In the Business of Connecting

In 2007, when the Gujarat government decided to take the governance down to the last mile – to its villages and panchayats – it chose Bharti Airtel to set up the telecom infrastructure that would connect over 13,700 panchayats and common service centres in the state. The presitigious e-GRAM connectivity infrastructure project was the first-of-its kind in the country that provided VSAT-based solution to ensure last mile connectivity.

Arun Bhardwaj

In 2007, when the Gujarat government decided to take the governance down to the last mile – to its villages and panchayats – it chose Bharti Airtel to set up the telecom infrastructure that would connect over 13,700 panchayats and common service centres in the state. The presitigious e-GRAM connectivity infrastructure project was the first-of-its kind in the country that provided VSAT-based solution to ensure last mile connectivity.

E-Gram will ensure high quality and cost-effective video, voice and data services in the areas of agriculture, e-governance, health, education, etc., at the panchayat level. The connectivity will also facilitate point-to-point and point-to-multipoint video conferencing services.

What Bharti is trying to do is to promote is the effective use of ERP and CRM solutions, robust networking and business intelligence for an effective information flow. This, the company feels, can help raise a utility or an organisation’s operational efficiency, improve service delivery modules, and enable greater transparency in information flow leading to quick decision-making.

Says Arun Bhardwaj, Chief Operating Officer, Bharti Airtel Ltd, “communication is the backbone for any efficient organisation. This can include connecting all the key distribution points, enable users to network, give them infrastructure to run business critical applications and provide them with the means to connect.”

In fact, it was this strength of Bharti Airtel in providing customised solutions to address unique requirements of different industry verticals that saw it win the all-India Taxnet project from the Income Tax Department. One of the largest IT projects undertaken by the Government, it forms India’s largest-ever virtual private network (VPN) connecting all income-tax offices in 745 locations in 510 cities. These offices are connected on the MPLS backbone.

In the enterprise space, Bharti is looking at all the B2B applications where connectivity is required. For power utilities, these could be on the voice or data side, or even some specific applications on mobile devices

The networking of all department locations has enabled faster processing of returns and reduction in time cycles for issue of refunds, and increase in efficiency and collections. In fact, Airtel demonstrated its capability to effectively manage the complexities involved in a project of such magnitude by completing the first phase in a very short time.

Today, the network is also being used for other services such as e-delivery of tax services, filing of returns, PAN migration and checking status of all records, in addition to providing video-conferencing facilities between the offices.

The contract to provide connectivity to the IT department was one of the first big projects in terms of the public-private partnership model. “We are increasingly seeing that the government now also wants accountability for their core communication infrastructure. That is why it is coming out with projects, in which both the public and the private sector service providers can take part, with the contract going to the partner that delivers,” points out Bhardwaj.

The two projects highlight the growing importance of the enterprise sector in Bharti Airtel’s growth plans. Already, it has become the prime vendor to certain power utilities for their communication and connectivity linkages. Examples of this include its agreement with PowerGrid Corporation of India Ltd, under which Bharti will use PowerGrid’s extensive infrastructure and leverage one another strength’s to capitalise on the opportunities thrown up by the IT enablement programmes that several utilities have initiated in the wake of the R-APDRP programme.

In the enterprise space, Bharti is looking at all the B2B applications where connectivity is required. For power utilities, these could be on the voice or data side, or even some specific applications on mobile devices. It is registered with the government as a network service provider under the R-APDRP scheme and is talking to all system integrators where they do not have the network services available. “We certainly see this as a huge opportunity for providing infrastructure that can be used by the utilities to improve efficiency,” says Bhardwaj.

All utilities need to connect their grids, their offices, core locations as also backend units. And, this is an area where Bharti has already established expertise and success

In fact, the ongoing R-APDRP is a great opportunity for several companies to scale up operations in the enterprise space. “The R-APDRP initiative is a mammoth one. We are already registered with the government as a network service provider under it. We are also talking to all leading system integrators where they do not have the network services available. We can jointly implement such modernisation projects and we certainly see this as a huge opportunity for providing infrastructure that can be used by the utilities to improve efficiency,” says Bhardwaj.

The R-APDRP is an outcome driven programme that provides a big opportunity for all the downstream partners of the power utilities as they too have to deliver results.

All power utilities need to connect their grids, their consumer offices, all core locations in terms of the power distribution network as also other backend operations. And, this is an area where a network partner should have demonstrated considerable expertise and success.

These solutions enable enterprises to network their offices within India and across the globe, provide them infrastructure to run business critical applications and provide them means to connect with their customers, vendors and employees. Even in cases of automated metering, Bharti has come out with certain smart solutions. “Smart metering can enable a utility to get real-time information of all consumption and use patterns,” adds Bhardwaj. Bharti has already undertaken projects for automated meter reading for SEBs in Punjab and UP.

Historically, public sector or government projects were considered to be a domain of government-owned service providers only. With the opening up of economy and with the pressure on delivery becoming equally pronounced, projects like railways, e-Gram, Income Tax, etc., have successfully shown how PPP can be used to deliver public goods and services better.

“Today, Bharti is one telecom player in the country that has an integrated portfolio of telecom services, whether it is in mobile technology where it has the largest infrastructure or in terms of its copper or fibre network, international connectivity, under-sea cables apart from VSAT connectivity. This has enabled it to provide linkages between different offices of various sectoral utilities on a real-time basis and security at substantially reduced costs,” sums up Bhardwaj.

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