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An Exclusive Interview with Sujatha Kumaraswamy, CEO, MeritTrac Services



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November 15, 2021

Sujatha KumaraswamyCutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence have introduced the process of automation testing. The global automation testing market size is expected to reach US$28.8 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 18%. It has been implemented in the education sector through examination management services and automating the examination process.

This is an exclusive interview with Sujatha Kumaraswamy, CEO, MeritTrac Services, where she elaborated the use of artificial intelligence to provide skill and domain assessment to different organizations in India’s first testing and assessment company.

 

1. Could you brief us about the company, its specialization and the services that your company offers? With what mission and objectives, the company was set up? In short, tell us about your journey since the inception of the company?

MeritTrac is India’s first and leading testing and assessment provider. It is a part of UNext Learning Private Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Manipal Education and Medical Group. It offers skill and domain assessment as well as examination management services to corporate organizations, educational institutes, and government agencies.

In May 2000, MeritTrac was founded to develop question bank management software for IT companies that were hired by the dozen at the time. They needed to assess people on their domain, cognitive, behavioral, and psychometric skills. NASSCOM and McKinsey had projected that the IT industry by 2010 would be a million people strong, and the team realized that companies didn’t need a question bank management software but a unified, end-to-end operation to handle the entire recruitment process including tests and assessments on a large scale. And that’s when it was decided that MeritTrac will become India’s first testing and assessment company.

MeritTrac has greatly invested in test research and development to deliver top-notch domain and skill-based assessments. It also takes care of test administration and delivery. The company has in-house psychometricians and developers who constantly innovate to create cutting-edge products. The high-end analytics allow recruiters and trainers to analyze test results and generate reports based on their needs. It helps organizations automate the examination process, right from processing the test application form to administering the tests and digitally evaluating the results. From its inception till date, it has helped more than 400 organizations across the globe assess candidates for job readiness.

 

2. Kindly brief us about your experience and journey and your contributions to the industry.

I have experience for over 20 years in incubating and running new businesses and functions in the education, assessment, IT services, BPO, and financial services sectors. It spans managing global, large-scale teams in service strategy, service design, new business incubation, business operations and transformation, operational excellence, margin optimization, customer experience, governance, and risk management and compliance.

Prior to moving to MeritTrac, I was leading new business, corporate strategy and operations as the Vice President at Manipal Global Education Services. Previously, I worked at Cognizant for over nine years across infrastructure services, application management, digital services, and consulting business units and led many organization-wide initiatives in delivery excellence and margin optimization. I also worked at General Electric, Wipro Technologies, and Tech Mahindra.

I had closely worked with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to develop the ISO 20000 standard group and also publicize and increase awareness of the same across the industry. I am an MBA graduate in finance and corporate strategy from IIM, Bangalore. I am also a certified master black belt and a graduate of GE’s prestigious financial management program.

 

3. What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?

The commitment to quality— MeritTrac assessment processes are ISO 27001: 2013 and ISO 9001:2008 compliant. And the technology platform is CERT-IN certified that ensures the highest levels of security for the assessment process. The company is proud to be one of the first companies in this industry to use the Lean Six Sigma methodology in assessments and tests. The in-house team of experienced educators, psychometricians, designers, and developers has built more than 50 million assessments across various domains. It also has a quality team that ensures that each assessment, it prepares, is accurate and relevant to the testing purpose.

End-to-end delivery of these high-stake projects entails a smooth functioning of well-oiled machinery with all parts working efficiently as well as effectively. The core strength continues to be innovation, platforms, in-house content expertise, and flawless execution, supported by an enthusiastic team to help clients at every step. It is only then that the team can provide the benefits of optimized time and cost of assessing, hiring, and onboarding.

 

4. AI is projected to be the next market. How is AI contributing to the making of your products and services?

As employees and learners spend increasing time working remotely, it becomes important to track and evaluate productivity and assess integrity with as much accuracy as possible.  This has been made possible with the evolution in assessment technology enabled by AI.

AI-based recruiting is finding inroads towards pre-screening candidates objectively and shortlisting the most meritocratic set of candidates for the final interview. It has enabled remote auto-proctoring tools that capture every action of the candidate and provide a trust score to the examiner or recruiter along with the examination score. This includes identifying typing patterns, tracking eye movement, capturing ambient sound, etc., and will be an evolving field as systems get more mature with time.

AI will enable assessment-backed interventions by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of people, learning preferences, and customizing learning and assessment paths for them. All of these help organizations develop talent with these long-term objectives:

  • To minimize the influence of bias and human error
  • To produce reliable results to correctly predict future behavior and performance
  • To equally and fairly assess each candidate

There is a range of tools available today to monitor and measure people’s progress and performance on a periodic basis. These inputs should be utilized and incorporated in the overall assessment framework of the organization to have a holistic employee profile and report in place. This can have other incidental benefits on career progression, cross-functional movements, etc.

 

5. Please brief us about the products/services/solutions you provide to your customers and how they get value out of it.

MeritTrac has diverse and rich experience of being a pure-play assessment company with over 20 years of serving clients across the board including corporate, education institutions, and governments to assess and evaluate over 50 million candidates to date.

The company has redesigned solutions across the spectrum:

Cognitive assessments

  • These assessments have evolved over the years to be very accurate in determining the job-fit based on the skills required to perform the job effectively and maintain the desired productivity levels
  • The ease of administering these assessments is phenomenal with the ability to render on any mobile device.

Behavioral assessments

  • Behavioral assessments are highly customized depending on the nature of the role for which the candidate is being evaluated. As different roles demand a different set of skills and aptitude, these must be carefully selected and modified to suit the job description
  • Online psychometry is gaining importance in remote working. It gives one an insight into the personality traits of the prospect and helps to probe them based on the report generated. This ensures the right cultural fit in the organization
  • Language-communication assessments including verbal ability, proficiency, listening, and writing for workforce development is also an important measure
  • Coding and speech assessments and other simulation assessments through a virtual environment are used by clients extensively during recruitment as well as while benchmarking employees to have an agile, updated, and productive workforce.

All of this is well supported through a robust remote proctoring platform and assessment management solution that enables self-service, custom assessment paths, and rich analytics and insight-backed reports.

 

6. How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead? What are your growth plans for the next 12 months?

Rapid technology changes, internet penetration, and growing demand for a skill-based workforce have led learners and institutions to adopt a flexible learning route. From being a ‘good to have an option for educational institutes and corporates, it’s become mission-critical to have an online play. The online education market in India is set to grow 7x within five years by 2024. This presents a US$5 billion opportunity for educators.

This has given rise to a range of EdTech players across the learner lifecycle— right from pre-primary, through K-12, and then higher education and professional certifications. While these trends have opened doors in the education sector, it has also put the onus on EdTech players to do justice to what has been hitherto considered a noble profession.

Across the learner lifecycle, EdTech companies need to play a complementary role to the formal education environment rather than a substituting one. This will ensure that the quality of learning and imparting skills does not suffer from the introduction of digital platforms at various levels.

At the same time, digital solutions must be outcome-oriented so as to provide objective improvement in learner skills and be able to deliver at scale efficiently thereby making quality education accessible as well as affordable.

HR processes including appraisals have adopted digital modes already and I think the change is here to stay due to the cost-effective and agile nature of hybrid digital processes. This is a good time for organizations to go back to the drawing board and restructure their appraisal processes by incorporating a reliable assessment mechanism with the help of modern tools and methodologies.

Data-backed platforms ensure that more objective and data-driven decisions are made that can even help improve employee retention over a longer period. This shift towards digital tools for employee appraisals will lead to more efficient and effective ways of performance reviews across industries.

People have been always skeptical about the delivery of learning and assessments online, but as the learning and assessment ecosystem is evolving with modern tools and methodologies, I believe that the comfort level towards adopting technology-backed digital solutions is higher than ever.

When it comes to scale, online examinations and assessment provide a clear advantage due to the nature of technology that is far easier to track and manage from a centralized secure server, as opposed to the requirement of managing physical test centers across the country. It provides a much better semblance of control over the conduct of examinations with richer reports around assessment scores as well as trust scores.

 

7. How is your company helping customers deliver relevant business outcomes through the adoption of the company’s technology innovations?

Owing to the global clientele, there are regular benchmarking exercises that it carries out with the R&D arm to ensure that platforms and assessment frameworks are aligned to globally accepted best-in-class methodologies. It ensures there is enough flexibility in the system for tailor-made solutions depending on the unique need of each client.

At MeritTrac, product and technology have always been at the heart of strategy, and some of the investments made in the past enabled platforms to handle the growing need for remote assessments without compromising on the integrity of assessments. The company has been able to roll out the next-generation remote proctored platform to serve the market needs while providing a lot of comfort to the exam proctors on the integrity of the assessment. As physical invigilators transform their roles to become live online proctors, the ease of proctoring and monitoring students is ensuring better control over the assessment, with richer insight-backed reports.

The suite of assessments built over years of expertise in assessment science including coding and speech assessments are used by clients remotely during recruitment, as well as to benchmark the employees to have an agile, updated, and productive workforce. By providing access to a rich and quality content repository, it has enabled assessment-linked learning for corporates and institutions to identify skill gaps in people early on through benchmarking assessments that are then followed up through relevant learning interventions.

I firmly believe that this shift towards digital platforms for assessments will lead to more efficient and effective ways of recruitment and periodic evaluations across industries.

 

8. Candidate screening to the final selection process- How technology-led assessments are helping talent acquisition teams hire the right talent?

Over the last few months, the company has seen increasing interest from all clients to re-evaluate their current processes and identify areas of improvement to make their hiring models more robust and suited to the current working environment. The focus is on replicating the in-person hiring experience to an online environment while constantly evolving tools and assessment methodologies to ensure they hire right. Remote hiring and appraisals have mandated the usage of technology that is one of the best ways to eliminate bias due to the nature of the tools and platforms used.

As most companies moved to digital tools for measuring employee effectiveness and productivity, these data points come in handy during remote assessments as well. Some examples of these include data-driven appraisals done remotely with technology tools enabling a 360-degree feedback loop as well. The output of this exercise can establish data-backed robust employee profiles with details of their proficient skill sets and areas of improvement and assist cross-functional movements and succession planning.

A lot of companies are incorporating external cognitive and behavioral assessments as part of their appraisal cycle to identify various employee profiles and establish a well-mapped career path. The usage of video sessions has also reduced the overall cycle time. This provides an opportunity to have more periodic appraisals against one final year-end appraisal.

At the end of the day, the team is dealing with human beings and there is a risk of making the process completely mechanical. It needs to be cautious to maintain a personal touch in whatever form possible, to ensure that the process remains humanized.


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