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Published on: March 5, 2022, 8:46 p.m.
Intelligence par excellence
  • Mittal: passion for innovation; Photo: Sanjay Borade

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

While the rapid increase in data gathering and harvesting has indeed made ‘data the new oil’, to borrow a cliché, the sheer size and volume of this resource has made corporates aware that data can be mined and analysed to uncover new patterns and trends, and decode shifts in the marketplace. No doubt, the volume of data continues to expand, but for companies the ability to lever that data for insights and better decision-making has become vital for business growth. 

The rush to decode these swathes of data that businesses generate every day is producing a new stream of technology and data-driven initiatives, popularly known as artificial intelligence (AI)-led analytics. This stream of data analytics is vastly different from traditional methods that rely on human-led statistical techniques. While traditional means of gathering and analysing data are time-consuming, machine-learning (ML) models get effective results, faster. 

“AI-led analytics is a process to derive intelligence using ‘machine learning,’ ‘deep learning’ and other technologies to uncover insights and find new patterns and relationships in the data. The advent of transformational technologies like artificial intelligence has resulted in a major overhaul in the way organisations look at data analytics. AI is transforming the field of analytics by offering a level of speed, scale and granularity that is difficult to achieve through traditional statistical techniques,” says Ashwin Mittal, CMD and CEO, Course5 Intelligence. 

AI all the way

Mittal draws from years of hands-on experience in AI-led development. Hailing from a family of builders and real estate developers, Mittal was driven by a passion for innovation in the field of technology. Back in the 2000s, Mittal acquired a small venture-backed technology firm, even as programming and writing code was all ‘Greek’ for the young entrepreneur. Nevertheless, Mittal wanted to chart his own course away from the family roots in real estate, and venture into the fast-growing field of technology and innovation. 

In his new venture as owner of a start-up technological firm, Mittal often burnt the midnight oil understanding the nuances of the data and technology businesses and doing sales calls with overseas clients. Over time, he was attracted to the immense possibilities of AI and ML in the field of analytics, and very early on he steered Course5 Intelligence towards AI-led data analytics. 

While companies in traditional data analytics have mushroomed, Course5 Intelligence is at the forefront of AI-driven analytics. According to a Zinnov report, the firm is one of the leading independent digital analytics companies, with significant expertise in analytics for digital, direct-to-consumer and omni-channel models including areas such as customer, supply chain, enterprise AI and social media analytics and insights. 

One of its other specialties is marketing analytics and insights, which includes dynamic customer segmentation, brand measurement and analytics, market-mix optimisation, AI-powered research insights and market and competitive intelligence. 

On course

Over the years since it started its journey in 2000, Course5 Intelligence has developed deep domain expertise in the technology, media and telecoms, life sciences, pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods and retail verticals. Most of these sectors are expected to have significant tailwinds after the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically in data and analytics, according to the Zinnov report. 

Besides, the firm also deploys its AI solutions in other industries such as financial services, utilities, automotive and industrial goods, and provides analytic services and insights into other areas such as risk, finance and operations. Course5 leverages techniques such as computer perception, machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks, including natural language processing, natural language understanding and other advanced AI techniques. 

The firm has built its AI-driven products and solutions and intellectual property-led solutions supported by industry-specific domain experience and is aimed at enabling organisations to solve the complex issues of their customers. 

Course5’s advantage is that it has a differentiated approach through its AI-driven products and solutions. The firm has set up AI labs in Bengaluru and Toronto. These are AI-led innovation and research and development centres aiming to create a broad base of deep AI capabilities that supports the creation of innovative products and platforms. Course5 has a team of 29 dedicated AI scientists at these labs. 

“Our capabilities across cloud, data engineering, business intelligence, intelligent process automation, applied AI and consulting enable us to cater to the entire analytics and insights value chain from data management and descriptive analytics to insightful, predictive and prescriptive analytics. Depending on our client needs, we provide support to clients in either one or multiple aspects of the value chain,” says Mittal. 

With its deep learning solutions, Course5 has been improving on its delivery efficiencies for itself and its clients. “Significant advances in AI and ML technologies have enabled us to create technologies, accelerators and reusable frameworks and accelerators that combine with advanced analytics solutions to provide long-term value to our clients. We believe our understanding of the omni-channel client and digital business models, innovation-based IP-led solutions, experience across analytical disciplines and application of AI technologies are our key differentiators and provide us with a significant competitive advantage,” avers Mittal. 

In fact, data analytics is a fast-growing field. Analytics is used to forecast demand, optimise supply chains, maximise returns on investment from promotional spends, and predict fraud and machine failures, notes the Zinnov report. In fact, Course5 works across the entire analytics and insights value chain from cloud and data engineering, data collection, business intelligence, system integration, descriptive analytics to insightful and predictive analytics, applied AI modelling, consultation and ongoing decision support. 

Global companies are spending top dollar in building digital capabilities. Indeed, D&A is one of the fastest-growing segments of digital spend. Across industries, D&A are being leveraged by enterprises to guide business strategy and optimise spending decisions amidst growing financial uncertainties. The constantly evolving business environment has necessitated organisations turning more agile across their value chains. 

As a result, the analytics and insights systems have to continuously evolve and respond quickly to keep up with this accelerated rate of doing business. The growing adoption of D&A software is driven by the need to manage the data explosion, understand consumer psychology, predict future business scenarios, drive growth, optimise business decision-making and reduce risks. All this augurs well for Course5 as companies have to invest in understanding all the data generated. 

In fact, Mittal chose the name Course5 Intelligence because of the growing importance of data analytics for business growth. He explains that, typically, one is moving in one of the four directions: north, south, east or west. “Companies now need to look at a fifth direction, which is an intelligent feature with use of deep advanced AI analytics to build intelligent businesses. Hence, the name Course5 Intelligence,” avers Mittal. 

Fast-growing industry

It is not surprising that AI-driven analytics is growing rapidly. The market for overall data and analytics was approximately $174 billion in 2020, but is expected to record a 17.6 per cent CAGR to approximately $333 billion by 2024. Technology companies have been at the forefront of adopting advanced analytics to stay ahead of the competition. 

However, within this segment, the value proposition is shifting from the provision of core data to the generation of analytical insights to inform decision-making processes and optimise workflows across inter-related business activities. The convergence of algorithmic advances, data proliferation and increase in computing power and storage has significantly increased the use of AI, and Covid-19, which has accelerated digital adoption, has augmented this growth. 

As a result, the AI-led advanced analytics market, which was worth approximately $67 billion in 2020 (approximately 38 per cent of the overall D&A market) is expected to register a faster, 26.9 per cent, CAGR to approximately $173 billion by 2024. It also is expected to account for approximately 52 per cent of the overall D&A market spend. In contrast, traditional analytics was worth approximately $107 billion in 2020 and is expected to record a slower, 10.4 per cent, CAGR to approximately $159 billion by 2024.

Marquee clients

One area where Course5 Intelligence differentiates itself from other companies is its strong applied AI and consultative problem-solving capabilities. “Course5 integrates its solutions into its clients’ critical business workflows which helps it ensure long-term relationships with its clients, besides improving efficiency and providing continuous value addition to its clients,” says Mittal. 

Course5 provides insights and applied AI to global leaders in the AI industry, according to the Zinnov report. That’s one reason why Course5 has been successful in making some top global technology and other companies its clients. 

In FY21, revenue from ‘Fortune Global-500, 2021’ and ‘Forbes The Global-2000, 2021’ companies accounted for 67.19 per cent of its (Course5’s) revenue from operations. Its roster of clients boasts companies such as Lenovo, Colgate-Palmolive, American Regent (a member of the Daiichi Sanyo Group) and the National Bank of Fujairah PJSC. 

“We provided services to four out of the seven largest companies in the world by market capitalisation as of 30 November, 2021, and four out of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in terms of net revenue in 2020, and two out of the five largest consumer packed goods (CPG) companies in terms of net revenue in 2020,” says Farid Kazani, executive vice-president, corporate development and finance. 

Course5’s client base is also diversified across various industries and regions. Its clients are primarily engaged in the TMT, life sciences/pharmaceuticals and CPG & retail sectors, which accounted for 68.73 per cent, 12.89 per cent and 8.65 per cent, respectively, of its revenue from operations in fiscal 2021. Revenue from clients in the US, Europe and the rest of the world accounted for 78.52 per cent, 15.02 per cent and 6.47 per cent, respectively, of its total revenue from operations in fiscal 2021. 

“We have also developed long-term relationships with key clients and have transformed from being an analytics and insights service provider to a thought leadership partner that provides decision-enabled solutions and services. We have been focused on developing and delivering digital transformation through our deep domain expertise and advanced analytics. The average tenure of relationship in our top 10 clients is approximately 9 years. For instance, we have been engaged with Lenovo for over 10 years and our services have evolved to advanced and IP/AI led solutions,” says Mittal. 

Strong sector knowledge

Among sectors, Course5 has significant domain expertise in the TMT segment. Its TMT products include digital analytics and insights, marketing analytics and insights, customer analytics, and enterprise AI. 

For the life sciences sector, Course5 specialises in providing pharmaceutical companies with actionable insights, advanced analytics, etc, which help improve the effectiveness of their strategic decisions at all stages of their product lifecycles. From early-stage development of molecules until commercialisation, Course5 aims to help its clients’ business teams better understand their market and competitive landscape, discover opportunities and develop and maintain competitive advantages. It also combines a multidisciplinary approach to data integration and synthesis across structured and unstructured data sources to help discover hidden portions of information that reveal significant patterns and market trends.

Besides, the pharmaceutical industry has to have a strong and proactive business development and licensing (BD&L) program. To achieve the required goals, BD&L teams often rely on their ability to source new opportunities and filter them down to discover products and alignments that will generate value. 

As a result, there is a significant need for niche technologies such as AI to speed up this process and make it real-time, which would result in a change in the collaboration and importance of BD&L teams within pharmaceutical companies. Course5 is in the process of developing a product called AssetPro that will enable companies to evaluate attractive assets in real-time and make their BD&L process faster and impactful.

In the CPG & retail segment with digitally native brands introduced in recent years and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, technology enhancements and data privacy norms, CPG companies are required to build direct partnerships with end-consumers and create a long-lasting relationship. Course5 offers a wide range of analytics and insights, which includes customer analytics, omni-channel analytics, supply-chain analytics, and market insights and analytics. 

Sound financials

Besides, Course5’s products and solutions allow the firm to scale up its capacity in response to demand in a flexible and timely manner, compared with the traditional approaches. Moreover, over time, Course5 has been focusing on transforming the client’s processes and making them more AI-driven. As a result, Course5’s AI-driven products help a firm gain operating leverage and revenue visibility, generating recurring revenues with a Net Revenue Runrate (NRR) of approximately 120 per cent during the six months period ended September 2021and stable cash flows. 

“We attribute the consistent growth in our business and financial performance to our AI and IP initiatives and cost efficient operating mode, which we believe results in comparatively higher operating margins that are improving with scale,” says Kazani. 

Course5 has 676 employees at offshore locations and 24 employees at onsite locations, as of 30 September, 2021. In 2021, Course5’s revenue per billable full-time employee (ie employees directly engaged in client delivery apart from trainees with a tenure of less than three months) was Rs39.2 lakh. 

While the firm has made investments to enhance its technology, analytics and delivery capabilities, capital expenditure has been low, making up 6.22 per cent of revenue from operations in fiscal 2021. 

“We have historically financed our working capital requirements and the expansion of our business and operations primarily through funds generated from our operations, and have not relied on third party investors for raising funds,” says Mittal. It’s also one of the reasons why the firm has not needed funds from private equity or venture capital investors so far. 

Another important highlight is the fact that the embedded nature of Course5 products and services plays an important role in clients’ decision-making processes and translates into high levels of client retention. In fiscal 2021, Course5’s net revenue generated from clients accounted for 96.93 per cent of its revenue from operations.

The company had delivered YoY revenue growth of 28 per cent for the six month period ended September 2021 and the PAT level which was at a low teens during Covid period in FY21 has improved significantly to 18.7 per cent in the six month period September 2021. Course5 also had a high, 25.4 per cent, return-on-capital-employed in FY21.  

Growth strategies

Course5 also aims to leverage its leading position and analytics and insights capabilities to benefit from industry tailwinds. It built significant domain knowledge to succeed along with sector-specific talent to understand data and information sources. It has strategically positioned itself in those industries that require substantial domain expertise such as technology and life sciences and pharmaceuticals. 

Course5 will also continue to pursue strategic investment and acquisition opportunities. It has earmarked about Rs75 crore for strategic acquisitions. “We also may evaluate opportunities that enable us to expand further into other areas of analytics such as risk, finance and human resources as well as in other areas of business related to our existing business of analytics and insights,” says Kazani. 

In the coming quarters, Course5 will continue to deepen its large client relationships and grow its client base and geographic presence. It plans to expand its sales and marketing efforts across its markets in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. It reckons it can grow substantially in other regions as well. 

For its growth plans, the company is making a primary offering of Rs300 crore. It proposes to utilise Rs30 crore to fund the expansion of its geographic footprint organically, primarily through additional investment in branch offices. “We have strategically considered Canada and Singapore given their level of economic activity as well as the proximity of Canada to the USA and of Singapore to the rest of Asia, which we believe will enable us to effectively serve customers in these regions as well,” says Mittal. 

Course5 will also continue to innovate and develop advanced AI capabilities along with AI-driven solutions. It will focus on creating IP-led solutions, including patenting key inventions. It has already applied for two patents in the United States and India for a method and system of generating a model to predict consumer-purchase behaviour, and for a method and system to generate survey-related data. 

With data analytics now increasingly becoming important, Course5 looks on course for a quantum leap in business growth. “We are focused on exploring and investing in new areas of applied research such as variational autoencoders, deep reinforcement learning, graph neural networks, meta-learning and contrastive learning, NLP, natural language generation (NLG), computer vision and computer perception. By augmenting our AI expertise with software engineering, data operations (DataOps) and machine-learning practices, we aim to enable automation and scalability, and thereby create long-term value for our clients,” says Mittal. 

Over time, that should create long-term value for shareholders as well. 

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