In Conversation: Realising the Indian dream

Shireesh Sahai, CEO, Wolters Kluwer India spoke to FC on the global trends in information services and the opportunities in India

<b>In Conversation:</b> Realising the Indian dream
Wolters Kluwer is a Netherlands-based firm offering information services and solutions to professionals in the health, tax and accounting, risk and compliance, finance and legal sectors. It serves customers in over 180 countries, with operations in over 40 countries and employs 19,000 people worldwide. Its Indian subsidiary provides decision support, software solutions and services to tax, finance, and healthcare professionals, besides focusing on research and development. Aligning itself with the Indian government’s Digital India, Skill India and Make in India initiatives, Wolters Kluwer today has multiple development centres in India serving customers across the globe. Shireesh Sahai, CEO, Wolters Kluwer India spoke to FC on the global trends in information services and the opportunities in India, and how Wolters Kluwer has been able to successfully marry the two.

As a global player in information services what are the traits that helped the company sustain itself?

At Wolters Kluwer, we achieve long-term business success through innovation-driven sustainability by closely managing the collective interests of people, planet, and profit. Every three years, we re-work our strategy. In January 2016, we launched our 2016-18 corporate business strategy - Growing our Value. This strategy is focused on growing value for our customers, employees, and shareholders alike.

How has the company handled the shift to a digital world?

Today, Wolters Kluwer is a global leader in information services. Globally, over 80 per cent of our revenues come from online, software and services. We have transformed our business by driving more value, leveraging technology from static content to online to workflow software and, most recently, big data and analytics. Our customers are professionals in the areas of legal, business, tax, accounting, finance, audit, risk, compliance and healthcare. The rate of innovation is rapid and it is all being transformed by digital technology – particularly mobile, cloud and data analytics. Our customers are making critical decisions — whether they're doctors at the bedside or chartered accountants —where they can't afford to be wrong. That keeps us on our toes. To stay ahead — and profitable — in this fast-changing market, you need to know your customers and their challenges inside out.

Wolters Kluwer has been in India for about a decade now. How beneficial has the presence been in terms of strategy, delivery and learning for the company?

After our entry into India in 2006, our strategy till 2013 across the divisions was to market and sell content in India, to add to our global content, and we made some key acquisitions, picking up local content in health such as Medknow in 2011 and CTR, a digital database of case laws, in tax and accounting. This helped to grow the business. Considering the opportunities in emerging markets, Wolters Kluwer established the emerging and developing market division in 2013 that brought a lot of focus towards India, China and Brazil. We did three key strategic shifts from 2013-2016. First, from being largely a content player, we initiated the transition to become a digital solutions player, revamping our ‘go to market’ digital solutions in both health as well as tax and accounting (TAA) divisions.

The second strategic shift was to refocus our content play in only two high growth segments — health content and TAA online content. India today has 400 medical colleges. However, its doctor to population ratio is 0.7:1000 whereas the World Health Organisation standard is 1.3. Thus the government’s focus has been, and will continue to be, to increase the number of medical colleges and enrolments to bridge this gap. Hence, this is clearly a high growth segment.

The third strategic shift was enhanced focus on talent — apart from adding key strategic roles of CEO, vice president — sales and business development, we doubled our digital software sales team to expand our regional coverage. These actions have shown positive results, with Wolters Kluwer growing faster than the industry segment and we are substantially scaling up business in India. Since April 2015 there have been three major changes. First, we have a dedicated leader looking at business development and partnership opportunities to expand our footprint. Second, we doubled our digital sales force in the last one year to expand our coverage across various market segments. Third, before 2015, we had multiple offices across India and we strengthened our presence by merging all the India entities under Wolters Kluwer India. At present, we have over 1,000 employees across India.

What are the key areas the company is keen to focus on to capitalise on the opportunities in the domestic market?

In India, we are focusing on two market segments - healthcare and TAA. In healthcare, three key drivers are providing us enormous opportunity, foremost being the Indian government initiative to improve healthcare infrastructure to address the shortage of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, followed by the move to grow hospital accreditation, and, last but not the least, growth of medical tourism is providing us enormous opportunities for all our solutions including health content and digital solutions such as Lippincott, Ovid, UpToDate and Medknow.

In tax and accounting, generational changes have already happened in the last two years with the new Companies Act and rollout of the IFRS based accounting standards. And now GST too will come into being. All these are creating a more digital and connected environment, which is a big positive for our global digital solutions such as iFirm. We continue to put focus on key growth levers to keep driving organic expansion by introducing key global products and developing critical partnerships.

What has been the company's experience in emerging markets?

Globally, we observe our customers facing similar challenges including delivering results at lower cost, addressing shortages of skilled personnel, and dealing with the volume and complexity of information and regulation. Our information-enabled tools and software solutions are as relevant in mature markets such as the USA and the UK, as in Brazil, India or China.

Demographic developments in fast growing markets offer major opportunities for us. Healthcare is improving, standards are becoming stricter and demand for specialists and for our products is increasing. As the economy develops, demand for financial experts increases. Regulation is becoming more complex, which in turn requires more from professionals in terms of their knowledge. Our products can help with all these trends.

What can Wolters Kluwer deliver from India from an emerging market perspective and beyond?

India is in focus being the fastest growing economy with a large young population with a median age of 27 and the second largest smartphone market. The Indian government’s three-pronged mantra - Skill India, Digital India and Make in India, and its initiative to expand healthcare infrastructure are the critical and strong drivers to expand our footprint in India. Wolters Kluwer is aligned with the Indian government’s initiatives. We have multiple development centres in India serving customers across the globe and supporting the government’s Make in India initiative. We are proud to say that our leading practice management software (iFirm) for chartered accountants has been developed in India and it is used by tax and accounting professionals across the globe. We have a suite of digital solutions supporting healthcare professionals and tax and accounting experts, thus supporting the government’s Digital India initiative. Further, many of our solutions help in bridging the education-to-practice gap for these professionals, again supporting the government’s initiative of Skill India.

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