‘VSAT is a part of our mission-critical network’



How is telecom making your business more competitive?
Since we are in the business of infrastructure building that includes
nuclear, thermal and hydel power plants, dams, tunnels, roads, bridges, canals
etc, projects which are necessarily undertaken in the remote parts of the
country, telecom plays a key role for us.

In the not-so-distant past, we had experienced scenarios wherein people had
to travel 30 to 40 kms from our project sites, to just make a phone call. We
couldn’t do without VSAT-based voice connectivity at remote sites.

With the advent of telecom, especially cellular (both GSM and CDMA), the
remote corners of India are also coming into the connectivity map, especially
where HCC has projects. This has made the business far more efficient. We are
leveraging this revolution for data connectivity, which is providing
considerable improvement in productivity and efficiency.

What role does telecom tools play in the business?
HCC has 35 sites where the infrastructure construction projects are
underway. Each site for us is 50-100 kms long. Therefore, communication within
the site and communication with the head office is quite crucial to operate the
business.

Some of the projects are in remote areas where we don’t have cellular
connectivity even till today. For such areas, wireless connectivity is crucial.
Data connectivity is used to access e-mails, Internet and on-line systems, and
all this has now become a way of doing business.

How much does VSAT help in your day-to-day operations?
Even as of now, VSAT is the only option in almost 70% of our project sites,
for data connectivity. Around 20% of our sites still depend on VSAT for voice
connectivity. Thus VSAT is part of our mission-critical network. With VoIP
implementation over broadband VSAT, we are using the same dish for voice and
data.

We have a project site, Uri, which was hit by an earthquake a few months
back. During the earthquake, VSAT was the only medium that was functional and
our complete co-ordination with the head office was done through this.

Other than VSAT, what else are you working on that will allow better
communication?
We use leased line circuits wherever reliable and high-speed connectivity is
available.

Radio frequency is used for shorter distance connectivity. The same is being
explored with service providers (in combination with other means) for
long-distance connectivity as well as data transmission. “Pushmail”
technology, to have e-mails pushed to your smart phones, is in the initial
stages of usage.

Internet-based GPRS applications are being explored. Since telecom is so
critical to our business, we keep exploring various options on an ongoing basis
and make them of our network if found viable.

What vendor management strategies do you follow?
As a policy, we treat vendors as our partners in business. We do a careful
evaluation of vendors and subsequently nurture the relationship in a win-win
manner. While evaluating vendors, we lay significant emphasis on the process as
well as the people, and not just on the technology used. As a general principle,
our preference is for well-established large vendors, although we have a few
exceptions.

Service level agreements are drafted with care to address our business
concerns. The performance matrices are defined with corresponding reporting as
well as escalation mechanisms and penalties for non-compliance. Escalation
mechanism going up to the chief of the organization is well defined along with
the escalation criteria (such as downtime).

We insist that the vendor should have a relationship manager who will be our
single point of contact and he should have stake in ensuring that HCC is a
satisfied customer.

What’s your view on the IT and telecom governance in the organization?
The governance structure is evolving. We can’t claim that we have a very
highly matured governance structure. At the same time, we are certainly not
operating in a chaotic manner.

Over a period, I see greater convergence between IT and telecom and it will
impact our internal governance structure as well. Today, we are also grappling
with information security aspects associated with IT and telecom, and hope to
find an acceptable solution.

What were the technology initiatives you took last year, and your plans
for this year?
We are in the process of implementing SAP R/3 across HCC. Initially we will
go live with three locations and the rollout in other locations will happen
immediately after the earlier three stabilize.

Being involved in engineering construction, we have the potential to use IT
even beyond business transaction processing. We keep on exploring these areas
and provide solutions there as well. These efforts will continue during the
current years too.

…and on the customer service front?
The SAP implementation will cater to the customer service front as well.

What are your long-term plans in terms of telecommunications?
Information technology in general and telecommunications in particular, have
substantial potential to deliver high value to our business. Telecommunication
is an evolving field and we will proactively track all developments to explore
their relevance to the business.

It’s possible that more options will emerge for our telecom and datacom
network. It may call for revamping our today’s network and we will be prepared
for the same as long as it delivers higher value.

We expect to leverage the convergence of data-voice-video going forward.
Videoconferencing, and video-streaming have good potential for our business and
we should be tapping the same. Developments in the Internet arena will also be
watched proactively. We are keen to provide very high speed Internet
connectivity to our employees whenever that becomes more affordable, since we
believe that access to Internet has positive impact on productivity. Going
forward, more employees of ours should be able to download e-mails on their PDAs/smart-phones.
In the long-term, SAP will be accessed from various hand-held devices and will
also send alerts to hand-held devices.

While doing this, we need to strike a good balance between productivity
improvement and information security.

Your best practices for telecom?
We establish good rapport with the service providers and their people. Make
them a part of our larger IT agenda that includes well-defined SLAs wherein
quarterly preventive maintenance for all telecom equipment under both warranty
and AMC is part of SLA, monthly uptime reports from service providers for all
links, proactive link monitoring and resolution. Escalation matrix is
predefined, monthly review meetings with service providers, account managers and
program managers, and a good rapport with the local contact of telecom provider
for faster problem resolution.

Secondly, we have special monsoon prevention solutions to protect outdoor
VSAT equipment. We also do port-based MRTG real-time monitoring http link to HCC.
Segregation of power supply, installation of ELCB’s and dedicated earth for
telecom equipment is an important aspect of our overall strategy.

We have installed an isolation transformer between UPS and VSAT equipment for
100% protection. We do periodic watering of earth pits to ensure EN voltage at
less than one volt. We have built sufficient redundancy into our network to
reduce the “single points of failure”. Testing of redundant network
periodically is a usual exercise.

We constantly explore new developments in the area of telecom and the
possibility of their value to HCC.

Rahul Gupta
rahulg@cybermedia.co.in

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