My last few years in IBM have been very interesting because of my work with B2B Companies. It is an exciting space to be in mainly because there is so much potential for a variety of services.
Sustainability of a B2B company is much easier once it has secured a paying customer. Not to mention the huge earning potential once the company carves a niche for itself.
Let us start with a look at what a B2B is
B2B, or Business to Business, are companies which have products or platforms that are used by businesses or enterprises, like banks, insurance companies, manufacturing plants, retail stores, or hospitals. Some of the examples of B2B companies are here
Let me also explain the other common term used in the Startup Lingo B2C. B2C, or Business to Consumer, are companies which have products or platforms that are used by end consumers like you and me. Most omnipresent examples of B2C companies in our lives are sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapdeal, and Flipkart.
The evolution of the B2B space is as fascinating as the players
Years ago when technology was still nascent, most B2B services typically focused on automating things that were done over paper. A classic example would be Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for the manufacturing industry. Routine but significant tasks like generation of Master Product Schedule, Manufacturing Resource Plan and Purchase Requisition, and converting that to Purchase Order that were earlier done on paper were automated, making the process more efficient.
The other ubiquitous change we have all observed was when we walked into a bank. There was a time when all the accounts were maintained in Registers. For our account statements, Passbooks were given which had all the transactions we did with the said bank. I haven’t taken a Passbook for the last nine years. Thanks to the Core Banking Solutions, Loan Origination Systems, and Internet Banking etc, now it will be difficult to find banks where the accounts and transactions are maintained in registers. We can sit at home and view our transactions in our browsers now. The products for the banks come from many providers like TCS, Infosys, Oracle, Infrasoft, and Finacus to name a few.
Over the years, we see various industries, whether it is banking, manufacturing, retail, logistics, insurance, or health care, they have implemented information technology to do away with the manual processes. In banking, as I mentioned earlier there is Core Banking Solutions, Payment Solutions, Channels Solutions, CRM applications, and Basel II applications etc. Similarly, in insurance there’s Underwriting, Policy Administration, Claims Administration, and Product Configuration etc. Each of them is a subject in itself and I can probably write a book explaining each of these.
Startups play in B2B
Today, while the services offered by B2B companies are more sophisticated and hi-tech, the end objective remains the same -- to achieve efficiencies. With the advent of new technologies in the area of Enterprise Mobility, Cloud, Internet of Things, Big Data and Analytics, startups have a great potential to provide solutions in a fast and swift manner.
For instance, banks and insurance companies have gathered a lot of data over the past 10 to 14 years, and they are now trying to make more sense of the vast data. For example, what are Product Profitability Analysis, Channel Profitability, Individual Customer Profile, Branch Profitability, and Customer Lifetime Value etc.? These would be typically solved using Analytics Solutions. Banks and insurers typically generate this report by pushing their transactional data into a data warehouse which will get picked up by an analytics engine. The analytics engine would then feed the data into its data models and generate analytics reports.
Some enterprising B2B companies are pre-building data models which would meet most of the analytical report requirement for a bank or an insurance company. They can also be further customized in case the requirements are not met by the pre-built models. The advantage is that one can go live with the analytics projects faster and not have to define data models and reports from scratch and getting the technology partner to develop it.
Such pre-built Analytics Solutions can be developed for any other industry such as manufacturing, retail, and health care etc.
Another example can be extension of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications using mobile technologies, especially with location-based services of mobile technologies. Imagine if one can create a customer opportunity in the CRM using his mobile on his way back to office after he or she has had a successful customer meeting. Or if a manager is able to figure out how many of his employees have made customer visits location wise in a week or month in a single Dashboard (I know this gets a little intrusive).
But probably the most interesting example is in Internet of Things (IOT). For example, take a utility company, say water. Imagine if the water utility provider wants to know how much water is flowing across various pipes in a single Dashboard. This is possible by having sensors called Flow Meters which detect the flow of water in a pipe and which send the information to a central server using wireless technologies (like a combination of ZigBee, GSM). Once it reaches the central server, it goes into a database from where the Dashboards can be generated.
Once they have the infrastructure in place, utilities would be able to detect leakages or theft in their areas. Let me illustrate how this can be done using a simple example. Suppose Pipe A is supplying water to Pipe B and Pipe C. Then the sum total of water flowing through Pipe B and Pipe C should be approximately equal to the water that has flown through Pipe A. If there is some discrepancy (water flowing through Pipe A in a day < water flowing through Pipe B in a day + water flowing through Pipe C in a day), one can suspect a water leakage. This would come as an alert in the Dashboard, leading to an action by the utility.
Applying analytics, the utility can now also get historical reports like how much water has been flowing through the various water networks in the cities. It would also be possible to predict the amount of water required the next day based on past historical data. This can lead to better planning of the utility resources right from figuring out how much water should be pumped from the reservoirs to the overhead tanks. There are level sensors (another usage of IOT) which communicate the level of water in a tank to the central server. And this is only one example of IOT’s potential. The possibilities are endless.
Lastly, one can also take technology to an entirely new Customer Segment. I am taking the example of Cooperative Banks here. There are still many Cooperative Banks who do not have the kind of technology solutions that other banks have. There are some B2B startups which are focused in this space. Cloud technologies have helped these startups in the ‘Economies of Scale’ to cater to this segment.
The examples mentioned are just a scratch on the surface. For a startup, identifying a problem statement and finding a solution which is scalable by applying the right set of technologies, the possibilities are immense.
IBM has interesting tools and middleware, which can be used by the B2B startups. We also do some interesting stuff in this space.
An interesting part of my work in the B2B enterprise space has been my interaction with the founders. I have found that most B2B companies originate with their founders, who usually,
- have experience in the specific business domains, and they see an opportunity to solve a problem in that domain.
- have experience as an IT Consultant or Tech Specialist in a specific domain.
- are in the System Integration space to start with and have graduated to Product or Platform Solutions in a domain.
We are also working with some innovative companies in this space, which include:
- A3 RMT - has a solution for remote wireless patient monitoring which would lead to life saving emergency medical response in difficult conditions such as uneven communication networks, unstable power, jerky ambulance journeys etc. These mobile solutions deliver high precision medical parameters e.g. full 12 lead ECG, to any internet connected devices like a low cost mobile phone through which the doctor can remotely monitor a patient in critical condition. Their solution has enabled saving of over 1000 lives. They have integrated with WebSphere Application Server and DB2.
- Ideyeah - has a Cloud based offering called opTEAMize for Delivery & Operational Heads of IT/ITeS companies who need to quickly find resources and accurately quote for a project. opTEAMize integrates with existing HR, CRM, ERP & Resource Management Systems of IT/ ITeS companies and aggregates skill, capability, and cost data. And this enables fast decision making through information models and interactive analytics.
The product runs on IBM Softlayer and IBM Cloudant and are integrating using IBM CastIron.
- GlobalSinc - has a Product called Educube, which is a cloud based collaboration and ERP suite for K-12 Schools enabling collaboration between students, teachers and parents, streamlining the business processes for schools such as Fees Automation, Payroll, Admissions, HR, performance and assessment of Students, knowledge management for teachers, teacher effectiveness monitoring with advanced Business Intelligence and Analytics tools. They are integrating with IBM Cognos BI.
We are now launching a competition for B2B startups, the first of its kind by a Corporate in India. If you are a B2B startup, are less than 5 years old and privately held, you can apply to the competition by becoming a Global Entrepreneur Program member. There is a bouquet of prizes for the winners.
The details are in the website ibmgepindia.com.