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LINUX For You magazine covers InfoAxon for success achieved in delivering open source solutions to businesses globally
Players | Case Study ________________________________________________________________________________________________ Team InfoAxon ‘Platforming’: A Unique Formula for Lasting Business Partnerships Noida headquartered InfoAxon Technologies erases all doubts around the profitability of an open source business. It uses the ‘platforming’ approach to cement long lasting relationships with its customers. I nfoAxon Technologies have a profitable business model. However, began business focusing on that was not because you couldn’t have one, but proprietary technology back because most of those selling open source and in 2001. But it soon took the benefiting from it got fixated to the ‘free’ aspect plunge into the open source world within a year. of open source. They discounted the crucial InfoAxon has grown steadily from Rs 20 values of open source technology like choice, million in 2003 to Rs 50 million in 2009, and flexibility and innovation. Thus, they soon hit a is expected to clock revenues of Rs 100 million dead end on the business road. For companies this fiscal. Along the way, it has grown from like ours, which saw open source technology a four-member team to an 80-strong army, as a development model and participated in comprising open source architects, platform and augmented the collaborative work of the designers, open source evangelists and open community, the business model automatically source developers. Armed with open source, happened alongside,” says Shubham Nagar, it has won over customers in the UK, South chief executive officer, InfoAxon Technologies. Africa and India. The story of InfoAxon Technologies speaks The open road volumes for the profitability of an open source Four friends, with a mix of technical, financial business. “It is true that initially most businesses and marketing skills, set up InfoAxon jumping onto the open source bandwagon didn’t Technologies in 2001. Post the dot com bust,100 | october 2010 | LINUX For YoU | www.LinuxForU.com
______________________________________________________________________________________________________ Case Study | Playersthey saw tremendous scope in the‘offshore outsourcing model’ to helpglobal companies reduce time to marketand address the skill gap in developingsoftware solutions. They also foundedInfoAxon Technologies UK (a 100per cent subsidiary of InfoAxonTechnologies), and began softwaredevelopment using .NET technology forclients like Virgin Media. Shubham Nagar, chief executiveWithin a year, things began to work officer, InfoAxon Technologies.well for InfoAxon, which was lookingat creating a niche for itself within the The early setbackssoftware development market. “We had However, despite an easy start, sellingexisting customers inviting us to a huge open source at a time when awarenessopportunity emerging in the UK public levels were low wasn’t easy. InfoAxonsector. One of our initial customers – had to battle mindset issues at a timethe London borough of Camden – was when proprietary software was the deinvolved in a project funded by the facto choice. “The initial sales cyclesOffice of the Deputy Prime Minister were very long. We had to dedicate(ODPM), which was working towards substantial time in presentations tomaking all government services explain what open source was, as mostavailable online through a series of customers didn’t understand the model.projects named the ‘Pathfinder’ projects. Thereafter, a lot of information exchangeTo make that happen, local authorities needed to be done to ensure the clientin UK needed a content management remained convinced. Thus, we spent(CMS) and knowledge management a lot of time and energy in pre-salessolution (KMS). No proprietary solution legwork. Despite that, many a time, itfitting the exact need for ODPM projects wouldn’t convert into engagements,”was available to the public sector back recalls Vineet Dahiya, co-founderthen. They had two options – to either and director, InfoAxon Technologies.customise a proprietary solution or go “However, this is changing rapidly now,for open source technology. Realising as there are proven open source successthat the former carried the risk of vendor stories in almost every field of IT and thelock-in, the deputy PM’s office decided industry verticals. Now, there is less opento support the open source project, source evangelism required during ourAPLAWS (Accessible Personalised discussions with customers. Instead, theyLocal Authority Web Sites - http://www. straight away engage us in understandingaplaws.org.uk). The London borough of the value we provide to them usingCamden, Red Hat and InfoAxon were open source as a model for innovation.involved in the project from the start. This suits us completely, as we haveThis marked the beginning of our open a wealth of open source expertise andsource voyage,” says Nagar. experience and are able to demonstrate InfoAxon focused on the core our value quite early on, leading to quickarchitecture of the APLAWS platform and engagements,” adds Dahiya.some of its key contributions includedthe form builder; the ability to go to the Charting out a new route tomain CMS and create dynamic forms; successplug-ins for HTML, news feeds and RSS The strategy of selling a ‘completefeeds; a design of the front end CMS solution’ rather than open source, perlayer, etc, which were all path breaking se; of looking at every customer asat that time. This is also when InfoAxon, a stream of opportunities/ revenue;as a company, became entirely convinced and using existing customers as doorsabout the open source business model. to reach out to new clients, helped www.LinuxForU.com | LINUX For YoU | october 2010 | 101
Players | Case Study ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ which is a ‘collaborative content management platform’ that Understanding the opportunities in the can be used to create content-centric collaboration solutions open source world that help organisations address the challenge of knowledge Open source is the way to go for any budding entrepreneur, feels sharing. It combines collaboration and social capabilities Nagar. “Apart from reducing your costs, the flexibility proposition with back-end enterprise content management capabilities to and its ability to create a wholesome platform is eye catching provide end-to-end content and collaboration functionality. for any budding entrepreneur,” says Nagar. While e-commerce “FusionKM” is another workflow enabled social network- and CMS are segments worth considering, sectors like financial based knowledge management platform that provides institutions, the public sector and retail hold huge opportunities infrastructure and a robust design by which new services for entrepreneurs into open source technology. However, here is a could be built into the solution. InfoAxon is also involved word of caution! “Take time to understand open source for what it is. If you are working on only open source, don’t promote the free in developing large scale knowledge management platforms argument alone. Look at what open source is, as a whole. Always with integrated business intelligence for the international focus on the flexibility, choice and innovation argument of open development sector. source to sell and win over customers. Lastly, be a part of the open source ecosystem and contribute back to the community,” Is ‘platforming’ a viable business model? advises Nagar. With platforming currently contributing nearly 70 per cent to InfoAxon’s revenue stream, there is no doubt about itsInfoAxon win new business over the years. “We realised very profitability. “The business model around platforming isearly on that we would be taking a great risk if we focused on a unique one. As open source began maturing, the costcustomising open source rather than on what the technology proposition took a back seat and the flexibility and innovationcan do. Thus, we focused on selling a ‘complete solution’, edge it provides came to the forefront. In such a situation,which were our ‘platforms’ to the customer. Alongside, we the customer wanted someone who could cement manyused our existing assignments like the APLAWS project to open source tools together for them to avail the wholesomereach out to new customers like the European arm of UNDP, benefits of open source. This is where we came in withIndian Air Force etc. In a nutshell, our platforming focus soon our ‘platforming packages’, which was the first revenuefell in sync with our business model and value proposition,” stream for us. Thereafter, we worked on enhancements forsays Nagar. the platforms, adding satellite modules/applications. This Dahiya adds: “After the APLAWS experience, we realised triggered an additional revenue stream for us in the long run.the opportunity in the public sector and the international We also provided maintenance and support of the wholedevelopment arena, and decided to focus on these sectors. We platform, which soon became a significant revenue offshootalso kept preaching to the already convinced, like those in the from our platforming solutions. Thus, our platformingbanking and finance sector, who were on the constant lookout approach resulted in long lasting relationships with customers,for newer technologies and were already bowled over by the with many continuing with us for nearly five to six years andopen source idea.” more,” explains Nagar. Today, InfoAxon has several customers of theirPlatforming – the trump card for InfoAxon platforming solutions who have been with them for over five‘Solution platforms’, also called platforming, wherein years. Home Connections, which is a service provider ofvarious open source tools/platforms were integrated into one Choice Based Letting (CBL) services (in the social housingsolution, was the USP and key differentiator for InfoAxon. domain) to local authority partners and housing associations“Our experience has taught us that most organisations, which in the UK, is one of them. Starting with providing a CBLhave realised the value of open source or are in the process platform powered by open source technologies, InfoAxonof realising it, don’t want to implement select open source soon found yet another opportunity to add modules liketools as a quick fix solution, or if they do, they realise quickly housing registers, implement an interface with digitalthat they are on the wrong track. They want to integrate a TV where people could bid for affordable housing usingwhole lot of open source technologies and create a unique their interactive TV interfaces, etc. Another instance ofplatform for their needs within their own domain. We provide platforming leading to new opportunities for InfoAxon wasthem such platforms around knowledge management (KM), with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),business intelligence (BI) and content management systems for whom the firm had developed a KMS platform. The(CMS) with a vision to provide so much more in the future relationship continued to grow, when UNDP approachedand to do so in diverse domains,” says Nagar. InfoAxon to add features like allowing the other initiatives Since these platforms could be extended to develop to search content within UNDP using this platform. So wassolutions for different domains/ markets, they hold the the case of the South African government whose associationpromise of reducing the overall time to market for customers. with InfoAxon began with a social networking platform forOne of the firm’s noteworthy platforms is “AxonShare”, aid management and thereafter, it chose InfoAxon again to102 | october 2010 | LINUX For YoU | www.LinuxForU.com
______________________________________________________________________________________________________ Case Study | Playerstransform the same solution into an aid effectiveness and source customisation can lead to. “We also provide customgrant management platform. development services but use it more as a tactic to lead the InfoAxon’s Indian experience was equally successful. client to the larger platforming package. And, we have wonHDFC Bank was one of its first customers in India. InfoAxon numerous clients with this strategy. For instance, we recentlyhelped it move non-core banking applications running on provided a customised e-learning solution for one of ourvarious technologies onto a single platform, created using Red UK customers. Now we are in talks with them to provideHat, JBoss, etc. Other Indian clients soon followed–Yes Bank, a knowledge repository attracting them to our platformingthe Indian Air Force, UNDP India, Castrol, Filex India, etc. solution,” says Dahiya. Today, the revenue generated fromSuch long-standing relationships arising out of platforming custom development is 15 per cent.gave InfoAxon a commercially viable business model. Scouting around for new opportunitiesSupport and maintenance Looking ahead, sector-specific platforms and training are newThe platforming model also gave rise to revenue opportunities pastures InfoAxon wishes to explore. “Based on our experience,from maintenance and support. InfoAxon has an OSS support/ we see a dearth of skilled resources. Most companies likebusiness continuity support centre that contributes 15 per us rely on home-grown talent. We are considering creating acent of its business. “We provide support services for our training arm within our business to induct and train talent on ourcore platforms and also are support partners for Red Hat, platforming solutions. Alongside, we are looking at knowledgeEnterprise DB, Pentaho, etc. About 80 per cent of our support intensive sectors like retail, pharma, media, advertising andservices revenue comes from supporting our own platforms,” manufacturing. We might work on more sector-specificsays Nagar. platforms to address the rising knowledge and content concerns of these sectors,” says Nagar.Custom developmentWhile platforming is a reliable revenue generator for By: Vanisha JosephInfoAxon, it’s the company’s custom development expertise The author loves to experiment, and writing for LINUX For You is her latest experiment—so beware! Just a minute, she alsothat won over people into those long lasting platforming happens to be a journalist during the day.partnerships. This amply demonstrates where a simple open www.LinuxForU.com | LINUX For YoU | october 2010 | 103