Saji Nair is an enthusiastic entrepreneur and IT professional with global work experience. He lives in Quincy, Massachusetts with his family. He has worked in India, USA and Canada. Currently, Mr. Nair is the Owner, Principal at BCube Analytics Inc. and Co-founder, President and CEO at Gurukumo Inc. He talked to The techReview on the eve of New Year about the recently released Gurukumo’s Learning Management System (LMS).
To start off, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as an entrepreneur?
Thanks for this opportunity to discuss about Gurukumo and its products. I have been in the technology industry for more than a decade now and have worked on various industry domains in multiple geographies like India, Canada and the US.
I came to Boston chasing a dream to do my doctorate at Harvard Business School in business strategy and technology operations. My research interests eventually shaped up as the core concept for my business venture. As I worked in various industry domains from technologically structured industries like Optical Networking to Finance, Risk Management and then Education, Research and Content, I realized that information technology architecture is all about similar patterns in business solutions in almost every industry that IT caters to. Though it has been an interesting and challenging journey so far, I have enjoyed being a first generation entrepreneur and look forward to making Gurukumo a success. The great news is that we now have our first wave of products and services ready for the market.
Question: E-learning and changes in methods of collaboration in academic world appear to be attracting a lot of attention at the moment. How did your fascination with the software for e-learning begin?
My teacher, Prof. A. P. Sathe, worked tirelessly to create a new economic model for education in the 21st century India. His work gave me a lot of insight into this industry across various countries. As an online MBA student, I saw the pains while using current LMS products. Besides, I had to pay US $15 per course technology fee – a ridiculous aspect given the existing user experience. However, I got to know that colleges incur high capital and operating costs for technology operations.
My area of business research covers the influence of software architecture on technology products and solutions, the patterns of technology solutions across different industries, their impact on Operations Management and Supply Chain in improving efficiencies and so on. We developed a product framework using cloud computing technology and developed an LMS centered on the core aspects in learning – collaboration, communication, information exchange, interoperability with third party products and social networking, to address content usage. This LMS is simple, versatile and flexible. Users can shape it the way they want and use it for regular classroom programs, corporate programs, professional learning or even e-Learning.
Question: Learning Management System is a very crowded market, still why did you choose to enter this field? Don’t you have a huge challenge in selling this in the market?
Though we could have implemented our technology solution to develop products in markets like financial services or CRM, we selected Education and particularly LMS, which is a very crowded market, for various reasons. I have a fascination for this industry. In the age of cloud computing, tablets and smart-phones none of the LMS customers or users gets value for their money with this infrastructure. A whole lot of players in this industry do not use technology and rely on office products and printouts to run their business because of the scale and costs of the existing solutions. The market is quite fragmented, but a killer product can change this entire landscape. We have a huge challenge, but we have a sound product at an attractive price point for the customers that make us feel confident.
Question: Is the landscape in education industry changing? How is technology affecting this industry?
Learning life cycle begins much before you step into your schools or colleges. Academic network continues much beyond the degree programs in this highly networked world. In modern economy, jobs and responsibilities are getting complex and increasingly sophisticated. So is the cost of employing trained professionals and upgrading their skills periodically. There is a rapid increase in demand of various skills while education industry fails to match the supply. These factors are systematically feeding demand for virtual learning and recently formed industry bodies like PMI, CISCO Certification, and JAVA Certification etc. This is clearly impacting the academic landscape as well as the demand for highly expensive higher education and professional studies. Digital publishing and private ecosystems of Apple and Amazon are other factors that are shaping the content world and sharply impacting content owner’s ecosystem, especially the publishers. I believe that these structural changes are and will continue to affect the technology evolution as well as the content usage model for academia or professional learning in the next decade.
Question: How do you define a Learning Management System or LMS in its changed scenario?
I believe that the next generation LMS must focus on addressing the entire lifecycle of learning and all the other technology factors with “content” as the central focus in training or learning rather than pure academia as in the current generation of products. It must support seamless, cost-effective and user driven integration with third party products and services in the market for specialized content and communication services. Mobile Internet and digital socialization that enable rapid information exchange must be implemented around content and facilitate learning in the most natural way. Users must have full control over their operations. I think this will be the minimal expectation from a 21st century LMS, something that we have already implemented in Gurukumo.
Question: Following on from LMS, what do you think are the challenges when adopting a software system for an academic institution?
To adopt a technology solution, any business organization – academic or corporate, needs to evaluate its pains and objectives, in the following checklist:
- What goals are we trying to achieve?
- What are the hurdles or pain areas in the current operations?
- What processes will ensure that the desired goals can be achieved?
- Is there a tech solution – product or custom application that can help achieve this?
- What products are currently available in the market?
- Will these products help in adopting third party content and communication services?
- What do they offer and what are their limitations?
- How is the solution when considering scalability, evolution with time, operations management, and support as compared with other products in the market?
- What are the capital and operating costs?
- How is the solution in terms of cost or pain to integrate within the existing ecosystem?
- By adopting this product, what are the advantages?
I think any institution will look at these general aspects while considering software. However, for knowledge management or training related solutions, organizations, academic and corporate, must look at a very important factor: how will it help them derive competitive advantage in the market and at what cost? This directly relates to how the product can influence towards optimizing their business process and content management.
Question: How do you differentiate Gurukumo LMS from other software available in the market?
The focus of the current products is ERP style management of program and courses while content is just another feature. Collaboration exists, but it is not well integrated to make a great learning experience. Lot of work is done outside system in Excel or other spreadsheets. In short, they are all painful to use.
From an organizational point of view, a technology solution must help people easily create and manage content, get them engaged in the core aspect of business; i.e., delivering training, increasing interaction and participation, re-engaging and getting repeat business by connecting with students even after their programs are completed. Gurukumo solutions address these central issues of training management by keeping focus on content, and thereby, help achieve greater usability. We can integrate third party products like WEBEX, GoToMeeting, YouTube, and assessment or performance management products with ease. Our website provides feature level differentiation.
Question: Why did you decide to move the Gurukumo LMS to cloud?
We were the early movers in 2009 when cloud was still in its infancy to the general world and not a rage that it is today. A major target group we help is the small scale private training institutions which are out of the technology coverage due to scale and cost of LMS and currently who survive on office products and print-outs. Another customer group is organizations located in multiple locations to effectively use this product to reduce their operational costs. Rapid e-learning or self-paced learning solutions are another growing trend with very different requirements for the same kind of business need. We bring this innovative solution that adapts to various types of customers’ needs without requiring any configuration as it evolves with usage. Cloud implementation makes it feasible as large volume usage brings down the price and makes it attractive for masses. A traditional LMS, when opened from the box, requires a whole army of professional consultants to make it work the way the users want. But Gurukumo LMS is ready for use the moment you open the box; i.e., use our subscription service or have it privately installed.
Question: So what do you find most exciting about Gurukumo LMS?
The primary change with the advent of Web 2.0 was users’ empowerment and ability to participate. Facebook and Twitter took it to the next level. However, automated operations management of backend business processes within an organization with minimal technical support has not been very popular even though it would be a great cost saver. Software must intelligently do a lot of complex processes and professional skills required should be expert-operational, which is business skill or domain knowledge, rather than expert-technical, which is IT programming skill. With Gurukumo LMS, course creation is a simple user process requiring expert-operational skill, i.e., knowledge of the course material and content required for course creation. In most LMS products, course creation requires expert level support in technical as well as operational skills that significantly increases the operational costs. When software addresses these issues, we optimize operations with the right mix of staff and efficiency. I think this as the most exciting and important benefit for Gurukumo customers.
Question: What are the challenges you face as a startup when larger companies are vying for this new market?
Our biggest challenge is capital. We have the product and are focusing on marketing and sales. We need investment to increase staff and office infrastructure. At the same time, product developed needs sustained improvements and upgrades to stay competitive. While the latter is coming via promotions, raising capital is a priority.
We are setting our senior management team with stock sale and sweat equity. We are also working on discussions with customers to try out Gurukumo LMS with least integration costs when compared with any other IT product of similar scale. We use tools like Facebook, Twitter, etc. to periodically release our official blog with product information. We are also working to engage with distributors and package this LMS with other complementary products like ERP or other financial services products or even office solutions. All these can reinforce each other and we look forward to getting a solid customer base in the next few months.
Question: How do you spend your time outside your business?
Over the last 2 years, I have hardly had that luxury. But, I spend most of my time after work with my family. I like to travel. But off late, I have been trying out more local options. Science reading, Physics and Astrophysics in particular, interests me a lot. I also read a lot of Internet based business magazines and try to remain connected with friends and family members. I like to write, and am currently working on a book tentatively titled “Technology Patterns in Business Solutions” that tries to look at similarities in various industries in how they use technology, simple things that can help them stay focused on a long term goal of operational efficiency.
Question: Finally, thanks for taking the time out to be quizzed for The techReview readers!
Thank you so much for taking time to discuss about Gurukumo and its products.