'OUTSOURCING IS A BUSINESS REALITY'

India is BT's one of top priorities in Asia Pacific

INDIA, on which the world focus is converging, today figures as one of the top priorities in the global telecom giant BT's business strategy for Asia Pacific. "We remain fully committed to service in the market. India is in the world’s spotlight, and as frontrunner, we also continue to develop our share in this market," Mr. Allen Ma, President, BT Asia Pacific tells Amitabha Sen in an interview. From the investment perspective in India, BT is well on its way to upgrading its network and its focus on quality customer service. "BT is looking to significantly grow business Y-O-Y and build a substantial Indian business." To keep India and other Asia Pacific markets attractive competitively, governments, he feels, need to continue to pursue liberal policies that make sense to each individually  in the telecom area. "India is leading the service industry market in APAC and, compared with China, has developed distinct capabilities in this area owing to certain natural advantages such as cost, people skills and infrastructure," he adds.

In reply to questions on outsourcing Mr. Ma says: "Outsourcing is not only a buzzword today: it’s a business reality, and the world has accepted it fully. Outsourcing is here to stay.  It is helping global players manage cost and increase productivity, and allows them to focus on their core business... India is a major BPO destination." Branding this year as the year of consolidation in this industry he says "we have already seen some big companies buying out Indian BPOs to become more competitive.  This is likely to continue." 

AS: This year BT is completing a decade of its presence in India. How would like to assess this decade-old existence in one of the fast growing and emerging ICT players in global perspective? 

AM: With market and industry conditions changing over time, BT has also adjusted its focus on the India market.  India today is one of our top priorities in Asia Pacific, and we remain fully committed to service in the market.  As an example, BT Retail has approximately 2,700 people supporting its UK processes. We have entered into large contracts with local leaders, such as HCL and Progeon, delivering this and we foresee this relationship to increase further.  

Indirectly, around 7,000 people work for BT in India which is allowing us to take the India growth very seriously. 

As we all know and recognize, India is in the world’s spotlight, and as frontrunner, we also continue to develop our share in this market by offering our ICT solutions.  BT goes where its leading MNC customers require service, and India is a big market in this business domain.  

From the investment perspective in India, BT is well on its way to upgrading its network and its focus on quality customer service.  A first for us this year has been the establishment of an Asia Pacific regional Customer Management Centre in Pune.  This centre, operated in collaboration with Infosys, provides front and back-office functionality, which includes a customer help desk for the whole range of BT’s services, and is the focus for customer service activities in Asia Pacific.  

In summary, BT is looking to significantly grow business YOY and build a substantial Indian business.  

AS: Asia-Pacific perspective, where you would like to place India in ICT?  

AM: India is one of the top three priority countries in APAC for BT, along with China and Japan. 

AS: In Asia-Pacific region BT has been operating for over two decades now. Despite being a developing country and comparably late entrant in the global ICT arena, what are the advantages, you find, if any, that are/can sharpen India’s edge compared with countries like China in Asia Pacific? 

AM: India, in truest sense, is becoming increasingly global and as the focus from the world is converging on India, India is leveraging its advantages in the global ICT arena very well.  India is leading the service industry market in APAC and, compared with China, has developed distinct capabilities in this area owing to certain natural advantages such as cost, people skills and infrastructure. The strategies of China and India are, in many cases, different, with China leading the manufacturing space and India the service industry.  Both are well-positioned in different ways for ICT growth. 

Andy Green, CEO of BT Global Services, has called China “the factory of the world” and India “the office of the world”. 

Ben Verwaayen, CEO of BT Group, recently stated in a lecture at the Judge Institute of Management (June 2005):  Outsourcing is a reality of modern times and the world should get used to the idea.”  He praised the development and innovation of key offshore locations including China and India as "better and cheaper" than their western counterparts, and warned the naysayers to accept the offshoring trend and move on.  "Globalisation is a good thing, a very good thing and I would like to remind everyone for a long time the West did a lot of talking about how aid should transfer into trade. Now it's happening and we say 'oh my god, it's not what we intended'".  Further, he said that outsourcing has forced western businesses to compete with offshore workers on entirely new levels and that such competition can only benefit the global economy. "That's not the outsourcing of a call centre to India; that's the next step in the drive to productivity. It's the next step in a global world where people will compete individually."   

AS: BT is recognized as one of dominant players in the global networking services. Could you tell us about the infrastructure that you find in the Asia-Pacific countries in general. Where you would like to place India in this respect and what are the immediate tasks, you think, India should address to keep pace with the front runners in the region? 

AM: Asia Pacific and Europe have some of the most highly regulated markets in the world.  BT supports an opening of markets, and competitiveness since it is good for both the local economies and for the customers/consumers. 

BT has a strong heritage and proven track record in international markets.  As the company continues to transform as a leader in global networked IT services, we are rigidly pursuing our goal of being the partner of choice in creating and delivering the promise of integrated communications and IT. 

As part of the execution of this strategy, BT in Asia Pacific continues to make substantial investments in key markets, taking the industry closer to 21st century and next-generation networks.   

Convergence of communications and IT is finally happening. It’s driving a new digital networked economy – a network-centric world, where the focus is about getting the right information to the right people, at the right time.  In today’s digital networked economy, productivity and business success depend increasingly on how well an organization networks itself together and seamlessly integrates communications and technology on a global scale.  Boards, CIOs, CTOs are looking to operate in new ways that make them flexible and agile and help them gain competitive advantage.   

We believe an IP-based network is key to this flexibility.  IP infrastructure creates the “central nervous system” of large organizations, helping people interact more effectively, ensuring the information they need is always accessible.  This technology is becoming core to the success of many companies. 

This is what BT is bringing to the market as an industry leader.  There will, of course, be many benefits of this technology innovation to the markets in which we operate. 

The networking services revenues in India has grown over 20% in the last year, with a large presence of major MNCs. India is keeping pace in its growth in this area as is evident from the large investments and larger deals falling into the basket of these MNCs.  

Enterprises are becoming more and more aware of the networking technologies that are available for deployment, and are, therefore, far more informed about the products and services required, hence the increasing growth rate that we see today.  

Governments need to continue to pursue liberal policies that make sense to each individually  in the telecom area to keep India and other Asia Pacific markets attractive competitively. 

AS: In an ERM report assigned by BT few years back (2001), securing increased private sector investment in mobile phone services in states that have lower average incomes and / or large rural populations was cited as one of key obstacles in spreading telecommunications in India. How would you like to assess the development in this front today? As a global networking giant what would be your suggestion to step up further the mobile phone services in a country that has over a billion populations?  

AM: The mobile market is the fastest growing market in India. Mobile phones have overtaken fixed lines last year and now stand close to 55 m. Teledensity is around 9.5, which is higher than estimates. India is successfully attracting the major mobile phone companies to set up their mobile phone manufacturing units in India.  This will assist in further lowering the cost of handsets and, as the drop in rates continue, we feel India is taking advantage of the opportunities. This needs to continue. 

AS: Economic conditions of people in rural areas that form bulk of India, is stated as the limiting factor also to spread Internet facilities and lack of education to use this tool. Though there has been significant changes, if not substantial, since the ERM report, much more needs to be done. In both these cases how BT could help both Indian government as well as Indian private sectors?  Any suggestion? 

AM: BT hosts many government representatives from around the world on a regular basis, sharing BT’s experiences. 

That said, BT has no prescription for India and we would not presume to tell the Government what it should do.  

However, we are actively sharing our experiences with the Department of Telecommunications and are happy to continue to do this as long as the DoT finds this helpful.  For example, we held an experience sharing workshop in May this year which was, in fact, attended by Union Minister for Telecommunications. 

AS: What would be your suggestion to those telecommunications and Internet service providers/industries who are strongly focused on the middle classes (who are the exclusive focus of their marketing strategies and product offerings), though 65-70 percent of Indian population resides in rural areas? 

AM: All commercial enterprises have to decide on the best strategies to deliver shareholder value, and that includes choosing their target customer segments.  

Our key customers are specifically Europe-based multisite corporates with needs in other parts of the world, and Asia Pacific-based multisite corporates with complex needs in Europe, within Asia Pacific and in the Americas. 

AS: How would you like to see the role of the Indian government service providers like BSNL and MTNL vis-à-vis the services being provided by host private players? Do you think government should withdraw from this service or should continue as a major support service provider?  

AM: We believe the role of the Government is to establish a fair and competitive market and regulatory environment.  

AS: Industry talks about probabilities of India, China joining hands to emerge as a super power in the IT, ITEs and telecommunication in the South and South-East Asia?  In the light of BT’s long two decades exposure in these markets, do you think this can happen?  

AM: As viewed in the global market, India and China are definitely becoming strong economies and a major portion of this growth can be credited to IT, ITEs and telecommunication, and this is projected to grow. 

The important thing to note is the huge trend towards globalization by multinational companies.  Their strategies are likely to include many, rather than one or two, markets for their sourcing, production, delivery of services and/or sales, etc. 

AS: A major issue that is drawing the attention of countries in the world is emergence of India as a major BPO destination. A National Outsourcing Association, UK, report says: “Indian companies are currently going through a “wheat and chaff” process – larger, specialist companies are snapping up the smaller outfits in a bid to emerge head and shoulders above the burgeoning competition in the global market.”  Your comment  please. 

AM: Yes, India is a major BPO destination.  An AT Kearney report has called India the most preferred BPO destination in the world. This year is seen as the year of consolidation in this industry and we have already seen some big companies buying out Indian BPOs to become more competitive.  This is likely to continue. 

Please also refer to Ben Verwaayen’s comments included above. 

AS: As BT Asia-Pacific chief, how would you like to see this outsourcing issue and India as a major BPO destination? To what extent it can add value to the customers/ end-users?  

AM: Outsourcing is not only a buzzword today:  it’s a business reality, and the world has accepted it fully. Outsourcing is here to stay.  It is helping global players manage cost and increase productivity, and allows them to focus on their core business.  Customer service is the focus of every company today and outsourcing is helping them achieve this, at the right cost-quality ratio. 

AS: Last but not the least, Indian IT industry’s national platform, NASSCOM has set a target for India to raise its market share of the global BPO business from the current 2 per cent to 4.8 per cent by 2008. Is India doing all that it takes to convert targets and 'likely' projections into achieved realities? How will the country have changed by the time that goal is achieved? 

AM: India is working on taking its share in the global BPO space and Nasscom is helping India set that platform. India has grown faster than the projection since 2000 and the global research companies do not see any reason for India to not be able to achieve the target share.  BT agrees with that assessment, and we remain committed to investment and service in India. 



Allen Ma was appointed to lead the company presence in the region as president of BT in Asia Pacific in January 2005.  He is based in the company’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong.

Fluent in English, Cantonese and Putonghua, Allen Ma has over 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, with much of it based in the region.  In his most recent role, he worked for Motorola Global Telecom Solution Sector as vice president and general manager of Asia where he coached a team to win many customer contracts worth hundreds of million dollars, riding on the growth in demand for cellular services in emerging South and Southeast Asia markets.  Through a “Choose to be Chosen” strategy, an improved understanding of customer needs and an uncompromised dedication to customer satisfaction, his team trebled the amount of sales revenue in just 12 months and achieved leading market share in many countries.

Prior to that, Allen worked for C & W Hongkong Telecom in a number of senior executive positions.  These include: executive director responsible for the multi-media arm rolling out city-wide broadband internet services and e-commerce applications; managing director for CSL mobile services, achieving market leadership in Hong Kong through strong service differentiations and innovative branding; and marketing director for fixed network services, successfully defending Hongkong Telecom’s market share during the first phase deregulation of the fixed line market.

Allen holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from the University of Toronto and two U.K. professional accounting qualifications.


June 6, 2005