Bharti Airtel on Monday became the first telecom company to enter the cloud communications space with the launch of Airtel IQ for its B2B clients.
The platform, which integrates multiple communication platforms and different channels, is part of the company’s growing enterprise business in India. The telecom firm recently invested Rs 100 crore in its cloud security business, and in August, partnered with AWS to address the growing demand for public cloud.
In a conversation with TechCircle, Ajay Chitkara, director and CEO of Airtel Business, and Adarsh Nair, chief product officer at Bharti Airtel, discussed the USP of the omni-channel platform, its growth plans, and possible investments and partnerships.
What drove Airtel’s entry into the cloud telephony market?
Chitkara: All enterprises engage with customers, but use different products for each service -- voice, SMS and IVR. There is no omni-channel cloud communication platform at scale that can provide all these products at one go. Data security is also a major challenge. Our customers asked us for a plug-and-play model to move to the cloud along with analytics and insights. Airtel IQ was created based on such customer feedback.
What sets apart Airtel IQ as a product?
Nair: We have 1,500 digital talent in Airtel and our foundation is that of a telecom firm. We are innovating based on four key strengths of network, data, distribution and payments.
Chitkara: We serve 3,000 large enterprises and a million SMBs. Our enterprise customers have been saying that they can’t deal with different partners for network, cloud, security, data centre, collaboration and others. They are looking for someone who can offer an integrated SLA (Service Level Agreement).
Over the past three years, we have invested heavily in building infrastructure, including fibre, submarine cables, data centre and landing stations.
Who does Airtel IQ target? Is international expansion on the cards?
Chitkara: We’ve started with large enterprises that typically have a sizable customer base. For example, our client sweetspot lies in sectors such as banking and finance, and ecommerce. We are also committed to take the service to every last SMB customer. We’d like to keep it simple and bundle these services -- once they pay for connectivity, for example, we want to make sure they don’t have to pay for security separately.
Enterprises in India are our initial focus. As per our estimates, it is a $1 billion market that is growing 20% annually.
Nair: The minute we validate the platform in India, we are connected to many other telecom companies in other markets -- that can be a conduit for global expansion.
How has Covid-19 accelerated the demand for digital transformation and products like Airtel IQ?
Chitkara: Most companies were on the path to digital transformation but the pandemic has accelerated it by five-six years. Earlier, there were multiple phases, such as business, adoption etc. The pandemic has forced everyone to get in on day one. Nearly 90% of our clients seek omni-channel customer engagement, as they see it as the only way to engage in the post pandemic world.
Nair: One of our customers is Airtel itself and some of the products were built to address its needs. Upcoming products on workforce management, which help track workforce on the ground to improve productivity, as well as technology for digital documents are being built inside Airtel for Airtel.
Tell us more about the beta phase -- how long did it take? Were there specific use cases built in due to the Covid-19 lockdown?
Nair: This was a closed beta and we started two quarters ago. Then the lockdown was imposed and we added some more beta customers.
For example, mobility platform Rapido shifted their model from bike sharing to grocery delivery during the Covid-19 lockdown. They quickly made the switch using Airtel IQ for their riders to contact the customer.
Another use case is the banking and finance industry -- call centre agents in the sector are going remote and the challenge is to make sure that customer data is secure even as the agents work from home.
Electrical equipment company Havells also saw an increase in the number of calls, seeking information about their products. Typically, these would be walk-ins in a Covid-free scenario. They were in need of a smart IVR to distribute the call volumes between their on-premise and remote call centre agents, which was provided as part of the Airtel IQ suite.
Has Airtel created a partner network for the product suite? Are you also looking at investments to strengthen the offerings?
Nair: We are working with system integrators such as Waybeo, which was also a part of our longtail of beta clients to fulfil the criteria. The places where we choose to build are our adjacencies. Today, Airtel is a company where we have both network and digital talent, and for Airtel IQ, we are in the best position to build it. We are open to partnering or buying.