As Indian companies become more comfortable in international markets, they are learning the importance of being a native among the natives. This is nowhere more evident than at Tata Interactive Systems’ UK office.
The UK market is a significant one for Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) — the second largest after the US. In fact, the growth in business has led to the UK office evolving from sales and marketing office set up in 2000 to adding significant value in design areas.“Our role has changed. From positioning our services as better and faster, we have moved to a more consultative function,” says Alan Samuel, VP — UK, Tata Interactive Systems. “We try and understand the nuances of the client’s requirement, the business they are in and the challenges they face.” The UK business contributes between 15-20 per cent of the company’s revenues.
The business of e-learning
Like other TIS offices the world over, the UK business focuses on three areas: corporate training, education and the government. In the UK, the primary business thrust is on online training in verticals like banking, finance and insurance, with transport and logistics, telecom and the publishing industry also being strong target areas.
In the arena of education, TIS (UK)’s main projects are with publishers and universities. Today, with more children being computer-savvy and schools using e-learning as a medium of instruction, there are opportunities aplenty. Also many children drop out of school or do not go to university, says Samuel, and there is a big push in the UK to provide vocational training via e-learning.The company also works with local councils and organisations such as UFI (University for Industry, a government agency that looks after online learning) and BECTA (British Education Communications and Technology Agency). TIS has done work for UFI and BECTA for ‘accessibility’ of software technology. Under the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act, software technology learning has to be accessible to all. Some corporate clients too are asking for accessible versions of projects which cover things like screen readers for visually and hearing challenged. “It’s a new area which is demanding in terms of design,” says Samuel.
The company has also worked on projects for people with learning disabilities and developed some products for Granada Learning.
Designed for local needs
TIS (UK)’s strength lies not just in the quality of the products that it delivers through qualified employees with global experience, but also in providing the necessary local language and cultural inputs.
“The spoken language of business in the UK has changed. What we write in India tends to be old fashioned English, and is not conversational,” says Samuel. To overcome this, the four-member team was augmented in 2004 with two local British instructional designers.The designers are part of the developmental process and help the Indian team to adapt to the brief from the cultural and local context — such as correcting US spellings or using UK imagery (fire engine in the UK versus fire truck in the US), thus making the learning scenarios more relevant to the user in UK.
The designers also help turn things around much faster. They are able to make corrections on the spot at product reviews with clients. “It’s a value-add as it helps us get things right the first time and shortens the delivery time,” says Samuel.
And though Samuel feels that Indian designers are catching up very quickly, he concedes that having local designers will continue to give clients a greater level of comfort as well as the benefit of having someone sit across the table and make changes then and there.
Changing local perceptions“There is a learning curve with new clients but it’s getting shorter now as we get more known in the marketplace,” says Samuel. TIS (UK) is the preferred supplier to companies like Abbey, Accenture, Amadeus (based in France), BA, BAE, NFU Mutual, Oxford University Press, Royal Mail and Vodafone. TIS (UK) tries to ensure that new clients visit the TIS development centres in Mumbai and Kolkata so that they have a better understanding of its high levels of quality.
Another challenge TIS (UK) faces in the UK market is one of perception — of being perceived as an Indian software company. “We have to fight against competitors who offer far lower rates, but not quality service. Tata Interactive Systems is a global company and we add value to a client’s entire training perspective. We partner with our clients rather than work as an outsourced Indian vendor. Price is no more a determining factor as the UK market wants value-added service,” says Samuel. But with new clients, especially those that have had a bad experience earlier with Indian companies, the job becomes that much harder.
An aspect that works in the company’s favour is the time difference between the UK and India. The team in India has five and half hours more to work; often, by the time Samuel comes in to the office, a problem has already been resolved.
So what are the opportunities that Samuel sees in the UK? “More and more UK companies are looking to adopting e-learning as a methodology not only to deliver training but also as performance support or enhancement. The use of e-learning is becoming more widespread, and with that obviously comes opportunity.”
e-learning on mobile phones is another exciting new area. Earlier, organisations had different operating systems and varied phones but now all phones are WAP-enabled. The opportunity is there but, says Samuel, the interactivity will be based on the navigation and it will initially be push rather than market pull.Last year in January, TIS acquired two companies: Tertia Edusoft Gmbh (Germany) and Tertia Edusoft AG (Switzerland). The UK office is talking to both entities as there are opportunities to leverage existing products, especially in the banking compliance areas. “We are working closely with them but have not actually made a sale as yet. There is a lot of synergy and it is one of our key targets this year,” says Samuel.
He is looking at nearly 30 per cent increase in revenues this year based on new ideas and new relationships, especially in retail and with central government agencies. Typically, an average of 70 per cent of TIS (UK)’s business comes from repeat clients. Next year, he is looking at changing that to a 50:50 ratio by bringing in new clients. “The ideal mix for us is 60:40 and that will happen after two years.”
With more access to local and EU businesses, the TIS (UK) office is proving to be an important conduit to growth and development. The local approach has never been more important.