Ringing in farming 3.0

For the over 118 million Indian farmers, technology seems to be fast emerging as a sort of genie that would address their crop-related issues in a cost-effective and timely manner. In a country that is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world, it is no wonder that farming too has grown smarter, riding on apps made by IT solution providers. The Hyderabad-based iConcept Software Services is one of them.

Ringing in farming 3.0

The technology provider, which has provisional turnover of Rs 25 crore, offers IT solutions to agribusiness companies and farmers alike. Today these solutions are being used by its customers in around 20 countries. A case in point is that of Papi Reddy, a farmer in Aziznagar village of Rangareddy district in Telangana. When the demand for spinach was high, he sowed the crop on half an acre of his land, only to be faced by a pest attack. He sprayed a pesticide seven times in 10 days and that cost him Rs 2,450. But there was no end to the menace. His neighbouring farmer pointed to CropLense, a field enablement application of iConcept.

Reddy posted his problem and was promptly advised on the right pesticide to be used along with the dosage. He followed it to the letter and, eventually, he earned Rs 60,000 from the sale of crop. Apps like CropLense help farmers by offering access to online forums where farmers can post their queries and get expert advice from agro professionals and consultants. If CropLense benefits farmers, then MapOut, an application based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS), has helped a multinational crop protection company map business in under-represented areas. This in turn has helped it discovers new markets to the tune of 50 per cent of its existing business and fine tune its distribution network. Leveraging such technology tools is the core idea of iConcept that was set up in 2004 by two college friends Ajay Kumar Kalavala and G. Gangadhar.

At his office in Ascendas IT Park in Madhapur, Hyderabad, Kalavala, Co-founder, MD and CEO of iConcept, still treasures a copy of the Rs 4-lakh cheque from a global agribusiness enterprise that the company received on October 1, 2007.

“It was the first major cheque from a global customer,” he says. Kalavala, a graduate in agriculture, had joined DuPont as a field assistant in 1996. “I had two responsibilities and one of it was to engage with farmers to create product awareness and demonstrate capabilities. The other was to connect with retailers and distributors and manage the stock inventories,” he says.

But a year later, he quit the job to learn software programming in a bid to take up a career in IT. He worked in three major IT companies, including a five-year stint at Oracle India. There he was a senior development manager who handled global deliveries for one of the modules in supply chain management and headed a team of 20 people.

“I think Oracle gave me a boost in terms of how technology can be leveraged and how vast information systems can be built,” says 41-yearold Kalavala. As the Chief Technology Officer, Gangadhar, 40, has conceptualised IT solutions that combine GIS, mobile and cloud technologies to provide real-time data analytics and business intelligence services to clients.

The company’s core activity is to gather agricultural data that is not easily available. It uses technology at the micro level and builds analytics around the data collected. This could cover aspects like what strategies to deploy and what clients need. The unique solutions based on geo-spatial algorithms help agri business enterprises get an assessment of their strong and weak markets.

Based on this, companies can monitor production activities throughout the supply chain. According to K.V. Subbarao, regional director, South Asia and South East Asia, DuPont Pioneer, the solutions of iConcept fills an important space in agribusiness.

“To improve farm incomes, a good amount of data collection and analytics is important. Once that is done, companies will be able to develop relevant products,” he says. The company came across iConcept solutions in 2007 when it was looking for IT tools to improve the effectiveness of its sales and marketing activities. Today, the company, Kalavala says, has 10 marquee customers, including DuPont Pioneer, ITC, PepsiCo, Bayer CorpScience, Advanta and Coromandel.

“We have grown from four people operating out of a small business centre to a team of 150 people operating out of two offices in Hyderabad. We have less than 10 per cent attrition,” says Kalavala.

We have grown from four people to a team of 150 people operating out of two offices in Hyderabad. We have less than 10 per cent attrition
MD and CEO, iConcept
The ISO-certified company now has a dedicated engineering team that focuses on building platforms and a product management team that brings in the domain expertise. The delivery team takes care of the implementation of IT solutions. There is also a technical support team along with a call centre. On the rising competition with players like Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Oracle Siebel CRM, Kalavala says,

“We see mushrooming of players (that handle customer relation management and supply chain). But the solutions we offer have definitely created that entry barrier. Our experience in building deep business logics in our products gives us a real competitive edge.”

The company, Kalavala says, is very agile in adapting to local requirements. “We can quickly change a framework and take to the market,” he says. Kalavala says the key differentiator for iConcept is that its products give deep business insights on those areas of supply chain that are not in direct transaction with a company and, therefore, help in deploying sales and marketing strategies in a more focussed manner.

The company’s turnover, Kalavala says, has grown nearly tenfold in the last six years. The company is in talks with private equity investors to raise funds, using which it aims to further strengthen its base in agri analytics and also offer solutions to companies in pharmaceutical sector and consumer goods.