CK Technologies readies to take Microsoft office head on with its desi bilingual office suite writes Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai: Every morning when soft spoken Vinod Reddy, CEO, CK Technologies Private Ltd (formerly Chennai Kavigal Private Ltd) steps out to jog he is reminded of a marathon ahead - the herculean task of promoting the desi bilingual office suite Shakti Office 1.72 (SO 1.72) and the associated hurdles.
Into its eighth year of continuous running, CK Technologies is part of the TeNet group promoted by Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) professors sharing a common goal of offering global solutions at Indian prices.
The city-based company has already notched up some success bagging orders from Bank of Baroda and Tamil Nadu police department. Says Reddy, "The two orders for over 1,000 licences each were bagged amidst stiff competition from bigger players. The Tamil Nadu police department is in the process of installing around 1,200 computers in police stations/ offices with SO 1.72."
That apart, SO has been installed in all the computers housed in the Chiraag chain of internet cafes operated by group company, n-Logue Communications Private Limited, Chennai. So is the case with all the computers in schools run by the Chennai Corporation.
Naturally the four young promoters - Manoj Annadurai, Suresh Subbian, Satyan, Suresh Narayanan - are upbeat.
Says managing director, Annadurai, "We have started the process of democratising the Indian computing field."
The democratisation process he refers to is the availability of choice to the consumers in buying an office suite at an affordable price and in a language (preferably mother tongue) they are comfortable with.
Unlike the choice of hardware, ther is hardly any choice in the office suite software segment.
According to Annadurai, MS Office from Microsoft Corporation dominates the office suite space commanding nearly 95 per cent market share. Competition like StarOffice and OpenOffice from Sun Microsystems and IBM's Lotus Smart Suite have a minor presence globally. In India, the three brands are unheard of.
Last year around 30 lakh computers were sold in India and the sales expectation for this year is around 40 lakh. A major portion of them were assembled. In all these systems MS Office comes as a default office suite, thanks to its market stranglehold and also due to piracy.
"Our SO 1.72 ushers in the democracy in the domestic computing arena," adds Annadurai. SO 1.72 is a bundle of software programmes like word processor (SOwrite), spreadsheet (SOcalc), database (SOaccess), e-mail client (SOmail), paint programme (SOdraw), presentation programme (SOshow) and html editor (SOnet).
The whole package costs just Rs1,995, compared to around Rs20,000 charged by others.
The unique selling proposition of this product is its facility to switch over to an Indian language - Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and very soon Gujarati - from English at the touch of a button. "Indians think, speak and write bilingually. With our programme, they can do bilingual PC computing," says Annadurai.
In a country where there are several regional languages spoken by a large population, the use of English language software like MS Office is actually a hurdle in PC penetration. It is here SO 1.72's bilingual capability clearly stands out.
The low price is possible as the SO 1.72 suite consists of all the features that are used by people except the exotic and rarely used ones.
Parroting the Pareto's 80-20 principle Reddy says, "We understand that 80 per cent of the Indian MS Office users use only 20 per cent of its features. And our software contains all those applications. We can customise the package as per the requirement of any corporate user," remarks Reddy.
Unlike the other competitors to Microsoft, CK Technologies understood that people have become familiar with MS Office's icons, commands and screen formats. To capture market share and put the users at ease SO 1.72 should have the same look and feel.
But this doesn't mean it is the poor man's MS Office. "Pricing is a strategic decision. Our price should attract Indian corporates using pirated version to switch over to a legal software at a small price and gain some peace of mind," says Annadurai.
What about infringement of intellectual property rights? Citing the steering wheel, brake / clutch pads and their positioning inside a car across brands, Reddy says, "Their look and positioning inside a car cannot be patented. Similarly in a software user interface, look and feel aspects are not patentable like the source code."
While SO 1.72 version operates on Windows platform, CK Technologies has started work to bring out a Linux compatible variant to drive down prices further.
Though ambitious, the duo is realistic in their expectations and projections. Apart from n-Logue and other TeNet group companies, they expect institutional / bulk orders from central / state governments and government-funded projects.
Reddy shows the economics. The central government buys around 10 lakh PCs per annum and by opting for SO 1.72 it can save over Rs1,100 crore. Perhaps the telecommunications minister Dayanidhi Maran who is passionate about popularising `dot in' should also talk about SO 1.72 instead of MS Office.
Reddy does not expect any immediate conversions to take place in the Indian corporate segment. He also writes off multinational companies (MNCs) based in India as their global headquarters determine their policies.
As mentioned earlier, group outfit n-Logue Communications is a bulk institutional buyer, having bought over 20,000 SO units till date.
It is not going to be easy, as the initial marketing has to be done directly. Big software distributors are not willing to market the products and prefer to wait and watch as to how the market pans out to SO 1.72.
Similarly hardware companies too are reluctant to bundle SO 1.72. "One hardware company wants our product at dirt cheap rates without assuring any minimum volume, the usual corporate practice in the case of bulk purchases," Reddy remarks.
With 50 per cent of the PC sales accounted by unbranded assemblers and unorganised players, CK Technologies plans a close association with them. The other task is to meet the inevitable challenge posed by potential competition. Meanwhile the less than 50-member CK Technologies team is confident of demand picking up.
For the current fiscal CK Technologies expects to sell around 8,000 units and by the end of next, sales is expected to touch 40,000 units. The company's other products include Kuralamudhu, a multimedia encyclopedia on Thirukural in a compact disc and Asan a bilingual package (English and Tamil) that teaches speed typing.
Last fiscal the company clocked a turnover of Rs35 lakh and the target for the current fiscal is Rs1.5 crore.
"All these years, our primary focus was on developing a product that meets all the required parameters - features and stability. We have been meeting the milestones and the quality parameters specified by the venture funds," says Reddy.
More than two thirds of its Rs3 crore equity capital is funded by venture funds like Venture East TeNet Fund promoted by Ray Stata, chairman, Analog Devices Inc., USA. The company expects another round of venture funding to the tune of $1 million later this year to take care of marketing and branding activities.
So Reddy and his team are now set for the SO 1.72 marathon.