Star player

Imthishan Giado recently sat down with Manojeet Chowdhury, vice president and head of MENA at managed services specialist Mahindra Satyam to talk about the firm’s work in the region – and how it helped out during the recent World Cup.

Tags: FIFA World Cupâ„¢ Fan ParkInfrastructure as a service IaaSMahindra Satyam (www.mahindrasatyam.com/)Managed servicesSouth Africa
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Star player
By  Imthishan Giado Published  October 13, 2010

Imthishan Giado recently sat down with Manojeet Chowdhury, vice president and head of the Middle East and North Africa at managed services specialist Mahindra Satyam to talk about the firm’s work in the region – and how it helped out during the recent World Cup.

What kind of resources have you invested into the region?

In the Middle East, this is our 13th year.  We started off with an office in Dubai, which is our regional hub.  Today we have eight offices besides this one.

Each office typically starts off as a sales office. As you get orders, people move in, then we have project managers and programme managers. Primarily the model is that wherever we sign up a contract, we get resources from India, Egypt, China and Russia that come for the project, stay during the project, finish and go back.

There’s a lot of transient stuff. At any point of time, we have probably about 300-400 people in the Middle East region and a backup of another equivalent number of workers off shore – that means India based.

What kinds of implementations are your main drivers?

For us the largest is ERP solutions. We are ranked as leaders in ERP solutions. SAP and Oracle have been our mainstay here. We don’t own any products. ERP is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Every country has to do it. In Western countries, people have done it 20 years ago, but in this region, we’re still doing it. But all the larger companies have finished doing it. Now the second level ones are doing it, such as smaller companies and family owned firms.

For example, Al Rostamani Group is doing it now, they started last year. They’re reasonably large in Dubai but they haven’t done it yet. So in each country, there are such family owned companies which are involved in multiple businesses.

Once you finish installing ERP, you can start taking the benefits out of it – that’s where we can play a role in things like business intelligence, getting the data out of it for the managers to slice, dice and take a business decision. This is basically data, collecting all your transactions and storing it in one place. But then what do you do with it?

Many CIOs have complained about the rapid pace of consolidation currently in the industry. Do you think there is a lack of vendor choices now?

There’s definitely a lack of choice. But this concentration was bound to happen, because there are too many small brands. It was inevitable. A few years ago, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards, which were the number three and number four brands were bought by Oracle.

For us, one of the major challenges is to build competencies. We have something like 85 different alliances – but when we say alliances, I’m not saying we sell the licences. I mean that I am an implementation partner and develop different things based on that product. That means I have to invest – so every time I sign a partnership,  I build an equivalent competency inhouse.

Today Oracle’s buying newer companies – we have to build so many more additional competencies. They sell customers a whole spectrum of brands – so that may include Oracle, Siebel CRM, there is Hyperion and so on. The customer expects us to deliver on all of them.

A number of major Indian players have entered the market. How has this competition affected your business?

Wipro has also been out here for quite some time. Between us and Wipro, we have been out here for more or less the same amount of time. For the last two years we are seeing a lot of others coming into the market. In this building itself, we have three of our competitors! Either they’re on the same tier, or they’re one tier lower.

They’re moving in because the North American market was not giving enough business. The recession impacted there. People held back their budget, they didn’t take up new projects. It is happening here as well but relatively less because it’s still in the “necessity phase”.

We are facing a lot of price issues. Competition has become very heavy in that regard. We are also seeing newer competition from companies like Cognos and CapGemini, which are getting pretty aggressive.

But our value proposition doesn’t really change. We are still trying to capitalise on our strength that we have a customer base which will stand up and talk for us. We have made the investment here long term. That’s something the local companies prefer. Are you just coming in and trying to set up shop, or have you been here and done things? Will you be here after I finish my project? That’s what people want.

How did Mahindra Satyam first get involved with FIFA?

FIFA used to always buy IT systems every few years based on what’s available in the market. This is the first time they decided to build something on their own with a partner. Now they have decided to develop things and keep it scalable so that as they grow, it can also grow, be updated and upgraded every few years.

They needed a grown up solution. We worked for three years, with almost 300 people and spent close to a $100 million on the application development. We aren’t doing it just for this World Cup – the same thing is going to be used for Brazil also. And after that there will be upgrades and updates which require the solution to be scaled up.
Accreditation management is a major thing to get right – for the media, volunteers and so on. Every person at each location has to be accredited and given the right assets including laptops with the right programs loaded.

Secondly, the venue management – how are assets moving around at each statement? The third is transport management. There are so many car fleets moving around the location. Fourth is multilingual ticketing, which  is very important.

So it’s a complicated and realtime system. There are multiple things happening during the match which is recorded on the same system. We set up an IT command centre with a 100 people supporting everything.

What are the major challenges with these sporting events?

One of the main things is that it’s absolutely timebound so there are no chances of any delays. The dates of these matches are predecided several years in advance. You have to match that date – the project cannot be delayed.

Secondly, you have to simulate situations so that you are prepared if certain eventualities happen, you know how to take care of it. That requires a lot of vision to manage the system while the actual tournament is in progress.

Anything could go wrong and then hell could break loose! If the ticketing went wrong, everybody will be in a mess. What happens if tickets go to the wrong people? What happens if the team doesn’t reach the venue on time?

Is the system you have created proprietary to FIFA?

Everything that we develop for a customer is for them – the IP lies with them. We have no ambition to develop packages or products, but we have the knowledge so we could do it again.

As a result, we have launched a sports vertical, which is quite a niche. This will bring in the knowledge we gained from working with FIFA. It could be soccer, basketball, it could be any country which is bidding for the Olympics or the World Cup – we could partner with them.

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