For the pilot episode of "How I implemented this," Ambi from Zoho sits down with Divya Aldrin and Sharath Kumar, the founding members of D4A Cloud services, to talk about a large, complex, and rewarding Zoho solution.
Here's their complete story, from sales to a successful implementation.
1. An organic referral from a happy customer
4. Handling the five pain points in HR management
Leisure is a location-based entertainment company in Qatar and Netherlands, whose goal is bringing innovative experiences and people together. In 2016, they launched the largest indoor and outdoor family entertainment destination in Qatar, encompassing:
a. Angry Birds World: A family entertainment destination that brings the characters of the popular game and blockbuster movie to life.
b. Virtuocity: The Middle East's gaming capital that creates an immersive entertainment experience, fusing fiction, and reality.
c. SnowDunes: A massively popular Arabian-themed snow park to enjoy the experience of sub-zero at a picturesque version of the Arctic.
Leisure is focused on enriching customer experiences by extending social spaces with concepts tailored to creativity and innovation.
Ambi: How did you come across this customer opportunity?
Divya: This was a case of organic referral by one of our existing customers. Back then, D4A was working on a handful of small Zoho projects for the Qatar region. Over the course of time, one of our happy customers had put in a good word about us to a member of management at Leisure.
Ambi: So, what happened after the referral?
Sharath: They approached us for an HR management solution! During that time, Zoho People wasn't our focus. We were new to the ecosystem and sought the help of Gopinath from the Zoho pre-sales team for the initial demo.
Ambi: What did their existing process look like? Walk us through the initial steps and discussions.
Sharath: All HR-related data and operations were worked out manually on Excel sheets. They would periodically print out the report from the system, map it with the attendance information from the biometric system, and work out the leave applications and approvals. The consolidated report was then passed to the payroll team, who'd do the calculations on Excel and process the applications accordingly.
Lack of a software to track the process
No automated synchronization between the biometric system and the HR data
So, this was all about the initial meeting. We covered all the details of Zoho People's part of the offering, but they were also keen on Payroll. Now, we did not have a payroll module on Zoho People for markets outside India and some parts of the US.
Ambi: So, how did you approach the situation?
Sharath: Since we didn't find an immediate solution in the product, we went back to the customer. This time, the discussion was about understanding their purpose behind the payroll module. We positioned questions like:
And we figured the key requirement! Things were simplified. All they were looking for was a monthly report on inactive transactions. So, I delved into People and found out we had options to create custom forms—very similar to Creator.
Ambi: Fantastic. Now, what was the way forward until you had the PoC?
Sharath: The engagement with the customer started in November, and they were looking for a solution by December. At that time, D4A didn't have a corporate registration in Dubai. So, we had to build confidence, and working on a PoC was the best way forward. So, we started working—created employee profiles/ leave balance and did a mock run on how payroll is affected when an employee takes unpaid leave.
By the middle of December, we'd built a concept that addressed all their pain points, and it was time for the final decision.
We uploaded their employee information into the system and generated a report. This was compared against a manual report they had built for the previous month. The final output checked all the boxes and the deal was signed in 2019!
Ambi: That's a very quick turnaround. However, you were punching way above your weight here. Were there any moments of uncertainty?
Sharath: We'd come across this deal through an organic reference. The customer took the first step here. So, from a sales perspective, the initial challenge had already been tackled.
However, prior to this deal, we were not listed in the partner directory. So, we used to come across opportunities that needed us to take proactive steps and build their confidence.
Ambi: How do you approach these situations?
Sharath: From my experience, a profitable business primarily happens through good relationships—this comes by setting the precedence right. We are candid with our prospects on the way D4A operates. We are a small company and there will be huge efforts invested in terms of time and resources for every aspect of the business case. So, we are upfront about our offerings, confident in our capabilities, and work on a paid PoC. This helps us get the customer's buy-in and the real intent behind the proposal.
Ambi: "Should we work on a paid PoC or not?" has been a question that divides the sales community. What made you pick a side?
Sharath: In the past, we had worked on free customizations for a large deal. The PO was ready, yet the deal was called off. This wasn't a pleasant experience, considering the efforts that had gone into the initial solutioning. That's when the approach changed. We speak the ground reality: D4A is a startup and when we go an extra mile for the prospect, we will also need their commitment and interests.
Ambi: Perfect. This gives an initial quality check, since, there's an investment on both sides.
Ambi: Take us through the next steps of the project.
Sharath: The volume of the deal was huge. We had to work out a biometric integration. Before we got started, we wanted to drill this down into the milestones and began with the scoping on Zoho Projects. We created a project there and added multiple segments: organization structure, employee and salary information, leave policy, attendance module, file management, shift scheduling, and shift rotation.
Every module had certain tasks associated with it.
That's how we approached scoping. We did not have documentation, to begin with. Instead, we informed the clients that we will be adding their team to the project and explain the information from their end on every milestone. So, we included 3 of their project managers in our portal.
Ambi: Wow. That's a killer move! This visibility and transparency will help them know that there aren't two versions of the truth—only one—and you go on the portal; it is right there.
Sharath: Indeed. To work further, I needed data. So, I also assigned tasks to the clients on building a master database in a particular format.
Leisure had a huge number of people from different countries working under their brand. Given the scale of their business, these individuals were split across multiple profiles (from janitors to CEOs) and the company had to keep track of their work visas. This was critical information. We signed an NDA and got the master database. I set up an environment to handle the information properly.
Ambi: Take us through the challenges over the course of the implementation and how D4A had overcome such instances
Sharath: Absolutely! There were 5 major facets for this project.
The master database gave me a perspective on the heavy manual work involved in their old process. A key aspect of their operations was tracking down an employee and their visa sponsorship. Leisure was the parent company with three other sub-companies, and the sponsorship of employees keep changing. We had to track down the deviations in such instances.
For example, an employee of a sub-entity A must not receive sponsorship from the remaining sub-entities. We consolidated such deviations and streamlined the process for them. This was critical in the initial phase of work.
There were too many complications around the leave policy.
For instance, an employee working for five days a week may get an annual leave of 22 days. If it is six days a week, then the annual leave is set for 26 days. The challenge here is that the employees keep fluctuating between 5 and 6 days per week, every other month. Since this was a theme park, the first day of the week is different for each employee. Leisure wanted this to be done weekly, every time a shift schedule changes.
This made it difficult to accommodate all probable use cases and work on the implementation. So, we decided to do this monthly.
- At the beginning of every month, we added a leave credit of 1.8 or 2.1
- We created a custom function with run a scheduler to ascertain deviations. This is run every month when the payroll needs to be processed to give the desired output.
We were all in agreement on this model and it helped us to expedite the implementation process.
Scheduling employee shift was a challenge. It was a theme park, so a substantial amount of maintenance work happens and numerous employees are involved. In particular, an employee who is a part of the warehouse team will be coming in every time there's an import. And these instances are frequent with no definite patterns.
So, I connected with the head of the HR department to understand how they have been handling these instances. We found out it was all manual and they did not intend to automate the process.
Going the extra mile:
We wanted to work this out. This opportunity was not just about getting things done within the scope of the signed contract—I wanted to go the extra mile and build the reliability quotient. The sky was our limit for the scope of scalability! We told them that we will find a way to handle this.
To begin work, we needed data. There'd been a delay in sourcing this data from the client. So, I suggested an all-hands meeting with the HR team and the associated departments. It was an in-person meeting of 35 members. It was a brain-storming session. There was an incredible amount of learning that came from interacting with the members at the ground level and bridging all the gaps in the data that had been shared initially. We had access to firsthand information, now.
We built the employee loan management module from scratch. We followed the
- An employee submits a request for cash advance over a form
- The upper limit of the cash advance was calculated against a percentage of the basic salary
- We built a custom function that checks for deviation and prompts the eligible category
- The correct entry then goes through an approval process
The overtime pay structure of Leisure was different; it wasn't handled on a per-hour basis. There were two formulae, which were used depending on the day of the overtime.
We handled this through a custom function and ran a scheduler along with payroll. So, the overtime payment was added to a custom field within the custom payroll module that we had created.
We addressed all their pain points.
The final testing was done in phases. We began with the payroll module.
1. We took data for 10 employees and generated a report through their pre-existing manual process
2. We generated a report from Zoho People and compared this against their version.
3.There were minor deviations and we tweaked the custom functions
Now, we were confident with the final model. An all-hands meeting was scheduled with the key stakeholders from their end. We added the data of all 310 employees and cross-verified the results. There were no deviations.
In the next phase, we added the overtime data, loan management, and other details. Leisure was happy with the deliverable.
Sharath: The assessment after solution deployment is critical in measuring the project's success. It helps us review our approach, identify areas of improvement, and build goodwill. This essentially paves the way for future business opportunities.
So, we worked out an annual maintenance contract, where we waive the fee depending on the future potential. This gave us the space to interact and identify the opportunities of scaling their operations on Zoho. Now, our conversation with Leisure has expanded to other segments beyond Zoho People.
Ambi: That's exciting! What was the AHA moment of the client?
Sharath: It was the final output in its entirety. Before Zoho, major segments of the business had to be operated manually. People of the management had to sit behind stacks of paper reports—big enough to hide behind. A payroll process took around five days to come to completion and we had moved it to the click of a button!
The Leisure team was absolutely happy!
Ambi: What was your personal and professional takeaway from this deal?
Building trust is the primary focus. Then, the alignment with the initial commitment and expectation from the final deployment will all organically fall in line.
I wasn't an expert in Zoho People before working with Leisure. In fact, we sought the assistance of Zoho for the demo. However, I quickly adapted to the ecosystem, learned the technicalities of the product, and understood the capabilities.
While setting project timelines, we must also take into account the deliverable from the customer.
This is critical in Zoho People as the master database rests with the client. So, we need to define the expectations from their end, work out the associated timelines, and feature this activity while promising on the implementation timeline.
Conclusively, it was all about being transparent, setting the precedence, and solutions in the best interests of the customer.
D4A is one of the growing partners in the Middle East region. We are a passionate Zoho partner driven by the motto of:
Go the extra mile.
Win customer love and trust.
Grow your business.
Connect with the D4A Team from here!