Intelligent Talking

Rajeev Batra, CIO, MTS India in conversation with Rahul Neel Mani on the evolution of Business Intelligence, its challenges, and benefits to the organization.

CIO&Leader: Tariff wars have reached a certain level and number portability is about to happen. What do you think will be the differentiators and how will the difference come in the services being provided by the service providers?

Rajeev Batra: Tariff wars started about a year ago and now they have reached a level where there is no differentiation left in the tariff, except in dropping the prices further or making long distance the same as local calls. The only differentiation now comes in the form of what more can we give beyond voice. This is where the data angle comes in, so the next big thing is going to be how we interlink voice and data and introduce services around that. That will make more of an impact going forward rather than reducing prices or doing dynamic pricing. Now, more or less all the operators are offering the same when MTS went ahead and offered half-paisa a second to remove all the confusion.

CIO&Leader: What role does BI Play in a telecom company?

Rajeev Batra: Telecom companies, traditionally start with some or the other MIS. Every function in a ‘telco’ needs a very high level of MIS, which is the information about what is happening in the field. The next stage is, ’ How do use this data to see what is going to happen rather than what has been happening’ Also, see how the company is placed in the market in terms of products, positioning, and tariffs. BI plays right from the type of customer profiling one has to do and the type of usage pattern, then we build tariffs around that usage pattern. If there is a churn happening you have to check the pattern into which the customer is going so that you can prevent the churn. Preventing churn also helps you to keep your ARPUs (average revenue per user) at a pretty steady state, otherwise they start dropping.

Then you have to see about the marketing campaigns, customer care, and finance. These are used as inputs for Business Intelligence to start. Churning out of this is used to build new tariffs, project revenues around it, and build new types of products in the market depending upon what the customer likes to use: whether they are happy to be contacted at a particular time of day or if s/he is happy with the plan that they are using.

Using this data you can also do a targeted campaign depending on the users’ usage and preference patterns. It’s all of these generally contribute to stopping your churn and growing your ARPU by doing cross-bundling and cross-promotion. At the end of it, it is the revenue game that we are trying to win.

CIO&Leader: You said that it is being used to create differentiation….

Rajeev Batra: The BI tools help us analyze the success of your past products and services, even compare with what is going on in the market, and come up with something based on judging the new products in comparison with the older ones and helps us decide what the customers would like more. It gives you a basis to create a tariff or product dependent on what customers like. Thus, it helps give us differentiation.

If somebody has a certain type of tariff, what can you do to counter that or give a different type of tariff that a customer may like – otherwise you will be pushed out of the market. The industry is so competitive that if the customer does not feel that your tariffs are honest and beneficial, the customer is intelligent enough to understand and move away.

CIO&Leader: For a company like yours that does not have a legacy and is a late entrant in the market, what are the key areas of concern that require a full-fledged business intelligence deployment?

Rajeev Batra: In our case, yes we have been a recent entrant and we are reaching the 7 million mark in one and a half years of operation. There is a sort of niche that we have to make of our brand. Since we are based on CDMS, the best we could come up with was – in this cluttered market, what will give us the best leverage with the customer. That’s where went ahead with the data strategy. This has made data our strength and has given us a pretty good footing in the market. We also worked based on getting the fundamentals right. Getting our network work to the best wherever we operate. If you see the latest

TRAI ratings we have the most satisfied customers in the class we operate in.

Going forward, the marketing plan and CRM efficiencies have to be backed by sound business intelligence. Where you can provide the marketing team the intelligence. Where you can provide the marketing team with the intelligence to create smart offerings for the market. The half-paisa plan was launched last year in Tamil Nadu: we have been able to launch this plan in various ways in various geographies of India depending upon the demographic of the region. India operates in 22 circles with each region having its requirements. That is where business intelligence is used to say which products did well for which region.

While the underlying product remains the same some differentiation is created for each region. Similarly for CRM – the customer churn patterns and usage patterns are taken care of by business intelligence.

CIO&Leader: Do you think there is there is a particular area where BI is important for a telco or is it a general requirement.

Rajeev Batra: I would put it as a hygiene requirement for a telco, specifically for a market like in India it becomes mandatory. Every now and then, some operator will come up with something that is differentiator – and you must be ready to come up with a differentiator or you should have the capability to match it immediately. For this, business intelligence becomes a necessity.

BI is also sometimes used to check fraud in the telecom industry, where in we can check irregularities by checking the usage patterns. We can then pinpoint the type of subscribers that are more prone to committing fraud, as compared to another user. In all our business meeting something or the other comes up that required and input from business intelligence to act as a decision support system. Thus, the effects are across the business.

CIO&Leader: In the Typical telco setup what is the best way to look at deploying a business intelligence system?

Rajeev Batra: First we check the maturity of an organization. Is the data in the organization sufficient for a robust BI system? If it just the first year, a normal MIS may also suffice, but the planning for a BI system must start from the first year itself. This is the time when you start gathering the requirement from each department and then make a sort of a blueprint of the system and show what it may look alike.

There are two aspects to BI in a telco. One is the operational data store that you may have and another is the analytical business intelligence model. It works in two layers: The lower end caters to the daily operational needs. Any telco will have not less than 1,500-1,600 reports being generated on a daily basis. There are three main departments that become customers to IT – marketing at the top, customer care and finance. Then there are adjust systems to business intelligence that feed into it – one is the GIS, fraud management system and mediation system. Overall this is the blueprint that you make.

Then you decide upon the technology that may best work for you. You can also make a pretty long gestational period. So if you see, more and more ISVs and service providers have started giving a modular approach to this. They give, quick-start solutions also.

Earlier, it would take three years before something fruitful started coming out of the system. Now six months is the time given before the system starts bearing fruit with some results. It still takes 12-18 months before you can start giving any higher intelligence levels of analytics. Business, is anyway happier if you can crunch it further.

We have undergone a similar process wherein you create an RFP to get the intelligence, then you define the scope and phases in which it will grow and deliver results. Once this is done you need to ensure that the technology chosen is easily scalable to petabytes of data that any telco will go up till. Then we go through full business requirement workshops. Business requirement workshops are combined with all the departments. It happens very frequently. We also have business analysts and implementation partners sitting with IT who capture everything that the business tells. This is done even before the ordering process – it makes it more granular, putting it down in a document, and getting a business sign-off on what they want completed at what point of time.

Once the sign-offs are done, the regular implementation starts. Most of these packages have a lot of available patterns with them that are being used by telcos. Based on the maturity of the package it may already have a lot of things that they may roll out for telcos-these are low hanging fruits that you target.

After this, the innovative part starts where marketing may come up with some or the other plan that we try and execute by BI. Usually, once the plan is made, it is given to the business to operate rather than IT operating it for business.

CIO&Leader: What kind of inputs do you provoke the business leaders to give while conceptualizing this whole platform so that nothing major goes wrong?

Rajeev Batra: What we usually ask is that if they want a view of a particular data, what fields would they like to see, what perspective would they like to see, what perspective would they like to see of the data. Usually there is an agreement on the columns in the report. Customer care or marketing might ask for the same report in a different manner – the views change for each department. We change the interface for them. There are packages available that enable them to create these views on their own. So we train the business users on usage of these OLAP tools. They can get the views that they want, rather than IT building it for them. Usually, the approach is to make the business users more powerful.

The technology piece here is that the data quality that is getting loaded is updated, relevant and can be used by the front-end in a very relevant manner. Then there are some complex analytics that the business may for : for instance, if the patterns have to be linked not from the existing data but from some external data feeds also then IT gets involved as this may involve some developmental works.

CIO&Leader: Ultimately, who is the owner of this?

Rajeev Batra: In our organization, I can tell you, we have made marketing the business sponsor for this. That’s who that becomes the core business responsible for this product, CSD and finance are the other two major users of these system, but the core owner is marketing.

Then we have other systems like GIS that start feeding into this system. There are times when the system will give you solutions that humans cannot do manually. For instance, ‘a region is not getting utilized properly’ and ‘this is the tariff that you can launch for this region. ‘Those types of reports can also be generated.

CIO&Leader: Can it go wrong?

Rajeev Batra: The main point is that it is a technology – it takes an input, you build a logic around it and it gives you an output. If there is something wrong with the input, it can very well give you a wrong output. It requires a lot of discipline in operating the system, it is not a magic wand.

It is important to have experienced people in business, who understand the pulse of the market. If the system goes wrong they are able to catch that. Yes, there are certain fundamental things that you may not be able to catch even if you have an experienced person around.

CIO&Leader: What are the implementation challenges?

Rajeev Batra: The biggest challenge that the team faces is collecting the data from all the sources and maintaining the database to ensure that they have correct information available always.

There are software available that help in cleansing the data. They give you a pretty reasonably quality of data in the data warehouses or data cubes that you may be building. These tools were not available earlier but they are available now and can correct some basic mistakes from the data.

Important for readers: The interview was originally appeared in October 2010 in CIO&Leader (formerly known as CTOForum), featured as a segment of the Business Intelligence Special Issue titled “BRAIN OF THE MATTER.” In celebration of CIO&Leader’s 25th Anniversary milestone, this insightful piece has been revisited and republished as part of the nostalgic “From The Archive” series.

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