CIO Interview Series: Utkarsh Kikane, Enterprise Architect, Vodafone India
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Utkarsh is the Enterprise Architect with Vodafone India. He is responsible for establishing architectural frame work and its governance for Vodafone IT. The architecture frame work includes functional architecture, technical architecture and data architecture of Vodafone India BSS/OSS systems.
An M.C.A. from Surat, he has around 18 years of experience in IT of which 15 years were spent in BSS implementations and transformations for various Telcos in the UK, US and Malaysia. Before Vodafone, he worked for IBM (Malaysia) and Tech Mahindra on projects for BT, US West (now Qwest), Cingular, Rockwell, SBC (Now AT&T) and Maxis. As a visiting faculty he also delivers courses/workshops on Telco Service/Business Management in management institutes in Pune.
A winner at the The Great Mind Challenge for Business 2011, Utkarsh in conversation with developerWorks tells us how the telcom industry in India is different from all others.
1) What are the major business challenges your organization faces?
While we share our challenges with those of the Telecom business world wide – heavy market saturation, falling voice revenues, almost continuous and unusually high investment requirements due to rapid changes in technological and regulatory environments, threats from Over The Top (OTT) players etc – we have some challenges that are unique to India. Heavy market saturation is compounded with further heavy fragmentation. I think in India we have the highest number of operators for a market (per circle). From an IT perspective, there is a challenge of very big volumes. The OSS BSS systems that work well elsewhere crumble under sheer pressure of processing volumes. Most of current critical components of telco IT are designed or architected to operate transactions generated off the back of few dozens of million customers – 10 or 20 or 30 million - and not few hundreds of millions (100 or 150 million) of customers. One striking example that comes to my mind is Telcom mediation. A large Indian Telco operator like Vodafone ends up processing close to 10 billion Call Details Record (CDRs) in a day and I do not think the best of the breed mediation systems available out there can crunch that much of data in real time and more importantly at a reasonable cost per CDR.
It would be difficult for me to respond to this question and talk about IT in isolation without the industry context. So, world over, for the Telco industry, it appears Cloud adoption, Machine to Machine (M2M) communications, Mobile money, rapid convergence of network, services and devices and increasing “socialization of business” would play out in their full potential leading to new challenges and opportunities. All this would take “Connectivity” to the same plane as “Electricity” or clean air. People would expect it to be always there – starting from elevators to tunnels, caves, mines, high seas, atop Kilimanjaro or Everest or in flights 35K feet high up. Vodafone group and particularly IT, globally, are playing their part through some very interesting initiatives such as M-PESA and an M2M platform and service development and launches such as specially designed devices and plans for Facebook.
In India, as you imagine, there are added factors and
challenges. Any Indian telco and its IT would have to cater to all themes just
mentioned keeping in mind a heterogeneous, multi lingual, extremely fast paced
and highly cost conscious market. The solutions developed elsewhere may be a
good fit for a section of our customer base in India. For the rest we would
have to engineer our own solutions differently - whatever you call them
4) Can you give a little information about M-PESA?
M-PESA is a simple and intuitive mobile payment and money transfer service. The mobile phone of the subscriber of this service effectively becomes a debit card through which the subscriber is able to pay an amount (up to certain limit) to anyone else who has a cell phone. The vision is to enable millions of people who have access to a mobile phone, but do not have or have only limited access to a bank account and/or credit-debit cards, to send and receive money, top-up airtime and make bill or other small payments (including payments to an auto rickshaw driver or a vegetable vendor with a mobile phone). A very interesting feature of this is that the recipient does not necessarily have to be an M-PESA account holder, or indeed even a Vodafone, customer.
5) How would you define the success of any initiative?
That’s quite simple. Just seek answers of these questions and you would know right away if any initiative was successful or not.
Did we deliver some benefit to our immediate and the end customer? Did we help them be successful? Was the customer happy at the end?
I guess understanding whatever business and marketplace that IT is catering to is very important. Approaching IT from a pure engineering mindset only does not work any longer. The perspective needs to change from “let’s engineer a gearbox, chassis, engine, shock absorbers, radiator, steering, body etc ” to “let’s engineer a car for an Indian family (which is different than car for say a Japanese family) OR truck for mining companies”. Though this sounds clichéd, an absolute no brainer and perhaps a way of life for auto mobiles engineers, it is far too common to see IT professionals, starters and even seasoned ones, still trapped in their IT components and “platforms”. IT has to make a choice – do we become hands and legs of an enterprise or do we become part of the brain of an enterprise. To me answer is later and to that goal it is imperative for anyone wanting to make a career in IT that (s)he understands the business, marketplace and customers that IT is to serve.
It has been quite a fun journey for me. I started out wanting to be a doctor, ended up studying computer science and then finally 15 of my 18 years of my career in Telecom IT. In the process got to work with telcos in the West and East, with some wonderful people. I often joke that while on the road I prefer Paratha, Idli or Poha over Pan cakes or Beans on toast for breakfast so decided finally to be in India. I am lucky that India is one of the most evolving and challenges places right now for, more so for a Telco IT professional so my journey of learning and growing continues.
8) Do you know of the IBM Smarter Planet? What according to
you is Smarter Planet?
Oh yes, I am quite aware of IBM Smarter Planet campaign. To me it is very similar to what I mentioned earlier about IT – It is about going beyond applying technology as mere hands and legs (in form of efficiency of automation) of human race and making technology part of brain or, if you will, collective intelligence of human kind to solve problems, meet current challenges of the world and improve standard of living for all.