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Interview with Ram Prasad Mamidi, Chief Information Officer, TTSL

July 31, 2017
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The fine line between IT and telecom is blurring as digital becomes the new buzzword in the industry. Faced with competitive pressures, telecom operators are embracing new technologies such as big data as a key tool in their customer engagement strategy. Further, they are recognising digital as an effective medium to drive consumer connect. Tata Teleservices Limited (TTSL) is one such operator that is leveraging digital in a big way to drive customer engagement and loyalty. Ram Prasad Mamidi, chief information officer (CIO), TTSL, shares his views on emerging IT trends in the telecom sector and TTSL’s strategy to leverage these. Excerpts…

What are the top five trends that are gaining momentum in the Indian telecom industry?

Continuous technical transformation and innovation have driven growth in the telecom sector and we are seeing the following trends reshaping the industry:

• Rise of OTT: Over-the-top (OTT) players, offering applications and streaming content directly to consumers through the internet, have increased their dominance, even in core communication services such as messaging and voice. WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, etc. represent a huge percentage of all messaging and international voice traffic.

• Internet of things: One of the major trends impacting the telecom industry is the explosion of connected devices. This is adding billions of new connected data sources and the upswing of all these devices is seeing astronomical growth in data volumes. We will quickly push through exabyte volumes and enter the world of zettabytes per year.

• Big data: On its own, big data has gained a firmer foothold with telecom operators as hyper-competition drives them to strengthen their data management and analytics capabilities to drill deep and wide, gaining better insights to enhance the customer experience at every stage of interaction.

• Security: In the wake of several high profile data breaches, it has become more important for operators to consolidate and strengthen their security systems. As custodians of the networks, operators play a pivotal role in fighting the new threats that are emerging. Customers will begin to expect and then demand more proactive protection from the entire internet value chain, and operators will have to support these expectations with a range of technical and operational innovations.

What is TTSL’s strategy to enhance the customer experience across voice and data services?

The boom in smartphones and devices has resulted in huge uptake of data services and mobile applications. We aim to offer special data plans, which charge consumers strictly on the basis of their usage. Considering that the majority of the mobile market in India comprises prepaid users, such customisation initiatives are seen to be in sync with changing trends, dynamic consumer usage and spending patterns. We have been making efforts to strengthen our network for our growing customer base across the country and especially in semi-urban towns and cities. Apart from a steady increase in retail outlets, which serve as seller-customer touch points, we have also incorporated simplicity, accessibility and personalised services in our offerings and overall brand image.

Tata DOCOMO has, from the very beginning, recognised digital as one of the most effective mediums to drive engagement and consumer connect, especially with the millennial generation. The idea has been to build engagement by establishing one-to-one conversations, encouraging advocacy through positive word of mouth, and providing consumers a platform to voice their concerns/build a connect with the brand.

What are some of the new technologies that TTSL is leveraging? How are these helping the company?

TTSL has been using big data for a while now, the emphasis being on end-to-end customer experience management. It has been helping us define systems to measure stage-wise experience parameters for a given customer and correlate them for personalised delivery, not to forget the predictive tools and robust data warehousing that are in place. Tata DOCOMO’s *123# is a self-help functionality that allows the user to access customised offers based on their usage behaviour. The same functionality enables retailers to fetch the best offer for the customer. Since the offer is made keeping customer’s requirements in mind, it increases the relevance of the offer, helping establish preference and thereby conversion. This service has provided a simplified self-help platform for our consumers, and has now been running successfully for many years. While these solutions enable us to leverage structured data, we are also looking at the available options for effective mining of unstructured data. Using the Hadoop framework, we have leveraged big data for more effective vigilance, tracking and monitoring.

How have your expectations from your IT vendors/partners changed in recent years?

Given the current competitive and everchanging telecom environment, our expectation from IT vendors and partners is to align with business goals and offer agile solutions.

How has the role of telecom CIOs evolved over time?

The CIO’s role is evolving to proactively adopt newer technologies for growth. Today, in most progressive organisations, including TTSL, IT drives business results with CIOs partaking in strategy initiatives alongside C-suite executives. They are responsible for customer experience, analytics leveraging and driving innovations. Especially in high-tech service-dominated industries such as telecom, CIOs can play an enabling role in market differentiation and competitiveness. This means they work closely with the business, understand its priorities and ensure IT readiness, rather than being reactive and trying to hold it all together. Despite technology advancements, CIOs’ success is, and will be, defined by their vision and the risks they are willing to take for their companies.

What are the benefits of software-defined network (SDN)/network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies for telecom operators? What is the industry response to these solutions?

SDN and NFV technologies allow service providers to better control the various components of their network. These technologies allow service providers to increase the efficiency of their networks and make their existing infrastructure more functional. SDN allows centralised control over the programming of various network components, while NFV consolidates a range of network equipment through virtualisation to let service providers convert single-function appliances into multifunction/ multi purpose devices. SDN and NFV technologies are among the most talked-about technologies in the networking and communications industries, although most service providers are still learning about the potential benefits of these two innovative technologies and are yet to explore their full potential.

What are TTSL’s investment plans for its IT segment?

Technology is one of the most critical enablers of innovation in the telecom sector today. A robust IT backbone is what allows companies to keep their finger firmly on the pulse of their customers. Our team is committed to nurturing the seamless integration of new technologies as one of the key pillars of our business. The company has been investing in new technologies that ensure added value to our customers and, as a result, to our business.

What is your outlook for the data centre space? What are the key emerging trends?

With an increase in the trend of Indian businesses dealing with large amounts of data, the full potential for the utilisation of big data is yet to be discovered. Through the help of cloud and software defined data centres, corporates are creating new opportunities by unlocking evolutionary levels of insight, flexibility and scale. These data insights can assist in real-time decision-making with respect to cost reductions, optimised customer solutions and even the development of new customer-oriented products and services.

Some of the emerging trends are:

• Green data centres: Advanced technologies are being utilised for reducing operational inefficiencies, resulting in maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact. Environment-friendly cooling solutions, reduced e-waste, recycling, low emissions, and use of alternative energy technologies are some of the benefits that green data centres offer.

• Security in data centre management: Data breaches and other cyber threats are increasing, making it more critical than ever for data centre professionals to add security to their growing list of priorities. They are beginning to seek solutions that help them identify vulnerabilities and improve the response to attacks.

• Growing popularity of DCIM: Forward-thinking operators are using data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) to address data centre challenges such as regulatory compliance, information technology infrastructure library, and managing hybrid environments.

Corporates are expected to only grow smarter in deriving and utilising big data insights. We expect these services to assist companies in delivering tailor-made solutions and products to customers across the world.

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