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MetricStream Simplifying Governance Risk and Compliance
Jaya Smitha Menon
Sunday, September 30, 2007
In 2001, when Enron Corporation, America’s seventh largest company, went into bankruptcy after having been involved in an extensive scam which ruined its stake holders, investors, employees and customers, the U.S. government came with the Sarbanes Oxley act to crack down on corporate fraud and avoid shady dealings, including concealing debts in the company’s accounts. The act mandates a stricter governance model and tighter internal controls in organizations. It also brought along a bundle of complex procedures to follow. In another case, the disastrous drug trial by a big pharma company in U.K. left six men hospitalized and this triggered an inquiry by the regulatory authority. The drug designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia and multiple sclerosis, caused a horrific reaction in all six healthy men. The inquiry revealed that the company had failed to adhere to the compliance regulations and hence was penalized.

At the wake of such scandals, accidents and calamities across various industries the law has tightened its grip and compliance has become imperative. Though intended to avoid risk and to protect and safeguard investors and customers a major criticism against ‘regulatory compliances’ is that it becomes a burden for the companies, taking into consideration the high cost involved in the implementation of these procedures.

Today all public listed companies in the U.S. have to adhere to the compliance regulations and regularly validate the certifications. Because of the complexity of the compliance process many companies are turning to specialized software to help manage their compliance activities. It is on the technology of making governance, risk and compliance (GRC) procedures and process an easier and cost effective task that the engineers at MetricStream concentrate.

At MetricStream they believe that “good compliance is good business”. Over 250 employees working in the Bangalore office are engaged in building applications that make compliance a good business strategy. MetricStream’s compliance management solutions are designed to support and manage overall compliance of the industry with multiple norms and regulations for various industries like the financial sector, healthcare, food and beverage, energy, medical, pharmaceutical and manufacturing. Though a relatively young company, started in Silicon Valley, U.S. in 2001 MetricStream has lined up a whole gamut of products and solutions across different verticals to unify the management of governance, risk, compliance and quality management across an entire organization.

In the wake of Sarbanes Oxley and many other similar acts which were introduced in the early part of the 21st century many companies came up with compliance software solutions. But very few companies thrived as compliance was not practiced by most companies then. But MetricStream, has been successful in lining up customers such as, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, major food and beverage company Coke and other entities like Nektar Theraupatics, Wolverline Worldwide and Fairchild Semiconductors. The engineers of Metricstream successfully came up with product-solutions which enabled these large and multinational companies in diverse industries to make the shift from isolated compliance initiatives and departmental silos of risk-related information to integrated enterprise-wide strategy for governance, risk, compliance and quality management. The recent addition to the customer base is Aurobindo Pharma, one of the fasts growing Pharmaceutical Companies in Asia. Metricstream also has a partnership with NASDAQ to offer its GRC solutions to its listed members.

“There are different regulations in different countries,” explains Shankar Bhaskaran, Director, Global Marketing & Head of Asia Pacific. “To manage the changing dynamics of regulations in multiple geographies is a tough task,” he says. For the CXO of such a huge organization to understand the details of the risk level and compliance measures taken, becomes extremely difficult. MetricStream walked a novel route to build a single application platform to help companies with multiple regulations, corporate policies, and quality standards. . It was a novel approach as it wiped away the practice of deploying a separate point solution for every regulatory initiative as it was not a cost effective method. The silo approach was also incapable of helping the management understand in a clear and comprehensive way the risk involved.

However, with the help of this platform which has a web interface the CXO’s will have access to global dashboards that allow drill downs, analytic reports, and heat maps and provide comprehensive views into the compliance health of the their enterprise. The comprehensive Solution Suite can also help in areas of operational and policy compliance, risk management and quality management.

The flexibility of the product allows customers to use it as an ‘extended briefcase’. It means that the compliance team or anybody using the application can carry an offline version of the product in their system and input the data without gaps or interruptions from anywhere and connect it to the internet whenever it is accessible to upload it to the main system.

“To keep ourselves updated on the latest regulations and norms is a constant challenge,” says Bhaskaran. To overcome this hurdle, MetricStream has come up with a unique portal named Complianceonline.com where quality and compliance professionals, and regulators, come together to help each other in training, sharing information, and discuss implications of laws, policies, and mandates. “This portal helps by updating the various laws and regulations relating to compliance and enhancing our platform-applications accordingly,” says Bhaskaran. This portal is integrated with various platforms and applications developed by MetricStream. This helps the customers access the various compliance related best practices content library and training programs from within the applications. Complianceonline integrated with the application also sends notifications and alerts on the latest developments and significant regulations introduced.

This key innovation helped the company to add a new feather in its cap by the way of an award. Complianceonline was awarded the International Stevie award for best new product in 2007. The award viewed as the Oscar of the business world, is given to honour and generate public recognition of the efforts, accomplishments and positive contributions of companies world-wide. It was presented to MetricStream for their unique portal which serves as a source for training, information, best practices, tools and products on regulatory compliance, industry standards, and quality principles. The company also has over nine patents to his credit for the technological innovations it championed.

“Compliance is today becoming an integral part of every business. It will also become an integral module in every ERP solution” says Shrihari. L., Director Engineering. Instead of repeating the same processes while developing an application, MetricStream has come up with a common framework which contains all templates and artworks. “This makes enhancing an application with many features an easy task,” explains Shrihari. The reusability of the framework makes it quite flexible. Shrihari’s product roadmap plan suggests a rollout in every three or four months. This concept of framework helps him a great deal in achieving his target.

There is something unique in everything MetricStream does. When it comes to selling also it treads on a different path. Recently the marketing team was trying to hook an international coffee company to use its product. The team came up with a novel idea. It wrote to the company asking for the recipe of its new variety of coffee and that kick-started the dialogue with the top management of the company. Unlike in other product development companies the sales and marketing team of MetricStream is based in India right here in Bangalore and handles its entire clients globally from here.

When Govind Ramakrishnan, of the technical team, relocated to India from Silicon Valley through MetricStream, he was expecting a typical Indian culture of organizational hierarchy. But to his surprise he found MetricStream to be a flat organization. “There are no hierarchical barriers and all have direct access to the top management including the chairman,” says Ramakrishnan. This is the tone that the management has set in the organization. As you walk around the office, you will find employees coming to both Shankar Bhaskaran and Shrihari and interacting with them freely. The leadership team keeps interacting with various teams regularly, and hence is aware of all the activities of the company. To keep the employees aligned to the company, the leaders also frequently share information regarding the company with the employees. To help the employees to balance both personal and professional lives, the company has designed very flexible work hours for the employees. This includes options like working from home also.

“We are working, enjoying, and having fun,” says Ganesh Santhanam, of the application development team, who is working with the company for the past three years. MetricStream also gives ample opportunities to learn and grow. “Apart from the technical side, we get to learn the business side as well. The unique domain space is an exciting aspect,” says Bala Subramaniam, of the application development team. “The compliance software industry doesn’t have many players in its fold and hence the organization provides a lot of learning opportunity,” he adds. Sreedhara Rao of Solutions team chose to be part of MetricStream that is championing GRC Solutions because that adds value to customers immediately. He says “I am happy to be a part of the delivery team transforming company vision into customer strategy.” For K.Shivakumar, of the technical department working in a growing company with lot of fresh talent is what appeals the most. He says “the environment itself is vibrant and there is a lot of fresh ideas flowing in.”

The flat culture of the organization is evident in its recruitment process as well. “People wear different hats at different times,” says Pavithra Bopanna, of the Recruitment department. “The leadership gets involved in the recruitment process not only at the interview level,” she says. “Employees and management volunteer to team with the HR department to help them in the recruitment process,” she explains. People volunteer to assist the HR team during job fairs and other recruitment processes. But, Pavithra insists that the recruitment process is a grilling one with two technical round interviews and a test for entry level people. “MetricStream also encourages employee referral programs as they believe that peers would know each other well and also convince each other,” explains Vishal Narayan Arora of Human Resources department.

Value added benefits make the MetricStream compensation package an attractive offer for the right candidates, across all levels- entry, middle and senior. The compensation package includes employee stock options, onsite customer delivery opportunities, exposure and interaction with different practices, technologies, and the flexibility to create a smooth work-life balance.

When career progression of the employee is considered vital in the organization, frequent training sessions become a part of it. When technical sessions for upgrading skills help the employees improve the quality of the work, training on the soft skills help them in their demeanor and communication skills. As a product development company it is quite demanding with regard to the competence level. Trainers are brought in from across the globe to train the employees in improving their technical competence levels. Employees are also sent to client locations to understand the business intelligence part. To train the team on the various compliance regulations, a team is sent to different geographies depending on where the new regulation is introduced.

All this doesn’t have to make you think that here is a set of people who know nothing else but to work. No. They are all engaged in so many other activities as well. This is evident when you see the index of events in the company. Apart from celebrating all major festivals, the company takes a day off every quarter for picnic so as to get away from the hectic work schedule as well as to interact with the peers informally. During these visits they ensure that some of their top level executives from the U.S. also join them. Annual meet outside Bangalore with family is yet another event the employees look forward to. During the annual meets, the company recognizes outstanding performers with attractive gifts like ipods, dinner at five star hotels, and even a weekend stay outside Bangalore for the family. Other activities chalked out as part of the in-house activities are yoga classes, community programs as well as a face to face interaction with some successful people from outside the IT industry.

The company is at an inflexion point now. It is planning to increase its headcount by doubling its current size and is looking for professionals in technical areas including quality assurance, technical lead, and support manager in the application development area. In the business side it is looking for product managers, presales associates, and is hoping to bring in new faces in the areas of sales and marketing also. Shankar Bhaskaran and his team have a well laid out plan for next year with more products and enhancements of features in the existing product line-up being the top priority.

For a young organization, MetricStream has carved a niche for itself in the market. A subtle and unique approach, dynamic leadership, enthusiastic employees, and the verve with which it has begun moving forward promise a glorious path ahead, not just for the company, but also for its employees and its customers.

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