December 2016

'We ensure a robust digital ecosystem, equipped for the future'

Doing business in the Middle East and North Africa region has its challenges. Apart from the intense competition, the region comes with its own set of customs, rules and regulations which add an additional layer of business complexity. Yet Tata Communications is not just surviving here but also thriving and growing. Evolving from merely providing wholesale services to providing a range of innovative solutions, the company has spread its footprint across the MENA region.

In this interview, Radwan Moussalli, senior vice president, Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, Tata Communications, says the secret to the telecom giant’s success is its ability to reinvent itself.

How has Tata Communications’ MENA portfolio been faring over the recent past? Is the company on track with its business performance objectives?
Tata Communications has transformed its business in the MENA region and has moved from providing wholesale services to offering innovative solutions to partners and enterprises. Given the way the telecom and technology industry has evolved, voice is no longer the mainstay of this business. Our data business is growing sharply because we have a broader set of services, from connectivity to collaboration, hosting, storage, media content platform and many more. As of Q1 FY17, data services account for 78 percent of our EBITDA and 56 percent of our revenues.

During the past year, we have expanded our presence and engaged in several new strategic partnerships in the region, with a focus on new value-added services and important verticals such as media and entertainment, managed security, managed hosting, aviation and government. These engagements have derived major wins for Tata Communications and its partners in their respective markets.

On track with our business objectives, we have successfully built relationships in many different industry verticals, including aviation, government, media and entertainment, and banking. We are working with a range of local telecom providers, including MNOs and ISPs offering various connectivity services and managed services in the region.

Which countries are you currently focusing on and for what reasons?
We have operations across the Middle East and the North African region -- primarily the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria and Morocco, in addition to several other countries in Africa and Central Asia.

While the UAE has been the growth hub for businesses, Qatar is an emerging market with a very high GDP and an economy that is thriving and constantly looking for innovative solutions to fuel growth.

Saudi Arabia has been compelled to deploy best-in-class cyber security after a few cyber security threats in the region. Morocco is a big market for call centre services, while Algeria is an emerging market where we intend to position our voice services, wholesale data and security services, and partner with regional organisations.

Enterprise customers are vital for Tata Communications and the company’s enterprise enablement initiative is one of the pillars of its strategy. Has it been smooth sailing for you on this front?
Yes, it has. Tata Communications offers unrivalled local expertise and broad reach across countries in the MENA region — with an ever-increasing footprint through our owned global infrastructure and partnerships — which is why we are the preferred partner for some of the world’s leading enterprises and service providers for their business growth and transformation in the Middle East. We are industry agnostic and have been partners in progress with various enterprises in the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Turkey, and have helped enterprises across industries deliver turnkey projects.

As a key enabler of information and communication technologies to global enterprises, Tata Communications has led from the front. We ensure a robust digital ecosystem that is equipped for the future, with the infrastructure that can cope with customers’ demands of intelligence, scalability and flex. Our IZO™ portfolio, managed hosting services, managed security services and global network services allow enterprises to focus on their core business while simultaneously enabling them to save infrastructure cost.

Recently, we launched IZO™ SDWAN, the latest addition to our IZO™ cloud enablement platform, to help organisations unleash their global growth potential. We have developed multiple variants of IZO™ SDWAN to suit our customers’ different business and technology requirements. By enabling the instant deployment of branch office networks anywhere in the world, the new service helps enterprises to expand, introduce new products and services faster, and adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. This new service is available in 130 countries across emerging and developed markets.

Tata Communications had identified growth opportunities through initiatives such as partner enablement (in the enterprise business), by expanding beyond the wholesale business, and through solution selling and transformation services. How have these initiatives panned out?
These initiatives have worked well for us. With a strong presence in both developed and emerging markets, Tata Communications is a key enabler of information and communication technology globally. We have expanded our range of services in the last 15 years and now offer network services; voice, data and mobility solutions; unified communications and collaboration tools; managed security; content management; media and entertainment services; and cloud and data centre solutions.

Over the past few years, technology has caused significant changes in the way enterprises conduct business internationally and locally. Technology research firm Gartner has predicted that the Middle East IT spending will touch $212.9 billion in 2016, a 3.7 percent increase from 2015. The IT industry is being driven largely by digital business, and an environment driven by a connected world. This exponential growth of connected devices, emergence of social media, analytics and cloud computing, together with the acceptance of BYOD (bring your own device – refers to the trend of employees bringing their own phones, tablets, etc to the office), are all resulting in a major transition in the way businesses engage with technology.

In the MENA region, as in the rest of the world, companies are looking for an IT infrastructure that can deliver flexibility and agility alongside fail-safe security. The cloud is the new IT architecture for enterprise and Tata Communications’ IZO™, a global, hybrid cloud platform, combines the public internet — uniquely engineered to deliver business-class SLAs and encryption— with enterprise cloud connectivity and interconnected data centres to deliver a solution that is predictable, secure and reliable. This helps CIOs navigate complexities to meet their goals as well as consolidate disparate elements of IT architecture into a robust, single solution so that they can gain 360-degree visibility and complete control.

At Tata Communications, we build strategic partnerships with other leading players that enable us to expand our portfolio, and access and deploy services faster. We lead from the front to create an open infrastructure, partner ecosystem and platforms for businesses to stay competitive in this digital age. With our partner network, coupled with our investment in next-generation technology, we’re not only ideally placed to anticipate the future of IT, but also shape it.

Recently, we announced our partnership with Emirates Data Clearing House (EDCH), a regional leader in roaming solutions and seamless settlements. This partnership enables us to provide a more robust portfolio of solutions, while helping EDCH expand its geographical footprint in global markets. The collaboration allows both companies to enhance value and deliver a superior experience to new and existing customers.

How intense is the competition in the MENA market? What does Tata Communications have to watch out for?
In the Middle East, as in any other geography, competition is intense. The Middle East comes with its own set of regulations that add an extra layer of business complexity. Each set of offerings sees local and international players and we compete with them for business.

What kind of business progress do you expect Tata Communications to be making over the coming two-three years?
In the coming years, our focus will largely be on growth services. Today employees and customers require on-demand connected devices, mobility and higher bandwidth speed. We offer the right infrastructure and innovative solutions to deal with this rapidly expanding technology upgrade list.

For enterprises looking to deliver seamless user experience across their networks and infrastructures, Tata Communications offers IZO™, a flexible, one-stop cloud enablement platform that helps them navigate complexity for more agile business performance in a secure environment. By ensuring end-to-end network performance and security, we help enterprises drive their digital transformation through the cloud, and to expand into new geographies as the global digital economy continues to grow.

However with the growing number of connected devices, enterprises are bound to face cyber threats. A recent report by audit consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that, in 2015, organisations in the Middle East experienced more losses as compared to other regions, due to cyber incidents; 56 percent lost more than $500,000 compared to 33 percent globally, and 13 percent lost at least three working days, compared to the global figure of 9 percent. Hence, we are focusing on providing world-class security solutions to the organisations in the region.

Our custom-designed network security systems provide effective defences against a wide range of network attacks and make it easy for organisations to meet their security goals while keeping operating costs predictable and under control.