Over the years, the name Persistent
has aptly reflected the company’s stellar character but its value proposition transcends the database connotation, for the persistence of the company’s vision, mission and values is extremely nimble, guided by the ability to adapt to the changing dynamics and evolving paradigms of the software industry. The company has redefined Persistence - in the non-data context of industries and markets - as an unflinching commitment guided by purposeful perseverance. No wonder, it has rebuilt and sustained its competitive edge at every turning point of the industry’s evolution since its inception.
takes a closer look at the firm’s inimitable ethos, radical evolution and self-effacing evangelism in this tête-à-tête with Dr. Anand Deshpande, Founder & CEO, Persistent Systems.
How do you look back on your transformative journey till date?
I see the progression as a series of S-curve voyages wherein the predominant industry waves guide the business models till they are rendered invalid by the successive waves. Let me begin with our earliest and latest phases. Our first S-curve was all about sourcing work in a proven area but executing it from India. In fact, we didn’t need to deploy any of our developers in the US during the first 13 years of our operations. This was quite unusual, for the body shopping mode was the mainstay of most software development vendors at that time. Our founding team did coding and marketing simultaneously and contracts were won on personal circles of influence.
The whole scenario has undergone a sea change since then. In the current phase, the 4th
S, we are spread all over the globe and see our customers as partners in progress. We are proactively helping them become software-driven businesses to better respond to challenges and opportunities. We call our umbrella offering Software 4.0, inspired by the vision of Industry 4.0, which is about building software-driven businesses and managing software-driven things at speed. The term includes all tools and techniques to build, test and release software rapidly and reliably.
In the intermediary S-curve phases, several things happened in quick succession. The 200-01 dot com bust stunted market opportunities but our risk was minimal as we were a small set up, about 100 people in 1999 and 250 in 2002. By 2003, we zeroed in on product development as a conscious plan and our headcount grew 10-fold to about 2,500. The whole idea was to work in a niche space where it was easy to establish and communicate our edge compared to the teeming market of custom service providers where there was little scope to distinguish one’s capabilities. In 2007, we identified Cloud, Mobility, Analytics and Collaboration as our focus areas, much before industry research analysts and CIOs earmarked them as priorities. By 2008, we had carved a niche in the OPD space and our agile methodologies enhanced our delivery capabilities and growth prospects in the same breath. Since 2011, we began acquiring “end of life” products from other companies.
It’s pertinent to share my experience during the economic slowdown period in 2009. During this lull phase, I met scores of CEOs for capturing their industry bytes. I concluded that most of them – and this generally holds true for any geography – have a few defining traits in common. One, they have limited bandwidth and hence they like to see only high-priority items on their plates, while depending on others for managing the rest end-to-end. If they are convinced of your fidelity on this count as much as your competence, they are more than happy to engage with you. The whole case for outsourcing stems from this rationale, not from cost consciousness as many incorrectly believe.
Two, these guys are revenue-oriented, not cost-focused. This means they instinctively like any revenue-centric ideation, like for instance how tech enablement could enhance the marketability of their products or help make breakthroughs in new geographies. Several of our engagements at premium price points have been the outcomes of such deep conversations which have made trust the driving force of the ensuing relationships.
Three, they are unflinchingly customer-centric and firm believers in the collaborative power of eco systems. If they can’t address a business need of their customers, they have no qualms about partnering with credible vendors who can bridge the given gap. This has helped shape my own thinking in that I now proactively ask my customers about their market plans and propositions to explore how tech could help achieve them. And if we can’t address the given need, I recommend partners from our value chain who can fulfil the need, either independently or collaboratively.
Coming back to the ongoing 4th S-curve, how is Persistent geared for the new opportunities?
Thanks to our IBM Watson alliance and the ways in which we have fine-tuned our enterprise digital transformation offerings, we are confident of capitalising on the dramatic shifts and dynamic opportunities of an impending era where connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) will rule the roost. Leveraging the sophisticated Watson analytics, our continuous lifecycle management product suite will help customers with performance optimization of their devices in the context of umpteen other ‘things’ in the field. Imagine things reconfiguring themselves, monitoring and sharing parameters with the global cloud in real time. We are truly excited to be an integral part of this landmark revolution, set to change the way systems are manufactured, operated and distributed. Our digital foray is focused on healthcare, financial services and industrial IoT where we have made good progress already.
So, the 4th S-curve is influencing the way software is made and perceived?
Absolutely. First and foremost, there has been a substantial effort shrinkage over time. On the cloud, you build a lot more with less people - what with abundance of development platforms, ease of code branching and merging, availability of numerous testing and staging servers and agile-friendly environments suited for continuous integration and delivery. Release is also no longer the ceremonial event that it once was, given the frequency of software updates in response to user feedback and market demands. On the cloud, every progression builds on the previous one and demands a shift in current processes. But it also ensures value creation up to an order of magnitude larger than the previous one. Several enterprises across verticals are now regularly testing software that is built and deployed in days and evolved on demand.
So, development builds must happen with optimal periodicity aimed at iterative enhancements to keep pace with the user’s market place advancements and developments. The emphasis is on task-centric applications and experiences made wholesome through data collated and curated from disparate sources. We need to offer smart windows of actionable insights to the customer with lot of on-the-go options that can be triggered from the ubiquitous smart phone.
Are we talking of microservices and polyglot persistence?
Yes, but we don’t endorse the jargon-heavy nomenclature. The word Microservices is a misnomer, we prefer to call them API-centric architectures. In a consumerized IT universe, APIs connect, convey and create value for applications and thereby enrich the entire value-chain of vendors, clients, alliance partners and end-users. No wonder, modern software applications trust APIs left, right and centre – whether to connect to clients on the front-end, integrate with internal systems at the back-end, talk to other applications on the sides, or even to form themselves by binding constituent component services. The conventions of RESTful design and JSON-based data facilitate API development, and widespread mobile clients demand it. Open APIs have proved game changers for building contextually intelligent and universally compatible applications in this IoT era. As far as the reality of disparate data sources is concerned, we rely on data lakes for creating single stores for analytical use, which go hand in hand with API-centric architectures and DevOps environments.
You have been stressing on the need to think Y-o-Y rather than Q-o-Q on the revenue front?
This is not a Persistent issue alone; the undeniable fact is that the T & M space is under pressure. Given the effort shrinkage, effort-based billings have suffered. We knew this was coming and hence proactively shifted our focus on IP and digital. Having said that, the shift can’t bypass the cyclical impact. So, for a meaningful picture, it’s imperative to look at Y-o-Y figures, more so in the context of our IBM alliance.
Would it be right to say that the success of Persistent’s solution-centric customer engagements post the reorganization drive squarely hinges on the reskilling, innovative & collaborative capability of its teams – both development and support?
Beyond a doubt. We need to achieve a massive and incisive orchestration of organization-wide efficiencies where sales and delivery would go hand in hand to do justice to the end-to-end relationships in all our differentiated projects. The norms that applied to the cost dynamic don’t work for the value dynamic. The pain point here is that people don’t proactively take on newer roles. Comfort zones are hard to explode, and there’s no ready-to-deploy mechanism to teach people the elementary truth that a thinking mind is not an option at work. As I mentioned earlier, computing work is less and less about conventional human intervention. While this reality does impact the headcount in a big way, other opportunities emerge where human insights and dexterity in design and development make a big difference.
We are setting up vibrant teams on both sides - sales and delivery – who breathe the essence of product development and customer centricity to fully justify the premium price tags to the customer, especially given the competition from low-cost providers claiming similar value props. Over time, we are confident of creating and institutionalizing a business operating model where product development happens in real-quick time and in cost-effective fashion.
From time to time, most of your predictions have come true, with several research and advisory firms claiming stakes to the honour? How you do face this reality?
I take it very positively, there is no greater joy than hearing your own prophecies echoed back to you. And the furious circulation of our insights help our cause. The market becomes more aware on the critical paradigms; compelling business needs are better articulated at the customer’s end and we get ample opportunities to prove our design and delivery edge in the new scheme of things.