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Telecom Enabled: Sector leverages latest technologies

May 30, 2011
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The Indian call centre, IT-enabled services (ITeS) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors have continued to witness robust growth in the past few years. According to a joint study undertaken by NASSCOM and Everest India, this sector has been growing at more than 35 per cent over the past three years and is currently estimated at $26 billion-$29 billion. NASSCOM expects that revenues from this segment will touch $225 billion by 2020.

Competition in this high-growth sector has been sharp. To keep ahead,  companies have been deploying secure, reliable and efficient telecommunication networks with an emphasis on latest technology advances, best telecom and IT practices, and real-time remote communication.

Anantha Radhakrishnan, head, business transformation and technology services at Infosys BPO, stresses this point, “We have been leveraging our technology parentage so as to differentiate ourselves in the market. Technology is what sets the business apart rather than acting as a mere enabler. New and innovative service delivery models, along with the bundling of technology and BPO leveraging cloud, shared services infrastructure, mobility, social networking and hosted voice from best-of-breed providers have helped us gain and sustain a competitive advantage. Besides, our core objectives while leveraging technology are to standardise, simplify, enhance user experience; optimise costs for our clients; and ensure sustainability, scale and security. All of these enhance business value for our clients.”

Today, keeping in mind the importance of cost containment, network redundancy and overall network management, companies in the ITeS space opt for a mix of communications infrastructure, each catering to a different requirement. For instance, Axis Telecom utilises multiple wide area network (WAN) technologies. These include DLC (local loop), point-to-point Ethernet links and the internet.

Other popular technologies include point-to-point Ethernet, MPLS, IP-VPNs and IPLCs. The underlying idea is to achieve seamless transfer of data among various branch offices while maintaining a strong back-up solution and adequate bandwidth to accommodate heavy traffic.  While IP-VPNs are scalable and offer better reach to remote locations, IPLCs provide round-the-clock, point-to-point dedicated network connections and support integrated applications like voice, data, and video besides offering a wide range of data transaction speeds.

Moreover, as most players in the IT/ITeS and BPO space have offices overseas, international connectivity too is a necessity. For this purpose, IPLCs, MPLS, IP-VPNs and ISDN are popular mediums. These are not only cost effective but also offer minimum downtime in a secure and flexible manner.

Security is another key priority and players in this segment use multiple mediums for this as well. These include security logs, security audits, unified threat management, proxy servers, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, URL filtering solutions, vulnerability scanning tools, log analysers and data leakage prevention solutions.

Going forward, industry experts believe that technologies and services such as telepresence, unified messaging (in combination with 3G and Wi-Max), SAP, and server and desktop virtualisation will come in in a big way.

tele.net conducted a survey of leading BPOs, call centres as well as ITeS companies to assess their telecom requirements and solutions.

The following questions were asked in the survey:

•  What are the organisation’s key technology requirements?

•  What mix of service providers and vendors is used for various services?

•  What are the key issues and concerns with respect to telecom infrastructure and services?

•  What are some of the enterprise and mobility applications that the organisaton has implemented?

•  What kind of redundancies have been built into the organisation’s network?

•  Which network security tools has the organisation implemented?

•  What are some new applications that the organisation is planning to implement in the near future?

Key technology requirements 

The results of the survey suggest that a communication backbone that is cost effective, and provides zero downtime and seamless connectivity is the most important requirement for companies in this space.

To achieve this, most players have opted for multiple WAN, international connectivity and last mile access technologies. For WAN connectivity, DLC (local loop), the internet, Ethernet (point-to-point), MPLS, IP-VPNs and IPLCs are widely used.

According to the respondents, IPLCs are used for international connectivity, which is an important requirement in this sector, while MPLS and IP-VPNs provide a secure and cost-effective solution for interbranch connectivity besides being used for international connectivity.

Polaris Software Lab, for example, makes use of an MPLS cloud topology as part of its WAN set-up. MPLS has given the company several advantages. For one, an MPLS-based network provides data back-up and disaster recovery capabilities. It is relatively cheaper to set up than other mediums of connectivity and provides flexibility for future upgrades.

Axis Telecom also uses multiple WAN technologies. These include DLC (local loop), point-to-point Ethernet links and the internet. The bandwidth for DLC connectivity and Ethernet links is 4 MB each. For last mile connectivity, the company relies primarily on an optic fibre network from Bharti airtel.

While ISDN is being used primarily for back-up and videoconferencing, limited use is being made of DLC (NLD) and VSATs. The limited use of VSATs is due to the lack of requirement for remote connectivity by these companies.

For last mile connectivity, optic fibre, DSL and metro Ethernet are being widely used. For back-up wireless, the companies surveyed are mainly using Wi-Fi, either in conjunction with DSL or optic fibre.

Infosys BPO, on the other hand, has deployed both Ethernet and DS3 last mile access that connects to diverse points of presence on the service provider’s MPLS cloud, with dedicated virtual route forwarding for multiple clients across various locations. This, according to the respondent, adequately meets the client’s security requirements.

For international connectivity, the majority of the respondents are using IPLCs, MPLS, IP-VPNs and ISDN.

For instance, Evalueserve (EVS), which has multiple offices in India and abroad, has connected all its locations through MPLS and leased lines.

A few respondents have also set up a network monitoring system (NMS). To manage its offshore client connectivity infrastructure, Infosys BPO, for instance, has deployed NMS at its integrated management centre, which monitors the company’s connectivity/local area network infrastructure globally. Today, around 15,000 employees from various geographies have access to this network to serve customers worldwide.

A few respondents have also set up data centres. Polaris Software Lab, for instance, has two data centres in Chennai and Hyderabad that perform several functions including ensuring server uptime and data recovery, and supporting hardware and network-centric operations and end users.

Besides, applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) are also being used. Spanco BPO Ventures Limited (SBVL) uses a homegrown CRM that has helped the BPO develop many other contact centre and enterprise applications. Some of these are employee self-service, human resource management, warehouse management, inventory management, business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C), intranet portal and business intelligence (BI) solutions.

Polaris Software Lab also uses both ERP and CRM applications. The ERP system, in particular, has been a useful tool, as it has helped the company automate and link all its business processes. The ERP system has essentially helped the company combine the data of formerly separate applications, thus synchronising data and information across multiple systems. The company is now able to standardise and reduce the amount of software required for its processes.

In addition, CRM has also helped it in sales forecasting, task integration and staying connected while on the move. The company can now capture, update and share information on all prospective leads and projects; keep track of bid dates and other project scheduling information; rate projects for bidding based on configurable criteria; and forecast project revenue effectively.

Today, the internet is a strategic tool, which is being used extensively by all the companies surveyed. EVS, for instance, uses the internet for daily research work. According to the respondent, “The internet is very important to us as we require a lot of databases, internet-based research, and search tools to collect data. We also use certain applications that help us perform analytics.”

Service providers and vendors 

The survey findings indicate that a mix of service providers is being used for WAN infrastructure. These include Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, Bharti airtel, Reliance Communications (RCOM), Tata Communications, AT&T, Tulip, Sify Technologies, KDDI, Hughes, HCL Comnet Spectranet, YOU Telecom, SingTel, Verizon, Orange Business Services and Tata Teleservices Limited.

For last mile connectivity, the services of BSNL, RCOM, Sify Technologies, Tulip and Bharti airtel are predominantly being used.

Issues and concerns 

Operator performance, integration of multiple technologies on a single platform, latency, keeping pace with increasing bandwidth requirements and the high cost of equipment are some of the major issues and concerns expressed by the companies surveyed.

The respondent from Polaris Software Lab said that meeting the company’s bandwidth-related requirements without increasing expenditure on telecom equipment was a challenge.

Besides, the company feels that the rising cost of telecom equipment makes it difficult to keep pace with technology.

According to the respondent from Wipro, latency is a lingering concern. He says, “We face latency and performance-related issues in our centrally hosted corporate web and client server applications. Also, the cost of bandwidth is still high, especially in the case of MPLS.”

For Infosys BPO, operator performance remains a concern. According to the respondent, the operators offering the company managed services are sometimes unable to meet the downtime criteria specified in the service-level agreement. SBVL has another issue. According to the company respondent,  “Integrating different technologies from different vendors and providing the final output to customers is quite a task.” To elaborate, one of the company’s clients in the BFSI segment had a proprietary application that did not allow any integration with the BPO’s core banking application owing to security reasons. According to the respondent, the BPO’s agents wasted time copying contact details displayed on the telephony application and at times, the details were not copied correctly.

Mobile and enterprise applications 

Popular enterprise applications used by organisations in this vertical include web hosting, audio conferencing, videoconferencing, VOIP, instant messaging, web conferencing, toll-free services and Web 2.0 tools. While not used on a very large scale, telepresence services, hosted messaging and collaboration and social networking have also gained traction in this vertical. Telepresence usage is mostly limited to senior staff as the service is quite expensive.

Mobile applications are also popular, with most surveyed organisations using mobile email, mobile data connectivity, conferencing, corporate intranet, push alerts; sales force automation, etc.

Mobile access to CRM and SCM is another key application while the adoption of applications like personal information management, vehicle tracking systems and location-based services is low. These applications are also not being considered for deployment in the next 12 months.

According to the respondents, IT and ITeS firms have no requirements as such for vehicle tracking systems and/or location-based services applications.

Network security 

A secure network is on top of any company’s priority list. Therefore, in most cases, a multi-tiered infrastructure is used.

For example, Axis Telecom has deployed security logs, security audits, unified threat management and proxy servers to secure its communications network.

Infosys BPO too makes use of several mediums, including firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, URL filtering solutions for EDGE-based networks, vulnerability scanning tools, log analysers and data leakage prevention solutions.

Redundancy options 

Most companies surveyed have a robust redundancy infrastructure in place, the most popular mediums being disaster recovery, mirror servers, server provider diversity and a hybrid model.

A few respondents use other mediums as well. For example, EVS makes use of a load balancing system, using devices from Radware, apart from WAN gateways, in its multiple offices in NCR. The respondent says, “Our redundancy network is very well established. If one gateway fails we can route traffic through multiple gateways.”

Polaris Software Lab uses the Cisco antivirus package and Checkpoint’s firewall software.

The way forward 

Most respondents have plans of expanding or upgrading their telecom and IT infrastructures in the future.

The respondent from Wipro BPO says, “In the next two years, we plan to move towards a cloud-based offering which, we feel, will provide several advantages to the organisation.”

SBVL, on the other hand, is looking to enhance its services portfolio. According to the respondent, “We are working towards providing different innovative solutions with future customer requirements which include video, mobile-based solutions, cloud-based services, SAAS and IAAS.”

As a larger group-level initiative, Infosys BPO plans to leverage and adopt virtualisation and cloud technologies for its new business models in all verticals. 

Net, net, it is clear that BPO and ITeS companies have realised the benefits of a robust and scalable telecom infrastructure in furthering their business goals. To this end, players in this segment have deployed the very best in technology to ensure business continuity and keep competition at bay.

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