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Enhancing efficiencies: Enterprises deploy state-of-the-art telecom technologies

January 21, 2011
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In order to take on competition from rivals and enhance their market position, deploying state-of-the-art telecom infrastructure has been at the top of enterprises’ to-do list. During 2010, large enterprises across verticals focused on enhancing their communication networks by either upgrading their existing infrastructure or by expanding it to include remote locations. Apart from the standard telecom tools, a wide variety of applications such as radio frequency, enterprise resource planning, SAP, customer relationship management (CRM), spot billing and a web-based system for monitoring vigilance activities, etc. were utilised. For instance, the Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company Limited (MSETCL) implemented a radio frequency-based communication system covering 494 sub-stations in the state, for which data is being received at the state load despatch centre (SLDC).

The year also saw a focus on ensuring network security and redundancy. Going forward, enterprises are eagerly awaiting the widespread launch of 3G, as this medium would be a useful tool in facilitating connectivity in remote and rural areas where adequate terrestrial connectivity is unavailable.

During 2010, tele.net carried out surveys across various verticals, including banking and financial corporations, institutions, media houses, and mining and manufacturing. A look at the key technology requirements, issues and concerns, and redundancy and security applications utilised by the enterprise sector...

Key technology requirements 

The most important requirement of enterprises during 2010 was a reliable communications backbone, which was cost-effective, had zero downtime and ensured seamless connectivity. A mix of technologies was used to meet their wide area network (WAN), last mile and international connectivity needs.

For the WAN set-up, enterprises mostly opted for MPLS, DLC (NLD), ISDN, DLC (local loop), IP-VPNs, Ethernet and VSATs. A few companies also opted for other mediums to facilitate connectivity. For example, retail major Globus Stores put in place a remote infrastructure management system (RIMS), which is aimed at setting up a network operations centre (NOC) within the company’s premises. RIMS’ scope extended to taking care of six different levels of management such as server management, network management, desktop management, application management, data backup management and vendor management.

In the past one year, as enterprises expanded and extended their operations to different locations in India and abroad, the demand for external communications infrastructure also increased rapidly. According to tele.net’s findings, companies that already had a well-established setup for international connectivity enhanced it. Their infrastructure now comprises IP-VPNs, MPLS, IPLCs and leased lines. A few companies in the utility segment also made provisions for international connectivity.

For last mile connectivity, optic fibre was the most popular option across verticals, followed by DSL. These technologies are usually deployed in conjunction with some form of wireless connectivity. The most common wireless mediums were Wi-Fi and radio frequency. Apart from this, all enterprise verticals deployed several software applications. These include enterprise resource planning (ERP), inventory management, business intelligence, SAP, supply chain management and CRM.

Of these, SAP was used in almost every vertical as it was designed to meet specific enterprise requirements. For example, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) opted for a SAP infrastructure that included an FI module, which focused on finance and controlling; an HR module, which dealt with personnel administration,; an MM module, which focused on material management and purchasing; an RE module for property development and real estate; a PM module for plant and machinery maintenance; and a PS module for project systems. These software modules were specifically designed to be easily upgradeable, maintainable and adaptive to a changing business environment.

Apart from these, companies like Shoppers Stop, a retail company that had implemented the first ERP for merchandise and inventory management in 1999, added various other solutions around the core application with specialised tools for merchandise planning, space and floor planning, replenishment management, warehouse management and the point-of-sale system. It also implemented other packaged applications for financial accounting and human resource management. Besides, Shoppers Stop invested in business intelligence and analytics solutions to drive growth. These applications are centrally deployed and managed.

Several government agencies took keen interest in deploying telecom and IT applications. For instance, MP Poorva Kshetra Vidyut Vitran Company implemented a number of technology-related projects. These include remote metering, a web-based consumer care system, spot billing and a web-based system for monitoring vigilance activities, etc. Also, payment kiosks were set up in major cities across Madhya Pradesh. The distribution company also came up with a low-cost solution for automated meter reading (AMR). Today, all its high tension (HT) and low tension (LT) consumers with a load of 10 HP and above are on AMR.

Another interesting initiative was that taken by MSETCL. The company implemented a radio frequency-based communication system covering 494 substations in Maharashtra, for which the data is received at the SLDC.

Troubleshooting-related functions and applications also became imperative for many companies.  DMRC, for instance, deployed an in-house mail server and a helpdesk for troubleshooting. The company’s helpdesk facilitates the registration of online complaints either through a web application or via email. After troubleshooting the problem, the status of the complaints, which are mostly technical in nature, is updated on the helpdesk server and the user informed of the updated status by an automatically generated email.

In terms of enterprise applications, it was seen that standard email, audio and video conferencing, instant messaging and VoIP were the most widely utilised solutions across verticals. Internet, over the years, has become a very powerful tool for corporates. It has been leveraged by almost all verticals in order to reach  a wider audience.

With staying connected on the move being a key priority for enterprises across all verticals, mobile phone applications such as email, data connectivity and conferencing increased significantly. Certain verticals, such as retail, media and entertainment, sales and distribution and manufacturing, in fact, equipped their workforce with BlackBerry devices or its equivalent for this purpose.

Service providers and vendors of choice 

Since the day-to-day businesses of each enterprise vertical are extremely demanding in nature, the emphasis is on reliability when it comes to opting for service providers.

As part of the survey, it was seen that operators such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Tata Teleservices Limited, Reliance Communications, Bharti Airtel, Tata Communications, Tulip and Sify Technologies were preferred for providing WAN and last mile connectivity. Several international vendors and operators like AT&T, British Telecom, SingTel and Verizon Besides were used to provide last mile and international long distance connectivity.

Key issues and concerns 

Connectivity, uptime, network security, capacity constraints, keeping pace with technological advancements, resource optimisation and cost of telecom equipment and services emerged as the key concerns of enterprises through 2010.

Network redundancies 

For back-up, enterprises mostly opted for a mix of telecom infrastructure such as leased lines, ISDN lines, UPS backup, VSAT, network switches, routers, data backup and applications such as data archiving and data recovery.

Other than the standard redundancy mediums, mirror servers, server provider diversity, hybrid models and disaster recovery were also used extensively by enterprises across different verticals.

Network security 

Keeping in mind that security was an important priority for enterprises, tele.net’s findings indicate that companies typically opted for multiple security options. These include firewalls, proxy servers, access logs, security audits, OS security patches, user-authentication and intrusion detection.

The road ahead… 

Most players across various verticals had a well chalked out, concrete network expansion plan. Travel and hospitality player, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces for example, mentioned a multi-point agenda that included continued rollout of MPLS across all its sites. MPLS is a cost-effective medium that provides access to remote sites easily. Also, Taj planned to enable high-speed internet lines for both its guests and employees, to provide integrated voice and data services. The group also planned to deploy digital fibre-based technology to connect the guest-rooms.

Manufacturing major Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL) planned to focus on three specific areas: business intelligence, customer collaboration and continuous improvement. In 2009-10, the company implemented the SAP BI/BPC system for its finance and marketing functions. Through 2010-11, STL intends to extend this to areas like operations and human resources.

The FORE School of Management plans to implement the Campus Management System. This is expected to enable a wide range of service offerings - from electronic class registration to class schedules, submission of assignments, results, etc. - through self-service portals. It plans to provide students, faculty and administrators with quick and easy access to student files, including administrative, financial and academic records. 

Net, net, as enterprise businesses grow and competition gets tougher, telecom will continue to play a determining role in how companies respond to market conditions.

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