in this episode
Sometimes, the best way to connect is by ‘breaking’. That’s right! In this episode of the Next Big Think!, Sundeep Ravande, the CEO of TCS COIN™ startup Innovapptive, unveils the magic of breaking silos and how it paves the way for collaboration and enhanced productivity. The podcast captures the concept of a ‘connected worker’ and explores how Innovapptive ensures worker safety, while helping customers improve their SG&A (Selling General and Administrative Expenses) and revenue per employee metrics.
Sundeep believes the future belongs to no-code, low-code, which eliminates the need for coding and enables customers to customize solutions as needed. He envisions a tomorrow in which more and more specialized players come together to form an ecosystem and take on different challenges in the connected worker sector.
Listen in to know how the mobile solution of tomorrow is bridging the gap between the various components of organizations and fueling innovation and collaboration. Click ‘play’ now.
Kevin Benedict: Greetings, everyone. I want to welcome you to the podcast today. Our guest today is Sundeep Ravande. He is the CEO and Co-founder of Innovapptive. Thank you for joining us today, Sundeep.
Sundeep Ravande: Thanks, Kevin. And it's an honor being on the podcast with you.
Kevin Benedict: So, you have worked for big companies, you've worked for startups, let's talk about as a very first thing here - what are the best and worst parts of working for a big company and a startup?
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, great question. Kevin, you know, you see my profile and my background, you know, spent a lot of time with companies like IBM, you know, did a lot of work with Accenture and SAP themselves. What I really like about the large companies is the structure, the scale that they have achieved, and how they're able to operate with thousands of employees with different geographies in a structured process. And being able to, you know, scale that out with additional thousands and thousands of employees was a great learning experience, from… from a big company experience. On the contrary, on the startup world, I think it's exactly the opposite. I think there is no structure. In fact, you know, you can make decisions on the fly, things move much faster. You're open to, you know, creations, innovations, that you want to come up to the table, and you can make quick decisions to put them into action. But both of them have their pros and cons. If you think of it like the structure and process bring scale. And the, the small company in being able to be extremely nimble, agile, as Amazon calls it their ‘day one every day’ is about fast execution. But that can sometimes turn into a scaling problem, which, you know, we can certainly talk about it through this conversation. So, I believe that big companies bring great structure, process, great hierarchies in place that allows for organizations to scale, startups bring innovation, bring nimble, agile, and when you can combine those two is when you build a generational company together?
Kevin Benedict: Absolutely. So, you've chosen a small company, you must see some advantages there.
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, I think, you know, when I, when you say, chose a small company, I think I was the only employee when I founded this company. And now we are roughly about 200 plus employees worldwide. By the end of this year, we're adding 50 additional headcount. So, we should be closing to that 250-300 mark. Now, but in terms of choosing to do, what we did, and get to this point, is really about wanting to make a meaningful change in what we do as a company. And our focus as a business is to improve the working life of frontline workers. And as I researched the space while I was at IBM, it was very interesting to find out that while we were pitching all the digital transformation projects for our customers, you know, when I went out to the field to talk to do right along with the field worker, everyone was operating on paper, right from finding a job to executing a job. Everyone was on paper, and I was part of this digital transformation project. And that… that led me to, you know, do some more research, Kevin around, why is that the case? Right? You know, why are we pitching $10, $20, $30 million digital transformation projects, yet these people remain neglected? And I think I pressed that question internally, within IBM. But as we spoke about the large company and small company difference, while this great structure and process, but in order to make a decision towards making investments or bringing solutions, it could take three years, and in a startup, maybe you could actually go conquer a market in three years, literally. So, I think the path I chose was to be bold enough to go create this company, focus on the content, and the apps, build a phenomenal platform underneath and move at speed and make an impact to this huge whitespace in the market, which we believe is 97% unaddressed today. And the space that we play in this almost 20 million field workers that are still on paper, 97% of them are still on paper. And I think there's a great opportunity here for… for the market. And in general, not just an adaptive but just in general. And I think startups are the ones I believe will move with speed to address this huge problem that has been ignored for more than 40-50 years.
Kevin Benedict: Very interesting. So, we'll get into a lot more of that to here in just a moment. But let me just take a step back and just ask you how did you come up with that name - Innovapptive?
Sundeep Ravande: Great question, Kevin. Prior to the podcast start, I think you and I were having a nice chat on that as well. You know, so there was obviously, not a lot of thought put into it. But I think from a vision perspective, I was seeing what was happening in the market and seeing that all the larger companies preferred a platform-as-a-service play. And the way I thought about that is like if SAP gave a platform as a service, or if Oracle gave a platform-as-a-service, would all companies have built their ERP today? The answer was no. I was like, no way. Right? So, what is the future of this 97% whitespace of frontline workers? Is it the platform or the content and apps. And I think it was the apps, apps that are highly configurable, agile, nimble, and can meet any workflows needs of our customers, and can quickly be addressing pain points within different industry verticals, with a plethora of content available for them to rapidly reconfigure to gain the competitive advantage. So, app was then the center of the focus as a company, innovation is often parcel of our values. So, I thought of combining those two. That's how the name came about, you know.
Kevin Benedict: That is as good a reason to have that name is any. So that's awesome. Yeah, I was CEO of a mobile app company for five years. And we did a very similar thing. Yeah, we took three words, combined them together, and put a.com on the end of it. And that's how we got going.
Sundeep Ravande: But, but, but, after doing that, Kevin, we, I mean, I realize it's a tongue twister for many.
Kevin Benedict: It doesn't take much to be a tongue twister for me. So… so you know, doing research before a call here I was reading through your website and the materials that I could on your company, and I see this one phrase repeated, often - connected worker. Talk to us about what that is. And is that different than a mobile worker? Or, define for us what you see when you say connected worker?
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, I think the market is grappling with this terminology, it's more or less right now being used as a… as a… as a buzzword, and people are defining it in different ways. And I think we'll figure out what the market will decide what the exact category definition looks like. But from our perspective, a connected worker is way beyond the mobile worker. The way we think of a connected worker is that the human is in the center of other humans, depending on whether you're a back office person or you know, you're a different function could be, you know, you're… you're in supply chain, but I'm dependent on you for spare parts, or I may be in operations, and I'm dependent on you for risk and threat data so that I can do my maintenance job better, right? And then I also have all this connected assets, which is telemetry, and last decade has gone and humungus amount of investments going there, only to find out that the human is left out of it, like a lot of asset performance management conversations, a lot of sensor conversations. But then ultimately, to actually complete that loop, we believe that the worker needs to be connected by bringing frontline workers, back office, and the assets all together in one single unified platform to bridge silos, communication gaps, and improving collaboration, thereby improving your productivity and impacting revenue per employee metrics, which most companies are struggling with the shrinking profit margins right now. And it's a highly competitive world, and back-office efficiency and SGNA, which can be improved. So yeah, for us connected worker is bridging the silos and gaps between all those distinct parties and bringing them all together in one unified platform to improve those two big metrics, financial metrics, which is revenue per employee, which is productivity, and then back office SGNA efficiency.
Kevin Benedict: So, understood, fascinating area, because when you do think of all the decisions, everything to do about asset location, asset usage, and optimizing where your tools are, your equipment is, your workers, the processes, everything and coordinating that, there's so much to do. So, thank you guys for jumping into that space. So, I also see here that you do all kinds of work with both SAP and IBM. And both of those organizations as we know they have all kinds of mobile applications and platforms that they've acquired over the years, as well. And all of these potentially can compete with you. So how do you navigate that environment to have a successful partnership in that kind of environment?
Sundeep Ravande: We actually complement them, right. I mean, a lot of people think we compete with SAP and IBM, we actually complement SAP and IBM, and make their product really, really productive and amazing, to be honest. However, the market sees it from a perspective of saying, hey, you know, SAP has got this app, IBM's got that app, as I described earlier, we don't see it as an app word, we don't see it as a mobile work word. We see the connected worker word. And how do you bring these distinct processes, moving parts. And if you look at some of our frontline worker apps, they're spread across maintenance operations supply chain, right. And then we also have a back-office portal that integrates all those workflows together and applies AI-ML, to be able to predict, you know, your maintenance backlogs, or it could predict, you know, what's your productivity could be for a site compare against different sites, right? So, in a sense, when you start looking at it from that perspective, we don't necessarily compete with SAP and IBM. Yes, we compete with them on a tactical mobile app perspective, maybe. But that's not how we go to market, unfortunately. So, you know, so we don't really compete, we complement, we make SAP and IBM better.
Kevin Benedict: Got it. So, in my experience, over the last 30 years in high tech, it's relatively easy to set up these partnerships with large companies. But it's super difficult to actually get a return value out of that, because they're so distracted with their own priorities and products and all kinds of things. So, what is your secret to partnering with these large companies?
Sundeep Ravande: I think… I think there's only one rule Kevin, follow the money, right? It's very simple. We can have all the great partnerships in the world. And you know, if you're not the market is not deciding to actually work with us it doesn't make any sense, right? So, we have a very clear, focused approach and who we partner with, and you know, TCS is one of them, that we really tried to go to market with. And what we're looking for in a successful partnership is, you know, the first is, number one is the common vision and values that we have, as a company, does, does our partner believe in the same vision and values and then we like to see, you know, a very aggressive go to market model between the two companies. We, doing work with TCS, obviously, we have already had some tremendous success with Deloitte in some regions, where they have taken us to market, they're building a competency center around us and so on. And that's because we have had early success. Within six months, we have we have been able to sell multiple deals with them. And, so, similarly with TCS, although the partnership is young here, we are hoping the same outcome as Deloitte. And we are focused on very few partners that we want to go to market. And our… our mantra is very simple. Follow the money, which means follow the market. And then partners that believe in the vision or make that happen, because we have reference stories and success stories through partners, and we have some of the world's largest customers already with us.
Kevin Benedict: Sundeep, thank you so much for sharing that part. Hey, just hold on for a minute, we'll take a quick break from our conversation. And be back in just a minute.
Sundeep Ravande: Sure.
Kevin Benedict: We're back. So, let me ask you, Sundeep, are you finding a convergence between mobile and IoT? We talked about connecting, it sounds like you did. But why don't you elaborate a little bit more? What does the world look like when you bring mobile or that connected worker, and IoT all into the same platform?
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, I think when we start talking about connected, it's all talks about, you know, sensors, you have a sensor or an asset, you need a sensor on the human as well to connect the two, we believe that we are the sensor on the human, where we can connect the sensor data from assets and drive the necessary actions, because most IoT companies that you know, specialize mostly in being a data historian or a SCADA system. And they're focused more on capturing the sets of data, big data into their system. And they're creating these alerts and whatnot, and sending it through, you know, traditional methods, like could be an email or could be a back-office portal, but not necessarily integrate into a proper workflow of work management or work execution, things like that. So, I think we see a huge convergence between IoT and mobile, we see opportunities to improve safety and well-being of people. By converging the two, we see an opportunity to improve productivity dramatically. And then we also believe that mobile is a human sensor, which means at any given point of time, I know the location and status of that worker at any given point of time. I also know from the assets, what's happening to the assets. And by connecting those two, it's just magical.
Kevin Benedict: Thank you for sharing that fascinating world, I see all kinds of implications of combining those two together from safety to, you know, making sure you're following the right regulations, and all that kind of stuff, just making sure you're doing everything right, and guiding it, individual connected worker, step by step through all those various processes based on all those connections. Wonderful. So, let's talk about 5G. How do you think it's going to impact your market?
Sundeep Ravande: I think specifically for us more and more, we're seeing, you know, the reliance on offline needs going lower. With ubiquitous availability of, you know, 5G networks being made available, of course, it's still evolving in some of the countries offline access need is not going to go away, maybe for the next five to 10 years. But I think as 5G and the next generation of Wi-Fi technologies are evolving, I believe that there's a tremendous opportunity to create real-time access to physical operation, in a system and in a digital system of record. It doesn't matter where you're working, or how you're working. But at any given point of time, you have access to that. I'll give you a really good story that we work with one of the largest nonprofit organization, it's UNICEF, and UNICEF worldwide, has deployed our inventory management solution. Their challenge has been, you know, always in the remotest parts of the world, like, could be, you know, Iraq, could be Nigeria could be, you know, Haiti, depending on an emergency that happens, they really deploy our solution where supplies come into the field, they're able to real time their donors and their… their business sponsors, in real time know what's happened with a jumbo jet filled with supplies, landed in, an emergency, like an earthquake or cyclone, whatnot. And in real time in New York, and the headquarters know, exactly a full track and traceability of their supplies and how they're moving. They in fact, even stand up, you know, these pop-up warehouses on the fly, because there is no real physical warehouse there. And that what that warehouse structure looks like is also live created on the fly. And this pop-up warehouse concept is become, you know, pretty well used now, even by other companies like manufacturing, and also gas and utilities, where they're starting to mostly manufacturing… actually industrial manufacturing and CPG companies where they're starting to match their supply and demand with these pop up warehouses. So, you can do all of this stuff only when you have great work. And, you know, 5G is making that applicable. And that use case that I described, brings this real-time visibility into physical operations, which is systematically disconnected from a digital system of record. And we believe that real-time access has amazing benefits, both financially, as well as making an impact to humanitarian causes, like I called out. And one last thing I want to point out on the UNICEF story is, you know, we're really proud. Two billion vaccines worldwide, went through the Innovaptive platform very recently. And it was all tracked, in real-time live as they went out.
Kevin Benedict: That is so good. Thank you for being involved in that process. You know, from a guy that's been involved in mobile apps for shoot a long time, 21 years, at least, the power of 5G is just unbelievable. Because early on back there in 2000, 2001, 2002, when I was first engaged in kind of industrial mobile apps, it was always a struggle, bandwidth, and memory and battery. Boy, that was hard. So also, in my experience, back then, our biggest challenge was always creating an application that would be easily customized. So, it's flexible and easily integrated into back systems. Is that still a big problem? Or you guys resolved that?
Sundeep Ravande: Absolutely. I think it's the number one problem that is between commercialization of pre-packaged apps and the market needs. That's the number one roadblock, in fact, we take pride our platform is patented. It's called Race Rapid Application Configuration engine, not customization engine for a very, very specific purpose. We use a full metadata interpreter framework, which is extremely simple and easy to use. And the vision is really for citizen development to be enabled within this. And when I say citizen development, I necessarily mean reconfigurability of the app, right, I'll take a simple use case, say you're an oil and gas company, or you're a manufacturing company, and you have a distinct workflow that needs to be configured. And you have very good reasons why - it could be regulations, it could be process, it could be culture, it could be geographies, it could be role. It could be user, it could be user experience, right? All of this matters, because ultimately, without adoption, your investment in mobile is zero, it's a write off. That's how that's how we… we think of mobile. And what we have developed is, and we found this out very early in the journey in 2014. itself, that's how we went about doing R&D on race, and be applied for the patent in 2015, we got the patent approved in 2019, where now our customers pretty much are able to take any workflow of the pre-package content we have, and configure that on the fly instantly in runtime, which not only dynamically generates the user interface, what is needed, but also dynamically generates the web services in the backend, that it connects to SAP or IBM Maximo to perform a CRUD operation, right. So, create, read, update, delete, it does it all in runtime, in 30 seconds. Another use cases, we work with a lot of midstream companies, pipeline companies, and they are regulated by PHMSA right, which is a regulation body for hazardous material transportation, through midstream companies, and these companies are regulated by about 200-250 inspection forms, if you would, which constantly keep changing, depending on what they find out. And then regulations, were able to use race and not only deliver some of those 200-250 forms in like less than, you know, two weeks where I mean, it takes 30 minutes to get a form a brand-new form, but reconfigure that form based on PHMSA’s regulation almost instantly on the fly is game changing. Because if you don't have that capability in your platform, you're stuck with complex coding. And by the time you may even implement the change, the regulation may change on you. And the needs of what you need to capture may change. So, you're spot on Kevin, I think, you know, you got 20 years of experience in mobile, you've seen this. And I believe the future will be on the low-code, no-code for mobile to become commercialized, and especially the application play. And we bring that to market today. And it's one of the reasons actually why we have our customer, the customer base we have today.
Kevin Benedict: Oh god, I love talking to somebody that has the energy you do, because it just demonstrates the passion of an entrepreneur. I love it. Oh, how much fun is that? So, talk to me about some of the remaining technology challenges out there with a connected worker. I shared some of mine, it was battery, it was memory, it was poor conductivity. And you're sharing all this great stuff, we're able to do the development or configuration on the fly. But what are some of those big challenges? Is it voice control? Is it glass, you know having your screens on glass and augmented reality being able to be actually implemented in the field around this? What do you see as that big challenge?
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, um, I like to see this space evolve not from a technology perspective, but from business problem solving perspective, and from a business problem solving perspective. And it's AI-ML, it's augmented reality, it's we are all cool stuff. Right? Ultimately, we know that there are customers that don't even have good set of data, forget about applying AI/ML on it, right? They have just poor data in the system. But we think of it from three business problems that we're trying to solve: number one is productivity. How do we improve productivity of the frontline worker? Is it just giving a mobile app? Or is it giving specific step by step work instructions? What about you know, making it easier to do hands free operation? So that's the VR you're talking about, AR you're talking about. So, we work with companies like real where, where it's in the lab right now, where our… our app can run on that, but it's not optimized yet for that, because we're not seeing the true market demand need for it yet. We also see opportunities where, you know, you could make things autonomous, redundant stuff can be automated, you know, simple to use, but you know, it doesn't matter what interface you're using be a hands-free app, or it could be a mobile app, or it could be just voice, right? Ultimately, the economics have to come together, right? I mean, you know what, what problem are we trying to solve and you know, what are the economics behind it? And what's the simplest solution to make that happen? Right. And I think that is how the space will evolve. Based on those economics, in my opinion, productivity will continue to remain a number one financial driver for those technologies to evolve and be applied in the space. The second big one we see is the talent gap, the skills gap, the knowledge gap, we see a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gap between an aging worker and an inexperienced worker through technology. There's so many different ways you could achieve that. I mean, there are tools like work instructions, visual step by step work instructions, it could be voice instructions. And we bring all of those capabilities today as within our integrated platform, where we combine operational workflows with step-by-step visual work instructions, because if you see some of the players out there, that standalone work instruction tool, but that has no correlation back to a workflow or work execution or work management, with a system of record like SAP to combine those two together. The third one that is, I think, will be biggest safety. How do you continuously implement technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, AI, ML, using big data all come together to improve safety. I think those three combined with breaking silos within companies, between a maintenance worker and an operations worker versus a supply chain worker, bringing all of these technologies together, combining, breaking the silos, improving communication, improving collaboration, and impacting those three big metrics, productivity, talent gap, talent challenges, labor shortages, and then safety.
Kevin Benedict: I understand all of that, it makes perfect sense. And I wish you the best and making that all happen, too. So let me ask you, Sundeep, let me ask you to put on your future’s hat. If you put on that future’s hat and you look forward five years. How do you think your sector the connected worker sector will have evolved over those five years?
Sundeep Ravande: Yeah, it's a great question. I think the connected worker overall sector will continue to be an ecosystem in my opinion, I don't think there's one player that is going to solve everything we discussed on this podcast. However, there will be specializations in each of these areas that an ecosystem needs to come together to solve the problems that I described earlier. I think our specialization is very clear. You know, we're not trying to solve all problems of the world, there are specialists that can go do that. We want to be part of that ecosystem and have great integrations into that capabilities. And I think, I think the sector wall where people will pick on specific areas, and niches, and we believe that we want to be the dominant player in what we are calling the connected worker category. And we defined it earlier, to be able to plug into that ecosystem to drive tremendous improvements for our customers.
Kevin Benedict: Sundeep, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your busy entrepreneurial schedule in joining us today to enlighten us on the current state of the connected worker. Thank you very much.
Sundeep Ravande: Thank you, Kevin. Thank you for the opportunity. Take care.