India’s software industry is reaching its adolescence and facing challenges from several directions. While the main appeal of quality and low-cost service remains in place, price does not remain the only issue now. Customers are demanding more sophisticated services from their Indian outsourcers.

At the same time multinational competitors like IBM and Accenture have been nipping at their heels. With easy gains becoming a thing of past for the software organizations here Debashish Chakrabarty talked to Avinash Sethi, co-founder of Indore based software firm Infobeans to know the challenges a middle-sized company based at MP faces.

An Electrical Engineer from SGSITS, Indore Avinash began his stint with Tata Consultancy Services as a trainee. In 1998 he joined Intel Corporation, Oregon. The very next year he returned to Indore and launched e-Infotech along with his friends Mitesh Vohra and Siddarth Sethi, fulfilling the dream of building a software services organization of their own. In the year 2000 e-infotech was re-introduced as Infobeans.

Tell us in brief about Infobeans and its products. How would you classify the products and services?

Avinash Sethi

Avinash Sethi

InfoBeans is a dream conceived by 3 young enthusiastic entrepreneurs during their college time. We are a web-based solutions provider catering to the corporate needs of Fortune 500 companies.

It took shape in the US, where all of us were working there and wanted to do something together for Indore and at Indore. While working for our respective companies in the US, we started AaapkaIndore.com, a web portal dedicated to Indorians all over the world. Since its inception this e-Commerce portal has been immensely popular with the NRI community and helps them in staying connected with the pulse of Indore. Our other products include QGen, a questions paper generator software and RMS – a resource management system aimed at small and medium corporate.

As of now, Mitesh is taking care of all business development activities of InfoBeans in the US while Siddartha came back to Indore in 2002 to help the company get on the fast track.

What technologies is Infobeans currently working on? Is it easy to find trained manpower in these areas?

We have been working on varied technologies involving .Net Framework, J2EE and XML technologies for client server and web applications as well as Windows CE and Blue-tooth environment for wireless applications. It is certainly not easy to find right candidates in above skills in Indore. Recently we had to hire candidates from Hyderabad, Chennai, and Mumbai in order to meet our growing needs.

As a long term solution to this scarcity of quality manpower we are planning to offer training focused on industry needs. This would be open for everyone who is interested in learning from experts in the trade. This is based on our belief that the skills that our company has gathered over the years should be shared with budding software engineers of the city. Our training programs would assist them in getting acquainted with the real world problems in the software engineering space.

Talking of your portal, how do you evaluate the challenges in terms of the size of Internet advertising market in India and bandwidth issues?

At aapkaindore.com we learnt to face the challenges of constantly changing customer requirements and maintain ease of use with increasing complexity while keeping the security implementation in mind. Internet Advertising is not that significant in India owing to the low Internet usage. Internet does not come that cheap and at the same time it is hopelessly slow. Bandwidth thus would be the next step in Internet revolution in India. Ample bandwidth is a must if one intends to meet the growing needs of users.

Performance of most of the IT companies last year, including the top players like Infosys, was insipid if not dismal. How tough is it for medium sized companies like yours to survive in these turbulent waters?

It is equally tough. A distinct edge that we have over large corporations is that we can address changing client requirements quickly and efficiently. Our customers work with us because we are always there to help them in their hour of need.

Many domestic software players have got into the business process outsourcing domain, does InfoBeans have any plans to follow suit?

Yes we have plans to venture into BPO. We shall float a separate division as it’s a different business altogether.

What sets InfoBeans apart from its competitors?

Our vision – Customer’s success defines our success. We want to go beyond just customer satisfaction. We want to help our customers succeed in achieving their goals.

Your marketing base is in US while the workforce is based here in Indore. So how does the information flow in terms of data and material happen?

Internet! It is such a wonderful channel for information flow. In case of urgency the telephone is always there. Visits to the US are also required for requirements gathering, client interaction, and product deployment.

What advantages and disadvantages does Indore have for a software development company?

Talking of advantages I might include a peaceful and friendly social environment, low cost of living and a good telecom infrastructure. Among disadvantages – scarcity of trained manpower, poor power infrastructure and lack of IT initiatives both from Government and local IT forums.

How do you compare the IT initiatives of MP Government to those of other state governments say Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka? What are your expectations?

Nothing compared to what you see in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Indore can become a IT hub. To do that, the government must market MP as THE IT destination while providing uninterrupted power supply, direct transport connectivity with major IT cities in India and by building state of the art IT park.

Tell us something about your growth plans, investments proposed and any interesting upcoming project.

We have identified three areas of growth for InfoBeans for next 2 years: Software services, BPO and IT Training. Presently we are working on a Conference Management Tool for Deutsche Bank. It is going to be used in huge conferences hosted by Deutsche Bank around the world.

Lastly, your comments on the current Indian IT scenario.

I’m positive about the overall IT scenario. India plays a significant role in global IT outsourcing and would continue to do that for decades to come. Post 9/11, IT spending was adversely affected. Today, almost two years later, both global and US economy seems to be back on track. Companies are looking at IT as a growth driver and IT spending is again looked at as a wise investment.

BPO is the next big thing that is catching up fast in India. That is another IT opportunity that would generate employment for millions of college going crowd. In cities like Bangalore and Mumbai a graduate in any stream gets to the tune of 10-15k per month as starting salaries in call centers. No other industry can offer this kind of salaries and glamour to a non-professional graduate.

[This interview appeared under the column “Digital Speak” in the newspaper Free Press Journal, Indore edition dated 14 July 2003]