Telecom Development: Simple Rules, No Magic

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rahul Neel Mani


The pace of growth at Reliance Communications (RCOM) is faster than that of other leading telcos in India, says Alpna Doshi, CIO, Reliance Communications. In a chat with Rahul Neel Mani, she outlines the company’s IT plans and growth initiatives in the immediate future.

Q: What are the new technology developments in the telecom industry? Is RCOM positioning itself to be a leader in this space?

A: When we are looking at technology deployments to prepare our technology base, we look at creating and using a shared architecture for both our wireless and enterprise market segments. This shared architecture will effectively allow us to have subscribers from our consumer database and also help us to leverage these users for the enterprise segment, as some chunk of these consumers are a subset of the enterprise market.

The other focus area for us is on the CRM space. We look at the basic criteria for CRM usage and how the customer's needs can be addressed through this application. For example, if a call agent can reduce the time to respond to any query even by a few seconds, it is a relief for the customer. This holds good for our enterprise business as well.

Within the IT sphere, I am monitoring more than 100 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) regularly. This keeps my team excited and they want to improve their numbers. I in turn, conduct a customer satisfaction survey of these numbers and see their responses. So we try to connect everything from a customers’ standpoint and convert it to various KPIs and measure it. These would include things like provisioning time, number of trouble tickets generated, fault resolution time, etc.

Day-to-day IT problem solving is a given and it should not take more than 30 percent of our time. The remaining 70 percent is the time that needs to be devoted to provide value adds to the business. At the end of the day, it is the IT team that is managing and understanding the various applications and solutions. So I look at various IT reports for all our businesses and see if I can help them analyse these reports. Business has no time to look at the technical aspects. So my focus here is to identify innovative architectures that can speed up things.

Architecture convergence is one aspect that can bring in efficiency. So if I look at Globalcom, a division of Reliance Communications, we are merging the architectures from our acquisitions of Flag, Vanco and Yipes. This converged architecture will provide a great value add to the business in terms of getting rid of redundancy, faster resolution time as well as introduction of new technologies.

Differentiating yourself from the competition is a key factor. We want to give a good deal of thought to the various functionalities of each of the systems that we have.  We want to derive intelligence out of them and analytics is certainly a huge part of our differentiating game.

Technology for me has always been the easy part as it can be made to work the way you want. To make people work is a challenge. So if we want to do anything at high speed for the business we need to introduce agile processes in the company. For this it is important to have knowledge of the existing business processes and how you can reduce them. So we started something called as “Coffee with the CIO,” to spend that extra time to meet with people and understand their pain areas, ideas, etc.

Q:What has been the impact of such meetings over a cup of coffee?

A: Well, I speak of many things that are professional as well as personal. I share my vision with them and also listen to their expectations from IT. On the personal front, I ask some of them where they stay, what are their hobbies, etc. This helps a lot. For example, if an operations guy has to work past midnight in the office and does not get transportation to go back home, then this is of great concern to me. If I can get these guys a transport service when they sit back late, they feel a sense of ownership and do not mind putting that extra effort.

I give a lot of importance to people. Employees can do things beyond our wildest imagination. So it is not technology but people who change business.

Q:Can you highlight an innovation that has been done by your team? What was the customer's reaction to the same?

A: A good example would be our customer self service portal. We developed a portal that has enabled customers to easily buy services online, make payments, and troubleshoot as well. I would like to finish working with this portal by introducing unified billing. Work is already underway for this process.

There are no telcos who offer unified billing to customers in India. Having separate bills for various services like mobile, landline, broadband etc. from a single provider for one customer is not required. One customer ID with all services hanging to it is the best answer. This is not innovation, but simple basics. If there are barriers, they are political in nature and exist within the organisation.

In a transformation journey, there are two key areas that need to be kept in mind. One is technological transformation and the other is cultural transformation. These two have to go hand in hand. So unified billing would be more of a cultural transformation aspect that needs to be in sync with the technology transformation.

Q:How much of technology tweaking would something like unified billing require?

A: You look at it at from a point of having five different systems, for example, that process the billing requirements for five different services. It certainly requires certain amount of work to make sure that everything is associated with a single customer ID.

Now the aspect of which particular service organisation is going to address the subscribers becomes a question. So it does require quite a few changes. Let’s look at this from a CRM standpoint. Can the call agents offer a unified service to customers for all their queries of multiple services? So this would require a focused approach and clear capex - and opex investments to take this through. Or you need to have a strong executive sponsor to make it happen.

Q: So who will be the executive sponsor in this case?

A: I would like to see this from the customer side. So our customer service departments should really be the ones. As a CIO, I will put the plan into motion..

Q:It has become a norm to outsource entire IT operations and we have seen telecom companies like Airtel, Idea, etc. outsourcing their IT needs to service providers. RCOM on the other hand manages its IT by itself. So what according to you are the pros and cons of both these models in the telecom space?

A: When outsourcing contracts are signed, there is a joint risk sharing. From this perspective, the contract management becomes a key part in the deal as the provider needs to manage the SLAs, finance, etc. I have been a consultant for most part of my career. The negative part of outsourcing is getting locked in with a provider as you are not aware of the nitty-gritty of the services being offered. The SLAs are adhered to but what if one wants to look at changing something — that's not possible.

In my previous role as a consultant I was auditing a contract in Australia for a major telecom service provider who had outsourced IT operations to another partner. We diagnosed the network management system to the core. We deciphered that the code was written in such a manner to lock the telco and there was no way that the company could get out. This exposed the partner.

At RCOM, we have a long term outlook. As IT is captive, we can maneuver our business as required without our intellectual property going out. Having internal IT saves a lot of bandwidth in terms of management of a contractor. We follow simple rules, and there is no magic needed. Our IT is always ready for the business.

Cross-posted from CTO Forum

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