Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO talks to Voice&Data about the power and role of new technologies in making Airtel more and more customer centric
Voice&Data : How is Airtel gearing up for this generation customers ?
Harmeen Mehta : I think, for the last several years, there’s been a tremendous focus at Airtel to really digitize the entire experience for our customers, but also digitize the company, through and through. That’s the reason we created XLabs a few years ago. We’ve come so far away on this journey. If I look at the last few years, it’s been a tremendous growth. From within the organization as well as from outside including some of the top Internet and technology companies around the country, we’ve managed to put together a formidable digital team. More importantly, this talent has been working very hard at creating some tremendous distinct opportunities for our customers. We are a highly customer-obsessed organization and it runs so deep in our DNA, so that is why digital is what we are trying to do. As India changes and moves towards the digital era, it’s very important that every company re-invents into itself and moves along with that, if not, gets ahead of the game. We can really create the best possible experience for our consumers as well.
V&D : What are some of the new and emerging technologies that will be game changers for digital?
Harmeen Mehta : We leverage AI and ML, which is kind of basic food and fodder. Organizations like us, when we got such large scale, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds and millions of customers, just bringing the best offering, matching that to the best interests of our consumers. Without deep level of learning and data mining, it would be impossible to do that in 2019. That’s what we focused a large part of our energy on. We have to make sure that our distinct properties are one of the best in the in the country. There is a lot of focus, effort, and hard work that goes into into all of that as well. It’s been a really strong pillar. One among the various technologies that I see influencing us in a big way is Big Data. Telcos can’t survive without some amazing and very large Big Data platforms. We ourselves process hundreds of billions of records in a day, that requires a very deep understanding, a very deep platform that is able to process such high volumes, AI and ML are very fundamental to everything we do. You are able to make decisions in real time, and you want to understand not just samples of consumers, but your entire base at an individual level. You cannot do that if you’ve got 300-400 million customers. I see them coming in a big way, and we are investing a lot in those as well. Similarly, IoT is really going to be one of the big technologies in the country, in the near future. In the coming decade, IoT is going to become a fundamental pillar, whether it is in our offices or in our homes, or enterprises.
V&D : How are the customers benefiting from digital telecom?
Harmeen Mehta : For us the growth of digital has also been tremendous over the last few years. It’s all thanks to our customers who give us tremendous amount of feedback as well. We run digital labs, we meet the customers, we understand what they like and what they don’t like, and we tailor their experience constantly to be ready, and be the most digitally customer-centric organization in the country. Part of being a digital organization is also saying that, what we need to do internally is to really bring about a fundamental deep change. We are always thinking, consumer first, digital first. And we do that across the organization, whether it is from real-time management of our network works, or understanding the network experience at an individual consumer level, or being able to self-optimize the networks as well. Our networks are always tuned up to bring the best possible experience to you, no matter where you are, to all the way through how we handle handle complaints. In our call centers we are now even predicting what is wrong for a particular customer, and even before the call is connected to the consumer, we are trying to resolve it. Almost everything is in real-time. From actually creating an entire ecosystem for consumers to interact with us. From the channel’s point of view and understanding that even if you started the journey with us in a retail store, and you finish it online, we understand, and we link those dots to make it really a pleasure-full experience for you as a consumer. This really needs the entire organization and the entire chain value chain of the organization, from our sales and marketing, to customer experience, to network to engineering. Everybody is literally singing off the same hymn sheet.
V&D : Who are some of the early adopters and applications and services on digital ?
Harmeen Mehta : With these new technologies, operators are not only transforming they way they serve their own customers but actually helping their customers to manage their our own businesses much better. Airtel helps, with these new technologies the entire gamut of our customer including top enterprises, small enterprises, medium enterprises. Telecom is a unique industry, and for the kind of the services we provide, it is very important for us to understand the consumers really well and be able to give them the best possible experience and offering.
V&D : Generally, how do you see adoption of these technologies in the telecom sector ?
Harmeen Mehta : As such, the adoption and leverage of new technologies is very, very high. We at Airtel, are also a very highly open source organization. We also work very closely with a lot of startups, young companies, whether it’s from within the country, or from Silicon Valley. We work with some of the large technology companies, academic institutions — some of the best ones around the world, to really bringing the power of technology to be able to give our customers a fantastic experience. Similarly, once 5G comes, the large industries for instance are is going to really change their ways of working and how they run their companies. It’s going to be much more about a B2B focus, focused around industrial brands, manufacturing plants, different companies and institutions. We could create almost privatized networks for them. They could use robotics and very advanced equipment, very deep IoT, and almost humanless plants as well, using the power of technology. That’s going to need a very different kind of an infrastructure setup. All these new pieces will be influencing the new business models of tomorrow.
V&D : What do you think is the future of the business models, which will be based on these technologies?
Harmeen Mehta : The future business models are going to be quite interesting. It’s not just about bringing the best of Airtel to our consumers, but also bringing the best of what is there to be offered from a lot of our partners in the ecosystem. We’ve recently launched a big partnership with Amazon Prime, with Netflix, and so on. Similarly, we bring life insurance offers to those who have never availed these services. Using our technologies, reach, and partner ecosystem, there will be different business models that will drive adoption of not just telecom but many other propositions, which are important to our consumers. It’s in the new business models that is very important to understand what is it that our customers really want, and then how you can bridge that and bring that experience to them and package it in such a way that it makes easy for them to consume those products or services. Insurance and financial inclusion is a great example for all the developing nations, and of course, the developed nations too. India is the second-most populous country in the world. But, life insurance is one of the most ill-penetrated products in the financial services. When it comes to the masses, it’s not something that they are identifying with, on a big scale. As part of our entire financial inclusion agenda, the Airtel Payments Bank is constantly driving that.With digital telecom, we will see lots of experiments like this. When we launched the insurance pack, we said that as part of recharge that customers do, and you get life insurance free. It has made a tremendous impact. It is only the beginning, but it’s made a great, great start. It is value propositions like this, which are going to become the new business models of tomorrow.
As told to Ibrahim Ahmed firstname.lastname@example.org