With over 10 million subscribers in 9 circles, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which provides mobile services under the MTS brand, is not exactly a telco behemoth. And yet, it is able to establish itself as a cutting-edge player with a growing base of customers, particularly for its much-speedier data services.
With over 10 million subscribers in 9 circles, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, which provides mobile services under the MTS brand, is not exactly a telco behemoth. And yet, it is able to establish itself as a cutting-edge player with a growing base of customers, particularly for its much-speedier data services. According to the company’s CIO, Rajeev Batra, MTS uses IT to the utmost to drive business and help its marketing efforts, among other things, become highly successful. A veteran IT leader in the telecom space, Batra was President of Group IT at Reliance ADA Group prior to joining MTS and has also worked as the Corporate VP and Chief Architect at Bharti Airtel (where he’s said to have played a key role in scaling up the IT infrastructure at a scorching pace, in addition to helping in the IBM mega outsourcing deal). In this exclusive interaction with Sanjay Gupta of India CIO Review, Batra talks about the challenges of being a CIO in a regulated and tough industry, how analytics has helped marketing and the road ahead to 4G. Excerpts:
Q: The telecom industry has seen multiple ups and downs in the past few years. Given that it is a different and often difficult segment to be in, what does it mean for a CIO working in telecom?
Viewed from the IT angle, it hardly matters what we [CIOs] need to give in terms the applications we develop and deliver to the business. Yes, having more spectrum does affect us as an organisation in providing better quality of services to our customers—and we can then write applications that are more suited to higher bandwidth and higher quality of services. The traditional applications and services run unaffected but if we have more spectrum, especially contiguous spectrum, it would help us deliver better quality, better applications and a much richer experience to our customers.
Q: Are you sometimes asked to work within the bandwidth constraints?
Yes, but when we do have to work under constraints, the innovation street keeps working and we develop applications that can work even with a narrower bandwidth scenario in which bandwidth may fall or applications need to run in areas that are farther off.
Q. You had moved your OSS/BSS solutions to a unified platform sometime back. How is that integration going on and how is it helping the business?
Earlier, we had two sets of billing and CRM systems: one was primarily catering to the pre-paid customer base and the second set was catering to the post-paid base, with a bit of pre-paid base as well. The problem there was that switching from pre-paid to post-paid or vice versa required a big time lag, which was proving to be a botheration to a lot of customers. We wanted to make the process seamless and easy, in addition to reduce our operational costs. Running two separate sets of solutions was turning out to be more expensive and cumbersome.
Our back-end operations have become very seamless with the new converged platform and we can more easily communicate with the customers. Earlier, when changing a customer from one type of billing to the other, we had to cut them off from one system and then provision the service on the other system; now, we just need to change the type of customer on the same system.
Q: Worldwide, the telcos are IP-fying their networks. What is the situation with MTS?
That’s a uniform requirement everywhere, as it enhances the network performance manifold and the world is now moving from a switched to an IP network. Ours is a hybrid network, with some part IP-fied and some based on switching. It’s a continuous process and as the network matures, more of it will move to IP.
Q: With reference to SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud), what are some of the new IT projects you have undertaken or plan to undertake?
We are analysing, with the help of an external agency, the brand effectiveness on social media and what is the kind of feedback coming in through various social media sites. The social CRM module is in a pilot stage and we are checking its efficacy right now. In mobility, we already have an MDM (mobile device management solution) deployed, which allows our staff to keep their private and personal applications segregated and secure. In marketing, we use analytics extensively.
For instance, we have what we call an MBonus contstruct, which helps us achieve a much higher conversion rate (over 6%) on our marketing campaigns compared to the industry average (3%). The use of analytics also enables us to treat each customer individually rather than bunch customers together in broad segments. We treat each customer as a segment and tailor-make the campaign for them. We also use analytics-based tables (massively parallel columnar databases) for churn prediction and other predictive analysis—this was launched about a quarter ago.
Q: How ready is your network for 4G?
Our network is already 4G ready, and it [the launch of services] depends on multiple factors such as the upcoming spectrum auctions, availability of efficient or contiguous spectrum, etc.
Q: As a CIO, what are the primary challenges you are facing right now?
In terms of challenge, it is to give more to the business for less. Budgets are obviously a constraint and limited. Also, a lot of new technologies are coming, especially in the public cloud, but we are not able to use them because of privacy or security, as we are in a highly regulated industry. For instance, setting up a big data platform is not an easy task and it is quite expensive. While it can probably be done more cheaply and quickly on the public cloud, we will have to do it in-house.
Sanjay Gupta is an editorial consultant and freelance writer based in Delhi. He can be reached at email@example.com