From rural India, for the world
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 6 2016: It may be sobering for techies in Tier 2 cities that when it comes to software innovation, they might face competition, not just from the Usual Suspects -- Bangalore, Hyderabad, Gurgaon -- but from a small rural town in the heart of the Tamil Nadu rice belt.
Last week in the village of Silaraipuravu, on the outskirts of Tenkasi, in Tirunelveli district, a team of visiting journalists were witness to the formal launch of Zoho Desk, a cool software tool to run customer help desks, enhancing the contact agent's responses using context-aware information and feedback. The product which has been honed and perfected over nearly five years, flows from the Tenkasi-based development centre of Zoho Corporation , a Chennai-headquartered business software leader with presence in USA, UK, Europe Australia, China and Singapore.
Here some 150 young people work -- all school leavers or technical diploma holders from the surrounding towns and villages of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They did a stint in Zoho University to acquire the required software skills. Zoho has become the biggest employer in Tenkasi -- bringing the smack of technology while tapping into the latent talent of what is otherwise a laidback rural and agricultural area.
The rural experiment has been a startling success-- with unusual side effects: Quite a few Zoho-ites from bigger cities opted to move to the beautiful, peaceful ambience of Tenkasi. There are no airports nearby by -- Tuticorin is a three hour drive away as is Thiruvananthapuram across the state border, in Kerala. Indeed, such is the rush to seek a seat there that Zoho has began construction of an additional 30,000 sqft facility next door that will add space for another 200 engineers by the end of this fiscal year.
"We will deepen our roots here before thinking of other small towns and villages", says Zoho founder-CEO Sridhar Vembu. For him personally and for Zoho, the Tenkasi experiment was a commitment to move high tech development away from big cities and to create the necessary skills from among local people.
The company had no particular fiscal incentive to move away from Chennai.The product uses customer data from past interactions and from other Zoho products, like Zoho CRM and Zoho Projects, to organise tickets and intelligently present information to agents so that they can better understand a customer's problem and resolve it efficiently.
Zoho Desk is already been used to service millions of customers of Zoho's other business products. Anchor clients like Tech Mahindra in India and Daimler and a division of Sears abroad, have successfully deployed Zoho Desk over many months Now it is available for a global clientele.
Zoho Desk is free for up to 10 users. Paid plans cost between Rs 750 and Rs 1500 per user/month. More information here.
'Tenkasi' means 'Kasi of the south’. The town is home to the 700 year old Kasi Viswanath temple. The famous waterfalls of Courtallam are just 6 km away. It is somehow appropriate that India's first 'make in rural India' product should come from a city that became famous even 7 centuries ago as the Kasi or culture capital of the south.