IT Trends in Telecom Industry

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Telecom operators utilize perhaps the most complete array of IT tools of any industry, simply because their entire business is based on technology. An online apparel retailer may use CRM as a marketing tool, but his core business is still clothing. For telecom operators, the core business is based on information technology, right from myriad cell towers and servers to Internet marketing to billing programs. As service providers embark on a global, industry-wide efforts to transform their networks, business models and core value propositions, the new environment demands that CIOs understand not only IT trends, but also the critical business and operational needs to meet key service-provider objectives. The ability to integrate systems, share information and enable collaboration is now being recognized by strategic planners as critical to enabling the transformation of both back and front-office operations. As telecom players are nowadays introducing new business models and service offerings that mix, match and blend technologies (such as wireless, landlines, broadband, Internet and DTH Satellite assets), the role of IT becomes critical, as it is no longer a support function but an integral part of the product.

The picture will be more clear if we look at IT implementation trends of the telcos over the last couple of years. In the year 2008-09, the majority of the IT implementations done for the telecom sector were IT infrastructure based projects. Various companies were expanding their reach by using IT solutions either to plan strategic roll out of fiber, wireless networks or they deployed Security Operations Center (SOC) to detect security incidents in proactive manner in real-time. Plus basic level of automation was also done by some of the players like automation of email centers to cater to the need of end users at a very basic level only. Several players started providing services over the Internet. This included web solutions for the internal employees that resulted in a paradigm shift from the old intranets.

Ravinder Jain CIO, Aircel

What according to you are some of the key challenges that telecom industry faces today, which haven't yet been resolved by using IT?
The major concern for the telecom sector today is reducing costs of IT services and keeping IT strategies in line with business goal.  Organizations need to manage exponential subscriber growth as telecom has seen a huge surge in the number of transactions being handled by the operators. Dipping ARPU is also a major concern for the telecom players. IT systems are needed to be configured properly to support data products like 3G.

What kind of IT solutions are you seriously considering to deploy in  near future?
We are planning to deliver new innovative products for Aircel subscribers. Plus a higher level of BPM / Business process automation is also under development to enhance operations. Aircel uses Balance Score Card (BSC) system for keeping its IT strategy in line with its business strategy. Currently it is manual, but complete automation of this procedure is underway. We are also preparing for next generation services like MNP and MVNO

In the year 2009-10 as the big players were involved in optimization their existing resources to have an edge, the new players were involved in building up their infrastructure from ground up. However, there was a requirement for the new players to deploy latest IT solutions to be at par with the old players having a higher level of penetration. If we talk about the IT implementation trends of 2009-10, most of them were enterprise wide CRM and SCM deployments. Because, ironically, while telecom operators provide a means for improved interpersonal communications, the operators themselves still have a long way to go to make communications with their customers more personal. By incorporating goals such as promotion campaign budgets, audience parameters, and channel choices into the CRM effort, telcos have managed their resources better. Some players enhanced the customer experience by providing a well designed CRM to their outsourced call centers with a better interface. Earlier, these call centers were provided an access to the CRM but the executive handling the customers had to swap through multiple applications in parallel. Now the telcos have modified their CRMs to provide all information to the executive in a well managed form on a single screen resulting in reduction of customer call hold time. Inventory management has also been a very important agenda for the telcos this year. The enhanced CRMs are made accessible throughout the enterprise and is closely integrated to other SAP or ERP systems to manage resources in a better manner.

Rajeev Batra, CIO, MTS India

What according to you are some of the key challenges that telecom industry faces today, which haven't yet been resolved by using IT?
Business & IT Alignment is the degree to which the IT applications, infrastructure and organization, the business strategy and processes enable and shape, as well as the process to realize this. A lot of studies both literary and practitioner's have shown that lack of alignment between business and IT is one of the main reasons why organizations are not able to tap completely into the full potential of their IT investments. Furthermore, organizations with a high degree of business IT Alignment have been associated with better business efficiency and performance. Consequently, almost all IT surveys in the last 5 years conducted by top research and consulting organizations put business and IT alignment as one of the top 5 needs for both CIOs as well as their business counterparts. This has been a key challenge for a while in the industry and continues to be a ongoing area of development.

What kind of IT solutions are you seriously considering to deploy in the near future?
We are planning to deploy solutions that are aligned to MTS India strategy of providing enhanced data services and quality customer care for our customers.

Telcos have also been keen on automated workflows and were stringently against any kind of time consuming manual efforts. They sought a solution with exceptional tracking features so as to provide quality services to its customers. Besides cost, another crucial requirement was an integrated application to avoid the complexity of using multiple service-related applications that result in ambiguity and inaccuracy in information, and of course the duplication of information and effort.

This year has witnessed several green initiatives been taken up in the telecom sector. Some companies have designed their datacenters and other facilities from ground up in compliance with the best practices in green IT. This has helped them reduce their carbon footprints considerably and attain significant savings on CapEx and OpEx. This included deployment of more power and space efficient servers, adaptive cooling techniques and better fuel that does not produce high CFCs.

Tech Used
This year a very obvious component used in almost all the large scale implementations have been the blade servers. This is due to the fact that every telco had plans to consolidate and virtualize as many servers as possible. Also, there has been a significant usage of SAN (Storage Area Network) across datacenters which   can provide immediate and long-term business benefits from raw data storage to disaster recovery and replication solutions. The benefits of a storage network are seemingly endless. The storage suddenly becomes fault-tolerant as services continue working even if we lose a Fiber Channel switch, a disk array controller or a host HBA. With the right selection of products, a company can also employ less number of people to manage storage. The use of CRMs of all kinds were seen. Siebel from Oracle was preferred by big players for managing their operations whereas Microsoft's Dynamics CRM was preferred by others.

Challenges Resolved
The key challenges for the telcos was managing the roll outs across multiple circles including the network expansion and network planning. Datacenter consolidation acted as a defining attribute to this task. Earlier some companies had distributed databases hence the interoperability was not possible to a great extent. And due to this, it was not possible to provide services to the users on the fly. Also setting up of multiple database units added to both CapEx and OpEx. Both network and financial planning required the creation of detailed graphs and pie charts which used to be generated manually earlier by extracting data from multiple Excel sheets. This was a grueling task in most of the scenarios and the time taken in generation of these resources was so high that they became obsolete.

Ramamurthy Kolluri VP, Networks – OSS, Bharti Airtel

What according to you are some of the key challenges that telecom industry faces today, which haven't yet been resolved by using IT?
Telecom companies are focused upon increasing their network coverage and providing similar quality of service to cities and the rural areas. Despite numerous innovative implementations, there is a dire need to follow a consortium approach for sharing of key network information to improve the network availability and minimize outages due to optical cuts. There is a need to spread towards areas with low rural tele-density covering 70% of the country's population.

What kind of IT solutions are you seriously considering to deploy in the near future?
We are planning to deploy a customer experience management system that could help us improve customer satisfaction and it also help our marketing teams. To maintan a high QoS, there will be a service quality management which can assist multiple services, both voice based and data based. Plus we are developing a next generation OSS to support our strategic planing teams to beef up our operations domain.

But after the automated integration of the CRM with the report generation, BI has resulted in a highly efficient reporting system catering marketing teams, network planning teams and the CXOs. The allotment of resources to the customers has also become very quick as the sales teams work in close integration with the inventory CRM. Enhanced unified view of the whole network coverage has resulted in increasing the penetration into untapped rural areas comprising a large part of the Indian population. The next step ahead for the telecom players is the advent of the 3G based services into the market. Arrangements are being made by the telcos to easily integrate these services into their existing IT infrastructure. Almost all companies are designed their systems flexible enough to make this integration possible. Wi-Max and Wi-Bro are also the two new technologies that are extracting ample attention from various players. The telecom sector is now completely driven by innovation. Every operator is coming up with new data services because value added data services have emerged as a completely new and lucrative source of revenue for this sector. Some innovative advances like live webcast systems have. Efforts are being to make heavy content services such as media streaming, live video conference and multi party video conferences possible. As the network infrastructure of the telecom operators has ample capability to deliver these services, some of them are providing these services as well. Few days back, we saw this implementation in action in form of the live webcast of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin's interaction with members of leading Indian Business houses, cultural elite, scholars, scientists and analysts from across the sectors over multiparty conferences in from multiple locations.

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