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Issue of December 2004 

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Broadband in the enterprise

Call the!

With the increase in the number of enterprise broadband solution providers in the market, CIOs now have a broader range of offerings to choose from, and it's time they called the shots, since the ball is in the users' court, says Prakash Bajpai, President Enterprise, Reliance Infocomm. by Soutiman Das Gupta

What makes you say that it is time for CIOs to call the shots?

Earlier, there were not many broadband service providers in the market and CIOs could not pick and choose the kind of tailor-made solutions they wanted. Since the choice of service providers as well as the offerings was limited, CIOs had to make do with plain old leased line bandwidth with very little uptime guarantee.

The scene has changed now. Several new service providers have started providing enterprise connectivity services. Other than the traditional leased lines, these companies provide, on-demand services like audio and video conferencing, managed services, pay-as-you-use options, hosting services, and security services. And these services are usually bound by uptime guarantees and SLAs with penalty clauses.

Now the CIO can evaluate the service offerings from several service providers and make an informed decision based on his enterprise's specific business needs. The CIO should thus make demands on his network operators and decide what is best for his organization.

With multiple options of broadband service providers now available, what are the value-added services that business heads can look forward to?

Companies are competing with each other in the same space. And they are looking to gain a competitive edge in the matrices of product innovation, operational excellence, and customer intimacy.

In each of these aspects, companies are trying to introduce efficiency with the use of IT. So it is essentially a change of processes that affect areas like how customers are serviced, inventories are managed, and accounting operations are handled—with the help of applications like CRM, SCM, ERP, and databases. But the value provided by these IT applications will be caught in a bottleneck if there are no good network solutions spanning across the entire extended enterprise.

The extended enterprise notion recognizes that the customer's business operation is conducted across a large geography. It may be conducted across a head office, many branch offices, a large dealer community, nationwide distributors and C&F agents, numerous supply chain agents, and partners. In addition, companies have personnel who are on the move, like salespersons, customer relationship and service support personnel.

Spontaneity of information for related events, data, transactions, together with simultaneous monitoring of performance parameters of operation excellence is the key to excel the business performance and is therefore vital.

Do Indian companies usually partner with the broadband service provider?

Some do, and some don't. Some Indian companies like to invite the broadband service provider to do a business and systems study and recommend the appropriate solution. And some don't.

Some companies have a lot of experience in having done this work before so they draw up from the past experience, and the in-house IT/telecom expertise.

But most of the companies will be more than happy to get this kind of service from their service provider who can help them engineer the network. This can help them plan their scalability, reliability, and availability. And the SLAs can be matched to the business needs, thus freeing up the management bandwidth to focus on the core activities of business.

What challenges do CIOs face when making decisions on enterprise connectivity?

The biggest challenge that CIOs faced in the past was, they had to choose from the limited options available in the market. Till recent times, enterprises could only choose from plain leased lines of 64 Kbps, 128 Kbps, or perhaps more. But now, solution provider companies have connectivity infrastructure, which is scalable, and offers on-demand bandwidth with guarantees of end-to-end management. These new services are the result of service providers evolving into more mature players where they have to closely follow their customers' requirements.

But a lot of CIOs are still not aware of new solution architecture like MPLS-based VPNs, Ethernet leased lines, Centrex, and Voice VPNs. These services are quite powerful and are available in the market today from established service providers.

What do you have to say about how companies should purchase more bandwidth for their business needs?

The intent of the business is to grow and that can be achieved by rightly positioning the company in the competitive matrices. Bandwidth needs are driven by integration of customer processes and business operations across the extended enterprise. It is important to understand the present business operation model and assess the directional changes that would support the business objectives going forward.

In my experience it is important to understand cues you may get from the Chairman's speech or stated position, improvement in market growth environment, the correct time to launch in the marketplace, and other business needs. A look at the business needs will help companies understand the extent to which it should be IT-enabled, and consequently, the amount of communication infrastructure that would be required for the enterprise.

CIOs must also understand that it's not just a question of how much bandwidth is needed, but how much secure, reliable, and scalable it is. Since the communication links will carry business-critical information, aspects like scalability, on-demand services, resilience, and business continuity are important.

And if the corporate is working on a JIT (Just-In-Time) kind of a manufacturing model and the communication link fails, it can lose a lot of money and goodwill.

Then there are several new collaborative infocomm applications like audio/video conferencing, webcasting, and media streaming services, which help to improve business efficiency manifold and drive up the bandwidth and networking needs.

While the prices of VSAT services have come down and leased lines still have cost and waiting period issues, will VSAT be a viable alternative to leased lines?

The advantage of VSATs is that they can cover a large area with a footprint. Leased lines may not be as ubiquitous, but when deployed, are much more reliable than VSAT, mainly because the signal doesn't have to travel 36,000 Kilometers up and down.

The capability of a terrestrial system is much better in terms of response time and reliability. Satellite communications will continue to be a complement to terrestrial networks where both are available.

The waiting period for a leased line is basically to check network availability. Now that our broadband services have wide area coverage, the waiting period will come down to a few weeks.

As far as price is concerned, regulatory authorities make recommendations on the ceiling price of leased lines, and the prices of domestic, as well as international bandwidth are expected to see a down trend as the capacity expands.

Incumbent operators have the advantage of having deployed copper links, but copper has the limitation of supporting very high bandwidth. Our organization has deployed optic fiber within 100 meters of a building.

The bottom line is that CIOs have come to a stage where they can select and demand what they want from their connectivity service providers. We are shifting into a space where the enterprise customer and the CIO would be able to call the shots.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at:

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