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Utah – providing a great ecosystem for the technology companies October 29, 2008

Posted by Arup Deb in Best places.
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Silicon Valley in California, USA may have competitors among the likes of Bengaluru (Bangalore) in India or Hefei in China, which aspires to be the country’s Silicon Valley by 2020, but one place that can rightfully claim to be a major competitor to the Silicon Valley area is the Utah State in the Mountain Region of United States of America. In fact the State is exclusive in so many ways that it should rightfully have its own identity, rather than borrowing one from the Silicon Valley. How about Silicon Heights for a change. I feel that may be the appropriate one, because of the high & mighty mountains that Utah State is partly made up of.

The State is a hotbed of technology startups promoted by people in their twenties and thirties and in some cases seventeen and eighteen year olds starting-up their own ventures. And, professional Angel and VC funds are funding them open heartedly. That is the spirit of this place. Some of the prominent VCs operating out of Utah are vSpring Capital, UV Partners, Wasatch Venture Fund (renamed as EPIC Ventures), Cougar Capital at the Brigham Young University and several others. There is a beautiful interconnection between the investor community and the entrepreneurs. This synergy has worked well in the past and it seems that it would work well, now too. However, it is important to know that the Government out here, too takes deep interest in spreading the entrepreneurship culture and one of the most visible examples of government initiative is the Utah Fund of Funds (UtahFoF) of which several seed, early, growth stage and PE funds like Sorenson Capital, vSpring Capital, UV Partners, Wasatch Venture Fund, are members. UtahFoF does not invest directly into business ventures, but invests in Venture Capital and PE Funds, who in turn are commited to invest in Utah based businesses and hand hold them.

Utah has a solid past of nurturing budding technology businesses and growing them into successful enterprises, especially in the Information Technology and Life Sciences domains. Some of the respected names include Novell, WordPerfect and others. Novell, which has  one of its key facilities based out of Provo in Utah, in its hey days acted as a major catalyst for making the spirit of entrepreneurship soar to new highs, as more and more technology professionals starting off with their own ventures in the Utah Valley area. Some of the notable names which Novell can rightfully claim to be their offshoots, though not in the literal sense, include Agilix Labs a global leader in mobile learning solutions; My Familiy.com (renamed as The Generations Network) the world’s largest genealogical site, which also happens to be one of the most successful online subscription ventures; Ancestry.com (part of The Generations Network) the name search system; the EMR solutions company CorEMR; then there are innovative firms like MediaForge and several others. The founders of many of these ventures had polished up their skills with Novell on cutting edge technologies at some point of time or the other. I personally got to work with several technology start-ups and established players in the Utah Valley and helped them into transitioning some of their development and product re-engineering work into India. And, I found the companies and the people to be of exceptional competence and professionalism, and absolutely down-to-earth.

The Salt Lake City skyline with Wasatch Mountains in the back drop

The Salt Lake City skyline with Wasatch Mountains in the back drop

Some of the notable names creating waves in the Utah technology space include, FatPipe Networks, Infopia, Q Therapeutics, Control4, all from the Salt Lake City area, the Logan based Ingeo Systems, Orem based Omniture, NetDocuments and Bungee Labs, the PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) company (Bungee is a great story and I would like to delve more into their business model and the cost effective development & hosting platform that they are providing. So, I would be doing a post very soon on this new business sensation). Symbiot from Draper, the Sandy headquartered S5 Wireless & Venafi, South Jordan based MediConnect Global. Actually, the list is end-less as technology businesses are growing by the day.

Several notable personalities from the technology space either have their alma mater here or invented world changing ideas or else honed their skills in one of the technology organizations here. Well known figures include,  Dr. Ed Catmull co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, who is a product of the University of Utah. He has to his credit an Oscar, a Coons and three Scientific and Technical Engineering Awards. WordPerfect the modern word processor was developed by Alan C. Ashton and Bruce Bastion promoted Satellite Software International based out of Orem, Utah that was renamed as WordPerfect Corporation. 

Utah is a great place to live, work, study and play. The state provides a solid educational opportunity to the people, which acts as the co-catalyst in the State’s quest to stay in the fore-front of entrepreneurship. The 133 year old Brigham Young University is the epitome of a great knowledge experience that it provides to its pupils, which in my opinion is aiding into the steady flow of new business enterprises in general and technology ventures in particular. A good example of the commercialization of research, through close collaboration between Utah’s technology companies and universities, is the labs to market endeavor of the Utah Government, known as Utah Science Technology and Research economic development initiative or USTAR, of which The University of Utah and Utah State University are key partners.

Brigham Young University in Provo, the epitome of a great knowledge experience

Brigham Young University in Provo, the epitome of a great knowledge experience

Utah towns and cities are well planned, not that other regions in the USA are not good, but Utah is something different. The place is a complete package in itself.  Those who are looking for making new investments in housing or commercial can get good options out here. The state is well connected through an extensive highway network and domestic & international flights operating out of its largest airport system based out of Salt Lake City, the capital of the State.

Tourists, both domestic as well as foreign, have plenty of things to see and do. With its lofty snow clad mountains with neat and clean slopes, it can be a skiers’ delight. People flock to the mountains out here, to ski to their hearts’ desire. Utah has over 12 ski resorts. I would like to make a special mention of the Temple Square in down town Salt Lake City, which should be a must see and my suggestion is that do spend some quality time at this place. Other must visits include the Dinosaur National Monument, Timpanogos Caves, Monument Valley bordering with Arizona, Deer Valley Resort, Calf Creek Falls, Lake Powell. Utah has some of the best national parks in the world, five in number; the Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Zion National Park.

The majestic Temple at downtown Salt Lake City

The majestic Temple at downtown Salt Lake City

I feel that there are very few places that can match the pull of Utah. Factors like a huge human talent pool, conducive weather, a pro-active Government, world class infrastructure, high-quality education/training facilities, lower cost of entry, high class recreation facilities, sound social fabric, dynamic investor community, Utahns’ spirit for entrepreneurship, have collectively been responsible for the state’s emergence as an area of excellence. Due to the highly suitable ecosystem that exists here, budding entrepreneurs and established companies, specially from the technology space seem to be having a very high probability of sustaining their ventures and moving over to the next levels with greater ease.

The amazing Canyonlands by the Colorado River and its tributaries

The amazing Canyonlands by the Colorado River and its tributaries

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Beat the slowdown blues, through efficient customer service October 20, 2008

Posted by Arup Deb in Marketing & Sales.
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Sounds absurd, is’nt it? But, what if I say that rather than anything else, it may be very much a necessity, to sustain in the impending slow down. How many organizations have even given a thought into this regard? I have a very strong point to prove it.

Recently, I had gone through a tough time in retrieving a copy of my health policy that I had bought from an insurance company that supposedly has a high pedigree. I had made numerous calls to their call centre for the resolution to my problem, however every time the promises made were blatantly violated, caring the least for the customer. Even email messages went unacknowledged and eventually the one reply that I got, made no effort in resolving the issue. A company that belongs to one of the biggest business groups in India and its founder, who figures among the top 10 richest persons in the world, can have such pathetic customer service approach. And, even then people flock to their offices for doing business with them and make them even wealthier. But, not any more. In the tough economic scenario, there would still be lots and lots of business opportunities, but unfortunately it will be restricted to only those entities, who can treat their customers with dignity and provide efficient service.

Going forward, with my case, I had to write a strong mail to the President & CEO of the company, literally asking him to rise up to the challenge of proving that his organization is not as bad in providing customer service, as his people down below him, have made it to be. The saving grace was that the CEO’s office swung into action on the very same day and the soft copy of the policy was served to me through mail. The chief executive probably understood the importance of good customer service and probably also cared for the image of the company. Hence, the quick response.

Well, organizations have been investing tons of money to implement enterprise wide solutions for, automating the functional areas and lot of them are also investing heavily on state-of-the-art CRM solutions, but how many companies have integrated these systems with their respective corporate objectives, in true sense. It seems for many companies it becomes more of a routine rigmarole, rather than a sincere endeavour for bringing efficiency, into the way the end customer is served. Companies may be wying with each other to offer best experiences to their customers, by way of value offers, discounts, loyalty bonuses and what not, but seriously speaking all that would go in vain if they are not able to do the basic things for their customers. The employees across the board need to be sensitized, about the importance of good customer service and the benefits that the resultant customer delight can bring to the organization. After all happy customers would ensure smooth sailing for a business for all times to come.

IT hit by global financial turmoil – What is in store now? October 11, 2008

Posted by Arup Deb in Techbytes.
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Because of the current global financial crisis, the last few months or rather few weeks have been pretty bad for, the entire world in general, and the IT industry in particular. Contracts are getting on to the hold mode and in several instances, being scrapped altogether. The small and mid-sized companies are particularly a hassled lot. Large companies too, may have been impacted but they have the resilience to face the rough tides. From the Indian context, companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Satyam and others of their stature had realised the importance of marketing, in the very initial stages of their business. Their technological prowess coupled with the market reach and high visibility, will see them through the bad times. However, they would certainly have to re-invent themselves, in order to face the new world that would emerge after the clean-up act currently underway, in the world of finance.  

The real challenge would certainly be for the small and mid-sized ones. Firms that have got niche products or services, are the ones that would see greater opportunities unfurling for their offerings. They would experience steady growth for themselves without much difficulty.

Companies like Zenith Infotech Limited, which is into the Managed Service Infrastructure and Business Continuity space or for that matter, companies like Allied Digital Services Limited, who are present in the IT Infrastructure Management & Information Security Services space, are the companies that would be able to weather the current global financial turmoil, with much ease. These are the companies that have a very bright future. Businesses like them, would also see very little competition creeping in, because of the very nature of their business, which needs great amount of persuasion to make the client repose trust. And, the high cost of building up a new business in this space, from scratch, would certainly act as the entry barrier. And, what about the brand equity that needs to be built. So, it is not only the cost that can act as a detriment, but also the time that new players in the space, would need to spend, on growing up the visibility about their organizations. These companies have already done it and what they need to do now, is to spread their wings into geographies they are not present in and also increase their advertising spends, to have a sustainable impact among the target markets.

The smaller IT players, specially those in the IT Services offshoring space, should sit up and look at innovative ways of sustaining themselves. These outfits should stop treating their competitors as enemies and rather put some co-ordinated efforts in running their businesses. One of the possible strategy could be, to have a common order pool, developed through a common marketing organization, jointly owned by these small firms. They can have a common umbrella brand, under which they can sell their services, thus gaining significantly on the cost front and also leverage the enhanced power, to penetrate client accounts.

So all is not over for the IT players of the world. What is needed is loads of innovative thinking & action and the world can be your’s.