Vivek Dua, General Manager, CFA, BSNL

Telecom operators have started seriously focusing on the growth of the data centre business segment. Telcos, in particular, are well suited to offer services in this segment, as they already have the competency of infrastructure management on a large scale. They can leverage this digital opportunity to advance their business in the cloud and data centre space. At a recent virtual conference on “Data Centres in India”, organised by tele.net, talked about BSNL’s key offerings in this space and how the company is catering to its data centre customers…

Catering to the data centre segment

For all the telcos, including BSNL, the value chain of the services they render in the retail segment is entirely different from the value chain of data centre and cloud services. The one underlying thing that is common to both of them is infrastructure management. Pure retail telecom includes the provision of network core functions and network access functions. So, when we have to run the infrastructure 24×7, we first en­sure that all facilities are in the best state in terms of power and other infrastructure. This has been the core competency of all the telcos during all the years they have been operating. They know how to keep the infrastructure up and running 24×7. With this core competency matured by telcos over the years, working in the data centre space has not been very challenging.

However, on the customer side, the learnings are entirely different. Under the data centre or cloud business, the telco has to explain the whole proposition of cloud, the benefits, the costing and everything, which is not the genetic code of telcos. Therefore, we have now gone in for partnership models to engage with customers. We know our core competencies in terms of running the infrastructure, but we also know the challenges in terms of explaining the right customised products and details of pricing to the end customers.

So, we are leveraging our competency and at the same time engaging with partners to see how their competencies can be leveraged to onboard more customers to latch on to the BSNL cloud infrastructure. This partnership model that we have been working on has largely given us good results during the past couple of years of our data centre bu­­­siness. In the experience curve, it is safe to say that we have been in the data centre space for the past two decades to meet our internal requirements. For customers, we have been in the market for the past four to five years and we are seeing that there is a lot of traction building up because the understanding of the cloud itself is coming to a maturity.

Customer requirements

We are observing that the thought process of the cloud itself has been continuously evolving. Around two years back, when we used to talk to customers, the primary dialogue was around servers and storage. So, if you see the line items in the contract it would typically be infrastructure-related things. As we are evolving, so are customers. The engagement is entering a new level where the customer is now more concerned about the level of services. In terms of level of services, the concern is not only around the infrastructure level, but also the level of applications they are running on this basic infrastructure. This is a larger concern for customers. In the coming years, customers will be asking more about the service layer, and probably software-as-a-service will become more prominent than pure infrastructure.

The BSNL advantage

We see ourselves as one more player in the market that can have a good dialogue with government agencies to cater to their huge demand for cloud. Since conventionally we are deep-rooted in the government segme­nt, we would definitely like to le­verage that. The engagem­e­nts that we already have with all the central and state establishments can be further built up­on to explain them the benefits of cloud or the kind of data security solutions and other advantages that we offer. So, we have been focusing on pro­p­erly communicating to customers wh­at we have enabled as in­fra­structure, and how this engagement can be taken to la­r­ger possibilities of service layer in the cloud space.

Growth in data centre vertical

Since the existing customer base itself is small, it is very comforting to tell bigger growth numbers in the initial years but we never want to get into any complacency with these numbers. On the revenue side, we are not sitting on a large base vis-à-vis our overall revenues. The year-on-year growth numbers are in double digits and this aspect is encouraging for the team to work with enthusiasm.

Key selling point

We give a sense of confidence that we are as good as anybody else in the market, compared even with the big reputed international names. Also, BSNL as a brand definitely communicates transparency to the end customers, in terms of product, pricing, billing and everything. So, all these factors really help build trust with the end customers, which is always key to business growth in any segment.