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The Gourmet IT Services Provider
Vimali Swamy
Monday, November 1, 2010
Though there were several ERP and financial applications available in the market from large software vendors, there was none that suited and understood the tasks required by MLB. The financial application had to be built from the scratch. Despite a myriad of large IT services companies in the industry, today there are only few who provide custom application development. MLB approached Vernalis Systems, a small IT services company based in New York. Understanding the criticality of the project the company, in a very short time, built the solution. Today, post the successful application development work, MLB has become one of its major customers. The history of the company is filled with a lot of such success stories.
Founded in 1999, Vernalis Systems is a pure play IT services company, specializing in critical custom applications development across the Web and mobile. Today, a decade since its humble beginnings, the company has created a strong footprint as a gourmet IT services provider along with additional service lines of engineering and media. They count several large players across areas like healthcare, energy, sports and entertainment, private equity, workspace technologies, marketing services, emergency preparedness response, travel, banking, compliance, and manufacturing as their customers.

The Birth of the Company
Vernalis Systems was founded by individuals with immense experience in various aspects of IT by having worked in some of the major organizations around the world. The team of professionals leading the company is composed of experts in their respective fields, having the breadth and depth of experience that spans across a wide technical spectrum and subject matter expertise.

From day one, the core philosophy of the company was to build sustainable systems and not body shop like other large IT players. While in the initial years the company started as a consulting firm, it soon re-positioned it self as a critical IT services provider. From servicing a few large niche clients in New York and surrounding areas the company slowly broadened its customer base and today it has a grip on several key markets including US, Europe, and India in the areas of Technology, Engineering, and Media.

The company in 2003 set up their India operation, which serves as the development center. “From a customer point of view, we specialize in critical applications. Most of the applications we develop are not cookie cutter kind. There is a grave challenge when it comes to just maintaining the resource and technical competency as the development work happens across different platforms like iPad, Android, and traditional Web application simultaneously,” explains Bala Chandra, CEO, Vernalis Systems. This is where the company’s specialty lies in. “We do not aspire to become a large scale IT company but rather a specialty gourmet provider,” he adds.

Small is Beautiful
In an age where every one is aiming at grabbing a large market share and raking in big ‘moola’ by stepping into every possible area of IT services, Vernalis Systems believes in standing apart by offering specialized critical custom application development.
In custom applications development, the challenge starts right from the requirement tracking stage. Since the requirements continue to evolve, developing an application around it is like ‘trying to shoot a moving target’. Since this kind of work requires in-depth technological expertise, one of the biggest challenges for the company has been getting the right people. “It is precisely the reason we chose value and not volume in terms of resources. We want to be the SWAT team, where failure is not an option,” says Chandra. Today, 11 years since inception, Vernalis Systems is 120 people strong and only aims to scale up to 300 in the coming years.

The Three Pillars of Business
But where it lacks in resource strength, it makes up with the varied technology expertise it brings to the customers. Its three service areas are technology, engineering, and media. A technology neutral company, it broadly classifies the IT business into three segments - traditional software development, mobile, and business intelligence. Since the spectrum of traditional software is very wide, the company takes up projects only where a packaged solution does not fit a customer’s requirement. For example, the company is currently developing a biometric system for a client in Dominican Republic. Since there is no pre-developed or packaged software or prototype available for their specific requirements, Vernalis Systems has a team deployed that is working with the client and understanding the project specs and requirements. Today, the International Player Acquisition System (IPAS), a biometric system, is under development and soon would be ready for realtime application.

Mobile is another area where the company has a strong foothold, as it constitutes about 30 percent of the business. “We started mobile development back in the days of PALM and over the years we have done numerous projects on Symbian and Blackberry and today on iPhone and Android,” says Chandra. Now it has even moved over to developing apps on iPad. Most of the projects in this segment essentially involve developing key features of certain enterprise applications as an extension on any mobile platform.

Now with the iPhone and Android slowly displacing Blackberry within enterprises, the company too has begun to explore opportunities in this arena. One of the recent applications it has built on iPhone is ‘WeCab’, a cab sharing application for US markets that is currently productized for New York. Quiet satisfied with the product, the customer now plans to extend it to other geographies as well.

For Vernalis Systems, it is all about staying in tune with the trends in the industry. Within just a few months of the launch of iPad, the company is already geared up with an interactive learning application for it. Chandra and team have developed an interactive activity book, a story book with pictures, where the story line changes depending on the activity chosen.

Business intelligence is the third part of the company’s business and constitutes about 20 percent of the revenue. It soon plans to launch its flagship BI product ‘BACPAC’, which will co-exist with building access control systems and provide tremendous value additions to the organizations by leveraging the untapped data potential and providing business intelligence in helping the organization in streamlining processes like employee on-boarding and exiting, workspace utilization, emergency responses, and more.

Engineering design is a separate thread of service line of Vernalis Systems. Leveraging first class design facilities, equipments, and software knowledge this division has already made a significant mark by providing maximum design efficiency in the areas of industrial machinery and automation. Vernalis Systems boasts of a team of design engineers who are highly proficient in the latest engineering design and analysis tools. This team provides design solutions for their clients in Germany in the automobile and manufacturing sectors in the areas of design adaptation, design optimization, finite element analysis, and industrial animation for clients like Blohm-Jung, Stuertz, Georg, and more.

Media division of Vernalis Systems completes the triangle of their services. Ranging from designing and developing marketing initiatives online, using rich media technologies for compelling and interactive brand experiences through storyboarding, scripting, and character creation, the company exploits digital media for maximum gain.

Providing creative services to author Marc Levy in France during his book launch and building rich interactive promotional Web presence, brand building and promotion for real estate giants in India, and a restaurant major in the US are a few to mention about their creative solutions.

Customer is King and Employees are Assets
For Chandra, it was a conscious decision to keep the company a relatively small enterprise offering niche services. But in an age of cut throat competition, where its larger peers are striving hard to win customers on the basis of human resource and other infrastructure capabilities, Vernalis Systems treads a different path. “For us, it is not the number of customers that matter but rather the length and depth of customer engagement. At any given time we have 25 active projects that vary anywhere between three months to 2 years,” says Chandra.

“Empathy” to customers is the underlying culture within the company. Unlike most vendors who act on the orders of the customers, at Vernalis Systems, the idea is to involve with every aspect of the project right from the beginning. Instead of waiting for the customer to provide specifications, the company helps think them through the requirement. Since the company has a lateral experience in different industries, it sits with the customer right from the early requirement definition stage and helps them think through the process. Because of the strong technology background the company brings to the table, it is also able to suggest the right tools the customer can look at deploying in order to lessen the cost and make the process simpler. “The involvement in client’s business is so deep that by the time the project is completed, they treat us like consultants rather than just developers. This is the big differentiator,” believes Chandra.
It is this, in combination with honesty and transparency, that has worked wonders for Vernalis Systems. Every customer is made aware of the fact that all the development work is being done in its development center in Chennai. Apart from the 110 engineers at Chennai, the company has six project managers in its US office and two in London and Germany. These managers act as both the cultural and business interfaces of the company, thereby providing a level of comfort to the customers. While design and architecture are done from Chennai, the managers onsite focus on business analysis and project management.

In order to keep the communication clear between the company and its customers, the company has developed an internal Web based project management tool - COLLABRIA. Since every project is a custom application development, the requirements keep pouring in time to time, and hence everything about a project is documented with in COLLABRIA. Since everyone from customers, project managers, developers, and technical architects have access to it, one can monitor the progress at any given time, thus cutting down the communication and response time between the company and the customer. “Software development is a human job and errors are inevitable. Thus we believe to be open in our communication from the beginning thereby forging a credible relationship with the customers. Collabria helps bridging the gap,” says Chandra.

The relationship that the company has forged with its customers is so deep that today most of the new projects come only via customer reference. A testimonial to this is reflected in their significant client retention rate and the fact that they have started or are in process of starting joint ventures with several of their customers. Not only have their customers provided several credible leads that result in tangible projects, but Vernalis Systems has also started technology centric joint ventures with their customers. These joint ventures span various verticals including healthcare services, pharmaceutical, and social networking. Most recently, they deployed a mobile application: Connect5 with one of their long-standing customers. Connect5 is a social networking application that rivals foursquare. Connect5 is a location-based iPhone application that shows you what a venue is like and how your friends are doing in realtime.

In order to further enhance customers’ trust in the company, it constantly conducts audits to ensure the standards are met. Clients are also invited to the company’s premises annually in order to get a first hand experience in the company’s work culture and ethics.

While customers are the utmost priority for the company, it is not unobservant to the employees who are the real assets. Even though the team is separated geographically, the working culture melts the time zones and distances, giving the global clients an experience of working with one team.
Every professional in Vernalis Systems is groomed to be proficient in multiple technologies, handling various development methodologies, conversant in working with global clients from diversified domains. With an appropriate mentoring program in place, the management strives hard to groom the next generation of leaders within the organization and inculcate in them the values it stands for. Because of the nature of the projects and the challenges the teams face, the company believes that its professionals are much more experienced and industry savvy in comparison with current industry standards.

“Our open and transparent way of working means all our employees directly see and experience that their success, their team’s success, the client’s success and the organization’s success are directly linked with each other; which greatly fosters an exceptional level of personal motivation and inspiration, which is one of the key ingredients of our success,” says Chandra.

This transparency, along with their core competencies, has served Vernalis Systems well in breaking ground within new cultures. It has developed a significant presence in Germany. The German market, a net exporter of services, is traditionally known for providing engineering services as opposed to utilizing them. Germans are also known for their appreciation for dedication, commitment and excellent execution. Through a tremendous amount of ambitious marketing and salesmanship, coupled with the company’s extensive portfolio of success, they established a foothold in both computer aided engineering design and IT services.

The Road Ahead
Today, a decade since its humble beginning, the company has been seeing constant growth. With about a handful of customer acquisition per year, it ensures that the quality is not compromised to quantity.
As the world gears up towards taking the enterprise solutions, social media applications, and end user solutions to the mobile world heavily supported by major players and platforms, the company is making sure it is in the right place to leverage on this opportunity.

Vernalis Systems is today well positioned to play a very significant role in providing mobile applications, business intelligence, application support, and engineering design combined with media backed solutions for our global customers. The company is also playing a predominant role in building solutions that pave way to green and environmentally conscious corporate and end user world. To provide additional bandwidth for the increased clientele and to further provide more services to the clients, the company is currently working on setting up offices in the Middle East and in the Asia Pacific regions.

Additionally, having garnered varied business expertise, the company has launched a venture capital fund to encourage budding entrepreneurs. Vernalis Systems already has a stake in multiple companies in the areas of logistics, infrastructure development, and talent management. These entities together employ over 1,000 people. “The idea is to diversify and try applying the business lessons learnt over the years, and influence these businesses in a positive way,” says Chandra.

The company actively promotes community welfare and takes a unique approach by providing a platform to its staff members to contribute to the different channels of social welfare organizations. Among several welfare initiatives, it is notable that Vernalis Systems has joined hands with Rang De a non-profit micro financing organization. Many of its employees are social investors through Rang De in extending help to the needy. The company not only does social investment but also contributes its time and effort to Rang De.

Having closely worked with energy conservation associations, Vernalis Systems also has become a well informed energy consumer itself and promotes energy conservation and environment friendly approach in all possible ways in its daily life. The company actively promotes greening solutions and provides subsidized technology support to global energy conservationists.

With the ideology of not falling into the rat race and growing at one’s own pace instead of the industry demands, Vernalis Systems continues to stand for a cause.
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