“A large section of Tata Communications’ product offerings are forsmall enterprises”: Prateek Pashine, COO, Tata Communications

By Chandan Raj|13th Mar 2012
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YourStory.in recently caught up with Prateek Pashine, COO, Tata Communications. He spoke about his role at Tata Communications, his association with CIIE’s iAccelerator program, what Tata Communications has to offer startups and various other things.

Please introduce yourself to our readers and briefly tell us about your current role at TATA Communications

I’m an engineer from VNIT, Nagpur and I’ve done my MBA from IIM Bangalore. I joined TATA, 17 years back in 1995. I’ve worked with a series of TATA companies, starting with TATA industries, TATA Technologies, TATA group of Hotels, TATA Teleservices and TATA Communications spanning areas of finance, procurement, commercial, marketing and now R & D. I run the SMB business for TATA communications.

As one of their mentors, what are your views on the CIIE’s iAccelerator program?

I’m very excited about the accelerator program construct, the CIIE’s involvement into identifying companies in the ITE space, incubating them, and giving them a healthy atmosphere. And it’s not just the companies that they identify, but the fact that they stay in the IIM campus. These 10-11 companies that work in the same campus, in a single office, get to share their ideas and plans with each other, learn from others’ experiences and get valuable feedback, and I think that’s a great opportunity that these companies get in the environment of IIM Ahemadabad. I spoke to one of the Founders’ the other day and he said that, sometimes, it becomes very depressing when you don’t know where you’re headed, what’s going to happen, so the fact that there are 10-11 companies in the same boat, also going through ups and downs, is a great motivating factor for them. There’s a phase where everything looks bleak, but because of the support of the other 10 startups, their confidence gets bolstered. So, I think I’m quite happy with the entire concept of the accelerator program. Also, the grooming that they get is very helpful. An idea is not good in itself, how you flesh it out, how you create a structure around it, how you create an organization that is scalable, is essential to attain commercial success. So, I think CIIE is a great combination of theory as well as practical knowledge and experience.

From your interactions with startups and SMEs, what have been your significant findings?

One of the things that we at TATA have found, is that most startups have resource constraints; they don’t have people, they don’t have a brand name, they don’t have funds and they look at the traditional model of starting up.

I handle businesses that have 0-500 employees and that’s the definition of SME that we’ve done in TATA communications. If you look at the business that churns away from us, people who decide to discontinue with us, we see a large part of that churn happening due to the mortality rate of the SMEs, which means companies that are shutting shop. And that mortality rate reflects that not all ideas translate into commercial success, some people start the business, become 20-50 people organizations and are not able to sustain in a competitive environment and hence close shop.

What are your offerings for startups?

A large section of our product offerings that we have in TATA communications are for small enterprises. For example, if you have a company which is in the ICT space and you want to host an application on the net, you’re going to buy a server, a bandwidth and an internet data centre, and some of that would clearly be a large expenditure. We’ve launched a cloud platform called InstaCompute where the customers can buy the required computing power and storage space depending on how their business model is increasing. They don’t have to commit to any heavy infrastructure costing, they can do it as a monthly plan, they can upgrade and downgrade depending on how their business goes. Clearly, that’s a very pay-as-much-as-you-use model, and something that startups look for, because one thing that they don’t have is in-hand cash. So a lot of our products and services are pay-as-you-use. Basically, the approach that we’ve been trying to take is, can we make products in a box so that it becomes palatable for the customer? It’s basically like how a Re 1 shampoo sachet became hugely successful because the lower middle class wouldn’t buy a 20 rupee bottle and I think that’s what we’re trying to do by moving into a pay-as-you-use model instead of a traditional model. And some of our initiatives in the cloud space are exactly in that direction.

You shared quite a few details about the offerings for startups and SMEs. So, apart from InstaCompute, do you have any other offerings?

We have quite a few products. For example, if there’s a small BPO who wants to setup a call centre, and they just have a space and few computers; we’ve got a series of products, some vertical applications and some horizontal applications like email and security products which are on the cloud that they can use. A lot of companies face the issue of security; we provide real time solutions to customers so that they can get the maximum out of their bandwidth because with the use of our cloud based firewall service or an online backup management service. So, we have a whole lot of products for the SME space. What I would encourage you to do is visit our site which is www.tatacommunications.com/sme, you will get a good variety of products, what they do and what benefits they provide.

How do you see the Indian internet and mobile market evolving five years from now and what do you think are the opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to capitalize on that?

I’m presently seeing a lot of upsurge of the new VAS providers which are home grown. Many Indian service providers are launching hosted management softwares, accounting softwares, etc. I believe cloud scaling is something that we will see, in terms of trends. People will move from an on- premises model to a cloud based model for various production team tools and services that they use. So, cloud clearly is one of the trends that you will see in the internet space. Secondly, I think security will be of paramount importance. Today, people coming to the office use the office environment and LAN to communicate with each other. You see the presence of smartphones, tablets, etc. which are making your work mobile. You see salesmen making and closing orders while on the go, which clearly decentralizes IT. And that brings up the topic of how to manage corporate laws, corporate security, and how it should be monitored in a mobile environment. So, I really believe that security is going to be one of the significant aspects that people will have to deal with because decentralization of IT is happening at a very fast pace. And I think that’s where the marriage of internet and mobile is happening today. I think that’s going to be a clear trend, trend towards cloud.

What are your three tips to emerging and aspiring entrepreneurs?

I would say, firstly, it’s very important to go agile, it allows you far more flexibility and maneuverability, if you want to change your business model or go to market. If you follow the traditional model, the degrees of freedom significantly reduce. Hence I would advise startups to go with the lean model. Two, be it in any space or industry, I think, acceptors of social media, is a very critical phenomenon. Companies realize the power that social media can create for employees and customers, so, I would say do not ignore the social media phenomenon, it can aid your business in terms of connecting with your customers, and employees as well. Third, you have to be change-focused. Adaptability is the key. When you want to scale up an operation from a 5-people organization to a 100-people organization, you have to be able to create an organization that can do decision-making that can run these various functions on an independent basis. I think one of the requirements of scaling up a business is, are you willing to let go? Are you creating a good second line, are you creating a good, solid organizational framework where people are capable and can take calls and decisions because that’s the only way you can grow a business. So, investing in a solid team and allowing that team to take independent calls, giving them authority, is something that I will seriously recommend to all entrepreneurs if they want to scale up their business.

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