Chetan Alsisaria On Analytics-Driven Business Transformation In Data-Rich Companies Today :
Originally Posted: Nasscom
Today, an organisation’s competitive edge can be gauged roughly by taking a cursory glance at their analytics capabilities. Even during black swan events like COVID19, there has been a relentless demand for analytics so businesses can anticipate headwinds in the economic climate and make decisions in a timely manner. Chetan Alsisaria, Ajay Goenka and Amit Kumar saw credence in these insights as early as 2012, decided to invest in data and analytics as a business plan, and started Polestar Solutions LLP.
Today, Polestar Solutions LLP serves a motley of clients ranging from Fortune 500s of the world to conglomerates and large enterprises. The spectrum of our clientele also extends to government bodies and ministries as well as to new-age-funded startups. Since inception, the company has delivered services to over 120 clients with a repeat business ratio of over 80%. They maintain strong partnerships with some of the leading analytics products and platform providers such as Qlik, Microsoft, Snowflake, SAS, and Anaplan for Enterprise Performance Management. Some of the geographies that they operate in are Asia Pacific (India, Malaysia), ANZ (Australia), Middle East (UAE, KSA, Jordan), North Americas (US, Canada) and the UK, with an average revenue of Rs. 23 crores + over the last two years.
Here’s an interview with Chetan Alsisaria, Co-founder & CEO of Polestar Solutions LLP on how he and his partners got on the data analytics bandwagon well before most, and how this investment has helped them develop a formidable edge over contemporaries.
Tell us about the genesis of Polestar Solutions LLP
At the time, Amit, Ajay and I had worked with various large clients during our professional journey. We strongly believed that organisations would soon start valuing data more in the times to come and that analytics would become the core for any business decision. While there were multiple technology companies at the time who offered analytics as one of their services, there were very few who offered it as a service which was their prime focus. Also, often if an organisation was strong on the domain knowledge side, they could not back it up with the same capability on the technology side and vice-versa.
Additionally, because of data getting more voluminous and the variety of data increasing with newer data types like texts, images coming into the picture, conventional data architecture required a significant re-think which was a risk as well as an opportunity. Lastly, even in organisations which had some kind of analytics platforms in place, it was mostly limited to the top management with no decision support available for the people who were actually taking actions. These factors made us believe that there was a definite gap that we could fill and that it had significant scalability.
Today, seven years on, we enable enterprises in their digital transformation journey by offering consulting and implementation services related to data, analytics and cloud infrastructure. We help them understand the importance of democratised analytics and are extremely committed to solving the most critical industry challenges by becoming a partner-of-choice for enterprises as they bring about an IT-led transformation of their existing business processes. From the outset, we help businesses plan, execute and set up processes to accomplish their intended business outcomes.
India is at an exciting juncture now with digital transformation booming across sectors. How is this opportunity playing out for you?
Couldn’t agree more – India is at the forefront of this digital transformation boom across sectors. We have one of the most affordable data connectivity in the world, and one of the largest pools of engineers and data scientists – so there is tremendous opportunity for the tech sector at large, to play with. I think there are a lot of positives going ahead; leaders and organisations have started to pay heed to democratised analytics. The reduced cost of ownership of analytics platforms is obviously enabling the trend.
For us adoption has accelerated over the past couple of years primarily because analytics has started to become embedded in web and mobile applications across different sectors/ departments/ functions, bringing analytics closer to the individual points of action. We are optimistic about analytics in the near future where we shall see organisations, across all spectrums, incorporating data as their way of life. Right now, however, this is a major point of challenge; organisations need to understand that analytics is a continuous process – it is only made successful when all stakeholders are involved in its life cycle.
Which are the biggest industry sectors for you, and what kind of digital transformation support are you providing them?
We work with large, medium as well as SMB clients across industries like consumer goods, retail, healthcare, life sciences, automotive & BFSI. Today, we are one of the leading analytics solutions and service providers. Analytics is core to digital transformation and helps not just in making sense of the data generated at different stages of business by internal as well as external stakeholders but also in highlighting gaps and data quality issues.
As an example, for industries such as consumer goods, retail and automotive industries, supply chain optimisation plays a huge role. There is a great scope of bringing efficiency at each level of the supply chain such as procurement, warehousing, transportation, etc. We have implemented end to end supply chain analytics for clients in these industries bringing in data from their ERP, distributor and dealer management systems, CRM, field force applications, etc. to give them clear visibility of the weak links across different dimensions. We go ahead and embed the right set of KPIs into the point of action applications so that decision support is given at each level.
Similarly for other industries, we have developed cross-functional analytical applications giving deep insight into all aspects of the business.
Over the years, our in-house research lab has conceived multiple plug-and-play apps, toolkits, and plugins to streamline implementation and faster time-to-market.
Take us through the main suite of digital offerings you have and the impact they have delivered to businesses.
Our services are broadly categorised into analytics and enterprise performance management. In analytics, our work can be broadly centered around one or more of the following three areas with our clients:
Data management: A variety of structured as well as unstructured data useful for decision making lies in silos in either on-premise or cloud solutions. Add to it external data such as market intelligence, competitive intelligence, etc. available either as API or flat files. Creating a single repository of data that can either be a data lake and/or a data warehouse depending on the requirement is typically the starting point of our engagement with our clients.
Descriptive analytics: With the data being there, organisations typically would want to analyse the patterns and hidden trends in historical data along with different dimensions helping them to see exceptions, associations and to do root cause analysis in a user-friendly visually interactive manner. This is what we offer organisations as part of descriptive analytics.
Advanced analytics: While analysing trends and patterns in your historical data is a good starting point, most organisations want their analytical systems to be even smarter and predict outcomes such as sales, cash flow, spares requirements, manufacturing rejections, etc. They would need these systems to recommend the right products and/or right markets. They would want the system to suggest the right amount of inventory to carry and to suggest the right production plan. Our team of data scientists and data engineers use AI/ML/Deep Learning techniques to deliver such results to our clients.
You have to deal with customers in a segment that’s constantly in flux – how do you deal with that churn?
Analytics is moving at a very fast pace – new thought processes, technologies, and platforms keep coming up. While each has got something to offer, as an organisation you have to decide what serves your purpose to the best not just for today but for the foreseeable future within the commercial constraints.
We work with organisations to understand their current requirements and the IT landscape and merge it with the future vision and industry trends to come up with an analytics roadmap. We also create a logical architecture of the future state analytical applications. Then basis the requirements, technical fitment, and commercial feasibility we define the physical architecture. It’s extremely important to keep senior management involved along with core business users at all stages. We ensure that we create a program management office that ensures clear communication as well as aligns the plan and architecture with respect to any deviations which may have come up in between. For us, agility in handling the evolving business scenario and requirements is of vital importance.
How are you leveraging AI to assist you with the spectrum of clients you have, and information parameters that each industry puts forth?
Over the years, we have delivered cutting-edge data and advanced analytics solutions using AI & ML to help organisations stay at the forefront of innovation. Some of the use cases that we have implemented for organisations are; sales forecasting, market-basket analysis, customer segmentation, fraud detection, price variability analysis and churn analysis.
Quite recently, we launched an HR application with extensive AI/ML capabilities that helps organisations streamline their HR processes. The product can predict the joining probability, churn probability, parse any kind of resume with a high degree of accuracy and identify the suitable list of candidates from the resume database for a given job opening. We have the product ready as a SaaS offering and are working on adding more functionalities to it. We will be rolling out the complete HRMS suite by the start of the next financial year.
We also recently launched Chaplin AI, which is a new and improved Polestar analytics chatbot which not only talks to an analytics software like Qlik and Power BI but also talks directly to databases making investments for clients much more optimised.
Can you take me through your end to end solution management for a client of your choice?
I would like to explain this by taking an example of a large consumer electrical goods manufacturing company. The company had an ERP in place along with a CRM. There were other transactional applications that were envisaged. We engaged with them across two phases; in phase 1, which was an analytics strategy and roadmap phase, we conducted extensive workshops as well as one-on-one interviews with management teams, line of business heads, functional heads and operations teams. We also had a series of interactions with their technology team which helped us in understanding their source systems well. We blended the gathered information with our knowledge of the industry to come up with the roadmap and data management strategy.
Then we rolled out phase 2, which had smaller sprints to deliver something usable every month. We created an optimized data warehouse that was designed keeping in mind that few other new systems would come up and the impact should be minimal. We developed insightful dashboards, reports and scenario simulation for all lines of business across functions and user persona. We also went ahead and embedded the major KPIs into the most used application according to each persona. We also used our in-house developed product called AccioQlik to show major KPIs on the desktop/laptop-like sticky notes with a real-time refresh of data. Currently, we are working on building phase 3, wherein we are helping the organisation forecast the demand and optimise the distribution network accordingly.
When global events like COVID19 disrupt businesses, how do companies like Polestar deal with the backlash? What contingencies do you have in place? If you could explain with an example, that would be really good.
The impact of a crisis like this is felt at both the personal and professional levels. As an organisation our objective is to ensure the safety of our team members while providing uninterrupted services to our clients. In these uncertain times, we have had to take some precautionary and preventive measures to avoid the virus from spreading further. As self-isolation becomes paramount, we have reached out to our team of over 200 people consisting of consultants, project managers and delivery heads to work from home and practice social distancing as much as possible. We have started arranging logistics, and other systems required to implement this move to make the transition smoother for our people. We have also set up a daily review mechanism to ensure that quality and timelines are not impacted.
What are your plans for the future? Which markets do you see your product being taken to? What new expansion ideas do you have?
Right now, we are in a fast-expansion mode. We are expanding our team in Southern India and have converted multiple clients in the region. In terms of geographical expansion, we are looking at growing our presence in the US, the UK, and Australia. In lieu of that, we have set up a US entity by the name of Polestar EPM Inc. and the plan for the next financial year is to have a local presence in these countries, closer to where our customers are in these regions.
Enterprise Performance Management is one of our key focus areas now, as we see a growing reliance of companies on technology-led innovation to streamline their processes and plans. In this regard, we have partnered with Anaplan – the leader in this space as per Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.
We are also looking at creating more industry-specific analytics assets and frameworks so that we can provide more customisable solutions for clients. We are also focused on marketing our existing bolt of products in India as well as abroad, with the intent to reach out to more organisations to fuel our growth. Our larger focus is on moving higher into the value chain focussing on analytics strategy engagement. Our focus also lies in strengthening our team further; we are currently looking at ramping up our senior leadership team.