Techno-Pulse hosts Narasimhan (Kishore) Mandyam in an exclusive e-Mail Interview on Cloud Computing Services in general & SaaS in particular.
Narasimhan (Kishore) Mandyam is CEO of PK4, a company that delivers SaaS CRM for India. Starting as a developer at Infosys in 1986, Kishore has built and run companies in software services and in products in India and the US. As Managing Director of Ampersand Software Applications Ltd., he helped build a Services company that spanned India, the US, Japan and Europe. As co-founder, he helped build and grow American technology companies like Aprisa Inc. and zeroCode Inc. In 2006, he co-founded PK4 with the objective of changing the way traditional software is built and sold. Impel CRM is the first large software system from that effort. Kishore is an Electrical Engineer from UVCE, Bangalore.
Let us meet the man behind Impel CRM: Perhaps the first well known India based SaaS CRM exclusively for Indian biz…
- A NASSCOM-Zinnov study has predicted that Global Cloud opportunity (SaaS+IaaS+PaaS) is expected to exceed USD 30 billion by 2012. Emerging India’s next wave of growth in IT will be driven by SaaS companies. Being a leading Indian SaaS provider what’s your practical experience in Indian market?
Our experience has been amazing. We began with the typical trepidation that most SaaS providers go through in India - that everything from connectivity to "Mera data kahaan baithega" will be issues. But we very quickly learned that most Indian buyers fall into one of two categories - they either know enough to trust SaaS or they don't care. Over the last 12 months, we've added over 30 customers and lots and lots of users. And our customers have come from small, three-person shops in Srinagar to a large MNC brand like Bausch & Lomb.
- Impel CRM is a SaaS (Software as a Service). How do you compare your SaaS offering, in terms of Security, SLA & Scalability, with more established global SaaS providers viz. Salesforce.com & SugarCRM?
That's an easy one - we're as good or better! :) Seriously, though, from some perspectives, we're NOT as deep. For example, we don't have fail-over servers in multiple countries, as Salesforce tells our prospects. But we have enough to be redundant to the fourth decimal in terms of risk. Our scalability has been terrific, primarily because the platform we use was used earlier to build large apps for social networks - think of the load there! Our security has been very strong - one of our customers is a European manufacturer who applies their home-country security standards here, too. And we've passed with flying colours.
- Have you used any cloud based PaaS to build Impel CRM? Or is it built on your own platform.
Impel is built on this technology called zeroCode, a high-performance PaaS in every sense of that term - except that it is not marketed as such. zeroCode is "engine-based" in that "programs" are actually XML structures that are used to execute logic in a Java engine. So we get things like multi-tenancy and mega-tenancy from the get-go. And that happens automatically for every function we add as we go along, so that's a huge time-saver. Factors like security, scalability, robustness and tenancy are all part of the engine, so enhancements in those "infrastructural" areas, too, is centralized and quick to implement.
- On-Demand – You’ve stressed a lot on this keyword in your product docs? What does it mean?
To me, it means at least the following things:
1. That a user can get to his/her app when s/he wants it, where s/he wants it, as long as s/he has a browser
2. That a customer can go from kicking the tyres to using it in the field in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months.
These are simple things to say, but they have very deep implications. For example, the second bullet implies a huge amount of configurability, simplicity of user-interface, applicability to their specific business culture, a simple billing model... I can go on. And the first one per force implies multi-tenancy, security, scalability and so on. Bringing all this together in a complex business application is what makes it On-Demand, IMHO.
- What is the USP of Impel CRM SaaS?
It's Indian-ness. Or rather, its non-Western-ness. And I don't mean that in a country-of-origin sense but in an Applicability sense. The way people do business in India and non-American geographies is different - tomes have been written about that. A classic example is the fact that if your AC fails, someone will come home to fix it - try getting that kind of service in the US. On the other hand, try tracking that kind of labour in Salesforce - we can. There are a number of small things, too - SMS, for example - that seem technically simple to implement but, taken as a whole, make a huge difference to the customer. Not to mention our pricing - that's Indian, too!
- Data Security & Privacy are the 2 most important concerns for SaaS based applications. In a recent press release on Mar 15:
Gartner study says that 60 percent of virtualized servers will be less secure than the physical servers they replace. But this is not because virtualization is inherently insecure, says Gartner’s Neil MacDonald. It’s because the people implementing this new, unfamiliar, technology aren’t doing it right.
How are you addressing this issue?
Let me make one thing clear, the way we approach things: SaaS is not Virtualization. We DO use virtualized servers - EC2, our platform of choice, is such a mechanism after all - but that's transparent to a mega-tenanted app. IMHO - and I know some of our customers say this, too -the challenge to companies in terms of data security is not that their data is now on the Cloud but that they have a whole lot of users who, theoretically, can walk away with some of that any time. And this is an issue whether they buy our CRM or the owner's brother-in-law's VB app. Specifically about virtual servers, we're lucky that Amazon provides some of the gate-keeper security already. And we run our own firewalls and so on - all standardized, thanks to the Amazon AMI - to ensure app-level security.
- Do you think SaaS will help to finally eliminate rampant software piracy specifically in emerging markets like India & China?
There's no doubt that SaaS obviates piracy, since there's no software to deliver. But honestly, a CRM vendor is rarely worried about Piracy - it is the Productivity apps and Financial Accounting apps that are pirated. And those going SaaS is some ways off. Also, look at it from, say, M$FT's perspective - someone going to Google Apps is WORSE than someone pirating Excel, since the latter is lost revenue but the former is revenue lost to a competitor. So piracy for them is actually not as bad as a SaaS alternative!
I think what WILL eliminate piracy is a better sense of value from a buyer's perspective, where customers see value in what's sitting on that CD more than the CD itself. That will happen, too, thanks to an improving economy, economies of scale dropping prices and so on.
- Can you share some information on Impel CRM’s customers, specifically in Indian market?
We have a wide range of customers in India - we have small companies that trade in manufactured products, we have one of the world's best-known eyecare companies, we have India's most successful stem-cell banking company. We have a couple of call-centers (thanks to our deep integration with open-source IP PBXs) - quite a variety. And that's because of the way we sell - we don't. We don't chase specific verticals or types of customers - prospects find us, thanks to our marketing and advertising.
- An In-premise CRM application can be developed on Java or .Net platform within a period of approx. 5 months with 5 developers. It’s a one-time investment & the customer has the ownership of the application. The break-even point can be achieved in a year or so. Why should a business opt for a model where he has to pay a subscription fee every month? What happens to the Operational Expenses in long run?
I won't comment about whether a system of the complexity of Impel can be built in 25 person-months, or that development is the only major cost of a software app. In fact, there are very clear studies that up-front costs are less than 30% of the lifetime-cost of software - and that does not even talk about servers, administration, management, etc. But that's not the point for most companies. Going by that argument, you can build your own car, you can build your own building, your own AC - you don't do that (normally!). Because the hassles of managing an effort like that far outweigh the benefits. Not to mention the value of starting to use the app TODAY against the HUGE uncertainty of ever completing a development project. But the real value - specifically of SaaS vs. any other model - is the CONTINUING growth in value for a customer. Without having to worry about people's motivations and whether an Accenture wants to hire away your best programmer, you now have a growing set of functions delivered every few weeks, painlessly and consistently. It's like buying a Tata Magic and that magically turning into a Globus as your business grows - now, that's something you just can't beat!
The point about Operational Expenses is similar: we can construct very clear matrices that show you how SaaS is only as expensive or less than in-premise or (Aaaargh!) development. But that misses the point: what Opex value do you put on something that GROWS with your business, just ahead of your need?
Honestly, when we come up against a prospect that talks of this comparison, we walk away. Because you can't argue Cost issues against Value issues.
- Feb 2009, Salesforce.com became the 1st enterprise cloud company to hit $1 billion in annual revenues. In near future, do you foresee any India based Cloud Provider dominating the global IT space?
I don't know what “near future” means - remember that SFDC took five years and over $ 100 MN to become MARGINALLY profitable, ten years to get to 1 BN. If the question is: "Do I see an India-based Cloud provider hitting $ 1 BN in ten years?", the answer is an unequivocal Yes. And by the way, I believe we (I mean Impel CRM) can do that in less time than that! :)
Techno-Pulse wishes Kishore & his team All the Best…
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