On the eve of at Tech Mahindra winning the $ 1 Billion AT&T transformation deal, Manish Vyas, President, Communications, Media & Entertainment Business, and CEO, Network Services at Tech Mahindra, talks to Ibrahim Ahmad, Group Consulting Editor, and Thomas George, Managing Editor, Voice&Data
Voice&Data : What is that large vision of AT&T that Tech Mahindra will work towards achieving?
Manish Vyas : AT&T’s vision of transformation is not a secret, because the telecom industry has been going through a transformational phase for a while now, and so has AT&T. This deal doesn’t attempt to solve all the transformational problems, but, it does check many boxes within that transformation journey. Let me elaborate and articulate a few.
Number one, as a very integrated fixed line wireless, broadband TV, Internet TV, and very complex set of products that AT&T has, it has a whole host of different applications that have been either built or acquired over a period of time. One thing that they have to do is to continue to rationalize and optimize the setup application that will serve the purpose, whether, it is to serve the networks of the customers or the billing, serve the back end or the employees, and other ones. At one level, this program is a part of a much larger program, around transforming their IT.
People have been using the word digital for a long time. But, AT&T has been very specific around the things that they would want to do. For their transformation, for example, they are adopting public cloud in a big massive way, for a large number of applications that they have signed, just before our deal. Some of these things are slightly linked, so we are clearly going to be playing a big role as part of moving the applications onto a cloud environment, to essentially transform the way because the customers and the network will be going forward in terms of agility, in terms of the flexibility that the application development needs to provide.
The second part of their transformation is their customer experience, which is not about just changing the front end of the customer experience, but which is also the back end. A lot of the stuff that we will do will to make things faster and agile, and so on so.
One of the stated objectives of AT&T is to create a world class structure. The third element of their transformation is clearly to move there. We continue to help them achieve that objective to ensure that they get a cost-effective model that is sustainable for a long time, in terms of their opex, in terms of how they will invest their capex going forward, etc. In many ways, this deal is a part of the larger transformation program that is built around customer experience transformation, transformation of technology, and transformation of the cost models.
V&D: What is this transformation of cost models? Is it outsourcing?
Manish: No, not really. It calls for many different facets that you need to try and every company works like this. If you go and read the Tech-Mahindra strategic statements over the years, we really solve three problems for our customers. We help them run better, change faster and grow better. By run better, this is not just cost, it is about running the whole operation, whether it is IT, back end operations, network, or what have you, all of it in a more efficient fashion. It’s really a complicated set of techniques and capabilities you bring to try and achieve a model. It is not one-time cost avoidance, but is really about putting a most sustainable model going forward.
V&D: Will you actually be taking charge of a lot of their people and infrastructure, the processes and the applications ? What does all of this entail?
Manish: This calls for ownership of hundreds of applications and processes. When I say ownership, we will be accountable to deliver the business benefits that we are collectively signing with AT&T. That would involve us taking over responsibility that was historically done by many different people, including different vendors and, contractors. It will definitely involve the people movement. There are a set of AT&T people, who are strategic to the program.
V&D: Did Tech Mahindra play a role in chalking out this vision ? Or was it solely done by AT&T and then after that Tech Mahindra came in?
Manish: No, I think, these kinds of things are never only done in a reactive fashion. It cannot be done by somebody coming from outside with no knowledge about the environment, the culture, the technology and the whole landscape. So, it’s a very involved activity. But, ultimately, let’s face it. It is AT&T and their customers and that vision is the denominator. What we do, we rally around it, and we contribute to it. This is an AT&T strategy, that’s something that we have to align with. As far as we’re concerned, we have always treated our business as listening to our customers and, and aligning with their objectives. That’s what we are doing.
V&D: What are key reasons on the basis of which AT&T decided to give this very strategic and important project to Tech Mahindra ?
Manish: Number one is the fact that we have enjoyed the trust and the confidence of AT&T for almost one and a half decades. This relationship started way back in 2004. We have collectively worked together and built the dots. Number two, we are one of the largest system integrator and service providers in the telecom domain, and also in the Gartner’s leadership quadrant. And now when the IT component is also very critical to the project, Tech Mahindra has all the credentials for telecom domain and understanding for the network. It is the IP that solves the telecom building. Number three is aligning and demonstrating the capability to solve the needs of the program, whether it is cloud, digital, or leveraging IP. It’s really the culture that Tech Mahindra has, which is very closely aligned with AT&T and this culture is of being proactive, looking at the problem ‘outside in’ from a customer’s perspective and starting to solve this problem. In different points of time in the last 20 years, we have been taking these strategic initiatives in different parts of the world, in the telecom domain, and have delivered the projects successfully. AT&T, for example, in the last few years, has chosen us as a supplier of the year four times. AT&T recognizes us as one of the best vendors to serve them, which cannot happen by only winning deals. That happens by delivering. We are a company that puts our head down and, will continue to do what we have to do. I can assure you that our AT&T USD 1 billion deal celebration was probably no more than 10 minutes. We got into work immediately after that.
V&D : How is Tech Mahindra is gearing up for this project in terms of people involved, their training, and looking at subcontractors, etc.
Manish : Tech Mahindra has been blessed to have leadership within the company to take on these new challenges. The bulk of the leadership that is going to be executing this is all in-house. We have been grooming these leaders for four years now. Some of these people will rise to the challenge. We are doing some level of internal training. We have other people who are excited about this challenge from different projects. There will be some level of external recruitment. This will also call for building collaboration with other companies, e.g, Microsoft, which is also part of the AT&T transformation project.
V&D: You have a challenging job, as you are basically trying to change the engine when the aircraft is flying. What are some of the challenges that are likely to come up?
Manish: There are challenges, which are contextual in nature, and there are different points in time in this journey. This is a long-term engagement, but thinking very short term here and now, the set of goals we are going to ensure is that we do not disrupt anything that is going on, which is, business as usual. The aircraft that is flying, we don’t let anything go wrong there. That will be the first objective. The second one is to ensure strategic objectives are understood, and comprehended in a fashion that is very meaningful. For the customers of AT&T, we work backwards. Transmission of the objective was the value of the delivery.
V&D: Is there any possibility of some opportunities coming out from smaller players in India, like your subcontractors and partners?
Manish: Collaboration opportunities from this large deal could also percolate down to some of the smaller telecom players in the ecosystem in India. We will look at wherever the best capability is. This is also an opportunity for the other companies that have capabilities to come and participate with us. We are being reached out by different people today.
V&D: AT&T has vision of a nationwide 5G network to be in place within the next 12 months. Does it look like a realistic vision?
Manish: Yes, because they are clearly at the forefront of 5G.
V&D: When we are likely to see Tech Mahindra taking up similar projects in India? Or, does India have a lot of other issues to handle?
Manish: What we’re doing in India is a slightly different strategy. Every market matures and goes through a cyclical pattern. As far as we are concerned, we clearly believe that the AT&T program, has got replication written all over it. We can clearly define it for other operators too and make it happen at multiple places.
V&D: At present over 40% of Tech Mahindra revenue comes from telecom. In the last few quarters, we have seen that the enterprise segment business is not growing, or has been at different stages of growth. Is there anything happening to revive that segment?
Manish: Our enterprise business is an extremely sound, on solid footing and very resilient now. Some of the challenges that we have had, in the short term, have been around a few verticals, which are seeing a bit of softness, worldwide, particularly automotive and manufacturing. Manufacturing is a more than a billion-dollar vertical for us. That has been a challenge. Some of the stuff that we are now doing is exciting. Maybe, there is a short-term blip here, but that business has sustained growth for a very long time and will continue to be good product. Fundamentally we have a very strong set of verticals, beyond manufacturing, whether it is banking, healthcare, retail, and some technology sectors.
V&D: How do you see the emerging markets from a geography point of view?
Manish: We’ve maintained a very good balance over the last four years now. We have a very strong background. I started my journey by starting the Asia Pacific office out of Singapore, in 2008, and we continue to remain focused on markets that are fundamentally very strong across the enterprises, and telecom and media.