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Interview with Deepu Prakash, Senior Vice President, Process and Technology - Fingent

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Senior Vice President, Process and Technology, Fingent
Give us a quick overview of Fingent. When and how did you begin this journey and what were your motives to be successful in app development?

Fingent is an IT company with a global presence specializing in building innovative technology solutions that bring tangible business value. We help big and small companies leverage technology to accelerate their business processes through tailored software solutions. Our deep industry expertise combined with the utilization of the latest technologies has made us the preferred partner for a diverse clientele serving multiple industries.
We started off operations in 2003 with the sole vision of helping businesses solve their unique challenges with technology. Since then, Fingent has emerged as a pioneer in the domain of custom software and technology consulting. On account of the rapid growth, we have broadened operations with offices and development centers spread across four countries.

What is your role in the management and development of Fingent?

I provide technology and operational leadership across a broad set of functions including - product development, software development outsourcing, project operations management and People Operations. In my role, I serve both Fingent’s employees and our customers. For our employees, my goal is to create an environment where all of us can learn, grow and thrive while applying the core values, being the best versions of ourselves. For our customers, I work closely with my team for the identification, development and delivery of long term value through technology solutions.

Tell us about your biggest achievement in the industry

Our culture: We actively practice and cultivate values-based culture that places people at the center of everything we do: clients and end users, employees, society.  In an industry where profits, valuations and the creation of addictive products is often seen as the end goal, we have been able to successfully build a different path. Instead of setting aside our values and ethics for a few percentage points of profit, we actively apply our values and principles to - deliver on our customers’ true needs, focus on outcomes rather than outputs, and ultimately to build good software that makes a difference to people’s lives. This is probably our biggest achievement so far, and something we hope to scale over the coming years.

How do you schedule the development phases of the apps to promise the timeline to your clients?

Such scheduling usually depends on - the scope and complexity, the development approach, the timeline/business criticality and the desired outcomes. For instance, last September we were approached by well known American healthcare services firm seeking desperate help to create and launch a complex mobile application by early December. The app was one of the big announcements planned for their annual event, where customers and franchisees world over were invited. Their in-house team lacked the bandwidth to develop the app and with a deadline looming near, they were in a difficult situation.  We scheduled development on two parallel tracks - one to achieve the short term objective for the annual event, and another, to deliver against a long term product roadmap.  The first track used reusable components and iterative principles to deliver against a fixed scope. The second track prioritized design thinking principles, IP creation and cross channel integration as a part of a larger digital transformation effort. After the successful delivery of the mobile application from the first track, it was slowly absorbed into the more long term roadmap of the second.

Ultimately, timelines are team commitments, where all parties involved - developers, clients, 3rd party providers - have to come together. Good project management is critical.

How do you help your clients in choosing the right yet profitable platform for app development?

In my experience, the key to choosing a good platform is - to think strategically, but act tactically, while closely following the changes in technology, business models and customer needs.  We take a holistic view, considering for instance - the role of the app in the larger ecosystem that may include AI, Big Data and IoT,  whether it connects to 3rd party systems, and most importantly the desired Customer Experience across the entire customer journey.

Which would you suggest for a successful and profitable business progression, Native or hybrid apps? How do you define the factors that influenced you to make this choice?

A few years ago, this choice was really a trade-off between an interactive and plush native experience on the one hand, or portability as a cost-efficient means to enable quick time-to-market on the other. But today, other factors also influence the decision- such as maintainability, efficiency and reliability.
We recommend a very pragmatic approach to making this choice. Step 1: Crystallize the user journey and the requirements needed to enable these. Step 2: Prioritize these requirements, both in terms of business value and time to market criticality. Step 3: Assess each requirement against the capabilities provided the platforms under consideration - Native apps, Hybrid options and PWAs.  Step 4: Assess possibilities for toolset reuse, code reuse, licensing, maintainability and feature scalability. These should help make both short term and long-term choices for platform selection.

How do you scheme your pricing model? How do you fix your budget?

When requirements are crystal clear and dependencies on external parties are well managed, a fixed price model a good way forward. However, when a more exploratory approach is required, a time and materials-based models helps reduce risks. We often execute an early exploratory analysis phase- conducting user interviews, lo-fi prototyping in close coordination with the client, to deliver wireframes and or prototypes which create a blueprint for the software to be built. Once this is in place, we usually have sufficient information to create low risk project estimates covering activities ranging from the design, programming, testing, and deployment. An early analysis also helps us identify opportunities to reduce the costs by relying on our own reusable frameworks, utilizing open source options and similar.

How helpful are the mobile apps developed by your team, for enhancing your clients’ business?

From the feedback that we have received, in most cases, the apps we build have delivered the outcomes desired by our clients. But the success or failure of an app is really in the context of the success or failure of the initiative - where both, we and our clients have to work together. We are lucky to have worked with customers who share our values, have skin in the game, and are able to apply and get the best from solutions we provide.

What according to you are the best practices to attain client satisfaction?

Practices may vary across organizations and businesses, but from my experience, the key principles remain the same.  Here are a few,

1.Developing a sense of ownership towards the outcomes desired by the customer
2.Good and consistent communication across all levels
3.Having the courage to tell customers when they are wrong, and
4.Ability and competence to deliver with good quality

Shaping the culture, processes, and the practices required to enable these in a sustained manner can be hard, but is necessary.

How do you update your business system to be in pace with the technological advancements?

With the recent advances in technology, our strategic focus has shifted from developing products to developing platforms, both for us and for our customers. At an operational level, we are using digital technology to cut across organization and departmental silos to provide a better Customer Experience. From a technology perspective: DevOps practices, APIs, and Unified Identity management are key priorities. Being a technology company, we are often our own guinea pigs, where we run controlled experiments to create PoCs. While business systems are easy to manage, the cultural aspects can be challenging. Despite being a young technology company, we too have to work hard to develop the mindset needed to adapt to the massive technology shifts, across all departments - especially with shifting job descriptions and roles.

What are your thoughts about AR, VR, and the Internet of Things (IoT)?

These technologies, together with MR, Blockchain, AI, and Big Data form the crux of most digital transformation strategies today.
While both AR and VR - have tremendous potential that can be realized. Especially with mass manufactured COTS components slated to bring costs down soon. Personally, I am more interested in AR, especially the subtractive elements, which can help us focus through the clutter. For instance the ability to find a specific item in a retail outlet, which would otherwise be lost in the crowd of items scream for the consumer’s attention.  Overall, AR and VR both provide tremendous opportunities for marketers and manufacturers alike.

On IOT, I am very interested in the data and AI based learning opportunities that will come in once connected devices cross the hype cycle to become main stream. We already see opportunities being realized in services industries, marketing, manufacturing, automotive and supply chain management.
While the engineer in me is excited about these technologies and the opportunities they bring, as a citizen I am concerned about the data privacy issues and the tremendous potential for misuse and abuse. Legislation usually lags behind technology by a decade, and it often takes trial and error to get things right. There are serious risks and concerns here which need to be addressed.

What do you think will be the future of Mobile technology?

In the tech industry, predicting the future is a fool's game. The possibilities are immense, and consumers are spoilt for choice. At present, we can see that we are entering the post-app era, where mobile apps, will slowly become invisible and perhaps act as a conduit to our wearable. With new devices available to deliver experiences, the mobile will spend more time in our pockets or bags, while still being one of the ways in which we connect to many channels. Conversational experiences are already mainstream for low risk applications. We can expect these to get better soon.  Multi-device experiences will most likely be the way forward, and mobile technology can, at least in the short term, play a key role in orchestrating these experiences. The “mobile” is no longer a thin brick in the customer’s hand, but a whole mesh of interconnected devices including smart headsets.

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