Dataquest - 30th June 2016 - Excerpts from the Interview
Big Data Analytics the Impending Need of India: Jassi Chadha, Axtria CEO
Jassi Chadha, Founder and CEO of Axtria, a Big Data analytics company based in the US and Europe (and now expanding to Asia) enlightens us in this interview about the need for Indian companies to invest in Big Data analytics on a large scale if they want to compete with global corporates in a significant manner. He spoke to Archana Verma of the Dataquest on various issues related to Big Data Analytics. Excerpt:
Q – You’ve already expanded all over the world because Big Data Analytics is becoming such a big technology.
We have expanded to 40 countries, where we have our customers.
Q – And are your customers in these 40 countries spread across the whole world or have you focused on specific regions?
Our customers are mainly in Europe and US.
Q – And your major focus is in healthcare?
It’s in 3 sectors – healthcare, banking and what we call as consumer businesses; consumer, retail, CPG and e-commerce. These three sectors have rich data-driven needs and we bring our expertise to them. Our key areas of operations include customer, sales, marketing and risk management. These sectors have a lot of potential for risk management, sales operations, market acquisition etc.
Q – Do you feel that there are going to be different types of challenges as you spread across Asia and especially in India? What are those challenges?
The key challenge in India is that the availability of data is very poor. And that’s largely because industries in India have so far under-invested in data technology – in capturing big data, building data warehouses, handling visualization and having the right CRM and ERP systems. Manufacturing is probably the only sector in India where data availability is good. But when it comes to customer data, when you go to private banks such as ICICI and HDFC, there is a lot of scope for improvement in terms of understanding the customers, customizing their offerings, etc. So, the key challenge is availability of data (largely because of under-investment in data technology) and the level of maturity to use elaborate analytics to talk from your business. And it’s very interesting to see that people only change behavior when they face problems or when they are struggling. They don’t harness data when things are going good. For the large part, most businesses in India have been booming. I remember my conversation with the CEO of an insurance company in India, where we were pitching on producer analytics. The CEO shared, “My business is already growing at 30% a year and I am doing well. Why do I need to spend more money on analytics? I might as well have more sales people and spruce up.” So I think that the maturity level to leverage analytics to transform it into sales is still not there in India.
Q - Where do you see India’s potential for your work?
We can look at Indian market from three perspectives. One is India as an investment market, looking at the huge growth potential in India. Second is India as the delivery centre for services. Third is India as a product development hub. And I think India is in different stages of life cycle development on each of those three aspects. In terms of leveraging analytics to grow customers, I think India is largely primitive. Presently there is a very popular, slugfest going on between Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal that you read about daily. And what most people do not realize is that Amazon is actually a data analytics company. They have the most experienced data scientists all over the world. How many data scientists do Flipkart and Snapdeal have? They are just beginning to have them. Amazon is the world’s largest data analytics company. So, this is the evolution. India needs to invest a lot more in data analytics and its resource pooling ought to be globally comparative. The reason that Facebook has a revenue of $200 billion is that it’s one of the best data analytics companies in the world. They also have the richest customer data of any company in the world.
Q – When you say that you want to expand in India, is it your vision to help these Indian companies to grow and compete with these global players?
Absolutely. We work with global companies all over the world.
Q – Will that not require a lot of resources?
We already have – most of our employees are in India. We are already helping global companies all over the world. We can easily help companies in India. The challenge is, do they know that they need help? Amazon has the world’s best supply chain, inventory management and customer behavior insights providing customisation to individual customers. Flipkart and Snapdeal still have to figure this out.
Q – How do you see your expansion plans in India? Can you talk a little bit about it?
We’ve been in India for about five years now. We have two offices in Gurgaon and we’re embarking on further expansion largely in the NCR area. There are two large hubs for data analytics viz, Bangalore and Gurgaon.
Q – Of course, you know about the government’s Make in India plan and they are helping people to have their own start-up businesses. Do you think that your kind of business will be very valuable to them?
I don’t know if we can help them directly, but we can help them more in terms of training people to become better entrepreneurs. This is my second company. Manish Mittal (Managing Principal, India) and I were running another company called MarketRx before this. And in this 15 years old journey, it’s amazing how many people left us and started their own companies successfully. So, I think it’s more about creating incubators.
Q – So, in a nutshell, if I want to start a Facebook-like platform, you can help me compete against Facebook.
It’s good of you to be that ambitious. But in the Internet world the winner takes all. And the winner has already taken all. So you’ll have to think of a new one. But how I can help you is actually to steer you in a different direction than to go and build another Facebook. You can build a new Facebook if you’re in China; because China is like the walled garden and Facebook doesn’t work in China. Unfortunately, Facebook works in India and already has 200 million customers! China has a competing product for every product in the world. But most entrepreneurs and investors in India have failed to recognize this fact. Their expectation was that we are just like China with the same population, same number of hand-held devices. In all those things we are actually running 5 to 10 years behind them. India is not China. It’s a Fools’ Paradise to think that India is China. India is India. This is exactly what happened in the 1990s. We had a lot of MNCs coming to India thinking we are the big middle class. They came out with a large number of consumer products, but what they didn’t realize is that India’s middle class is very difficult from that in other countries. Their paying capacity is very different. It’s a very price-sensitive market. China is very different. In the area of software and internet, because of the government controls, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp do not work in China. They have their own apps in their place.
Q – You are based in the US and you want to expand to India. You may be working with some large Indian companies that want to expand out of India. Do you feel there may be challenges in your way in terms of rules, regulations, government policies etc?
I can talk about software and tech-enabled services. I think India has been a very entrepreneurial and business friendly market. A remarkable thing that India did was to introduce a single-window scheme to STPI. It’s not gone away but they have taken away most of the benefits. For example Axtria’s present offices are in SEZ. It works for the most part but I think the process of passing the approval is still very painful. All those incentives have been taken away and being in a SEZ is harder now. One of the positive impressions of foreign companies coming to India was that the single window was very progressive. But now there are too many people involved in operating the system. The government should make it easier for those wanting to start companies to raise capital, do business, write off debt and provide incentives for exports. Even small businesses in China get these incentives in terms of facilities and guarantees. When we want to do business here, our papers are in order, everything is clean, but still we face delays and complications even though the process appears to be there. If you are in the US or in Europe, you never have to worry about all this. Rules are very well defined there. In India the administrators have a lot of discretion to decide whether we should work here or not. There is no reason why an IAS officer should have the discretion to decide whether I as a software company should function in India or not. It should be a standard rule for all. You are making it harder for an entrepreneur to do business.
About Dataquest: Dataquest is an Indian magazine focused on information technology related articles. A fortnightly, Dataquest is published by Cyber Media India Ltd, South Asia's largest specialty media group. To know more, visit: http://www.dqindia.com