In this special interview, Saurabh Jain talks about how the future of work in enterprises is transforming through contextual analytics, the importance of creating pools of talent through ecosystems and the need to be ready for the future.
How did you arrive at the business problem that SpireTalentSHIP is trying to solve?
It all began with an observation.Most organizations use only 10- 20 percent of the organizational data. And it kept bothering me that despite the availability of analytics related software, most management did not rely on taking intelligent decisions based on this data. I conducted a research with professors across three universities and we realized that what was missing was context.
The goal is to empower each individual so that they can be an enterprise themselves
Most software systems were one-size-fits-all; they had fixed input fields, fixed processes and were able to give defined set of outcomes. There was no flexibility in terms of how these input parameters could be handled.So, when people started analyzing data, they did not have the tools that allowed them to feed the context of the organization to get intelligence.And so the extended research focused on two points:
- The ability of the system to deal with unstructured data and the expectation of structuring it.
- The ability of the system to define the context of the organization into the software.
During this time, there was a parallel thread of innovation that we were thinking about – today we have stock exchanges for companies, but we thought what if we have stock exchanges for people? Why should people not be time-traded? So the Idea was rooted in what we called the ‘#Enterpriseof1’. The goal was to empower individuals so that they would very soon be an enterprise themselves and to empower companies as well. We started developing concepts around the ‘#Enterpriseof1’ – if we assume that multiple companies engage with an individual, a company can actually bid for a person’s time, say the next nine months. Another company can then bid more for the same time. So, we wanted to build this platform that would eventually create the ‘#Enterpriseof1’. We are already on our way to apply this concept with some of the biggest global companies as clients - who are working towards managing a liquid workforce. So we took the original concept of allowing people to use unstructured data and defining a context and built it further to enable the vision of ‘#Enterpriseof1’.
There is a rush to create talent ecosystems because the war for talent has extended to passive candidates
What were your first steps in making these ideas into a product?
The first step was to create a technological tool that could understand unstructured text. We started work in the year 2008 and by early 2009, some technology infrastructure and high-level code that could sift through unstructured text was ready. We started applying this code to the talent domain in 2010. With over 7 years of research and focus on algorithms by one of the most advanced technology team, Spire is today arguably the premier and most advanced Contextual Artificial Intelligence technology product out there. Initially, we focused on talent acquisition and we now have solutions that cover social recruiting, social CRM deployment and development. Today, global companies with large, multi-locational workforce use our tools. We also help them with gap analysis, learning and content design solutions.
How far are we from the 'Enterpriseof1'? What are the ingredients that you need to put into the recipe to accelerate that vision?
In the last one year, companies have been more open to creating contextual ecosystems. There is a rush to create talent ecosystems because the war for talent has extended to passive candidates. Companies are turning to these tools not only to optimize their talent acquisition but to build talent ecosystems that are enough for them for the next 5- 10 years. The customers that we work with have a million applicants per annum and over the next three to five years, the ecosystem would be about 3-5 million per company. Eventually, these ecosystems will enable both external and internal talent marketplaces.
What is the impact if I’m a professional and I am on this platform? Will I be engaged in many communities? What is the paradigm shift?
If you are a professional, what we provide with SpireTalentSHIP is a parallel B2C platform. Professionals can extend themselves to other communities thereby increasing the share-ability of talent across communities. That is the central platform that SpireTalentSHIP will be providing in the upcoming years.As the number increases, we will be able to co-create a shareable ecosystem. That’s where our entire vision is coming to play. We are going to provide unprecedented power to the candidates.
When we look at technology, disruption is the order of the day. What will be the tipping point to have enough critical mass to take on giants such as SAP, Microsoft and Oracle?
Our objective is not to take on these big guys. We’re in fact partnering with HR suites. We’re not offering to replace anyone and we’re not saying that HRMS systems will go away. But whether ATS will continue to remain is a question that companies are already asking.
We need to increase the pool of organizations that are not only worried about the present but also preparing for the future
What we’re saying is that the base systems will take care of the process and compliance part of HR. But once you’ve had your processes and compliance set up in the base systems, the day-to-day operations are fairly contextual. The question, therefore, is whether we can use analytics to power operations,which will be a layer on top of the existing processes?
A number of existing systems have their own evolution processes, but a decade from now, when we look at these organizations as part of the‘#Enterpriseof1’ – some of these systems will become redundant and I’m not sure how organizations are preparing for that kind of a disruption.
Apart from resource allocation and time trading, what are the other cases for building operational excellence using contextual analytics?
There are a number of applications — one can work on organizational re-design, succession planning and personalized content delivery. Take the example of learning programs, apart from making content personalized from an individual’s perspective, it is also helpful to assess the content viz. a viz. the learning gap that the individual has. So when an individual wants to move from one job to another, the system can identify these gaps which are relevant for business by automatic intelligent content delivery. It is a solution that we are in the process of launching.
2009 was probably too early in terms of the readiness of the market for a product like yours. So how did you manage to convince the stakeholders and investors?
We faced significant challenges. People would call me esoteric. I kept pushing this vision to a lot of people. The good thing was that I got the support of some really visionary leaders who were in large companies, some of whom had left the corporate world. They helped me understand what talent is about, what kind of problems the function was grappling with and how to architect the solution. I did find a lot of takers in the market who could believe in this twenty-year vision. I was also able to raise a million dollars from friends and family to fund this mission. Therefore, some of the early customers who have worked with us over a period of 4- 5 years have given the company almost a million dollars of revenue. After the first five years, that’s when we got an investor who really trusted the capability and vision and gave us a huge round of funding to enable us to be where we need to be. But the first five years was incredibly difficult.
It's quite visionary to have a 20-year vision. Normally, the entrepreneurs that we speak to, they probably can’t look beyond five years especially in the world of technology.
I had the amazing experience of working with large corporations like SAP, Oracle and Yahoo. But I was also able to see what they were not doing right. Then this international program (GDW Consortium) at IIM B helped to plug-in where exactly I will apply my learning to. So I continued to model and built something that could sustain itself for 20 years. I knew that this required us to build an institution. If you look at the team – the 200 people we have, each individual is here to drive the vision. We don’t want to do short term transactional startups or outcomes. This is a tough journey.
Where are you today – in terms of customers, revenue and feedback from your customers?
Companies that we generally engage with are upwards of 20,000 employees. Today, we have 9 customers. The largest customer is someone for whom we have done global implementation across 68 countries covering 350,000 employees. We also work with smaller enterprises but our current focus is on large enterprises. We already have an order book of 45 million dollars and have seen phenomenal growth. Our growth rate y-o-y is upwards of 200 percent. Last year we grew at 333 percent. Before that, we grew about 300 percent. This year, we again expect to grow at 300 percent. So that’s the kind of growth that we are expecting.
We are engaged in contract discussions with 6 customers who have over a 100,000 employees. Most of our customers are global companies based in the United States, followed by UK and France. India continues to trail in the marketplace, but this is also due to the fact that there a fewer large corporations.
If you look at the future – what are the roadblocks that you see in creating this ‘#Enterpriseof1’?
The key challenge is to do with market readiness – it has to do with the continued adoption of companies to create a personalized ecosystem. Most companies are still focused on optimizing their operations. Of the ten companies we talk to, only three or four are talking about ecosystems. So we need to increase that pool of organizations that are not only worried about the present but also preparing for the future.