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In restless pursuit of innovation

November 13, 2014

Henry Dewing   

Independent industry analyst

At Tata Communications’ recent Global Analyst and CEO Summit in Hong Kong, I was struck by the continuing commitment to advance the usefulness of networks. There was plenty of techno-speak in and out of the sessions, but the needs of customers were never far from the surface. There were fewer traditional discussions of the India-based conglomerate’s network terminations in 140+ countries; speakers were more likely to highlight the company’s ability to reach more than 98% of the world’s population and GDP from Tata Communications’ global networks and directly connected service providers (SP). SP customers from around the world, as well as enterprises representing financial services, manufacturing, consumer products, media, and many more industries were shown as big, important Tata Communications customers with real needs met by real solutions.

Providing more than just inter-networking connectivity, Tata Communications serves SPs in all regions of the world. The company emphasized future opportunities; the Internet of things, concepts like smart cities and global support for multinational corporations were constant reminders of the types of SP relationships that distinguish Tata Communications. Their owned global network including data centres and undersea cables provides reach and service capability in partnership with the capillarity and customer relationships of local service providers. A second category of SP partners – those providing collaboration services – was also mentioned frequently. A long list of enterprise customers was also highlighted through the two days.

Executives discussed–under NDA–a list of multi-million dollar customer wins in fiscal year 2014 for services including conferencing and collaboration, MPLS and metro Ethernet WANs, data centre hosting, UCC modules and solutions, and other complex solutions. Tata Communications officials attributed this success to the company’s continued strong relationships with SI and VAR players around the world – many with great global name recognition. After Claude Sassoulas, Managing Director for Europe, spent an hour discussing critical factors leading to customers’ selection of Tata Communications, the various services delivered, and partners involved, he quipped how hard it had been to cut down the list of multi-million dollar wins he was discussing to fit within his one hour presentation slot.

An effusive CEO Vinod Kumar took the stage to discuss the progress Tata Communications had made in the last year, as well as the new products they promised to bring to market by end of year. Lots of stats were tossed around, and will be analysed by the financial types, but to me the most interesting stats were those revealing that the vast majority of revenue is generated outside India, and high double digit growth is being realized in a variety of service offers including UC. Christian Michaud, Sr VP of Product and Business Strategy, Global Voice Solutions , and Madhusudhan Mysore, Chief Network Officer & Head, Customer and Services Operations aid the company carries 53 billion wholesale voice minutes, and talked about the need to deliver reliable, highly available network transport. Both also discussed the need to assure customers were satisfied – by focusing on speed to deliver and customer satisfaction across both SP and enterprise segments.

Of particular interest to me, of course, was the discussion of UCC. When I discussed Tata Communications’ UCC plans with an old acquaintance, Anthony Bartolo, Sr. VP of UCC, he said Tata Communications is looking to extend their global video business services to support the entire collaboration workload. Tata Communications is relying primarily on Cisco and Microsoft infrastructure, but is positioned to support whatever UCC infrastructure or solutions customers want or have via joint development work with partners providing interoperability services and APIs.

Tata Communications’ plans to both host UCC platforms and help their SP customers host and share their infrastructure and capacity. Anthony talked of the need to focus on delivering the most basic modules and building blocks so that customers can leverage existing and new capabilities, and make them available across the network to whoever might need them. The strategy lets Tata Communications create the business processes and technical capabilities to seamlessly allow UCC modules to be hosted in third party data centers, on the Tata Communications network, on a partner network, or even on a customer premises. Tata Communications is enabling truly modular, interoperable, openly interconnected UCC modules on public clouds, private clouds and on-prem in near infinitely flexible architectures.

Through all of the discussions, Tata Communications executives focused on continuing to advance both the technology and business processes required to accelerate the evolution of networking resources and capabilities. As Harish Bhat, member of the Group Executive Council of Tata Sons, said during his comments over a formal dinner Tuesday evening, the Tata group has had a commitment for over 100 years to innovation. From creating a line of jewellery, to pioneering communications networks, to building India’s first steel mill, Bhat said that the Tata Group was distinguished by a “restless innovation” and an enduring need to serve their employees and the communities in which they operate.

Tata Communications’ F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize has used crowd sourcing to identify a unique way to ingest and present data related to the F1 races to fans worldwide via an analytics engine and web presentation layer. Global, public hackathons have resulted in innovations in collaboration and social sharing. Tata Communications also taps their employees via an intrapreneurship program which has resulted in advanced service design concepts in areas like managed security. The story of the people and history of the Tata group is captured in Bhat’s book, TataLog. This book captures the spirit and tells the story in more detail than I can here, and provided a great read on my long flight home.

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