Transforming Employee Engagements Using AI & Chatbots

Indian Angel Network funded Kwench Global Technologies uses social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) services to empower businesses to engage effectively with their employees. Recognising the transformation taking place in the industry, the company is now focussed on developing chatbots and using AI to deliver employee experience, as a result, doubling its growth trajectory

Prashant John, Co-founder, Kwench Global Technologies

The seed for the entrepreneurial journey of Sunder Nookala, Prashant John, Krishnan Madhabushi and Mitesh Damania, was sown during their weekend meetings in Mumbai, when they spoke about their respective work experiences. During this period, they realised the gaps that existed in the HR industry, especially in the employee engagement space. “In 2008, HR technology was not as evolved as it is today. The journey had just begun and many solutions were either on-premise or home grown. There wasn’t a lot of sophistication or a strategic approach to this technology,” observes John. There are a lot of HR activities like appraisals, feedback, annual events and more, especially in large companies. “We wanted to look at these data points and identify a logic in stitching them together,” says he. Soon, these IIM-A alumni quit their jobs and started Kwench Global Technologies in 2008, with a goal to provide employee solutions to India Inc.

Since its launch, Kwench’s mission has been to help companies engage their employees and business partners in a better and sustainable manner. By leveraging the power of social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) services, it empowers businesses to engage effectively with its employees through social learning, recognition and collaboration features.   

The company, which was bootstrapped in its early days, quickly raised funding from Indian Angel Network, and also raised a debt round from SIDBI (which has been paid back). Headquartered in Mumbai, Kwench serves more than 500 companies and 40,000 employees across 63 countries, turning in a revenue growth of 60 per cent year-on-year.

Currently, its clientele includes Aon Hewitt, Sony, Whirlpool, ICICI Lombard, Godrej, VMWare, HUL and HCL Infosystems. Going forward, Kwench envisions becoming the market leader in the rewards and recognition marketplace.


Transformation is happening in the technology landscape faster than what we predicted. So, we are now focussed on developing chatbots and using AI to deliver employee experience in a superior way


Making a Quick Start

During the early days, the team realised that they needed a product that they could turnaround quickly and get started on. “The recognition platform that we wanted to build was the largest technology play and would take time,” recalls John. Hence, they started with their first library product, KLib, a corporate library platform which includes books, magazines, audio books, e-summaries, e-books, industry news feeds and more. These books get delivered at the office premises, giving corporates the freedom to outsource their library collection. “A well maintained library is crucial to most organisations. From an employee engagement angle, very few companies can run a library effectively as it is a capital intensive effort,” says John. This apart, with limited set of people giving feedback and recommendations, library collection will fall out of sync with what is out there in the world. “You don’t get the breadth and depth if you are running a library in-house. But, when it is spread across several companies, where you have about 1,00,000 employees giving their feedback and borrowing books, trends are widely distributed and tend to be up-to-date,” says the co-founder.

Kwench has its own centralised warehouse in Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi where it owns the entire inventory. In fact, currently, the company owns over 50,000 books.  

Focussing on Social Recognition

In 2011, it  launched its first version of the employee recognition platform, called KUDOS. “The basic premise for this product was that there is a gap in what the HR has, to engage its employee vs. what they practice,” says the co-founder. He opines that everyone was stuck in the scientific management space with respect to hierarchy, audits, managers and team members, resulting in a lot of disengagement. The team felt there was a dire need for organisations to start moving towards the recent theory that employees gain a sense of everything in their employment lifecycle – right from the time they are on-boarded till their time of exit. “Most important part of the employee “lifecycle” is how engaged the person is while working in the organisation,” says John. Five years back, organisations were focussed on annual days and team lunches. “It is good but we found a few major problems,” shares he. First, one waits till the year end to be recognised for something they did today. “Your immediate circle is aware of it, but it takes about nine to 12 months before the CEO recognises you and by then the context is gone,” opines John.  Secondly, even within one’s circle, communication is usually top down, with the manager appreciating the employee in a bulk mail. “Out of the 30 or 40 marked in the mail, only five or six will respond to it,” says he.  Finally, peer-to-peer recognition doesn’t happen in a structured way in an organisation. “We put all these thoughts together to build a social recognition platform for the organisation,” shares John.  

And, usually, the company targets its products at large organisations on the premise that smaller organisations do not have large reward budgets. “The smaller companies are happy to work with out of the box solutions and the larger ones are where we get into a partial consulting mode and align the processes with the capabilities of our product,” shares John. 

Aiding in the Transformation Journey

Organisations are respecting how technology can help them change their internal processes. “The space that we operate in is helping companies change their organisational culture over a period of time and this requires patience,” admits John. While most organisations are willing to take this transformational journey, some of them don’t get it. “Sometimes people find it difficult to stay focussed,” says he. Citing an example, he says that if a company is going through its own difficulties, say in terms of profitability, cost cutting takes place and they start scaling back. “Then, we explain that scaling back is not the point and they have to stay with the original story. People need hand holding at that time and we are happy to provide it,” he admits.

Today, Kwench is focussed on the APAC region. “The U.S. market is evolved in this space. The Indian and APAC region, especially English speaking countries, have started to recognise the importance of this platform,” he notes.  

Riding on Advanced Technologies

Once the company entered the reward recognition space, it saw that cloud technology was making a big difference. “Explosion of cloud technology meant that organisations now work with a whole set of multiple solution providers. Most large organisations have a bunch of cloud technology providers working with them, including us. Now we are at a point where we want to take it to the next level,” says John.

Kwench has evolved from being a service oriented company to a technology focussed company. It is now working on Chatbots and AI systems to help organisations bridge this gap with multiple platforms, and deliver employee experience in a superior way. In other words, a client will have KUDOS as their recognition platform and HRM systems to manage their internal data and email systems. Overall, a typical organisation will have five to 10 platforms.

John goes on to predict that with advanced enterprise messaging platforms, the number of platforms will disappear to the background, and the front end will be the chatbot. “The evolution of natural language processing (NLP), AI and chatbots is coming to this perfect convergence point where you won’t know what is running in the background,” he states. Everything will be a part of the conversation only, as it gets blended into one integrated system. “We are working on that intersection now.  In the next three years, the enterprise messaging platform is going to explode and we hope to double our growth trajectory there,” he explains, on a concluding note.


Snapshot

Kwench Global Technologies

Founders: Sunder Nookala, Prashant John, Krishnan Madhabushi and Mitesh Damania

Year: 2008

Funding: Indian Angel Network

Headquarters: Mumbai

Concept In Brief

Kwench Technologies provides businesses with employee engagement platforms, empowering them to engage effectively with their employees through social learning, recognition and collaboration features. Kwench leverages the power of social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) to provide employers with a high degree of customization, company visibility and branding.


Critical Success Factors for Growth

  • Stay true to your core message: There were many attractive tools that seemed more profitable in the short term but we stayed true to the employee engagement story. A lot of grit was required, especially when we went through a financial recession.
  • Create harmony among founders: Our roles were defined in such a way that we brought complimentary skills into the team. We ensured that no one was stepping on anyone’s shoes and had a good working relationship.

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.