Voice may be the answer

by Ivor Soans    Feb 27, 2006

One common grouse among CXOs is the state of communications infrastructure in India. There is an urgent need to ensure that the complete supply and distribution chain is driven by enterprise IT solutions because that increases competitiveness and gives top management a real-time view. Plus, there are compliance demands that necessitate a greater use of IT-based solutions.

Besides, the need of the hour for many FMCG enterprises is to focus on emerging markets, and stop pushing saturated urban markets. To get real-time or close to real-time views, the sales force on the ground needs to have the means to be able to connect to enterprise systems and relay vital demand and supply data. That’s not a problem in urban markets, with good connectivity and options, including handheld devices, but outside the main metros that’s something of a gamble.

Thus, CXOs find themselves in an unenviable situation. On one hand their enterprises need the data but on the other they need to enter new markets where enterprise quality communication infrastructure just may not exist.

Waiting for the infrastructure to be built isn’t an option–in India, waits can extend to years, and solutions have to be found without relying on the government or its agencies to do something. For instance, quite a few manufacturing units have set up their own captive power plants to make up for the lack of state-supplied power.

Unfortunately, that isn’t an option in communications. However, one aspect that seems to have escaped quite a few enterprises is voice. As tele-density increases in India, voice communication of a reasonably high quality is a fact even in rural India, except in very remote pockets. The private mobile telephony players have played a huge role in ensuring this and are increasingly rolling out networks in smaller and smaller towns in order to increase their subscriber bases.

So, even though connecting a laptop to the Net may be difficult, the sales force can always call in, and on IP networks, voice can be converted into formats that enterprise systems can use. Plus, there’s the greatest advantage that India offers–cost-effective manpower. It would be quite cheap for enterprises to set up a small call centre that could receive voice inputs from the sales-force in small towns, which could then be entered into enterprise IT systems to ensure that the enterprise has a very close to real-time view.

It’s time CXOs looked at voice in a new light.