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Technology is becoming a vital part of healthcare delivery in India, with IT spend in the sector growing year-on-year. The healthcare market is clearly demand-led and this is good news for tech companies catering to the space. From Hospital Information Management Systems (HIMS) and Lab Information Management Solutions (LIMS) to Telemedicine, Patient Portals, Apps and platforms that leverage cloud technologies, the healthcare space is seeing a buzz of activity. As Nischal Khorana of Frost & Sullivan points out, "This is a very diverse segment with very varied tech needs" - and plenty of companies are stepping up to cater to those needs


IT spend demonstrates a ‘healthy' appetite
A Gartner report published in October 2013 predicted that healthcare providers in India would spend USD 1 billion on IT products and services in 2013, up seven per cent from 2012. IT services comprising consulting, implementation, IT and business process outsourcing would see the largest spending at USD $276 million, an increase of almost 20 million from 2012, the report said. Due to the overall growth in the segment, internal services (IT staff salaries and benefits) were expected to have the strongest showing, growing at 14.5 %, with IT software coming in second with 11% growth.


While a significant part of the spend is coming from private healthcare providers, the government sector is also expected to increase its healthcare IT spend as government hospitals modernize. "For a developing country like India, affordable healthcare on a universal basis is paramount," points out Maninder Singh Grewal, Chairman and MD, HealthFore Technologies. The government will be the biggest player in making healthcare availability universal and IT is expected to play a key role in this roll-out.


Manish Bahl of Forrester Research points out that government spending has been on the rise, with a 25-30 percent increase in the last financial year. And with the upcoming announcement of the government's G-CLOUD initiative, there will be a move to digitization, which will give healthcare a push, he says. Healthcare has been highlighted as a priority in India's 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) and Bahl is certain that "any new government will follow the Five Year plan and the National Rural Health Mission focusing on healthcare in rural areas." A robust policy for healthcare spending will drive investments in hardware and software.


Different sizes have diverse wants
Different segments of healthcare providers are investing in different IT systems. Tier 1 hospitals are making large investments towards adoption of BI, Analytics and Mobility, since they already have basic ERP/Hospital Management Systems in place. Some of the large players, like Apollo, Fortis, Manipal and Columbia Asia, have also moved to Cloud based systems.


Interestingly, Tier 2 and tier 3 hospitals, that are currently largely following manual processes, are also showing willingness to adopt cloud based applications to cater to their core needs. A cloud-based strategy will help T2 and T3 service providers accelerate automation without large infrastructure spends. Khorana also forecasts that smaller healthcare facilities that are dependent on tech providers will look for partners who can provide greater managed services and SLA driven solutions. This opens up more business possibilities for tech providers.


A segment that is also seeing some traction is diagnostics. Diagnostic labs are increasingly investing in LIMS. Those with a system in place are looking to the next level, to create portals that allow them to engage with customers.


Some services exist solely due to technology. Store and forward telemedical assistance, in the form of transcription services, has been a part of the outsourcing work India has been involved in since the 1990s. Today, telemedicine has users across the board, from cities to villages.


Addressing the lack of uniformly good hospitals across the country, eVaidya (formerly Ehealth Access) takes Telemedicine to a different level, providing customers online and telephone channels to interact with doctors, irrespective of their location, so people in remote locations have access to healthcare professionals. The company also launched Virtual Medical Kiosk, a portable plug and play, interactive health monitoring device that allows people in rural areas access to consultations with doctors via phone, web cams, video conferencing, messaging, or chat.


Analytics to build a better health equation
Tech providers like HealthFore believe that analytics adoption is the next big wave for large hospitals that are already equipped with basic management systems. Grewal believes that analytics can play a key role in healthcare optimization - "for example, from a slew of tests done, one can pin-point the ones that were actually needed to treat an illness Analytics will be a  key component of a Hospital Information system " he points out.


For hospitals, analytics could also help develop effective preventive healthcare programmes. Databases of patient medical history could be mined to anticipate and suggest tests to monitor key health indices. Treatment records could also be used to determine procedures and medicines that actually delivered. Disease patterns could also be better tracked and outbreaks spotted early, Grewal says. These will become essential tools for determining clinical outcomes and sector spend for any health system, public or private.


According to Bahl, niche areas like Analytics and Mobility will see further investment, with "Mobility being the only way to reach out to the masses."


Putting the patient first
Moving on to B2C healthcare IT plays, a slew of start-ups have lined up service offerings that help patients get more out of the healthcare ecosystem.


Take the case of EkoHealth, a start-up founded on the principle of affordable healthcare. Says Dr. Akash S. Rajpal, founder: "It's not just that healthcare is expensive but half the time, it is expensive because of the middleman, a fact that the general public is generally unaware of." Bridging the knowledge gap through technology, EkoHealth's web and mobile apps provide patients with factual information on the cost of surgical procedures and medicines. The service's users save significantly on medication by getting information on different brands with the same composition, says Rajpal.


Another start-up Surgerica has created an online platform that connects patients with many doctors and hospitals, allowing them to make comparisons and weigh their options before making a choice of doctor/hospital.


Going the app route
The high penetration level of smartphones has spurred the creation of healthcare apps customised for the Indian user. One such is HealthKartPlus by HealthKart, an online pharmacy network and drug database. With more than 100,000 downloads, it is the most popular free healthcare app, ranked number one on Android and IOS.


Apps like HealthifyMe help users track diet and exercise. Available in 13 languages, the app has 10,000 Indian foods in the database. Another example is the Proven Alternative Remedies App, which has a collection of over 200 Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Herbal remedies, while the Ayurved Home Remedies provides a similar service in Hindi, catering to a non-English speaking audience.


Being social about health
From clicking to sharing, is but one small step. If smartphones are driving app usage, they are also catalysing creation of applications that leverage social media and communities. Take the case of start-up Social Blood which leverages the power of Facebook to connect potential donors with those who need immediate blood donation, via geographical location tracking, so those closest can be of assistance. Sanjivani - Ayurvedic Remedies, an app from Vue Solution,  gives users a platform to share  cures that worked for them via SMS, email, Twitter and Facebook. ‘Neuros',   a platform developed in India, is a social network app for medical students, doctors and other healthcare professionals to interact and share knowledge.


The health care IT market is clearly in growth mode, going by the increasing diversity of solutions, service providers and strategies. As automation and maintenance of electronic health records become more ubiquitous, this trend is bound to accelerate. Clearly this is one sector that appears to be in the very pink of health!

(Excerpts from NASSCOM's Interview with Mr Vikram Kole, COO, MAIA Intellegence)


MAIA Intelligence is a pioneer in the BI solutions space in India, a single business focus company providing affordable BI, Reporting and Analytics solutions. What began as the vision of three partners in 2006 has grown to a 60-person strong organization with a strong product development focus. MAIA has the distinction of being the first BI solutions company in India with an enterprise-wide BI strategy. The company's COO Vikram Kole, points out, "MAIA Intelligence was built as an organization on the concept platform of BI Democratization."


BI for all
Historically, BI and Analytics have been targeted at the top management of companies. Lower down the order, specialized tools are seldom available to users, who typically use Microsoft Excel, an individual productivity tool, to perform data analysis. Even companies that wish to extend BI platforms across staff levels have been cautious about doing so due to prohibitive licensing costs. This is the market gap that MAIA addresses by providing a BI tool that is collaborative and accessible to all the layers of an organization, at affordable license costs. Since the BI needs of senior corporate layer were already being catered to by existing solutions, MAIA began ground up, offering the tool to the operational layer first. Today, MAIA's tool offers various interfaces that cater to the operational, tactical and strategic levels of an organization.


Delivering data for decisions
MAIA's value proposition to organizations is across the board BI, adaptable to the needs of the different layers. MAIA creates an analytics ecosystem for an enterprise based on its data needs, spanning information delivery, decision making, profitability reports, and HR efficiency reports. The system aids pro-active decision making, a clear need in today's competitive markets. 1KEY is used by customers across all departments from finance, sales and marketing, to human resources and even information technology. In the IT context, 1KEY can be used for analytics related to an organization's IT assets and to assess impact of software up-grades.


The platform has two key aspects, one of which is the platform's technical architecture which enables quick integration of data from multiple databases and manipulation of this data to build dashboards for users. The second is the business user interface, which is centred on outcome based analysis. Here the user can manipulate data, drill down into multiple levels and perform comparative/time trend analysis, while keeping multiple variables in mind.


As Vikram points out, analytics is a game between business dimensions and the measures. Based on its expertise across various industries, MAIA developed a Product IP in terms of features and functionality and cemented certain industry models that the Product IP can read, hand in hand with its Solution IP. Since certain KPIs are already set across industry verticals, there are set features available out of the box which can be further customized based on the needs of a new customer. Alongside their own service team, MAIA has a partner ecosystem to provide implementation, configuration and training services to the end customers, irrespective of whether they use MS, SAP or Oracle.


Growth Engine
By engineering a platform that can be cost-effectively extended across an organization, MAIA has been able to build a large user base. According to Kole, 1KEY's all-encompassing reach has helped MAIA surpass user levels of competing MNC products. Take for instance, MAIA's largest customer, Mahindra and Mahindra Financial Services, which has deployed 1KEY for over 5000 users. The use of Excel has been eliminated, and MAIA provides dashboards for management, typical analytical reports for tactical managers and complete data viewing and usage capabilities for operations.


The financial sector is a key segment for MAIA and the sector, along with the manufacturing vertical, contributes to 60-65% of the company's revenue. Other verticals addressed by MAIA's BI platform are Pharmaceuticals, Retail BPOs and IT service organizations.


1Key has been prominently featured on the NASSCOM Product Excellence Matrix for Analytics grid, an endeavour by NASSCOM in conjunction with Frost & Sullivan, to create a benchmark for Indian software products in different categories, including Analytics.


To keep its growth story going, MAIA is looking to extend its presence beyond India to the Middle East and Africa, where they now have a presence. The United States (US) market is also on the company's radar.


The company has a network of over eighteen partners in India and will continue to position skills through partnerships and alliances for future growth. MAIA has structured its partnerships to ensure all round value for clients. Says Vikram: "as the company that started the enterprise wide BI strategy, we have stuck with our focus; we know the actual advantage of our product is to the business user."

Avekshaa Technologies celebrated the successful completion of 3 years and formally launched their innovative core technology platform - "Avekshaa Business-IT Predictability & Assurance Platform (P-A-S-STM Platform)".


During these years, using this platform Avekshaa has solved complex and burning issues of leading enterprises across the globe, for their mission and business critical IT applications / IT system. In this process, they have solved over 30 unique and complex IT System's "Performance, Availability, Scalability and Security" related issues and created 7 IPs innovations and another 7 are in various phases of development.


Avekshaa is bringing-in a paradigm shift in the way the Performance, Availability, Security and Scalability requirements are delivered for Business Critical IT Applications / IT systems. We have built a leading core technology platform around core IPs, Proven Methodologies, and Knowledge Base of use cases and real life scenarios. This "P-A-S-STM Platform" is a newer approach to manage Complexity, Investment Protection, and Value Extraction from the existing & new IT Systems. Avekshaa's P-A-S-STM Platform has helped customers positively improve their Revenue Streams, Customer Service, Operational Performance, while reducing Risk and Costs.


Avekshaa has also been very well received by the Industry as well, who has generously endorsed us in our efforts of bringing substantial value and innovation for our clients. This year NASSCOM has awarded us as the "NASSCOM EMERGE 50", as one of the top 50 emerging Start-up in the country and "Express IT Awards" adjudged us as the top 3 start-up companies in Innovation and Excellence in IT


On the business front, Avekshaa has met all our revenue and profitability goals, by becoming a profitable company from the second year of our operations. With the success in the last three years in India and limited global market, Avekshaa Technologies is now accelerating into the next phase of growth, by expanding globally to address very large markets in USA, UK and Australia geographies. The main focus would be around Banking & Financial Industry, Telecommunications, Retail, and Energy verticals. In our "Vision 2020", we are projecting profitable revenue of over INR 500 Crores, and direct employment potential for around 1500 people.

  For startups and small companies, finding the bandwidth to take on market research can be a bit of a challenge. There are time and budget constraints, but taking the time to test an idea in the marketplace and ascertain its viability offers definite value.

  If a company has a product in the market that has not shown desired results, or is looking to expand beyond its current customer base, market research will help with understanding the climate in the targeted space, be it business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C). Market research is a tool that provides a reliable and accurate portrait of the current market scenario and will influence an organization's decisions and aid it in planning the next steps, including branding and design options and rethinking of strategies.

  B2B and B2C potential
Product development at a startup is often intuitive, exploratory, but data derived from market research can be key for complete product conceptualization. Such data will also help companies fine-tune their build strategy and the eventual marketing of the products based on what their audience wants, instead of just talking about what the product can do.  In instances where start-ups have identified the segment they wish to cater to, one-on-one meetings with key potential customers will provide information on the needs as well as the pain points of the potential buyer. While many core teams at start-ups have an intuitive vision of what the product capabilities should be, it is always beneficial to buttress this with non-partisan research.

  In a business to consumer situation, market research could be in the form of an experiential product testing exercise with volunteers from the potential consumer base or a field pilot to determine the feasibility and robustness of the product and business model.

  Be Social
A key channel for companies to reach out to consumers is social media. Apart from using social media sites to generate buzz and spread the word about the product, online surveys will allow a company to ascertain product viability and garner audience perception. Such information will allow the company to proactively tailor its marketing and branding activities. For example, a company that wishes to revamp its logo can engage in a completely online, Facebook and Twitter based campaign to get feedback and audience votes.

  Watching the Clock
Does market research work for companies that are rushing to get their product to market? Taking the time to engage in research may seem like a bad idea for some. But market research can be done quite rapidly in a less formalized, more qualitative manner, using dipstick surveys and small focus groups, and leveraging social media.  In fact, when working off limited budgets and timeframes, being able to tell the potential customers what they want to hear, to align product pitch and pricing to the needs and mindset of the audience, gains further importance. If the product and audience are not in sync it can cause costly mistakes and lead to a lot of time (and money!) spent revamping or rethinking strategy.

  Engaging in market research can therefore help accelerate RoI. By knowing where, how and what the audience expects, a company can fine-tune product design, choose the channels to sell its products, create branding around that and ensure that it is entering the market at a price point that is acceptable to its potential buyers. In other words, it can play to its true potential and taste success.

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