Bangalore: The technology developed by Bangalore-based CL Infotech Pvt. Ltd (CLI) addresses a critical pain point of salesmen in consumer care companies. Without the application, they would have to report at the local office early every day to collect a thick sheaf of despatch papers of all the kirana stores they service. They would then travel to the shops, deliver goods, make a list of what the shopkeepers want, and then return to the office with another thick sheaf of paper invoices, delivery receipts and orders. In the process, errors used to creep in, pulling down efficiency levels.
With CLI’s mobile application, sales agents can use their cellular phones to download their day’s work, collect it and upload it back to the company—all without travelling to the company office, which in several cases would mean travel over tens of kilometres. And, if there is no cellular coverage in a particular area, the CLI solution automatically synchronizes when it gets back into the network footprint.
IBM’s Anil Menon (left), CLI founder and director Sujit Kumar (centre), flanked by two of his team members, and Innovation Centre for Partners manager Vithal Madyalkar (right)
The CLI technology has IBM India Pvt. Ltd, the local arm of International Business Machines Corp., to partly thank for its application, which is finding new clients such as Bangalore Municipal Transport Corporation and West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation, both of which will offer a CLI mobile application for providing public bus schedules via text messages on mobile phones.
IBM India has a corporate incubator at Bangalore called the Innovation Centre for Partners that helps start-upsbuilding services or product using an IBM technology or platform.
IBM offers various levels of guidance to some 200 such entrepreneurs (of some nearly 2,500 it partners with in India). The guidance varies from internal help on IBM’s software technologies, hardware platforms, and operating systems, including product consulting, integration testing, performance and scalability.
The IBM unit is not the only one doing such work: Vendors such as Hewlett-Packard India Pvt. Ltd, Microsoft India Pvt. Ltd, SAP India Pvt. Ltd and Oracle India Pvt. Ltd offer labs for entrepreneurs to get certified as compatible with their systems and partner with them as the start-ups scale up.
Typically, though, such relationships develop with start-ups that are far along in the development of their product. IBM India also welcomesearly-stage entrepreneurs such as Sujit Kumar, founder and director of CLI that needed help to fix kinks in its product.
Kumar said it was IBM’s DB2 Anywhere, a database for mobile phones, and WebSphere Anywhere, a Web server that sits on mobile phones, that pushed him towards Big Blue, as the Armonk, New York headquartered vendor is nicknamed. “Earlier, if our application was not connected, there would be a big problem,” he says, explaining customers could lose data, have it duplicated or comprise security in the previous technology.
IBM does not take a stake in these start-ups, but rather makes revenues when they sell their middleware, hardware or servers along with the start-ups. “He gets the customer, he makes money and then only we make money,” says Anil Menon, vice-president, channel, marketing and ecosystem, software group, at IBM. They don’t charge any partner fees. IBM also runs a student programme, called Project Invite, where fresh graduates work on e-governance and e-procurement projects for state governments including those inGujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Such hand-holding partnerships help IBM—as also other business software vendors—plug gaps in niche offerings and increase revenues while offering a full package to customers. IBM may not ask for money from the start-ups they partner with, but it piggy-backs on their technology innovations and near-viral sales reach. In return, start-ups that move up the partnership ladder get access to IBM’s global expertise and relationships that help them get customers.
Ajith Nayar, marketing manager for retail analytics start-up Manthan Software Services Pvt. Ltd, says, “When we talk to a retailer, our partnership with IBM will actually help us in competing with bigger players like Oracle or SAP or other players.”
But given that their relationship is not exclusive, they will pair with competitors as needed. In 2003, Bangalore-based Manthan improved its product using IBM’s labs and became part of the partner system. And when Manthan went to raise money in 2007, IBM helped validate growth plans to investors. Manthan raised $4 million (Rs16 crore) from venture capital firms IDG Ventures India and ePlanet Advisors Pvt. Ltd in June.
For Kumar of CLI, having IBM on his side had also yielded growth. “IBM sends emailers where they describe our products and solutions where they feel our solutions can be implemented,” says Kumar, who doubled the number of CLI customers after working with IBM for a year.
IBM sees its role as a gentle chaperone. “Most of these companies will really have a bunch of programmers and a set of entrepreneurs who have the fire and belly and willingness, and often they would not understand marketing,” says Menon. “We help them to do targeted programmes; take them to market; teach them how to sell.”