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Padmanabhan Iyer

Interviews

In-depth analysis of Industries and companies and how they manage complex and
demanding business environment.

Profile image: 
Padmanabhan Iyer
Padmanabhan Iyer
Company Name: 
3i Infotech Ltd.
Quotes: 

“Invest in next generation tech savvy resources to constantly challenge status quo and render cutting edge solutions to end customers”

Face to Face Description: 

Mr. Iyer joined ICICI Infotech in 2000, in the BPO division to lead Assets portfolio. At that time the company was handling back office operations for the entire ICICI group companies. He left the company briefly in 2002, only to return in 2004, and has been there ever since - a glittering career at that. In 2009, he was handed over the reins of the China Unit, and subsequently in 2012 he went on further to head the BPO Product Delivery Centre.    

Between the years, 12 – 16, financially, the company wasn’t up to it – Mr. Iyer showed his candid side - though operations were largely without blemish. Mainly constrained due to a debt overhang, coming out of the woods proved to be an uphill task. During this time, many of the old-timers moved out as well, which eventually paved the way for Mr Iyer to take up the role of CFO. What followed was restructuring of debt and eventually on 31st March, 2016, 3i Infotech broke free and clocked in a healthy PAT, after 5 years of continued losses. He has worn the present mantle of Global CEO for last one year.

During this conversation, we discussed with him the turnaround strategy around the organization's restructuring, decision making, re-organization of units, customer focus and investing in the right technology.

Questions & Answers: 
Question: 
Please tell us about your journey Mr Iyer and in its context about 3i Infotech as well.
Answer: 

Headquartered in Mumbai, the company has its roots nearly going back two-and-a-half decades to the year 1993, when it was called ICICI Investor Services, with expertise in business transformation through IT.

1999 was the time when the Indian IT industry was almost frenzied about solving the Y2k puzzle; in September that year, the company also forayed into the same market. A round of re-christening was in order as the name changed to ICICI Infotech. Though it must me said here, ICICI Infotech was slightly disadvantaged because of its late entry. By then, some of the ‘biggies’ had already captured a sizeable chunk of the Y2K market, after having started out during the mid-90s. This naturally proved a tad challenging for a new entrant, often as is the case.

Relentlessly, the company pressed on. By 2000, it was already offering specific products in this space and because of the ICICI parentage, was able to uniquely provide specific domain expertise as well. This eventually led to similar work being garnered from other group companies and creating a niche. As the company gained a stronger foothold, it went into an acquisition spree. Today, it’s one of the few companies which has both products (35%) and services (65%) in its portfolio.  

Finally, in 2007 – 08, the company changed its name again to what it is currently – 3i Infotech, and had entered the BFSI sector rather significantly. Presently, it has more than 20 IPR to its name, and here’s a brief look at the top 5 – call it the flagship IPRs:

  • Amlock - an integrated web-based Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime detection and management solution for Banks and Financial institutions. Notably, it is used by more than 45 banks. As recent as 12th of April this year, the legendary F C Kohli awarded Amlock among the topmost IT products for BFSI, on behalf of IMC.
  • MFund - a multi-currency, multi-funds portfolio accounting, valuation, and performance evaluation system catering to the operational needs of investment managers, portfolio managers, insurance companies, mutual funds, unit trusts, and investment management companies.
  • Premia – “A leading insurance product east of Greenwich” is how Padmanabhan Iyer describes Premia with a lot of pride. It spans across a range – general, life, health & group insurance.
  • Kastle Universal Lending Systems - a comprehensive solution for banks and financial institutions. Through a centralized database and a browser based application, Banks & FIs can integrate different touch-points in the supply chain for loan processing. It is targeted at significantly improving the process efficiencies of banks and finance companies that are engaged in Retail, SME & Corporate Financing. It is used across the world from Asia Pacific to Africa with a leadership position in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and significant presence in Africa.
  • Orion ERP – aligns business segments to work in a synchronized manner. Used by more than 500 customers globally.

In addition 3i Infotech provides horizontal services like scanning solutions, which cuts across the wide product range.

In Services the array is just as impressive: Application Development & Maintenance, Infrastructure Management, BPO etc.

Question: 
Please tell us about the talent that you hire, the healthy pipeline that must be ensured and some of the specific initiatives that you have undertaken.
Answer: 

When they hire for the product domain, the expectation is set that within 6 – 9 months, these people will be 50 – 60 % effective. To reach 100% would take up to 15 – 18 months. The company invests heavily on talent and also encourages sufficient leeway for them to grow. The attempt is never to make them hit the ground running from Day 0. Moreover, for every product, 15 – 20% of people are identified as key talent in that particular group who are then tasked with bringing the remaining 70 – 80% well up to speed. 3i Infotech has tied up with some key institutions and recruits twice a year.

The product delivery roadmap is most exact and the training accorded is rather intensive as well. The organisation believes in making people learn on the job. This way, learning and revenue generation can happen simultaneously and none compromised. In a highly competitive market this approach has proved to be most beneficial and has continued to draw much appreciation from new hires. The “key people” mentioned earlier, are also tasked with being in constant touch with industry trends and remain hawk-eyed about government regulations. Other than the ERP business, all others are significantly impacted by RBI regulations, for instance. 3i Infotech puts premium on people who are high on learnability and have the appetite to stand up to challenges. Exhibiting such qualities is an indispensable way to a fast-track career.

Question: 
Your thoughts on “software eating the world.”
Answer: 

He cited some of the important applications that we are witnessing today. Driverless cars, indoor mapping of people within a few metres, using magnetic fields, and others. A fan of Alvin Toffler, Mr Iyer likes to quote the visionary, “The intelligent people of the 21st century will not be those who are able to read and write. It will be those individuals who are able to learn, un-learn and re-learn continually.” The future he believes, will not be about doing certain things only, but equally about not doing some things. Being able to accept obsolescence and branding it as strict no-no will be an integral part of human progress. This entire suite of allied technologies which may be clubbed under digital, will have to specifically gauge each customer’s requirements to be able to catalyse effective delivery. A most different approach from say, the days of mass production, he emphasized.   

He made an interesting point about specific industries like insurance for instance. It’s likely that the insurance industry will not change very fast, certainly not as quickly as software which is used to service customers. That’s why, adoption of new technologies like Cloud Computing will take awhile in certain sectors. But industries like say automobiles, consumer durables, are adopting at much faster rate. Even in the near future it can be reasonably expected that cars, refrigerators, washing machines etc. will have very different functionalities brought on by embedded software.

On being queried about “data being the new oil” he said that 3i Infotech does not necessarily have access to the humongous data which lies at the customer’s end, though specific data centres may be made available, if need be. The company on the other hand, invests heavily in procuring data mining tools.

Question: 
On Organizational culture
Answer: 

The primary focus is always on the customer and there is no getting away from it. Secondly, the organisation is most encouraging towards youngsters and especially those who are able to question status quo. In the initial stages, this kind of open culture was found to be irksome for veterans, but slowly and over time, the culture got moulded to suit an environment which requires agile footing. On specific issues, and at a micro level, it is not all uncommon to even see university freshmen participating in direction setting. The organisation is prepared for a course correction if required, and equally, coming from a youngster. They believe in a proactive approach than having it forced down eventually by a dissatisfied customer.

Question: 
Collaborative offering of solutions
Answer: 
  1. Historically, by virtue of the acquisitions done, 3i Infotech has the expertise and the comfort of collaborative offering of solutions to customers. In the process of synergizing the acquisitions, composite solutions involving integrated delivery of multiple products in the 3i Infotech fold have been rendered on numerous occasions.
  2. Extending this approach, currently, even in its traditional customer set, 3i Infotech partners with other vendors to facilitate multi-product solution offerings, bundling the partners’ product with its own products which form the core solution, thereby enabling customers to deal with a single entity for their multi-faceted requirements.
  3. In the light of the above, 3i Infotech perceives no challenges and in fact finds itself well geared culturally to partner with fintechs and use their solutions to fill gaps and offer composite next generation solutions to its customers and prospective customer.