25 years of IBS Software: VK Mathews spells out what drives its pursuit for global leadership

VK Mathews. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: A little flashback to the first half of the 1990s when Technopark was established, near Kazhakootam in Thiruvananthapuram. Beautiful buildings with names such as Pamba and Nila all came up on the sprawling campus. There were large roads inside the campus, but not many were there to invest. Soon, the picturesque spot became a hub for film shooting. The climax scenes of many Malayalam movies were shot there, making it a busy centre. Film directors like Shaji Kailas and TK Rajeev Kumar shot their action thrillers there.

But in 1997, an entrepreneur, who was in his 30s, came to Kerala after resigning his job with the Emirates Airlines as General Manager. He launched a company at the Technopark. He was none other than Valayil Korath Mathews, hailing from Kizhakkambalam in Ernakulam district. In the beginning, nobody knew what the company, IBS Software, was into. It started off as a software solution provider in the aviation sector.

Now cut shot to 2022. After a long journey of 25 years, where does IBS stand now? It has to its credit 3,500 engineers from 20 countries. Remember, there were only 55 engineers when the company began 25 years ago. Now, IBS has its own campuses at the Thiruvananthapuram Techno Park and Kochi Infopark. All major airlines are using its software. The company's services vary from managing passengers and crew, undertaking flight repair works and transporting cargo globally.

IBS Software achieved remarkable success by competing with major western companies. The management of airports such as Heathrow Airport is now looked after by IBS. About 80 percent of the cargo movements of Japan and Australia are managed by IBS' iCargo software. The services of IBS are utilized by major oil companies, including British Petroleum, prominent hotel chains and travel agencies.

We can hear from the horse's mouth about the success achieved by the IBS in its 25 years of existence. IBS founder Chairman VK Mathews is in conversation with Manorama.

How was the COVID-19 period? Did the company face a crisis?
With stagnation in the passenger flight segment, the revenue coming from freight movements doubled. There was a quantum jump in the demand for digital technology solutions for managing both passengers and freights. With IBS already having a good presence in the field, it was quite natural that we took the advantage.

How could you make extra revenue from cargo movements?
Before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, more freight movements were carried out through passenger flights than cargo flights. But during the pandemic, there was a dip of 70 percent in the operation of passenger flights and cargo rates went up substantially. The airways, which operated cargo flights, achieved their target for the year 2020 in just six months. By the time they completed 2020, their revenue doubled. Most of the airways survived because of the revenue from cargo movements. Earlier, the revenue from cargo movements was just 12 percent of the total revenue. But in 2020, it reached 30 percent. The same trend continued in 2021.

But the number of air passengers has not gone up. Why?
Though the foreign passengers are less in number, the number of domestic passengers has increased during the COVID-19 period. For this reason, the airlines are trying to maintain these domestic passengers as their permanent passenger base. So, a demand arose for "loyalty programmes" run by the airlines, aimed at keeping these passengers in their fold by giving them points. Loyalty programme is the practice of constantly using the service of the same airline by a customer using the points they gained after their each trip. The IBS has to its credit a variety of software products to run loyalty programmes of airlines and they are all in high demand. The increase in the number of domestic air passengers coupled with the huge demand for the software meant for loyalty programmes came as an added advantage to the company. It led to the company bagging more orders and more revenue. Even during the peak of COVID, clients like Nippon Cargo, American Airlines, Lufthansa did not stop digital upgrades offered by the company. They utilised the pandemic period for upgradation. It was just like renovating a hotel or a restaurant during the time when it remained closed due to lockdown.

What will be the future of air travel?
As per the assessment by the experts in the aviation sector, by the end of 2022, the business in both the domestic and international air travel would come back to the pre-COVID-19 levels. This improvement will be visible not only in the number of air passengers, but also in terms of revenue. By 2024, the aviation sector would start registering profits. The digital service is now a prerequisite for companies to reduce expenses, increase revenue and offer excellent services for customers. Those companies which make use of digital services and those firms which offer such software solutions are going to excel in business. IBS has been a front-runner in offering digital solutions. Now, digital power has caught up with the whole sector worldwide.

Do you enjoy success?
As per my definition, success is our journey from one failure to another without losing our zest. Many failures occurred in the course of our journey, but there were more victories than failures.

Do you have enemies in business?
It is quite natural to have enemies in the business field. There are unhealthy competitions too. But we have never said anything bad about our rivals and, thereby, tried to secure business. Our policy is not to do such things. We used to gain business by showcasing the advantages of our software products and how it becomes cost effective for our clients.

No other company except IBS has this kind of vast portfolio. We are number one in providing effective software solutions for engineering management, customer loyalty, cruise liners, oil and gas sector, cargo movement, airline passenger services and airline operations. We take care of loyalty programmes of big airlines such as Qantas, Air Canada and China Eastern. In certain segments, we are the market leader. But taken together, we are at the third position.

Does your company make any attempt to encourage women techies?
From the time of its inception, there were women staff in the company. In some batches, women enjoyed the majority. Globally, 41 percent of our staff are women. There are around 800 senior women managers and it accounts for 26 percent of total strength of managers. In India, 28 percent of managers are women. The total women techies in India is 43 percent. We followed gender-neutral policy from the beginning itself. It is sure that women could achieve more success in their career if they get more opportunity to do work from home.

IBS was set up at Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram in 1997. There were only 55 engineers in the beginning. 2022 is the silver jubilee year of the company. Today, IBS can claim credit of the following:

• Top IT service provider in the aviation sector
• Offers digital service for managing air travel, cargo movements, flight crew, airport and flight repairs.
• Management of Heathrow Airport in London
• Took over eight IT companies from various countries, including the US, Europe, Canada and India.
• Private equity company Blackstone has share in the company.
• Offers management solution for 80 prominent hotel chains worldwide.
• 70 percent of cargo movements in Japan and Australia are handled by IBS.
• Four major oil companies, including British Petroleum, are on the client list of IBS.
• Employs 3,500 techies from 20 countries.

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