|Topic:||Software’s mark on the telecom industry|
Ravi Venkatesan is the Chairman of Microsoft India. Prior to joining Microsoft, Mr Venkatesan worked for over 17 years with Cummins Inc, a US-based designer, manufacturer and distributor of engines and related technologies. He served in various leadership capacities at Cummins, including Chairman of Cummins India Limited and Managing Director of Tata Cummins Limited, a joint venture between Cummins Inc. and Tata Motors. Mr Venkatesan is a member of the Executive Council of NASSCOM, the Confederation of Indian Industry, CII, a Director on the Board of Thermax Ltd and a member of the Advisory Council of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and IIIT-Bangalore. He has contributed frequently to the Harvard Business Review and some of his articles include, “Strategic Sourcing – to Make or Not to Make” and “The Strategy that Wouldn’t Travel”. Ravi Venkatesan has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (1985), an MS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University (1986) and a MBA from Harvard University (1992), where he was a Baker Scholar. Mr Venkatesan was awarded Purdue University’s Outstanding Industrial Engineer award for the year 2000 and the Distinguished Alumnus award by the Indian Institute of Technology in 2003.
Last year, mobile grew 97 per cent in India; the mobile phone is now one of India’s most important tools. India has the world’s cheapest rates for voice, but this cuts the operators’ average revenue per user. Service providers need to deliver personalised experiences at home, at work, or on the move to retain subscribers and build revenue through new services. Multi-service delivery platforms can extend and differentiate services like IPTV messaging, email and gaming while reducing costs.
The telecoms industry in India has seen phenomenal growth in recent years. Recently valued at over US$100 billion, or approximately 13 per cent of India’s GDP, the good news for operators is that there is still significant – and untapped – potential, given that telephony penetration is currently less than ten per cent and broadband is just taking off. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wireless segment. Between December 2005 and December 2006, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, TRAI, reported that the number of wireless subscribers grew 97 per cent from 75.94 million to 149.5 million, and this growth is expected to continue. For many, the mobile phone is not just a means of communication; it has become a lifestyle and business tool. The ubiquity of this little device has allowed professionals to stay in touch with their clients, or fishermen to find the port that offers the best price for their catch. For people in rural areas it is a lifeline to the outside world. In fact, some say the mobile phone is the most important tool to hit Indian society since the wristwatch. The world’s cheapest mobile voice One factor driving the adoption of mobile devices has been the increase in the subsidy offered by the operators. India now boasts the world’s cheapest rates for voice calls. While this is good news for subscribers, this has caused a drop in operators’ average revenue per user, ARPU, which means they must think about new strategies and new services they can deliver to boost ARPU. Content and value-added services will be key differentiators in this highly competitive market. Consumers have shown they are willing to pay for rich services and digital entertainment, such as the latest information on Bollywood and cricket. In this new Digital Decade, they want connected experiences – when they are being productive at work, doing new creative things, playing games or sharing photos and videos with each other. The digital lifestyle offers a world in which information and entertainment can flow to the consumer or business user, where, when and how they need it. Although many operators are in prime positions to take advantage of the convergence of voice, data, multimedia and applications, not all providers have the agility required to roll-out these new service options quickly and cost-effectively. Repositioning, redesigning and repackaging existing sales, delivery, customer care and other services is complex and expensive, requiring heavy investments in time and resources. Accordingly, operators have adopted different market approaches – for example, leveraging mobile virtual network operator, MVNO, services, or utilising a services-based selling model. Delivering value-added services The key to a win-win situation for both operators and subscribers is for operators to find ways to monetise this demand by transforming infrastructure investments into greater customer value. This requires a network that can support a robust metering and billing system together with excellent customer care to maintain satisfaction. What is most exciting is that software will drive these changes and will be instrumental in driving many of the developments in the industry. In the Telco 2.0 era, operators need to figure out not just how they can do the same with less, but also how they can do more with the same. Based on our experience, those that adopt a multi-services delivery platform have the best opportunity to extend and differentiate their service offerings while reducing overall costs. This software-driven network platform allows for numerous applications and types of content from a variety of sources to be brought together to form composite services – and the combinations of potential new services are nearly limitless! For example, a software framework for connected services allows operators to use the same infrastructure to deliver IPTV efficiently along with a range of other communications and entertainment services, such as instant messaging, mobile email, voice and gaming. Not only will this help increase their agility to deliver converged services quickly and cost-effectively, but operators will be able to customise and bundle services for specific market segments to help reduce churn, build customer loyalty and revenue. Once a robust service delivery platform is in place, the next area of focus would be revenue-generating services that combine communications capabilities such as voice and email with TV, video, music, movies and retail opportunities. To appreciate the myriad possibilities for aggregated service in the new software-powered service network fully, picture these two scenarios: • To discuss a time-critical project, an office worker in Mumbai emails another colleague in Bangalore setting up a link to a ‘live meeting’ session after checking that she is online. By clicking her contact information to establish a VoIP call, he can use the web conference function to collaborate on the presentation. • While a subscriber is watching a cricket match via IPTV, he discusses the game with his friends using a messenger client that appears on-screen. He then initiates a voice call to his brother by launching voice over IP, VoIP, from the on-screen TV menu. During a lull in the game, he can play his favourite online video game while keeping tabs on the match using a small picture-in-picture, PIP, in the corner of the screen. Past games statistics can also be made available to complete the viewing experience. These scenarios will become reality in the near future, and operators are already taking steps in this direction. Recently, Hutch Essar announced a tie-up with global entertainment brand Walt Disney Internet Group to offer subscribers access to Disney content on their mobile phones. In Singapore, SingTel’s Generation mio offers consumers the ability to access innovative mobile, fixed line and wireless broadband services through a single box. We believe that such providers are extremely well positioned to deliver the vision of a digital age to businesses and consumers, The combination of ubiquitous broadband networks, service integration and the magic of software are the winning ingredients to deliver the unique, highly personalised services users demand as part of today’s digital lifestyle. Empowering business success Consumers are not the only ones who can benefit from always-on connectivity. IDC research indicated that SMBs, small and medium businesses, in Asia will spend more than US$52 billion on IT services this year. Many of these companies see technology as a business leveller and are keen to adopt innovative applications, but may not necessarily have the skill set to implement and maintain such solutions. To this end, Bharti Airtel and VSNL have both announced separate initiatives with the software developer to offer a range of software and services to help reduce IT expenditures and operating costs. Airtel will provide enterprise-class software bundled with connectivity solutions to small businesses that do not have dedicated IT resources using a pay-as-you-go model, and VSNL will provide advanced, security enhanced, email services to SMBs. More employees are spending a significant amount of time away from their desks. Businesses are going mobile, and the operator that is able to offer an integrated solution will stand to gain an advantage. Today, the Indian business person is able to choose from more than 20 different smartphones to get always-on connectivity to their email, calendar, tasks, contacts and even information and applications on their servers to enjoy a level of agility that will enhance their competitiveness. With smartphones, its the operating system that makes a difference to users. Going the extra mile in customer care At the end of the day, the operators that win will be the ones that provide innovative and useful services. They will be able to profile their various customer segments and better understand what subscribers are looking for. This is why it is important to ensure customer information is centralised and accessible when needed. The delivery of customer data across multi channel environments should be automated to improve overall customer service experience. All the information needed by the call centre agent should be available through a single, easy-to-use interface, making the customer care process smoother and more intuitive. One, for example, that enables contact centre efficiency by delivering better information faster to service representatives, reducing operating costs, and delivering an improved, consistent customer experience. By having an agile customer contact centre, operators will be able to provide a consistent customer experience and be optimised for overall customer service experience. Looking ahead In the future, instead of voice on your mobile phone, data on your PC and video on your TV, these devices will simply be a window into a world of communication and entertainment, with seamless access. Service providers need technology enablers to help deliver richly personalised experiences across all aspects of a user’s life – whether at home, at work, or on the move. In this way, not only will service providers create a stronger bond with their customers, they will also reduce subscriber churn and add incremental revenue opportunities with new services.