From Product Engineering to Digital Engineering: The Transformation Journey of Ness

Ranjit Tinaikar, Chief Executive Officer and Board Member, Ness Digital Engineering Featured in   IT/ITeS 100 - In Partnership with IDA Ireland

Ness’ transformation story is about making what you are good at even better through transformation of people processes, hiring fresh talent and acquiring complementary businesses

When you do more and more of the same thing, you cannot expect different results.

Ness, a 20+-year-old global provider of Digital Transformation solutions and a portfolio company of The Rohatyn Group (TRG), was growing in single digits in a market growing at 15-20 percent and realized that to grow faster, it needed to do things differently. Having established itself in product development, it realised that being a product engineering company was no longer enough in the age of digital transformation. Though its capabilities still mattered, to grow faster, it needed to help its customers with digital transformation.

Board member Ranjit Tinaikar presented a plan for achieving 20 percent growth that was received well by The Rohatyn Group leadership. He joined as CEO in early 2020 and since then, despite the pandemic, the company has been able to affect many relevant changes and is now growing at 20 percent.

This article is published as part of IT/ITeS 100, a collection of articles we’re publishing through interviews and conversations with CEOs, founders, CTOs, CMOs, CIOs, and senior management leaders in the Information Technology/Software industry in India. This series is presented by IDA Ireland. 

Setting Out on the Transformation Journey

Dr. Tinaikar holds a Ph.D. in social networks and has worked on several major transformation programs in different fields. He introduced digital transformation for healthcare by introducing the 108-ambulance service in India; he helped Bhutan transform its institutions following becoming a democracy from monarchy; he helped large holding companies in Vietnam transform; he was also at the forefront of the turnaround stories of Thomas Reuters and Fitch Solutions.

On taking over as the CEO of Ness, his core focus was how to drive entrepreneurial energy in a very established organization like Ness.

The first step was to identify areas of improvement:

  • Enhance expertise in digital technologies such as cloud, data, analytics, machine learning, blockchain, and so on.
  • Bolster its industry-specialized sales force and experts in its frontline, which was becoming very important.
  • Provide digital advisory and transformation consultancy services to its customers struggling to transform and keep pace.

Building on Core Strengths

“We have a good foundation in product engineering, which we continue to cherish and evolve. But on this foundation, we have the three pillars of our strategy, which is, to grow our existing accounts with high-value advisory services; become more industry-specialized in the way we go to market around four focused verticals; and build competencies in cloud and data and analytics,” summarises Dr. Tinaikar. The company has zeroed in on financial services, manufacturing, and TMT (technology, media and telecom) as its core focus areas.

Its vision is to become one of the top five pure-play digital transformation specialists leveraging its large team of 3,500 employees to be a digital engineering specialist.

This is accomplished by building on its current strength of product engineering and creating the flexibility to allow new thinking to come into the organization and take root. It hopes to achieve this by hiring fresh talent and capabilities as well as acquiring organizations. “We are changing our people processes and encouraging people to invest in new ideas and innovation,” explains Dr. Tinaikar. Even if those ideas and products don’t succeed, the company realises that it will fail fast and continue to learn and improve.

This approach has worked well for Ness as it has created its proprietary engineering SaaS platform called, Matrix, which combines and analyzes data sources from multiple software engineering platforms to provide intelligent business insights and reveal any bottlenecks. Within just 12 months, it has been rolled out across 20-30 percent of its clients as a bundled offering and has become a standard for all new Ness clients.

The team is also developing an AI-based solution to analyze system failures better and identify the root cause to improve the response times. “We are embedding our expertise in software products that become part and parcel of what we go to market with. These are not sold as licenses but bundled with our services,” he adds.

The company is also open to forming JVs with start-ups interested in industry-specialized product engineering and back them up with Ness’s sales and distribution capacity. “I have hired industry leaders with entrepreneurial structures where if they build a whole new sector they get paid almost like it was equity,” says Dr. Tinaikar.

Key Acquisitions

As part of its transformation and to meet its objectives, the company made a key acquisition of Risk Focus. Headquartered in New York, Risk Focus is a leading digital transformation consulting and advisory firm specializing in financial services. Risk Focus creates measurable business impact with technology expertise, business insight, and an iterative delivery process. The company is an Advanced AWS Partner with the Financial Services, Migration and DevOps competencies, as well as a Premier Confluent Systems Integrator. “This acquisition allows me to jumpstart the entire organization by infusing new capabilities across all three pillars of my strategy,” says an upbeat Dr. Tinaikar. The deal closed recently, but the company is already close to confirming two or three clients because they were working together even before the deal happened.

Vassil Avramov, the founder and CEO of Risk Focus, has been appointed as Ness’s CTO to drive all its digital transformation practices around advisory, consulting services in experience design data, cloud, machine learning, and all such areas. Joel Scotkin of Risk Focus is the Head of Strategy and brings a deep knowledge of how to transform a services company into a highly specialized, value-added company.

The company decided to focus on AWS and Azure on the cloud and Salesforce on the application development side. With this in view, it has hired a whole new practice leadership team for Salesforce. CassaCloud, acquired a couple of years ago, has already been integrated into this team. A Salesforce company called Sovereign CRM in the US was acquired and has also been integrated with the new Salesforce practice. The company will continue to look for small Salesforce assets that fit into its strategic plan of becoming a differentiated digital engineering company and contributes to its vision of becoming a pure-play technology player with a specific focus. It let go of Linium because it did not fit into its overall growth strategy.

Though it will go deeper into the three verticals of focus, it is open to anyone with a product engineering strategy for any other verticals like healthcare.

Valuing Its Team

Dr. Tinaikar believes that talent is the lifeline of a services company, and sometimes even more important than customers because a company grows because of its talent. “We are changing our programs around learning and development and career tracks. We have decided we will not expose our talent to the ups and downs of the industry by following hiring and firing but take care of our people regardless of the variations in the volume of business we do with our clients,” he says firmly.

Taking the humanitarian crisis in India on a war footing, Ness has created a special fund to take care of the medical expenses of its employees over and above insurance coverage. For those suffering from Covid-19, medical expenses will be covered completely. The company is also partnering with hospitals and service providers to help its employees and their families get quick access to medical care. It has created a fund to support Covid relief campaigns and is launching a global relief campaign for all its employees with matching contributions. We are also partnering with ambulances.

You cannot be relevant in this market without a trusted relationship with your talent. “And during a humanitarian crisis like this, if you are not there for your people, when will you be?” he rightly asks.

From Strength to Strength

Ness was a very strong product engineering company with deep-rooted culture and pride in its competency. This was leveraged to drive the change from being good at what they do to become better. This helped the company create a whole new practice, called the Intelligence Engineering Practice, which helps Ness transform its customers’ engineering processes.

Dr. Tinaikar believes in three rules of change management: to celebrate the core competency, define a very clear direction while letting the leaders decide the pace and level of change, and bring in new talent and take the risk of change.

By 2025, apart from being considered among the top three to five digital engineering specialists, Ness expects to grow at 20 percent every year by investing in the right talent and capabilities and have a team size of 7000 people.

IDA Ireland ITeS100

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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