Aftek Infosys: A company driven by change
Aftek has not just transformed itself from a
hardware-focused company to a software-focused one, but has also
leveraged its embedded software developmental skills to enhance
its client-base and the bottom line. Srikanth R P analyses the strategies
that make Aftek worthy of being called one of India's flag bearers
in the global products space
Though technology companies are admired
for their innovative products and technologies, only few manage
to survive and adapt to changing business scenarios.
|The strategy of tapping a large customer
base of quality clients rather than marketing a product on its
own has helped Aftek immensely, says Ranjit Dhuru
Mumbai-based Aftek Infosys is one such company,
which has managed to change with the times and fine-tune its strategies
vis-à-vis the marketplace. The metamorphosis is evident from
the companys new goal moving from being an affordable technology
player to one driven by change. From hardware, Aftek
has moved on to becoming a well-known player in the Indian products
space with strengths in embedded software.
The genesis of Afteks strengths in
the embedded space lies in its rich experience in hardware. Aftek
Infosys was set up in 1986 with the main focus on hardware. The
company started with distribution and servicing of computers and
microprocessor-based terminals. This fine-tuned the companys
expertise in the embedded software
space and Aftek soon found itself customising and developing embedded
software for a number of OEM players.
But the companys presence in the
embedded space was established when it developed a terminal controller
for NICs. Having maintained its focus on the embedded space, the
company is now positioning itself to play a big role in the wireless
and mobile space, which are big sectors for deployment of embedded
The focus on developing hardware-related
software continued till 1993, when the company decided to expand
its portfolio to include software services, and thus cut down on
its hardware exposure. But, this was not an easy task. Aftek not
only required a major change in the mindset of its employees but
needed funds for its new focus. During this time, the company approached
IDBI, which sanctioned Rs 1 crore to enable it to implement its
expansion plans. Afteks plans received a further boost when
its public issue in 1995 was oversubscribed. The next two years
were spent in building a reputable client base and developing its
own intellectual property. Afteks moment of reckoning came
when one of the bigger vendors in the software space, Computer Associates,
approached it to develop a UPS product, which could be integrated
with CAs Unicenter-TNG, an infrastructure management solution.
Aftek was chosen as it had already developed a domestic UPS monitoring
solution. As that product was in a rudimentary stage, CA gave Aftek
a detailed roadmap on how it could be adapted to make it suitable
for Unicenter-TNG. This turned out to be a milestone in the companys
Having been given the opportunity, Aftek
spent a lot of time researching how CAs Unicenter product
suite worked. This hard work paid off when Afteks product,
Powersafe, was chosen by CA to be integrated with Unicenter-TNG.
More bouquets were on the anvil when CA
decided to award a gold-certified ranking to the product. This made
Aftek the only company in the Asia-Pacific region to be awarded
such a certification. CAs selection of Afteks product
gave the latter tremendous mindshare in the enterprise space. Further,
it also increased the companys reach far more than any attempt
to market products on its own strengths could have done. CA holds
a large chunk of the enterprise network management market, with
the rest of the space being shared by players like IBM, HP and Novell.
CAs product, Unicenter-TNG, is installed by over 18,000 clients
across the globe. The integration of Powersafe with such a well-established
product turned fortunes around for Aftek.
As a Web-enabled product without similar
competition, Aftek had a winner in Powersafe. Furthermore, the IPR
for Powersafe is held by Aftek, and the company holds a non-exclusive
agreement with CA. This means that Aftek is free to enter into marketing
arrangements with other players like IBM or HP. Aftek has already
developed Powersafe for HPs Openview and efforts are on to
make Powersafe available on IBMs Tivoli.
After CAs selection of Powersafe,
Aftek discovered that a product that can complement other global
products would have better market potential. The success of Powersafe
proved just that. Rather than developing products and then marketing
them, the company began following a strategy to serve as a complement
to global product leaders.
Another product with exponential potential
from Afteks stable is Jadoogar, which enables the management
of diverse devices across enterprisewide networks. Explains Mahesh
Vaidya, CTO of Aftek Infosys, Billions of real-world devices
like sensors and controllers, vending machines, security and access
control systems, intelligent home and entertainment devices, office
and home industries have been deprived of the advantages of a centralised,
single-window management due to the disparate nature of their interfaces
and protocols. This is where Jadoogar fits in perfectly. It connects
all such devices to the backbone of
the enterprise management framework.
Jadoogar is based on an ARM/7 processor
running embedded Linux. On one side, it connects to various real-world
devices on a range of wired and wireless interfaces like RS232/422/485,
irDA, 802.11b and Bluetooth. On the other, it connects to other
Jadoogars and enterprise management frameworks like Unicenter-TNG,
Tivoli or Openview. Amongst the limitless applications of Jadoogar
are Personal Area Networks (PANs). Imagine a network of tens of
Jadoogars and Linux servers at a busy bus or railway station. Imagine
commuters carrying 802.11b or Bluetooth enabled handheld devices
with them. As soon as any such device comes in the vicinity of a
Jadoogar, commuters can download and run simple and complex collaborative
applications like arrival and departure timings, platform assignments,
reservations and even games.
Afteks strategy is a perfect example
of how a product company can continue to create high value products
by positioning itself uniquely. Says Ranjit Dhuru, CEO of Aftek,
Scalability at a global level is possible only through products.
And rapid scalability can be achieved through alliances and partnerships.
This unique strategy of ours, wherein we strike a deal with successful
companies, has paid off handsomely. Apart from the well known example
of CA, we have a number of other alliances too.
|Jadoogar connects devices with disparate
protocols and interfaces to the backbone of the enterprise management
framework, says mahesh vaidya
They are: Aether Systems (a market leader
in enterprisewide mobile computing), Gemplus (a leader in smart
card technologies and one of the largest smart card manufacturers)
and Verdicom (a leading player in the biometrics space). (See box:
Synergistic partnerships). This strategy of the company gives us
an opportunity to tap a large customer base of quality clients,
rather than market products on our own. This has resulted
in the company making huge gains. Not only does this strategy give
the company immense savings on the marketing front but also gives
it a chance to develop domain expertise in a wide range of verticals,
with a protected market. The alliance route has also given the company
a chance to offer its clients customised software services.
Having created a good referral base, the
next step was to move more aggressively towards the global market.
In line with this vision, the company incorporated Aftek Infosys
(US). This company will drive the companys product marketing
activities in the US. To strengthen its US subsidiary, Aftek has
enrolled Aftek USA as a TEN (The Enterprise Network) member.
TEN is a leading incubator and has been
set up with assistance from NASA. As an incubator, TEN has been
well known for promoting entrepreneurs and start-up companies. TEN
has been instrumental in providing facilities, mentoring, strategic
introductions to investors and essential support services. Being
a part of such a network gives Aftek the much needed guidance and
support it requires to crack foreign markets.
Further, till date Aftek Infosys was restricted
and could not go beyond the referral base given by CA. But with
the establishment of its US subsidiary, the company can aggressively
push Powersafe to CAs clients on its own too.
To further its growth, the company is evaluating a German firm for
acquisition, which not only has a strong presence in the knowledge
management (KM) space, but also has a good client base. The German
acquisition will reduce the companys dependence on the US
and give it a headstart in the European market.
The knowledge management space is huge.
Research firm IDC expects the KM market to grow from $6 billion
in 2002 to $12.9 billion by 2005. The company expects to fund its
acquisition through the global depository receipts (GDR) route.
The company is also eyeing the 3G space,
estimated to be worth $20 billion by 2005. Explains Vaidya, We
are looking at providing solutions for complete management of 3G
infrastructure, along with solutions for managing and deploying
To tap the global 3G market, Aftek is looking at entering a joint
venture with a company that has a good exposure in the area of wireless
and 3G, and has strong relationships with existing 3G mobile service
The success of Aftek Infosys is a reflection of timely changes in
its strategies. Indian product companies should follow suit if they
want to succeed in the global product space. Additionally, the companys
metamorphosis from a player in the hardware space, to a player known
for its cutting-edge products and unique marketing positioning is
an inspiring marketing lesson for Indias product-focused wannabes.
|Computer Associates, USA
Aether Systems, USA
| E-Business management
Smart card solutions
- 1986 - Incorporated by a group
of IT professionals
- 1987-92 - In-house R&D
delivers embedded products for UNIX servers in the domestic
- 1995 - Successful IPO, listing
on BSE and NSE
- Software development centre
- 1998 - Aftek Infosys (US)
Inc established in San Jose, California
- 2000 - Gold-certification
of Powersafe by Computer Associates
- 2001 - Achieved ca smart,
a Computer Associates seal of excellence