At a time when the market is witnessing the mushrooming of coffee outlets like Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, etc, Chai Point has dared to offer tea to its customers! There is, however, a silent but significant contributor to the success of its business — open source powered IoT and AI. Shirish Surti, VP, Chai Point, talks to Syeda Beenish of OSFY about the role of open source in the success of the startup, which now has a presence in eight cities. The excerpts…
Q Does open source make sense for a startup like yours?
Yes, when you are starting small, it is impossible to invest in technology. You can’t blindly expect good returns. That is where open source technologies play an important role. If you are starting small but looking to do quick business, then adopting open source helps you jump-start your tech solutions.
Q What role has open source played in the success of Chai Point?
Open source is the perfect technology ingredient for Chai Point. We use a lot of open source technologies. Right from our IDE, which is Eclipse, to other enterprise technologies like Tomcat, Spring, Linux, Redis and MySQL, we rely heavily on open source projects.
Just to share an example, an open source database like CouchDB, with its support for replication, helped us to capture daily sales reports from across the country into a central server.
“With its seamless multi-master synchronisation, CouchDB helped address issues linked to two-way communication, i.e., from server to store and store to server. This is a classic example of how open source technologies have helped us jump-start our technology solutions.”
Q Can you elaborate on the benefits of using CouchDB for e-commerce?
Since Chai Point stores are spread across India, the biggest challenge was to keep track of the consumption data on a daily basis. Also, we wanted to consolidate the pan-India data on to a single central server, to be able to plan inventory for the next day. In today’s world, in which an F&B (food and beverage) business needs to be available in a multi-channel environment, a lot of orders come from online channels and this needs to be communicated to the stores.
This is when having Internet connectivity in the stores and a cloud based Shark platform helped us with automation. While we wanted to do this using technology, at the same time we did not want to allow Internet connectivity to hamper walk-in transactions. Power failures, line breakages, signal fluctuations, etc, were some other factors that could have disrupted the Internet at the stores. If Internet connectivity breaks, the POS device in the store needs to continue functioning, allowing orders to be placed. And these orders need to be communicated to the cloud server, once the Internet is restored. This is where CouchDB has played an important role. In a nutshell, open source helps us brew and deliver the perfect chai.
CouchDB is an open source NoSQL database. Its replication protocol helps replicate data between multiple machines, hiding the complexity from other applications built over it. With its seamless multi-master synchronisation, CouchDB helped address issues linked to two-way communication, i.e., from server to store and store to server. This is a classic example of how open source technologies have helped us jump-start our technology solutions.
The Shark platform is a cloud based F&B platform. With every store connected to Chai Point’s central Shark platform, the data gets to central servers in near real-time. This data helps Chai Point in supply chain predictions, as well as minimises wastage in stores and boxC.in locations. Also, lack of supply means a loss of business/sales; thus the Shark platform is critical — it provides real-time data that reduces operational costs, in terms of inventory.
Q You are using open source to streamline your operations. Does open source feature in boxC.in or the Shark platform?
We are using open source to power all the technology solutions that we develop. Both boxC.in and the Shark platform use open source solutions. boxC.in comprises IoT enabled machines, which allow capturing data about every cup consumed, while the Shark platform helps every store connect to the central platform, which helps us with supply chain readiness.
Q Tell us more about your current IT team.
We heavily leverage open source frameworks and tools. We have an inhouse technology team comprising engineers with different skill sets. We have observed that community-developed software are stable and well documented, making them ideal for adoption. In the future, we look forward to contributing to the open source world ourselves.
Chai Point’s boxC.in machines are Internet connected, Android powered dispensers that are far ahead of the conventional beverage dispensing options in the market. boxC.in was first launched by Chai Point in 2016, and an Android version was launched in 2017. The machine is remotely managed by the Chai Point command centre, which monitors the health of the machine, consumption patterns, stock status, etc. Currently, there are more than 2,000 active boxC.in installations across India.
Q Any expansion plans for your technology team?
As Chai Point stores increase in number and as our boxC.in business attains new heights, we have increasingly realised the importance of the role that technology plays in today’s world. In sync with this observation, we have been investing in cutting-edge technologies since last year, and we will continue that this year too. While hiring, we don’t evaluate software engineers on the basis of any specific technology. We focus on evaluating software engineers based on the fundamentals of computer science like data structures, algorithms, databases, software designing and coding. If software engineers show a willingness to learn new technologies and demonstrate good logic skills, irrespective of past experience, we hire them. But yes, people with past experience in open source technologies do have an advantage.