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THE POWER OF PERSUASION

As told to Nithya Nagarathinam / Source: Inc. India Magazine September/October 2012 | Volume 03| Issue 08

What happens when foresight, technology, knowledge and entrepreneurship come together? 4G Identity Solutions founder Dr. S. Tripuraneni has the answer. A vascular surgeon by profession, he started 4G Identity Solutions, a biometric identity and security solutions provider in 2003, has grown it into a ₹100-crore venture (FY11 – 12) with more than 1,500 employees and 17 offices across India in just six years. Here, he takes us through that exciting journey.

I did my MBBS from Siddhartha Medical College in Andhra Pradesh and moved to the University of Bank, UK, for Masters in Vascular Surgery. My connection with biometrics began when I started working on electronic patient records as part of my course in Medical Informatics. I was given the responsibility of getting information of patients who were brought to the hospital’s emergency rooms. Often, patients brought into emergency rooms are accident or trauma victims. They are in shock, and unable to tell us their medical history. To effectively begin treatment within the golden hour (the first hour within the attack), it’s critical to be acquainted with a patient’s medical background. Seeing the power of how biometric technology enabled this firsthand, I began my foray into the utility of biometric technologies beyond medical applications, for civil applications.

I saw a huge potential for this technology in India. I realized that biometrics could easily be the solution to governance issues at the grassroots interface level. It could revolutionize governance system in this country. Take a poor student from a village, for example. In order to claim a government scholarship that is due to her, she will be required to produce variety of certificates to establish her identity. These multiple points of interface result in delay and frustration. With biometric technology powered by a centralized database, the student’s identity can be established in a matter of seconds. Biometrics can be incredibly powerful in many such instances of governance.          

Of course, leaving medicine to become an entrepreneur wasn’t an easy decision. As a doctor, I had always been motivated to serve people. But, I realized that even with my company, I would have the opportunity to create great value and benefit for a large mass of people. With that in mind, I returned to India in 2003. I began by pitching the idea to the state government in Andhra Pradesh. That wasn’t encouraging. I soon realized my bigger challenge would be to create awareness about the immense potential of this technology among government officials and others.

So in the early years, my main task was to create a market for this technology. Persuasion is thus a very crucial skill for an entrepreneur to have - how do you sell a futuristic idea to a government? As a country, we are fairly risk –averse and willing to endorse proven success rather than invest in uncertain promises. This education was difficult. But slowly things started moving for us.

4G’s first milestone came in 2005 when we won an Andhra Pradesh government contact. We had to device a solution to identity beneficiaries of the government’s BPL housing scheme. We used iris recognition to help eliminate duplicate claims and records, and ensured correct identification of the intended beneficiaries. It was a mammoth task, and one that really gave us the opportunity to showcase our ability. We completed 6.26 quadrillion iris matches within 60 days. This project was the tipping point for us. It opened up a stream of projects for organizations like the Delhi police (automation of house guard records), Public Distribution system (PDS) Infrastructure for delivery of subsidized food items in Andhra Pradesh, and a UNWFP programme to strengthen PDS infrastructure using multi-modal biometrics in Orissa. We haven’t looked back since. In fact, today India boasts of the world’s largest identification exercise-Aadhaar –based on iris recognition technology. That 4G has significantly contributed to this growth in the identity market, and has been an important player in the implementation of Aadhaar, is something that I feel the proudest of. We were awarded the project in 2010, and we have been involved its conceptualization, enrollment and execution. The Aadhaar project doubled our turnover, from Rs 55 crore in 2010 to Rs 110 crore in 2011.

But Aadhaar is just the beginning. The potential for biometrics is immense, not only in the domestic market but also overseas, especially in developing countries. We are in talks with other Asian and Middle Eastern countries to make similar programmes for them. Family and friends tell me I am almost obsessively passionate about 4G. Maybe I am. But I think work for the organization. It’s contagious. Shared passion is the soul of a successful business organization. Of course, building a company, especially one which works in a niche area like ours wasn’t easy. Getting a team together is a daunting challenge for any start up. Our problems were amplified because there weren’t many biometrics professionals around. My sister, Lakshmi Tripuraneni, was a great source of support, as were five of my friends who have been with me since beginning.

Looking forward, 4G has a bright future. The first- mover advantage has certainly contributed to our success. We didn’t have to battle competition because we were the pioneers in civil applications of biometrics in the country. That advantage has been bolstered by having patented technology. We are in the process of obtaining a patent for noise removal algorithms in fingerprint recognition. I am confident that technology innovation combined with our early-mover advantage has made us unbeatable. Yet, you can’t rest easy. We have a well chalked-out business plan for both the short-term and long-term. But, a business plan can be rendered useless by dynamic market. In today’s environment, quick responses have become crucial. So, planning becomes very difficult, and requires constant modifications. Of course, you cannot jump into a venture without having an idea of depth of that field. A business plan lays down the broad framework that lead to the realization of the vision, but the details should be worked out dynamically to meet the demand of that time.

 
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