Compiling “Limca Book of Records” was extremely challenging – Viraf Sutaria

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viraf sutaria

Viraf Sutaria, an NMIMS alumnus of 1983 batch, is Founder Director, pivotal to the success of Automated Workflow Private Limited (AWPL) and is considered a valuable contributor to the BPM and ECM industry. With more than 25 years of experience in ECM and BPM, he is responsible for managing and directing business worldwide. Prior to this expanded role, he has managed Operations globally and business in Asia. Mr. Sutaria also collated and launched the Limca Book of Records in 1990, India’s indigenous Guinness. It became the #1 hardback bestseller in India in the very first year.

NMIMS Aluminous team had a conversation with him on different aspects of his professional life.

In an era of change, we see a sudden influx of new investments, adaptations and modifications in the financial services domain. The business dynamics are changing every day. We asked Viraf, what are his expectations from AWPL, how is the company adapting to various changes and how is AWPL able to differentiate itself from its competitors in such scenario?

According to Viraf, IT services companies are going through a major change and are trying to be focused on adding more value beyond plain manpower, by bringing in some IP assets or Products. IT Product companies are also undergoing change. The need for new-age products, to solve new-age problems is leaving traditional product companies behind and is forcing them to think in different ways. Banks are becoming digital and so are Insurance companies.

On the one hand, their competitors for consumers are no longer the traditional ones but beyond. On the other hand they still have to work within their legacy frameworks and problems. Those who cannot bridge the gap between digital and the legacy part will perish very soon. The legacy part of the business, which includes paper, workflow, faxes, telephone and email, is shifting towards mobile, intelligence, and machine learning.

Viraf informed that AWPL is transforming such legacy companies to digital and making sure that both work together. Utilizing AWPL’s Anthill platform, BFSI institutions make their way to mobility and analytics. It allows financial institutions to rapidly build variety of mobile applications with astute analytics at the back applying minimal skills. This product works as the ‘Innovation Fabric’ for their customers. It’s a platform, which democratizes mobility and analytics capabilities for all by ensuring there are minimal skills needed. AWPL’s other product suite, Dotsphere is a comprehensive Case Management tool, implemented to digitize, automate and manage enterprises in BFSI. A process-based application Pencil that is bundled with domain knowledge and integration makes case management faster and agile.

With the efficacy of Pencil and Dotsphere, Gartner has regarded these products highly in their reports.

Some people aspire to have their own business from the very beginning of their career. Was it the same for Viraf? We asked him when he decided to start his own business and his inspiration.

Viraf says, “yes! It was quite clear from the beginning that I wanted to be an Entrepreneur myself. The only question was what and when. Seems strange for a person who had no family background in business. Maybe in those wild student days, my impression was that those who did MBA, were supposed to start their own business.”

He shared the incident that shaped his mind since the age of 12, when a family friend who was a well-known ‘Handwriting Analyst’ and when Viraf was in Class 7, he produced a 10-12 page analysis (Viraf still possess it), which clearly mentioned he would have his own business, one day. “Maybe that got stuck and was my conviction” says viraf.

Talking about his first job, he said, I completed my MMS finals, and suddenly realized, I was probably the only person who had not yet landed a job. So, I kind of walked into Mr. Ramesh Chauhan’s office at Parle and asked for a job. Luckily, he hired me but I was bored for 3 years, working in Marketing. It was not at all like Philip Kotler stated. Then I got a break, when I was offered to compile and market, the ‘Limca Book of Records’. In a way, it was like independently managing my own business. It took 3 years, launched it, and the rest is history.

However, I would like to share the biggest lesson of my life, which I received on my very first day at work. My Boss, a Gujarati gentleman and Director at Parle, called me in and asked for my views, after briefly explaining the way soft drinks were sold and marketed. Fresh, with a MBA degree, I gave him a 30 min. discourse, which included the 4 P’s, replete with analytics, graphs etc. He heard me patiently, without interruption, and then only made one statement in gujarati, which I never forgot and will never forget for the rest of my life. Translating ‘All this is fine, however, in my opinion all that matters is – how much maal went out in the morning and how much ‘rokra’ (money), came back in the evening’.

We also asked Viraf about his main concept behind compiling and releasing the Limca Book of Records which recognizes India’s amazing, extraordinary, strange and breath-taking records.

Honestly, the idea was not mine, he said. It was Ramesh Chauhan’s (Chairman of Parle) idea. I was just lucky to be offered the opportunity to lead the Project. I guess you just need to grab an opportunity, when it presents itself. The what, and when takes care of itself. The main concept was to entrench the largest selling soft drink in India, as a brand. This was in the days when Coke and Pepsi were making consistent forays to enter India, and this was a brilliant idea to brand, as well as recognise the deserving achievements of Indians, thereby promoting excellence. It was fun travelling the length and breadth of India, meeting the tallest and shortest person, one with the longest nails and witnessing breath-taking feats, in person.

Talking about challenges faced, Viraf says, “Compiling a Book like Limca Book of Records was extremely challenging. To my mind, the greatest challenge was authenticity. We simply could not afford to include wrong facts, based simply on an entry sent. What was the proof that the event actually occurred? How were we sure that no one else of the billion folks in India, had bettered it? Keep updating, as and when records were broken.

Another challenge was the poor records maintained by many organizations. Even some sports bodies did not keep proper records. Therefore, the key was to authenticate from various sources, whereas if the main organization had kept squeaky clean data, we could have completed the first edition, much earlier. One of the biggest controversies was whether the legendary Lata Mangeshkar had sung the maximum songs, as everyone guessed, or Asha Bhonsle. There were no clear cut records kept.”

With more than 25 years of experience in ECM and BPM, Viraf has seen the evolution of industry. While sharing his key learnings Viraf said,  BPM has undergone many waves over the past 20 years. A simple ‘Workflow’ solution was now metamorphosed into a complex Enterprise Application Integration in the digital world.

The first wave in the 80’s was all about Process improvement focus being on quality management, task efficiency and continuous flow. The 2nd wave in the 1990’s belonged to Process re-engineering. Buzz words were Better, Faster, Cheaper. Business started being done through the Internet. The 3rd wave was known as Business Process Management in the 2000 decade. Focus was on 24×7 Global business and continual improvement.

Up to a few years back, BPM helped the back office in efficiency and reducing costs. With increased and intense competition for our customers, BPM has now shifted to the customer’s customer. How can our customer acquire, maintain and retain their customers. Technology is a given. It’s all about solving real business problems. And now we enter the digital era, as everyone likes to call it. However, it is extremely critical to understand what this means. In our experience, it’s not about Analytics or Big Data or Mobility alone. In my opinion, and this is where we score big time over our competitors, is to provide a true, meaningful solution on how an organization can bridge their legacy system to Digital. This is the next New-Wave.

Looking at the past, is there something that you wish you had done differently with respect to your student or professional life, We asked Viraf.

Well, that’s a tough one. I guess everyone dreams of Harvard and a lovely campus. We were the first batch of NMIMS, and though there were concerns initially, today I can proudly say that whatever I am today is due to our experience in a pioneering ‘start up’. Isn’t that what business is all about today? I never think about what ‘could have been’. I only want to be certain today, that whatever decisions I take from now on, I should not have any regrets, when I bow out.

While sharing his memories at NMIMS, he revealed that NMIMS was a ‘start up’ as we know it today. We built from scratch. We created the logo. We chose our exam dates. The vacations. We introduced an Inter Management Sports meet. It was not all about studies. We worked hard and played equally hard. We participated with our faculty in every single initiative. I guess there were many ‘incidents’, which we reminisce about, but would not be appropriate to mention here. Maybe we can if we meet over a drink. Cheers !