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V2SOFTReady to Soar High in the Reviving Market
Vimali Swamy
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Following a series of accidents last year, there have been several reports about top automobile companies like Toyota and Honda recalling several of their cars. These cars, manufactured between 2000 and 2007, revealed on investigation a spate of problems including faulty floor mats, defective accelerator pedals, and brakes. The problems were attributed to the glitches in the software used in these cars. The federal regulatory body has ever since been very watchful about timely updates of software in automobiles.

But these updates are a humongous task for the automobiles and the Michigan based V2Soft, an IT solutions and services provider, is well aware of the complexities and challenges involved. Thus very early, Varchasvi Shankar, CEO, V2Soft, developed an expertise in the methodology and technology required by automotive companies during these updates. And thus it is not surprising to see it service some of the leading national and international automobile companies that are knocking at their doors. In fact, one of its very early customers that deployed its services gave them the mileage to prove their competency in this vertical,” explains Shankar.

Reminiscing the initial days, Shankar tells about a leading automobile OEM that wanted to update and test the software in its existing line of cars. “As the cars are becoming more computerized it is imperative that the software and hardware in the car be updated and tested to meet the standards and safety regulations. Every time an update or a new version of software is released, the software must be tested on older and current models of the vehicles,” says Shankar. This computerization raises the need for complex programming of vehicle controllers and as a result there is an increased demand for software tools to diagnose the problems. Traditionally, this was accomplished by bringing in various older and newer model vehicles into the test lab for testing software as well as to make sure that reprogramming of controllers could be accomplished. But this was time consuming, expensive, and was delaying software release to the field. In order to speed up the process, the OEM approached V2Soft, the Michigan based IT solutions provider.

V2Soft designed a “Vehicle Testing Framework” (VTF). The framework consisted of metal cages that consisted of bucks (a bench set up of the vehicle) that had all the electronics control modules required for Vehicle Diagnostics Relay system that could be controlled remotely to enable or disable vehicle calibration, Ssrvers which housed its diagnostic Application or software including a reprogramming controller and diagnostic scan tools.

The bucks, with complete vehicle electronics, allowed V2Soft provide an end-to-end vehicle environment for diagnostic testing across various vehicle models and help save the automotive company significant cost and time as they had to bring various vehicles to the test lab each time there was a change in software or a new release. This one of a kind lab housed in the company’s Rochester Hills (Michigan) facility has proved to be a boon to several automobile companies and is now expanding from 6,000 to a 22,000 square foot facility.

For Shankar, this is a moment of pride. Founded in 1998, V2Soft has not only managed to survive a decade long tumultuous journey of the IT industry, but also in the process gain a strong foothold in the highly competitive IT services industry. But how did he do that?

Based in Michigan, the company was in close proximity of most of its automotive clients, which was the company’s initial focus when it began. But in 2004, the automotive industry was in a decline, it became mandatory for the company to diversify into other industries. With the global outsourcing gaining pace, Shankar felt that it was ideal to jump up the bandwagon. He recognized some of the emerging business verticals and areas of demands where V2Soft could develop an expertise with niche solution offerings. Today, the company’s core offerings include custom application development, mobile technology solutions, IV&V (Independent Verification and Validation), embedded systems, and scan tools software across industries like automotive, government, energy, healthcare, and insurance.

Of the above, automotive, government, healthcare, and mobile are the biggest revenue drivers for V2Soft. Apart from building end-to-end vehicle diagnosis framework, the company has also developed applications on diagnostics scan tools, tool and device interfaces, and OS level programming for auto companies. These tools today are being used to reprogram vehicle controllers by its customers globally. The tools, Wi-Fi enabled, are used in dealerships by dealer technicians to diagnose vehicle problems and help in diagnosis. It has also built applications that can be coupled with other technologies to not only perform various functions like sales, marketing, financials, procurement, and supply but also capture usage analytics which is reported back to the OEM.

Having built a competency in developing scan tools for the automotive industry, it felt logical for V2Soft to extend the same expertise in the healthcare sector. It is currently developing applications to run on PDAs and mobile devices to be used by doctors and nurses using light-weight apps in hospitals. These applications can also be ported to other mobile devices. It also provides wireless technology testing and analytics services and has the technology and tools to test the different wireless applications.

At present, the second biggest business driver for V2Soft is its in-depth work with the government of the US. With its Government Services Practice, the company has built a deep relationship with both the state and federal governments and educational organizations and helps them achieve high performance to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing public sector environment. Last year it won a five year contract with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a Web analytics company. V2Soft would provide Web analytics for their website (www.cdc.gov). “Close to a billion people visit the website to get information on various diseases and precautionary measures, government’s policies, and facilities available on that basis. With our Web and mobile analytics services, government officials can track the region-wise pattern of browsing, what kind of information is being looked up for, and more to assess the needs in different geographies. This also helps them decrease their reaction time,” explains Shankar. Apart from this, the company is engaged in providing a myriad of technology solutions to the US Army and Department of Veteran Affairs at the Federal Government level and at the State Government level with Michigan, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida and some foreign counties.

In the mobile segment, V2Soft has been working extensively in developing applications in the wireless space, especially on platforms like Apple MAC OS, PalmOS, Windows CE, JavaOS, and more. Along with supporting the Web-based companies to move into the wireless sector, it is also continuously expanding its wireless product line and developing new applications based on mobile architecture.

"We have worked extensively with some of our top clients providing them with wireless technology services and in turn reduce time to revenue along with increased efficiency and effectiveness," says Shankar. Some of its mobile technology solutions include Custom Business Applications on mobile devices including I-Phones, Blackberry’s, PDA’s, and others, mobile enabling Web applications and websites, mobile business intelligence enablers, Wi-Fi, telematics development, and more. These applications can be anything from sales tracking reports for senior management, sales forecasting, inventory tracking, and others. These applications can be used across all the sectors the company services.

As of now, about 50 percent of revenue is derived from its automotive customers and about 25 percent from the public sector. But with the recent flood of contracts from the government, the percentage will increase to 60 percent.

Winning Over Customers
One of the biggest challenges for any company in the IT segment is the ability to create a difference that helps it win over clients. This is especially difficult in a competitive market like that of IT services where almost every other company, small or big, has the same set of services and solutions to offer. So how did Shankar manage to gain an edge over the competitors?

Despite a myriad of products and services on offer, the foundation of V2Soft’s business success is its strategic business focus, adherence to processes, and customer centric culture within the company.

From the beginning, Shankar was keen on setting up the company in Michigan, which proved to be geographically beneficial. Being located there helped V2Soft be in close proximity to the automobile companies, which gave the initial momentum for their business. Now that the company has forged a deep engagement with the government, the choice has proved to be the best.

When it comes to competing at the global level, Shankar believes that adhering to the global standards in its operations is definitely an edge. Hence, V2Soft has successfully undergone the certification procedures and today it is an ISO and CMMI certified company. Additionally, it is also certified as a Minority Business Enterprise (MMSDC/NMSDC) SBA 8(a) and is SWaM Certified by the State of Virginia.

V2Soft believes in promoting a culture of commitment and curiosity; hence not believing in offering services beyond its capability. The company initially serviced all its clients from its office in Michigan. But over the course of time, its commercial customers began exploring newer geographies and market; and they raised a concern over the commitment of delivery. In order to keep up the customer confidence, Shankar quickly expanded the company to different regions from where it could continue to provide uninterrupted services. Today, since 2008, V2Soft has two facilities in Michigan, one in Virginia and two in India (Bangalore and Chennai). It also has formed some partnerships in China and Germany.

But with offices in multiple locations, a new delivery model had to be devised - one that could cater to both the government and commercial clients from onsite and offsite locations. The company successfully developed turn key and fixed projects for customers using two delivery models either separately or in tandem with delivering projects on time and under budget and to best suit the customers needs and infrastructure. One is the onsite-offsite solutions delivery model wherein employees are placed in both the onsite and offsite locations. This model maximizes the information exchange and results in seamless delivery of business solutions. The second is the offsite model, where the complete support is provided from the company’s headquarters. These models have worked wonders for V2Soft and its clients across the globe and re-instated the company’s commitment level. A proof of it is the fact that one of the automotive OEMs in Michigan made V2Soft its third global supplier. This is a great feat, considering the fact that the first two suppliers are multi-billion dollar companies.

To leverage its commitment to customers, every employee, since inception, is instilled with the values and culture the company stands for, and they are tuned to the fact that it is beyond the contracts that relationships are built. Shankar made sure that most of the employees had a relentless research and development mindset and a commitment to stay ahead of the technology curve with continuous in-house training and career development. “To provide the best of services to its customers and imbibe the culture of innovation, the company has set up a small R&D centr. Irrespective of the work done for our customers, our R&D team continuously develops new products and solutions that sooner or later cater to the customers’ needs. The Vehicle Tracking Framework was one such product, which later earned us a landmark deal with an OEM,” says Shankar. This has boosted each individual in their teams to take ownership of their actions and realize how individual actions build a champion team. As a further step to groom its leaders, the project heads are constantly transferred between the US and India offices. This helps them to understand the different work cultures and gives them a chance to interact with their customers across the globe.

Life at V2Soft
At V2Soft, the care of its employees is taken very seriously. The company is not only well known for its dedicated customer services, but also as a great place to work in. The company is keen on grooming the employees and creating a place where they can learn and grow. The key to V2Soft’s success is the belief that something great is always out there, waiting to be discovered, and the effervescent entrepreneurial spirit omnipresent in the company. "I believe in having faith in one’s people and it is my utmost priority to provide an environment that is free from bureaucracy and other negativities," explains Shankar. To ensure this, there is no mid-level management in the organization. All the project directors report directly to Shankar, who himself practices an open door policy and transparent management. V2Soft is a diverse company and Shankar believes that diversity in workforce is one of the key factors for success of his company while being flexible and agile in their customer service.

In keeping with the company’s culture, they celebrate all achievements - big and small, together as a team. Summer picnics and Christmas-season parties for children and adults offer everyone the opportunity to meet in more relaxed circumstances and look back on a job well done. Having grown rapidly over the last decade, V2Soft still enjoys an environment more like a small startup with a high degree of flexibility in roles and a minimum of structure, guideline, and policy.

"Being in Michigan, I have a certain commitment to the society and the people back here. With V2Soft, I want to be able to create a platform for the local talent," Shankar explains. Apart from employing a lot of local talent, the company also renders support to several social organizations and community events such as Little Sister’s, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Make a Wish Foundation, Cancer Institutes, flood relief operations, and building houses (AKKA).

Looking at the current scenario where the Obama administration is encouraging and supporting locally based companies, V2Soft seems to be on the right track. It is this ideology and loyalty to the state that helped V2Soft get recognized as the ‘Top Diversity Owned Business in Michigan’ by DiversityBusiness.com for three consecutive years, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Also it has been named as one of the ‘Michigan Top 50 Companies to Watch’, and ‘Diversity Focussed Company’ by Corp magazine. V2Soft has been investing in Michigan and has been instrumental in creating jobs and bring jobs back to the state.

Today the company has a strong team of 105 in the US, 170 in India, and 25 in China. Outside the US, the India center is where the real action happens for V2Soft. The India center is independently growing in terms of business with several large fortune 500 customers.

Globally, the company plans to enter into an expansion mode by the end of 2011. With the opening of its new center in Mexico City, Shankar plans to expand to South America. The BRIC countries and Europe are the new markets he is eyeing. In terms of application development, several new products are under development and will be introduced in the beginning of 2011.

"The market has just begun to recover and with our strategies in place, we are confident of experiencing a period of tremendous growth in the next few years," says an ecstatic Shankar. His enthusiasm is contagious and looking at the decade long journey of this survivor, his ideas are something that one can bet on.

Quick Facts
Founded: 1998
CEO: Varchasvi Shankar
Office: U.S. (Michigan & Virginia), India, China & Germany
Employees: 300
Investors: Self Funded
Website: www.v2soft.com
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