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 globally, it is no wonder that farming 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 a 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 face 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 neighboring farmer pointed to CropLense, a field enablement application of the concept.

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 percent of its existing business and fine-tune its distribution network. Leveraging such technology tools is the core idea of iConcept set up in 2004 by two college friends Ajay Kumar Kalevala and G. Gangadhar.

At his office in Ascendas IT Park in Madhapur, Hyderabad, Kalevala, 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. Kalevala, a graduate in agriculture, had joined DuPont as a field assistant in 1996. “I had two responsibilities, and one of them 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-year old Kalevala. As the Chief Technology Officer, Gangadhar, 40, has conceptualized IT solutions that combine GIS, mobile, and cloud technologies to provide real-time data analytics and business intelligence services.

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 geospatial algorithms help agribusiness enterprises assess 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 Southeast Asia, DuPont Pioneer, the solutions of concept 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 its sales and marketing activities. Today, Kalevala says that the company has 10 marquee customers, including DuPont Pioneer, ITC, PepsiCo, Bayer CropScience, Advanta, and Coromandel.

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

Quote

We have grown from four people to a team of 150 people operating out of Hyderabad’s two offices. We have less than 10 percent attrition
AJAY KUMAR KALEVALA
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 center. On the rising competition with players like Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Oracle Siebel CRM, Kalevala says,

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

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

The company’s turnover, Kalevala says, has grown nearly tenfold in the last six years. The company is in talks with private equity investors to raise funds. It aims to strengthen its base in Agri analytics further and offer solutions to pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies.