iCalibrator – Bridging the Knowledge Gap

The product – iCalib aims to automate the process of practical learning during the training programmes. Trainees are given exercises to practice the skills they are expected to learn. In a typical classroom model, the trainer is not able to evaluate all trainees individually (sometimes the trainers are not capable of it also). The system would provide individual feedback, and also enable the trainees to re-attempt the exercises till they are able to achieve the desired objectives.

Pramod Saini started iCalibrator after gathering valuable experience from the industry. Having done his BTech & MS from IIT Madras and spent 10 years at Wipro in Global R&D role. In 1997, he left Wipro and Co Founded Momentum Technologies, which later on got acquired by Sopra, a French group.

Problem Identification : The Ideation
Every organisation begins with an idea. An idea is basically a solution to a specific problem which the founders are trying to address. In this case, in the year 2000, what was observed was the poor quality of software professionals in employment. The number of “professionals” flooding the market but with no control on quality whatsoever. Especially on the quality of input. The Students coming out of Engineering colleges, fell short on quality. This problem was identified years back and would find resonance much later as various studies were to indicate. In other parts of the world, especially in countries like US & Canada, a fresher would be able to write good software, within 2– 3 months of their first programming job. In India, this period would stretch to almost a year, and even more at times. The problem was much deep-rooted. Poor students were a direct result of poor
teachers, who were themselves all at sea, technically.

The Delivery Mechanism:
The approach was to impart training, through mentoring. To create an environment which wouldenable students through self-learning modules based on Practical exercises and projects. Mentors from the industry would assist trainees in writing good software, something on the lines of what was prevalent in Europe – Teacher & Assistant. Progressively, it was getting difficult for organisations to make freshers project-ready. It put additional pressure on resources and even then, the outcome was not always desirable.

Mentors, of course came with a cost. The effectiveness of this model would ultimately depend on the quality of mentors, which in many ways was a costly proposition and hence a challenge on scalability. This challenge would be addressed by reducing the dependence on mentors and leveraging technology to take up the same role. In due course, the product became very good and
the effectiveness was unparalleled. There was another challenge – to position the company in tech space, rather than as a training institute. The automation of solution would help position them as enablers to e-learning companies.

Challenges in selling this product

  1. Selling a complex idea is always tough and so is the positioning. The processes were pretty complex so not so easily reproducible by rival organisations.
  2. Selling to the target market in India. Decision-making is a slow process and there is some inertia which takes ages to overcome.
  3. Indian Product mindset, in the end-consumer’s mind. If it’s Indian, it isn’t good. Very difficult to break this mindset.
  4. Companies started putting their potent recruits though these tests and the results were disastrous. Not that the tests were exceptionally difficult but the aspirants were below par : The whole problem that was being addressed.

Expectations from the eco-system.
I guess, by eco-system, you refer to the whole learning industry. I hope that the Indian Software service providers actually put in effort to increase the quality of their software personnel. The problem of low quality is very well understood, but I believe that the organisations do not put in additional effort to improve quality because: (1) A large number of jobs are actually software maintenance jobs, and organisations believe that very high quality is not required. (2) Some senior management members believe that they do not want to invest in training personnel who might leave them and change a job immediately after. However, I think that this is a short-sighted approach that is detrimental to the overall industry and the value that we bring to the end customer.

Next 12 months for iCalibrator
In the next 12 months, we expect to raise some funds, and utilise them to enhance our product as well as focus on sales/marketing activities so that we can put our message across to the potential clients. We may be required to do some pilots, where the additional funds will help. We also plan to enhance our product so that it could be easily integrated into the training processes of any eLearning provider. Therefore, we see ourselves becoming a totally technical company, providing various automated aides to enhance the effectiveness of eLearning models.