distance covered per trip, duration statistics, and idling points summary, along with stolen vehicle recovery, field service management, and logistics planning. “The devices can be integrated with outdoor display terminals to display in real-time all the information,” informs Vijay Bharath, the product architect who has been with Interchain from day one.

GWNavigator, is the second platfrom built by Interchain based on opensource Operating System with brilliant features including VGA display along with GPS, GSM, GPRS, WiFi, Bluetooth, Motion Sensor capabilities. GWNavigator opens a host of new opportunities to fleet companies.

According to the industry data available, the current consumption of telemetry solution is around 35,000 units per annum in the country. China, which had a similar market in the beginning, now pegs the demand at around 8 Lakh units per annum. “Interchain aims at capturing 20 percent market share of this consumption and we expect that in a few years from now, the demand in India will also grow to that level as in other countries” says Kalyanaraman, with confidence.

Customized Solutions is the Mantra

Vishnu exemplifies the customized solution phenomenon very well. The industry is fast evolving, the days are gone when customers just want a simple tracking solution, the industry is more looking forward to innovative customized solutions which will turn to be a key to their business success, which is exactly the vision behind the duo in deciding to expand into the manufacturing activity.

Recently, they had a discussion with KSRTC, the government owned road transport Corporation of Karnataka, India, who wanted to offer a future proof solution where Interchain showcased their future proof solutions that will not only be a tracking platform, but also would serve as a Passenger Information System, which can show even the location of the nearby buses. KSRTC also sees a potential in applying Interchain's state of the art solution on seat occupancy which will be made possible by installing the patented scan strips under the seats to sense the occupancy, which in turn sends the information to the ticketing console.

“It is highly difficult for our competitors to offer such customized solutions with their technology partners from Taiwan or China. Another fact is that it’s very arduous to find a manufacturing vendor who does all the customization as and when diverse customer needs come. Most often we see competitors only when it comes to offering off the shelf commodity solutions and not a solution that addresses customer needs. Customization is the name of the game here,” explains Vishnu.

Well, what is intriguing is that they never went after the Taiwanese or Chinese manufacturers to buy hardware platforms or to support them with designs for them. It is Vishnu who leads the manufacturing ballgame. We have identified the right vendors who can support us with their completely automated pick and place facilities" says Vishnu. “Down the road, we envision building an in-house facility which can support us in churning out our various products where we have total control on the quality and the costs" adds Swaraj.

Trackut: The Social Platform

Trackut is a social platform offering from Interchain in the LBS space. “Though turn-by-turn direction is considered to be the most popular LBS offering, our studies with 1.7 million GPSWatch users indicated that users don’t use this service more than once in two weeks. So we decided to build a service that is lively and viral enough for users to use it every day,” recalls Vijay Bharath. Trackut is a location based streaming service that pushes relevant content to the people at the right time on their handheld phones. It is an operator-independent and free service that helps users create location-oriented groups, network with friends, and share location tagged data. The company claims that Trackut can stream a variety of information to the mobile users like peer location, local traffic updates, event info, classifieds, shopping guide, emergency info, and customer locations. It works on a wide range of phones, including the ones without GPS capability.

Vishnu explains, “Simply open the Trackut application on your phone and it streams location based live content to you, understanding where you are and knows what you want to hear about from your preferences, from your previous activity, from what your friends like, and the places they visited”. With this information, Trackut streams live information relevant to you and your current location on the maps, making the whole thing very easy and helpful. “Also, we plan to commence providing a platform for Location Based Advertising and Location Based Commerce after reaching the critical mass of users,” he informs.
Trackut provides a unique way to capture stories, interesting locations, and useful information by tagging the information with location and time. For instance, consider the scenario of a user visiting a new place. The first and foremost thing that he would like to know is the interesting places around him, be it restaurants, hangouts, shopping locations. The user currently uses services on the Internet to discover some of these and prints them or records them for use while he travels. This approach has a lot of shortcomings, for instance, the information collected is static in nature. If he goes outside the boundary of the region for which he collected information, there is a disconnect between the information at hand and the new locations. The user has to manually correlate them at every point and the information has no clues of friends and peers who might be around.

Recently the team has launched TrackEd, an initiative to builds safe school communities in a connected world. TrackEd lets every member of a school community stay connected in more ways than one. “At TrackEd, we use our best of breed location-based networking services to form the building blocks of the next generation of connected school communities,” says Vishnu.
Well, we have Loopt, Whirrl, Whereabouts and many others including Google in the LBS space. What’s different with the new kid Trackut? Vishnu says, “Loopt and many others are more of a buddy tracking service which is operator coupled. Trackut assimilates the user location through its patented technique and delivers relevant location based content to the users.” Whereas Whirrl, informs Vishnu, “Predominantly works on GPS enabled phones which severely limit the adoption. Also, Whereabouts is basically a location exchange service with Facebook integration to leverage on friends network without positioning done on phone. But Trackut leverages on its mature framework based on GPS, Cell ID, Cell Strings, and IP address to works on most of the GSM phones priced as low as Rs. 4000.

Technology today enables users to access the web any time anywhere and mobile phones have evolved to be as fast and as usable as your normal desktops. “This gives us the opportunity to tightly integrate them and provide users the ability to share and update their data on the web as well as mobiles,” says Vishnu.Trackut has its presence in a variety of mobile platforms including Sybian, which is the predominent OS used in Nokia phones, J2ME which is supported by most handset providers including Sony Erricson, Nokia and others. Trackut is also available for the latest mobile OS from Google, the Android. The Android gives a unique UI experience with touch features, which are neatly integrated into the application.

Interchain is working on hybrid tracking product, which can leverage not only on GSM but also WiFi and low orbit satellite connectivity to aid in tracking assets across geographic boundaries. Interchain is also fast expanding into the Marine Telematics space using VHF technologies to track boats and to monitor fishing activities. The upcoming version of GWTrack will offer tight integration with your in vehicle computer (Engine Control Unit) which would enable the system to report live engine and vehicle health conditions to the service center. “So don’t be surprised if you get a call from your car service center who is 50 kms away saying, your oxygen sensor has failed and the replacement could be done at one of their closest hubs,” says Vishnu.

Interestingly, Trackut will soon make its debut as an “In Car Entertainment and Navigation Console”, a first of its kind console which converges Mobile, Web and the In Car Unit for $200 when competitors are selling one generation older consoles for $300. The In Dash console brings Trackut live in the car connecting the passengers to their peers and friends. With Internet and mail access from the car, Trackut would converge the users from various platforms including mobiles, car consoles and web and would enable them to share location-based content with each other. Think about the experience of your car telling you about your friend who is near you, a number of streams updating you about traffic jams ahead of you, telling you about sight seeing locations around, telling you about the great shopping deals in the mall near you and many more all glued basically to your location.

Going Forward

Recently TeleAtlas, a provider of digital maps solutions, tested a location-based emergency management and disaster assistance solution prototype developed jointly with Interchain. “The aim of the project was to collect information on the status of Hurricane Katrina redevelopment efforts to be used in the ongoing Dartmouth College Gentilly Project,” informs Vishnu.

Interchain believes in giving prime importance to protecting the innovations. Today it holds a rich intellectual property portfolio around most of its offerings. “The sheer urge to create a landmark product is our key strength to innovate more. We’ll keep investing until we come up with something unique, which is ahead of time. Money is secondary for us as we believe that money ought to come once we build something unique and great,” says Swaraj. “Interchain has serial launches in the coming months including several products and solutions targeted at Data Collection, Election Tracking, Guest Mangement in Common Wealth Games,” says Kalyanaraman.

“Having reached 50 million worth of business, within three months time, from the date of commercial production, we are expecting to reach 250 million before this calendar year." says Kalyanaraman. In fact, the company’s innovative approach doesn’t end with its technology. Inspite of the recession and deflation affecting the economy, and layoffs being talk of the day, Interchain is looking at 2009 as their best calendar year. “The company that has now about 30 highly qualified technologists on board, looking forward to expanding their human capital by 10 folds,” he says.

A Bigger Partner Network

“Right from the beginning we are crystal clear that we'll create partner networks to reach the end customers in the nook and corner of the world; this will spare us with time and energy to focus on product innovation" says Swaraj. The partner networks including channel partners and distributors would be the interface to end customers.

“Interchain has channel partners already in Taiwan, Dubai, Doha, US, and in Gujarat, Pondicherry and Bangalore in India. We are also looking for more companies with good B2B connectivity to partner in different geographies to reach larger end customers. Retention through value added service and adding up Customers is the serious task given to his team,” says Kalyanaraman.

In the LBS vertical, though Interchain wants to, and is able to, grow on their own, the company is open to offer some stake in the firm to larger telecom players, for the huge base of customer base that they get in return. “Yet, we are clear about our ultimate target and are firm in our motto. We want to be in the race and want to compete with the biggies and build a completely Indian product in this space,” says Swaraj. No doubt, today the duo is well on their ‘track’ towards realizing their dreams and “navigating” for a resounding success.

A Glance at Interchain

Company: Interchain Solutions Pvt Ltd
Headquarters: Bangalore
Founded: 2006
Space: Telematics, Mobile Navigation, Vehicle Navigation, Social media
Founders: Swaraj Kumar Bontula and Vishnu GS
Investors: Self-funded

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