Manthan's product for providing business intelligence in retail has won it global customers
By Sujit John | TNN
You might almost miss the Manthan Systems facility on Lavelle Road in Bangalore. And even when you go into the facility, the look certainly doesn't convey the impact it's having in the world of retail.
Food and pharmacy retailer Haggen in the US, for instance, found that Manthan's analytics solution ARC enabled it to get SKU (stock keeping unit) level reports - like whether there's enough of, say, Dove's 100gm soap in a store or warehouse - in under 60 seconds, and non-SKU level (larger units) reports in under 30 seconds. Before the implementation, daily reporting was unavailable, and weekly reports used to be delayed by over 10 days.
It wasn't also possible to join multiple data sets like product and customer to determine trends and patterns. Haggen's sushi section used to make fresh sushi each day. The common impression was that shoppers bought sushi as a lunch food. With Manthan's product ARC, the company discovered that most sushi sales happen after 5pm - more shoppers picked sushi up on the way home as a dinner meal. With that insight, Haggen changed their business processes to allocate labour to sushi making in the afternoon, so that they save labour time in the morning for other tasks and also provide fresher sushi for the evening. Similarly, the meat division, which was putting steaks and high end meat cuts on promotion thinking that these types of meats were pulling in the customers, realised after looking at the distribution of meat sales provided by ARC that actually it was ground beef that was pulling in the customers. This changed how promotions were analysed for their effectiveness and how they decided to put future items on promotion.
"Being a retail BI (business intelligence) solution, ARC was a superior choice compared to other generic BI tools like Microstrategy, Business Objects or Cognos," Haggen's CIO has been quoted as saying. "Being on a high growth curve, Haggen did not have the time to deploy and customise generic BI toolkits. As a best-of-breed, pre-built solution for retail decision making, ARC was the only comprehensive solution that met needs of all departments."
That kind of customer endorsement and the value its solutions bring are what have enabled Manthan to play chief analytics officer to a host of retailers around the world, including McDonald's, Woolworth, Supervalu, Haggar and Prada. That has also brought it recognitions like the Red Herring 100 Award for Asia last year, a selection of the 100 most innovative private technology companies; the IBM Beacon Award 2008 for 'Outstanding Industry Solution by an ISV'; and its ranking at No. 95 in a list of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in Asia Pacific in 2007 by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
Manthan's success has come from its ability to put together a BI product that's an all-in-one for retail. Often, organizations use 13 different BI tools, each a silo, for different purposes like reporting, data mining, etc. "With our product, you don't have such silos. We have pre-built everything," says Atul Jalan, who founded Manthan in 2003, after establishing companies like Netkraft, and an early venture in Kolkata, the city he grew up in, called Microtrack, which came out with a software vaccine for a virus that became an instant success and then went on to develop security software for defence and banks.
ARC's pre-built nature also means customers don't need an IT consulting company to stitch multiple products together. And Jalan says it reduces the deployment time from the normal two years to just about four months. To develop the product, Jalan put together a global team that interviewed people in all roles in retail to understand the details of the nature of each work. "We then combined this deep understanding of retail with econometric and statistical tools, and software technology," says Jalan. The product can help retailers understand what to sell where, at what price, what promotions to run, how much to discount to get rid of old stock, which customer sets to target, where to set up a store, where to close or remodel a store, and make forecasts. The potential of the product has won Manthan funds from IDG Ventures, DFJ and ePlanet. Manthan is also today a case study in some of the IIMs and American colleges on account of research done by Prof James A Narus of Babcock Graduate School of Management, US, and Prof D V R Seshadri of IIM-B on customer value centric (CVC) businesses. "But I don't read up on concepts like CVC," says Jalan. "Because it will say 'do this', 'don't do this'. That will condition me. Things must come intuitively. I must feel I'm creating value for my customers. If my product fails, I blame it on luck and move on."