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When users select their favourite ring tone, little do they know of the processes that yield such value-add innovations. Here' a story from behind the scenes.
According to NASSCOM, it's India's sixth largest software exporter. More significantly, Gartner has rated it as the third largest Business Support System Integrator in the world. It's Tech Mahindra that we're talking about, a leading telecom-focused Indian IT major with vast experience in innovating value-added services and service delivery platforms.
Innovation aimed at driving telecom service provider revenues
Tech Mahindra's bouquet of value-added services stems from the fact that the margins from connectivity are rapidly falling. It has therefore explored various business models with service providers, like the revenue-sharing model, hosted model, etc, with the aim of offering innovative multimedia applications to drive up the average revenue per user (ARPU) for service providers.
Naturally then, there is always a flurry of innovation at Tech Mahindra, so much so that about 8 to 10 per cent of its revenues are ploughed back into R&D. It has actually instituted an Ideas Factory to generate go-to-market ideas, by empanelling experts from its 'Centres of Excellence' for next generation networks, mobility, operations support systems/business support systems, the user interface development group and technology practices. Once innovations take place, the Ideas Factory strives to facilitate their field enablement, as well as showcase them at international conferences such as 3GSM World Congress, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), etc.
Innovation at Tech Mahindra is all about new applications, content, and services that merge commerce, content, convergence and customer experience, basically, business opportunities that help operators gain a sustainable advantage over their competitors.
Innovations that always focus on user experience and satisfaction
Judging from the value-added service portfolio that Tech Mahindra has deployed for telecom companies, the Ideas Factory has done well! For instance, how often do you come across people who have yet to select a ring-back tone for their mobile phone? Nowadays, by and large, when you call anyone, you hear their preferred tune before they come on the line. Well, the ring-back-tone application is just one of many consumer applications from the Tech Mahindra stable.
Other consumer services include a prepaid services application and free phone, a special telephone number that offers free dialling to the person who's calling by transferring the cost of the call to the person called.
Number Translation is a network application that allows users to dial a special number that the carrier translates into a real destination number where the call actually lands.
Tech Mahindra's IMS (IP multimedia systems) Service Switching Function better exemplifies how its network services enable telecom operators to launch new technologies, while retaining consumers by ensuring their comfort levels. It facilitates the use of intelligent network services that are currently available, like toll-free services on next-generation networks.
Value-added services in the entertainment segment
In recent years, thanks to an upbeat middle class that boasts of a greater disposable income, the entertainment value-added service segment is being looked upon as a means to increase telecom provider revenues. Here too, Tech Mahindra has stepped in to offer innovative services that distribute premium content like pictures, wallpapers and screensavers to end users; VoD or on-demand video streaming services personalised to individual needs; and tele-voting to conduct opinion polls and requests to end users to vote via SMS or voice calls.
Tech Mahindra is now poised to launch a new technology, location-based services aimed at tracking the location of subscribers, and using this information to offer value-added services that make one's life easier, faster and more comfortable. Shankar Allimatti, vice president, next-generation networks, explains that just this single service encompasses the functions of tracking, navigation, searching, emergency services, etc.
A service to find your buddies!
Tech Mahindra's new buddy-finder service, also known as a people finder or tracker, is expected to be among its most successful location-based service applications. So how does the buddy finder service work?
Subscribers using the service are required to initially register their buddies and configure details such as contact numbers, addresses, and a perimeter to mark the boundary they desire to track. Subsequently, subscribers will be prompted by SMS whenever their buddies are within the specified perimeter. The subscribers may then communicate with their buddies using SMS or a call, which will either be charged for as a monthly subscription or at on-demand premium charges 'depending on the service provider's business model.
The buddy-finder service also allows subscribers to visually track the location of their buddies by displaying the position of the subscribers and their requested buddies on a map pushed on request (as WAP or MMS content) to the subscriber's handset.
Technology-wise, the buddy finder can be built over any application server or location-based service middleware that's capable of communicating with location-based servers of the operator, like GMLC (gateway mobile location centre), to track the location of the subscribers and their buddies. A map engine may also be integrated with the middleware, to plot the locations of the subscriber and the buddies, and offer the map to the subscriber.
One technology, multiple applications
Tech Mahindra is at present talking to many companies across geographies, who would like to offer the buddy-finder service. But what may help push this service is that while the buddy finder will at first be promoted as a fun utility for subscribers, the technology driving the service may also be marketed as a child tracker, or the means to launch an easy and swift advertising campaign.
Allimatti explains these alternate value-added services in more detail. Since the buddy finder is capable of alerting a subscriber whenever a buddy (or other subject) moves both in and out of proximity, it may well be used by parents who desire to keep tabs on their children, to be alerted if and when their child moves out of a pre-defined area. So, just as subscribers may be alerted when their buddies move into the proximity of pre-defined POIs (Points-of-Interest), an advertiser/seller maintaining a list of clients could use the technology to push ads or, Sale-messages to clients when they pass near a store. As Allimatti points out, "There are various enterprise-based applications that can be leveraged using the buddy finder service." Across the world, every technology innovation is wrung to extract the most revenue from it. In this case too, Tech Mahindra will apply its location-based service technology to drive multiple applications, the idea being to have something for everyone. Sounds like a winner's strategy, right?
1. VPN (virtual private networks), an access solution that accommodates the needs of remote employees and distant offices by providing secure access to information and applications over a variety of networks;
2. VPBX or Virtual Private Branch Exchange, which facilitates the creation of a network with PBX-like features (think call routing, follow-me, voice mail, fax mail, etc) within an enterprise; and
3. Call centre, a one-stop primary interaction point where customer queries are attended and resolved.
At Tech Mahindra, innovation is pursued as a business model. This is achieved by the creation of Capability Solution Units (CSUs) staffed with more than 3,000 experienced consultants and architects from the telecommunications industry and from laboratories.
The CSUs are dedicated to certain key technological areas, including OSS, BSS, NGN (next generation networking), security, embedded solutions, network design and engineering, and mobility solutions. They are responsible for research and development in that particular technology, as well as to map the technology to business/client needs. Further, 10 per cent of revenues are invested back into the CSUs to uphold the management's commitment to incubate innovation within Tech Mahindra.
Thought leadership at Tech Mahindra
Innovation is born out of ideas. To this end, Tech Mahindra fosters thought leadership by actively engaging with various forums like the IPV6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) steering committee for standards, TeleManagement Forum, WiMAX Forum, and ISSEA (International Systems Security Engineering Association). It believes that its membership in these industry consortia enables its people to keep abreast of industry developments and participate in industry standardisation.
Tech Mahindra has also partnered global companies in setting up research labs and developing proof of concepts. For example, its 'Next Generation Telecom Solutions Lab' is in cooperation with Intel, and 'IPTV Lab' is in association with Sun Microsystems and consortium partners. Further, Idea Factory is Tech Mahindra's lab instituted to generate 'software + service' and VAS (value add service) ideas, conduct feasibility studies and create demonstrable solutions to translate these ideas into reality. Some of the most interesting service mash-ups are designed in this idea factory, like Auto Call-Back and Buddy Finder.
The 'Ignite Innovation' contest
In order to provoke thought and discussion in areas like business strategy, human engineering, delivery excellence and technology, Tech Mahindra organises an all- inclusive annual contest -- "Ignite Innovation". Senior management members evaluate the entries. The teams emerging as finalists of this contest then present and sell their ideas to the top management at a Management Summit.