‘Our free roaming scheme is an instance of business and IT working together’

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Robert James Sewell joined Aircel in 2011 as the head of technology solutions. Prior to this, he was with Maxis Communication, making it one of India's most innovative telecom companies by offering new age communication services. He was responsible in architecting and planning of its IT infrastructure.


He believes that IT plays a major role in bringing in innovation at the minimum possible cost. Excerpts-

What does it take to be the CIO of a home-grown Indian telecom firm?

We are catering to the diverse needs of an equally diverse audience spread in a vast geography. To customize technology to suit their needs is of prime importance today. Also, given the fast changing nature of the industry we operate in, ie telecom, we are technologically adapting to such changes a little bit more every day.


In fact, technology has become the backbone of this industry. What it really takes is to be an integrator, an innovator, cost rationalizer, a change agent, a negotiator, and above all contributing significantly to drive topline revenue growth. By delivering on these lines, technology today is playing a very pivotal role in helping Aircel maintain its standard of being one of India's most innovative telecom players.

What are the major ICT challenges faced by you as a national telecom operator?

The end-user has many expectations from a telecom operator and the challenge lies in successfully simplifying the use of technology for a customer to ensure he/she adapts to it. Moreover, with India witnessing the big data revolution, security and privacy issues also need to be constantly ensured. The technology has to be made affordable and accessible to all and that too with no loss in standards of quality. And finally, the capacity of technology needs to be such that it caters to all possible needs of the consumer. Once they are in sync, the end results will be undoubtedly more productive.


How do you define ‘business-ICT' alignment for a communication company like Aircel?

ICT, including our network, implements every part of not only the value we offer to customers, but also how we offer it and how we manage ourselves as a company. ‘Business-ICT' alignment must therefore pervade every decision we make as technologists. It includes constant perusal of newer technologies to accomplish targets, constant understanding of new business needs, and finding solutions.

The trust and mutual understanding between the business segment and the ICT has fostered an environment to take decisions that will not only cultivate innovation but will help in gaining market share and the loyalty of our customers at reduced costs.



Is there still a gap in the perception of ‘IT as an enabler' and ‘IT as a helper' of businesses?

The role of IT has evolved over the years. What was once looked upon as a support function is now critical for the success of a business. The gap has clearly narrowed down as management realized that IT is a key lever to be used to drive value based results. At Aircel, IT is an asset and the department is involved at the ideation stage, which results in more efficiency, reduced costs, innovation, better service delivery, and new possibilities of growth and expansion.


How does the management look at the CIO in their decision-making processes, and how have you managed to influence decisions?

The role of technology is clearly undeniable and it facilitates a positive process driven culture. However its scope has widened as a growth enabler. Today, business and IT work on an equal footing which makes it imperative for a CIO to be involved in a project right when it is being ideated. We recognize the function of IT as a change agent and its value in the decision-making processes.

What are the key things required for a CIO to make a good decision?


A clear understanding of the macroeconomic and regional conditions, openness to new ideas, pragmatic approach, collaborative and flexible nature, and a bent towards problem solving are all essential qualities required to take the right decision. Being the CIO of a telecom company also, most essentially, requires a deep knowledge of our customer's needs and add our network's capabilities, which in turn will be instrumental in initiation of new ideas.

What are some of the innovative IT implementations you have made, both in process as well as technology that have had tremendous impact on the company's bottomline?

Our biggest achievement has been revolutionizing the way people used internet on their mobile phones. Our pocket internet was a key differentiator in the market some years back. Recently, we took the telecom space by storm by going roaming free on Aircel networks which is a clear instance of both business and IT working together to achieve a collective goal.


What are your expectations from vendors?

Since the telecom industry is so fast changing and volatile, it is critical that vendors understand the business environment as unmistakably as possible. As our partners their demands match the demands of a CIO-relentless drive to reduce cost, paired with constant innovation to offer new value to customers. This requires innovation and complete attention to planning, execution as well as the evaluation of each project. I believe that if they are aware of their roles and our expectations from them, the process of working together becomes really smooth.


What do you think will be the topmost technologies for the next 5 years?

Considering the speed at which the telecom scenario in India is changing, it may be difficult to make accurate predictions for the next 5 years. The mega trends include ever more capable end-user devices; dramatic growth in the use of data, which pushes great demand for backhaul networks and fiber backbone; more and more use of cloud-based services; increasingly sophisticated use of ‘big data' to better serve our customers; and a swing of more and more of the customer's time and wallet toward service delivered through our networks.