21st Century Health Management Solutions
My journey is a continuing quest to find my purpose in life.
Life in a few words
I realized I was wired differently, when in my 4th year at IIT Bombay, like most IITians, I got my forms for GRE exams – the shortest route to the US. After a night of introspection, I auctioned off the forms the next day. I realized my heart was more in social engineering rather than the forms of engineering taught at IITs.
After completing my B Tech at IIT Bombay in 1976 and PGDBA at JBIMS in 1981, it has been a constant tug-of-war between the mind and the heart. My mind pushing me to do what is best for my body & soul and my health, wealth and happiness. But the heart exhorting me to take the path less travelled. Fortunately for my soul, my heart has ruled in most strategic decisions of my life while the mind was left to handle the execution.
Today at 57, I feel contended and at peace with myself although I am far from satisfied with what has been achieved so far. Like Robert Frost, I believe I have miles to go before I can sleep!
The incident that changed everything!
I got the first nudge from my destiny in 1978. I was then the Design Head at the Locks Plant of Godrej & Boyce. A cushy 7 to 4 job in those days. This incident was on the railway bridge between Dadar Western and Dadar Central. At an unearthly hour of 6:15 am, like everybody else I was rushing across to catch the 6.25am train to Vikhroli. There was this mad beggar who lived on the bridge. He was gesticulating wildly as usual. But unlike on other days, I stopped to listen. What was he so excited about at 6am?
He was shouting excitedly “Bhaago, bhaago, bhaago … soobhah is teref bhaago aur shyam ko us teref bhaago !” (“Run, run, run … in the morning, run in this direction and in the evening, run in that direction! “)
That morning I missed my 6:25 am fast to Vikhroli. His words set my mind racing. Who was mad? This mad guy on the bridge or the millions of educated & intelligent guys like me running around like rats in a rat-race. The smartest will be the winners. All this did not sound right to me. I felt life as a human being must have a bigger purpose than becoming rat No 1. To make a difference, I realized I must be at the management end and not at the delivery end. So I quit my cushy job in 1979.
This was turning point No 1 thanks to that mad beggar on Dadar bridge.
1980’s, the license raj days
We must not forget that the early 80s were license raj days. There was very little an inexperienced IIT / MBA could do by himself which can make any impact for himself or society at large. Many MBAs took cushy jobs with foreign banks or MNCs to sell financial products, toothpaste, soaps or cigarettes. Some IITians joined engineering companies like L&T and Telco. But almost 80% of my IIT batch-mates went abroad to make their fortune and follow their dreams. But I felt compelled to stay back. M y dreams were linked to India and Indians. I wanted to make a difference by staying here but did not know where and how to start. Politics was not an option.
Time in IDM
With an MBA under my belt, I looked for a job where being young and idealistic was not a liability. I also looked for a SME so that I could be close to the top. I needed an inside view of their Vision, Mission and Approach; especially their approach towards business in particular and society in general. I wanted to learn the ropes of running a company properly. I also wanted an opportunity to test out my ideas and approach. My search led me to IDM in the fledgling IT industry. IDM was a small but high profile IT Solutions company founded by 170 ex IBM employees. After IBM had to hastily exit Indian shores in 1978 due to restrictions imposed on MNCs .
Commitment to customer and respect for individual were two of IBM’s core beliefs that IDM genuinely practiced. For this, I am grateful to Dr OP Mehra, the founder MD of IDM. IDM ethos resonated well with my beliefs. IDM was like a real life business school for me to test my ideas and my holistic approach to serve customer needs and build relationships based on trust & competence. Not only did I get full freedom to try my ideas but I was encouraged and recognized. It proved two things which I maintain till this day. There was no dearth of fair and trusting customers in India who are looking for partners they can trust and depend on. And there was no dearth of passionate people who can be truly committed and dedicated to a company vision and good causes. Provided you can earn their trust, respect and commitment. By walking the talk. By leading from the front. By being uncompromising on your values but flexible enough to accommodate different views and styles. From Management Trainee to Head of Corp Strategy took me less than 7 years in IDM. But this was too good to last. After the IPO, there were rifts at IDM board level; more due to personal egos rather than business directions. Like many good things end in India, petty politics resulted in IDM being sold in 1989. It was time for me to move on.
This was turning point No 2 in my life.
Trust-House Management Consultants
The choice was to continue going up the corporate spiral or break out. I broke out. I founded Trust-House Management Consultants in 1990. Trust has always played an important role in my life. Trust in myself, my destiny and my guardian angel. Give trust to get trust. We defined THC management expertise. Guiding big & small companies on Business Transformation Strategies, Business Process Re-engineering, and Productivity & Cost management, Customer Relationship Management, to facilitating ERP adoption through Change Management and Employee empowerment. We practiced what we preached.
The time of 1990’s
The 90s was a very exciting decade for me and for 7-8 young consultants/ trainees at Trust-House. It was very interesting to see that many of our ideas on organisation structures, business processes, roles and accountability and empowerment were incorporated in some way or other in world class ERPs like SAP, Oracle, BaaN, and QAD. It was fulfilling to witness dramatic win-win situations for the company’s performance, for its employees and for its customers. From large corporates like Mafatlals, Piramals, Godrej Soaps, HLL, Ford-Mahindra etc, to SMEs like Nitco Tiles, Virgo Engineers, Insyst Corp, Comptel and even to unconventional setups like ABCL & Nahar Builders.
It was very satisfying to see our clients, especially the SMEs, grow to become large listed companies. By turn of century, corporate India was well on its way to stake its claim in world order. In an article in EcoTimes I had written in 1990, I had predicted that IT software exports would touch 10,000 crores by 2000. In March 2001, it crossed 12000 crores!
Growth of other sectors and status of healthcare
The IT/ITES boom, the banking & telecom revolution of the 90s was dramatically changing lives in India. And I had a ringside seat. Almost all sectors of urban India were in transformation mode. Manufacturing, Retail, Travel, Entertainment, Real Estate, and even Education and Governance to some extent. But the healthcare sector (especially the service providers ) in India seemed to be in a time warp. Unlike the ERPs, there was no interest by big US / European based HIS to enter India. The reason was obvious.
Indian Healthcare providers were not organized and structured enough to take undertake HIS implementation in the way corporates adopted ERPs in the 90s. So there was no money to be made in Healthcare IT solutions in India. .
Most Indian companies in IT services saw it as a hopeless business case to try and build HIS solutions for Indian Hospitals. Having seen how world class ERPs have been adapted for Indian use, I saw it as an opportunity to build world class HIS in India, incorporating best practices not only for India but for other English speaking parts of the world. At the same time, I felt this is the chance I was looking for to make a difference.
This is the reason destiny had held me back in India.
Turning point No3.
The foundation and challenges faced
Not being a software specialist, I turned to my old colleague from IDM, Mr. Ravi Mani who was running a 20 man software shop. He had a deep understanding of Hospitals management issues and good experience of developing Hospital Systems. After working for 2-3 Hospitals over 5 years, he had concluded that it is not economically viable to do HIS as business.
I explained to Ravi my vision of transforming Indian Healthcare through People Processes and Technology. We will create a world class HIS product out of India. Not only for India but for the rest of the world. We could cross-subsidize charitable Indian Hospitals with money we get from Hospitals in Middle East. He thought I was crazy. To do this effectively, we must stop all other local software projects. He was panicking. I explained how we can get part funding through small overseas IT projects from friends in US and UK. And if it did not work out we can always go back to what we were doing earlier. He was just 38 and I was 48. I must have been talking excitedly like that mad guy on Dadar bridge. Surprisingly, he agreed and we merged our two companies in 2001 to form Novella HMS.
At my first meeting with his team of software specialists, I presented them with our vision and the fact that we are planning to focus only on Hospitals. I told them that we aim to sign up & complete 10 Hospitals in first year with our existing HIS product. There was pin drop silence. Their eyes told me that they too thought I was crazy. In 2002-03, we implemented the old version of HIS in 10 Hospitals. By 2004-05 we had a list of 35 Hospitals who were using Novella HMS. And all of them were going gaga about our approach which included BPR, our methodology and our HMS. And above all our people – who they said were very committed, very competent and much empowered.
Between 2002 and 2004, I met others who were equally passionate, if not more, about Healthcare transformation and were running their own small software shops. Some of them specialized in LIS and Imaging /PACS – some of the pieces I was looking for in order to solve my jigsaw puzzle.
21st Century Health Solutions Company
On Republic Day in 2005, we had an excited gathering of promoters & key persons of 3 companies where I presented the idea of unified 21st Century Health Solutions Company which can convert our dream into reality. Everybody thought it was all crazy but everybody also agreed that we have to be a bit crazy to attempt such huge challenges.
21st Century Health Management Solutions Pvt. Ltd. was formed in May 2005 adopting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s Vision of “Healthcare for All by 2020”. We drew courage from following inspiring thoughts
“Find Cause, Means Follow “by Mahatma Gandhi and “There is nothing impossible that a small group of people cannot achieve. In fact, that is the only way to achieve the impossible “by Margaret Mead.
Rest is History.
Today 5 years later, 21CHMS and its 150+ Centurions are most respected for our Healthcare Consulting and Healthcare Informatics solutions. Our services and solutions are helping the biggest and the best of Hospitals, Diagnostics Centres, Pathology Labs and Clinics to make Healthcare Services patient, sensitive, accessible, accountable and affordable. We currently support over 350-400 sites in India, Middle East, Africa. By end of this year we expect a big breakthrough in Europe.
But we have miles to go before we can achieve our goal of “Healthcare for All by 2020”.