E-learning industry in India is still very fluid

CIOL Bureau
New Update

Sanjaya Sharma in many ways can be termed as the man who created the

e-learning ecosystem in India. In 1990, when the Internet and computers were not

that popular in India, Sharma saw an opportunity in combining education and IT.

He envisaged a future where education would be provided in imaginative ways
using the latest technology on offer. Sharma established his company, backed by

the renowned corporate house of Tatas. The company was christened Tata

Interactive Systems (TIS).

In the last 16 years or so, the company has seen many ups and fewer downs. It
has grown impressively and has close to 900 employees. TIS is headquartered in

Mumbai and has a development center in Kolkata. It has it sales team spread

across different part of the globe. Of late, the market has been rife with

rumors about TIS. In a tête-à-tête with Shashwat Chaturvedi from

CyberMedia News, Sanjay Sharma, CEO, TIS, provides insight as to how the

company functions and in the process lays to rest a lot of doubts. Excerpts.

It has been rumored that TIS will be merged with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
What is your take on it?


I am myself unaware of it. Anyways, what big difference would it (merger)

make? TIS is a division of Tata Industries and so is TCS. In fact, we are

working on close to half-a-dozen projects jointly. When it comes to external

projects, we present a unified Tata front to the clients. S. Ramadorai (CEO, TCS)

is one of the reviewers of TIS. There is no immediate talk of such a move, and I

will be very surprised if it happens in 2006.

Recently, the internal structure of the company was reorganized, what
necessitated such a radical restructure that had been in place for quite a few


Future growth and present expansion necessitated such a move. We had followed

the line of business (LOB) approach for years, but it was certainly not the best

of the way to do business. For instance, in one of the LOBs, one senior manager

was looking over close to 400 people. We brainstormed for quite some time and

came up with the idea of practices. The new system is completely attuned to the

way the e-learning industry is evolving. For instance, now we have ten

practices, with one manager in charge of each. The practices have people that

have special skills or knowledge specific to it. Like enterprise application

training (EAT) will have people who have worked in the space earlier. Business

reviews are carried every month for each practice. It has been 4-5 months since

the restructuring and I have all the reasons to believe that it has worked for


Has TIS missed the annual targets this year?

Yes, for the first time in 16 years, we indeed missed the targets. A single

big order that was supposed to come in the month of December did not turn up,

skewing up all the targets.

It is rumored that TIS is facing a lot of pressure now on its pricing from
other e-learning players in India?


It has been so for quite many years. Many small e-learning companies often

undercut each other to gain projects. But, TIS has been largely away from all

this. The clients that choose us do so for the quality work that we do, in the

last few years our average price has appreciated and not gone down. Clients

recognize that we stand for quality, we have recently been awarded four

international prizes for our work. Clients appreciate the kind of investment we

have made in the facility and the overheads. Customers that are anyways looking

for lower prices will always find vendors that offer them.

TIS also supposedly lost quite a few prestigious projects in the recent past?

It is part of a business. Yet, most of my clients are repeat customers, we

have clients like McGraw-Hill, Netg, British Airways, HSBC, Siemens, etc. I am

already sitting on a 50 per cent order backlog for the current year.

Why is that a lot of people are quitting TIS, and joining other competitors?

The attrition is normal. Every month close to 20 people quit the company. The

big difference right now is that we have stopped hiring. We had ramped up our

numbers for a specific project that we going to get. Since the project did not

materialize, we were overstaffed. We were over 900 people; the ideal number

should be around 800. Once the correction has taken place, we hope to start

recruiting people again in October (2006). As far as people joining competition

is concerned, there is also a lot of reverse flow happening. E-learning industry

in India is still very fluid, so this kind of to-and-fro movement is pretty


The recent SAP implementation, running into a few crores, has reportedly not
worked according to the company's liking?


It is certainly not true. With the use of SAP, we have aligned all our global

offices on a single system. We have over 300 people who are working abroad. We

have offices in different continents of America, Europe, Middle East,

Asia-Pacific. There are at any given moment close to 200 projects that the

company is working on. Keeping in mind all these complexities, the

implementation of SAP ERP has helped us no end. Now, all the orders can be

logged, tracked at a click of a button.

The Kolkata development center is reportedly not showing returns as it was
supposed too, your comments?

Again, it is untrue. In fact the Kolkatta center has been more profitable

than our Mumbai center. The capacity for Kolkata is 250, and it is running full

house. That is proof enough that the center is working well for TIS. It has been

over a year since the center was opened. Two out of the 10 practices are being

handled from Kolkata center.

TIS became the first Indian e-learning company to acquire companies abroad,
how has the M&A helped?

We acquired Tertia Edusoft AG in Switzerland and Tertia Edusoft GmbH in

Germany. These are small companies that focus on specific areas; Like the German

company, which was renowned in the country for it Simulation products; Or the

Swiss company has a very unique anti money laundering product that has very good

potential across the world. We chose these companies for the specific skill sets

that they provided. These were profitable firms working in a niche market, now

they are part of a global company. It has also helped us increase our footprints

in European markets.

What lies ahead for TIS?

We are quite buoyant about the future prospects. TIS is a 16-year-old

company, and has created a brand name that is known globally. As, I said

earlier, we are on target this time. The lesson that I have learned is to limit

one's risks, so that a single project does not impact us the way it did. We

are also breaking into new markets, for instance, our STOBEL (story-based

e-learning) approach has found many takers. We will be opening an office in

South Africa shortly. We are aiming for over 30 per cent growth this year. It is

quite an exciting time to be in business.

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