Wholesome customer focus, the XP way

Written by Darlington Jose Hector | Updated: Jan 25 2011, 05:10am hrs
Customer XPs has never hit the headlines as a software product firm, but as an Infosys break away group it has always fascinated the industry. The core of Customer XPs belongs to Infosys Finacle product group. Founder Rivi Varghese is today a satisfied man, having achieved his dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Says Rivi, Our first focus was on setting the foundationswhich included resolutions like, come what may, our first revenue will be a license revenue and we will never use services as a vehicle to create products. Our strong grounding in Infosys value system also helped this also not only included ethical discipline but also included the financial and process discipline as well, wherein we have data and everything is accounted for. We believed that what an organisation becomes eventually, is determined by how the DNA is structured from day 1hence we approached this from creating a product ecosystem frameworkon which an enterprise product will eventually thrive.

With Finacle at Infosys, we worked together to scale to multiple banks across countries while also continuously innovating by creating newer products every year. In short, we were right at the centre of a blockbuster product. Each of us had different roles to play while I saw it from product management, sales and marketing perspectives, Aditya Lal (CTO) had his hands deep into the architecture, Balaji Suryanarayana (COO) was the customer champion while Sandhya V (CFO) was into operations and finance. Our maturity and outlook grew as we interacted with over 200 banks across 20 countries with at least 12 new products. We were already the perfect team that had found itself in the midst of all the chaos and celebration.

Thus Customer XPs was born. Today it has made a niche for itself in the real time predictive analytics and embedded enterprise decision management space. I had wanted to become an entrepreneur for many years. There was a time I was quite frustrated about my job, and wanted to take a break. He even contemplated starting a branded pearls business, but then backed out. But I am happy to be living my dream now with XPs, says the man who holds a MBA from IIM-Bangalore and a B-Tech from IT-BHU.

We came together due to our chosen profession but we found ourselves through our passionscomputer science, artificial intelligence, mathematics, logic and technology, probability, set theory, statistics, psychology, sociology et al. We were also hugely influenced by the kind of books released during the timeBlink, The wisdom of crowds, Tipping point, Outliers, Freakonomics, Fooled by randomness. We figured that the best way to sustain our enthusiasm and find like-minded people was to turn this collective passion into a brainchild.

Rivi and colleagues knew that they had to make a social and personal connect with customers for their business to become successful. Although banks across the world are invested deeply into the best technology, somehow technology in itself fails to capture the humanity in relationships between people. Today, they merely serve as a supplement, complement or at best, a post-facto element akin to driving by looking at the rear-view mirror but with an opaque windscreen. The oft repeated refrain being since every time interaction is with a different person or channel, customers often have to start overthere is no single person who understands the customer holisticallylike the good old days. Customers want to have a unified experience that permeates across people and channels and our vision is to build the software that enables this proposition. Our solutions will enable a relationship permeance over time, people, location and activities, he claims.

Our team is incredible. Take for instance Aditya Lal. He spent over 10 years with Infosys Finacle Architecture team designing and building resilient and mission critical enterprise software architecture. He then joined Amazon.com as a principal architect where he architected and delivered Amazons Flexible Payment Web Servicean internet scale payment application over distributed databases with sub-second response time. The entire team is excited about what we do, and we dont see it as work. We enjoy what we do. And we have some amazing products.

For instance, its Real-time Intelligent Conversation Engine (RICE) is a well recognised product. RICE works across all customer touch points that enable employees with real-time, intelligent customer insights and relevant, contextual product recommendations. What RICE can enable can be summarised as the equivalent of what Google does to searches by converting static pages to real-time data; RICE does the same for customer information in an enterprise, he says. It assimilates information in real-time across multiple relationships and systems and factors in the current transaction to use discretion and identify offer recommendations at the point of sale.

One thing that stands out about us, is our ability to break down a longer term goal into organisation wide monthly goals wherein we can get the validation points quickly within a short window. We have also created a unique software product for the same. We are also using alliances as the vehicle for rapid scale outs, hence our short term goals revolve around strategic alliances and making them work at the ground level. Our alliance friendly product ensures that we can work with a wide variety of partners across the spectrum, explains Rivi.

He has a theory on why most software product companies in India fail to take off. Back in IIM-B, our strategy prof had told us that it is very difficult for a company to straddle services and product space simultaneously hence we need to get this clear at the beginning itself. Though companies start with a product mindset, they land up doing services, and then spend their lifetime justifying a services offering as a productthis approach corrupts the DNA permanently. Also, product is not just a clutter of code, but it is an ecosystem and a way of doing things systematicallythis requires a mutually exclusive but collectively exhaustive skillset in product management, sales, marketing, architecture, implementation and financial skillsmost of the startups take a single dimensional/mostly technical approach for the same. A product is also about getting the best seeding/reference customer, about reputational capital and about getting the right angels to support the system. Many a times people tend to overlook these aspects. Most importantly at the core there should be a focus on IP and creating innovative entry barriers, Rivi points out.