Net Neutrality, a growing issue

By : |September 4, 2012 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: Another Super Techie in conversation this week. Vishant Vora, Chief Technology officer, Vodafone India helped revisit new connection points between IT and Telco businesses at Capgemini Super Techies Show, a reality television show for Information Technology (IT) professionals. This is where a battle is on among India’s brightest minds to solve real business challenges faced by some of India’s largest enterprises around areas like technical expertise, sharp business acumen and problem solving skills to develop the best possible solution. Further, in this interview with CIOL, he helps us dial into some current hotspots around Telco and IT.

CIOL: Can you share a brief about how IT as a function is being leveraged at your company?

Vishant: For Vodafone, operating in a sector like Telecom, IT is not just a support function but is a business enabler. In almost every business process that exists in the organization, IT acts as an enabler – right from acquiring customers to providing services and retaining them IT has a strong role to play. IT is leveraged in the areas of critical applications such as customer acquisition, customer service and billing, providing business intelligence and analytics to the business functions to allow them to take right decisions on products and services. It also helps in deciding strategies in areas such as customer retention and marketing campaigns.

CIOL: What else?

Vishant: IT function in Vodafone also enables to automate internal business processes that empowers the employees of Vodafone to focus on business and improve customer experience. It also supports the business to provide IT and mobile-enabled services to our small and medium enterprise customers to help them optimize their costs through our business solutions.To become a business enabler we have organized ourselves to provide service with a faster time to market, timely and quality deliveries of their business requirements, agile and smooth operations and also focus on innovative solutions that can help business to get market edge. We, in Vodafone, are organized in such a way that IT and network jointly forms the backbone of Vodafone India Limited.

 

CIOL: Does being in a space like Telco impose more challenges or more benefits when it comes to technology?

Vishant: Being in a technology driven industry we focus on using the best and the latest available Technology for our IT and network platforms. IT in a Telecom industry is challenging due to the complex processes involved in provisioning and upkeep of best services to our customers. The volumes of transactions in this Industry is unprecedented.The data that gets accumulated is humungous. Regulatory environments are ever-changing leading to a dynamic IT landscape. There are limited options available when it comes to choosing partners and vendors for providing products and solutions.Telecom space is also heavily outsourced, so we have the added challenge of integrating multiple partners and managing complex relations. The business moves at tremendous speed and IT needs to keep up at all times. On the other side, IT helps us in being cost effective while building the network back-bone and while connecting our datacenters and applications to far reaching places. We are also on the leading edge of technology innovation, so it’s never a dull day here for us.

CIOL: How much of the pipeline has been covered in making IT a competitive edge or a differentiator or a revenue centre like some telco players have already pursued?

Vishant: Telecom operators, including Vodafone, have grown in-organically through acquisitions and mergers. In order to provide differentiation, our first priority was to consolidate IT applications and processes.This allowed our business to set common customer facing processes and procedures, SLAs and uniform service experience at all customer touch points. Having done that, the next was to make the platforms that provide services to customers agile and robust and to effectively service the immense growth in subscriber base. We achieved this over a period of last five years. In parallel, we initiated programs for enabling self-services and IT enabled customer services channels such as IVR, SMS, web, USSD, self-service kiosks which brought down not only costs but also provided power to customers. We continue to focus on the areas of BI and analytics to understand customer behaviors, analyze them and provide them relevant offers for revenue enhancements. Currently, keeping the objective of ‘Customer First’, we are embarking on various initiatives that will help enhance customer experience.

CIOL: Like?

Vishant: We are building our own state of art tier 4 datacenter. We have successfully transformed our business intelligence systems to meet future data analytical needs. We have invested heavily on improving service quality, thereby improving customer experience. We are moving towards all IP network and appliance based IT architecture to support Big data requirements. All these initiatives have to be implemented in a very cost effective manner. To optimize cost to serve we have also pursued initiatives of unified communication, video conferencing and are actively evaluating cloud options.

CIOL: Has the Telco ecosystem (ISPs) etc evolved adequately and at pace when it comes to issues like obsolescence, infrastructure upgrades etc?

Vishant: India was predominantly a Voice-driven market till recently and so far focus has been on managing growth in that area. As the market was relatively untapped, Telco’s were quite successful in adding subscriber base in the space. The environment is changing now, with added focus on customer retention, providing value added services and enriching the Data experience for the customer. Telco’s in India are constantly upgrading their technology platforms and implementing new platforms to make the organizations future ready through these evolutions. However, the investments towards upgrades and technology currency are very critically weighed against the ROI, as the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is quite low in a market like ours. So we are in a constant struggle to make most impact with the least cost. This means a coherent IT strategy and roadmap is very critical.

CIOL: Is the Cloud SaaS market going to be specifically attractive to you and the industry? Why? What’s the road map in the UC,Telepresence market and how do acquisitions like Bluefish take it forward? How do these dynamics affect your internal role as a CIO?

Vishant: The ‘cloud’ encompasses a variety of options, mainly public, private and hybrid clouds. Generally, larger companies move more cautiously and prefer to establish a private cloud environment or a hybrid one. In India where Telecom is spread in 23 geographies (circles), it is a very exciting case to consolidate local applications serving these different geographies in a private cloud internally for the organization. Moving forward, there are opportunities to enable us to provide ‘IaaS’ and ‘SaaS’ to our small and medium enterprise customers. The CIO has to take the leadership in developing a cloud strategy that is right for the organization with Information Security and Risk Management Strategies, Deploy governance mechanism to evaluate , procure and implement cloud services and drive the ROI and value proposition for moving functions to the cloud services. CIO should also partner with the business in exploring opportunities to market cloud externally.

CIOL: What are your views on issues around net-neutrality, tiered pricing, spectrum optimisation, security, outages (during natural disasters) etc? Have you considered technology as a solution piece in any of these areas?

Vishant: Net neutrality is a growing issue in west and is now discussed here too. India has a mobile subscriber base of 400 Million and out of which 40 to 50 Million are Internet active. Mobile operators have to heavily invest in their networks to provide good data services to customers. Spectrum challenges and investments to ensure security adds up to it. While the medium of transport might be the same, the assigned value of the transport could be varying depending on the importance of the transmitted packets. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed. While tiered-pricing may help in charging the access based on value of information, there must exist a right regulatory framework and balanced revenue sharing regime that enables all the players in the chain to protect their investments. Technology platforms will have to be capable to enable tired pricing and functionalities such a s Data/Internet interconnect settlements. There are also regulatory challenges that Indian Telco’s have to account for.

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