Cognitive analytics is like predicting the future: Irfan Khan of Bristlecone

Our biggest client in India is our parent company - the Mahindra Group. Their entire backbone is maintained by us, says Irfan Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone.

Irfan Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone Irfan Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone

Supply chain optimisation company Bristlecone, part of the Mahindra Group, works with clients such as Newell Rubbermaid, International Rectifier, Kimberly Clark, Fruit of the Loom, and Axiata. Irfan Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone, tells Business Today's Goutam Das how his company, based out of Silicon Valley, is working on the cutting edge of analytics.

Q. Can you take us through Bristlecone's journey thus far?

A. When the acquisition was done (Mahindra acquired Bristlecone in 2004), we were only known for supply-chain around SAP. We wanted to make sure we are not tied to a technology, but to a platform that is authorising supply-chain and business intelligence for customers. Over time, we became agnostic. Two years ago, Gartner rated us among the top 10 in the world around supply-chain analytics - that's when we realised we are becoming a force to deal with. Today, we are 1,400 people which constitute the largest pool of supply-chain analytics consultants in the world in a single company. That gives you an edge to manage some large clients. It also gives you the flexibility of a small organisation. It is nice to be part of the Mahindra Group where you can leverage the mother ship for large contracts in terms of showing financial stability, but you also have the flexibility of a small company. We are growing well. We are looking at 30-40 per cent growth year-on-year. We are primarily dominant in the US and Europe markets. We controlled our growth in India because we were waiting for the Indian market to mature. Over the last year, we have started investing in India and the Asia Pacific. India is becoming a powerful play for us because of the way the businesses are maturing. There is a great appreciation from Indian CEOs, CIOs and CFOs to do the supply-chain optimisation because today, it is becoming the competitive advantage. This year, we just appointed a person to manage India. The country was a resource pool so far.

Q. There was no big data in 2004. What sort of analytics did Bristlecone do then?

A. The world of analytics was always there. One of our first customers was Nike. We had created an analytics engine for them to look at demand prediction. Analytics then was used in the form of Excel sheets. The data used to be very structured. Big data has become more popular because we have unstructured data coming in. If you rewind the analytics world 10-12 years, we had descriptive analytics. So 2004 used to be descriptive. From there, it moved to being prescriptive and then predictive. Now it is cognitive.

Q. What do you mean by cognitive analytics?

A. We are doing a project for a large FMCG company where we will be able to project how in the December of 2020, in Philadelphia, the kind of marketing campaign their competitors are going to run on a certain product. What kind of weaknesses will there be in the marketing campaign. How they can kill the campaign in 2020. It is pretty much like predicting the future today. We are doing proof of concepts around medicine, where if you take a medicine at an early age, pharmaceutical companies will be able to tell whether the medicine you are taking at the young age of 30 is in line with the medicine family you will be associated with when you turn 80. That's what predictive and cognitive is at this point of time. What I am telling you is cutting edge. Very few companies can do it. It is an area that is growing at this point of time.

Q. Tell us about your work in India.  

A. Our biggest client in India is our parent company - the Mahindra Group. Their entire backbone is maintained by us. We now have a team to manage Indian customers. Earlier, the challenge was companies needed an ERP backbone before they could optimise the supply chain. Most of the time, the data comes in from the ERP systems. That piece has now matured in India. Now we will go after the top 100 companies.

Q. Can you elaborate on what you do for the Mahindra Group?  

A. Mahindra's ERP backbone was built by us, implemented and maintained by us. We have 300 consultants working with them. They are one of the toughest customers we have in spite of being the parent company. But the kind of complexity, the verticals they run, different sizes of companies, gives us a lot of experience. We provided a common platform for Mahindra, which means a common view of customers, partners, vendors, employees and products. We have 40-plus companies into a single ERP, one of the most complex projects globally. There are 40,000 users, there are 400 locations and 40-plus processes that run.