Jio Infocomm: India’s Digital Mother Tongue

Jio Infocomm

A lot has been discussed and written on corporate leaders who make a lasting impression in the industry by their craftsmanship and business acumen. For these exceptional leaders, trudging forth with perseverance is the only way to attain business objectives and create new benchmarks for them.

In our constant endeavor to recognize the most creative corporate leaders of India, it’s our honor to introduce two reputed business leaders who constitute the core team of a young, vibrant company which needs no introduction – Jio Infocomm Limited. Kiran ThomasPresident, Reliance Industries Limited, & Director – Jio along with Anish ShahPresident, Information Technology at Jio Infocomm. Right from the day it was being thought about, both of these gentlemen have been at the forefront in driving the Digital Life at Jio. As one of the newest and undoubtedly the most exciting offering from the business giants – Reliance Industries, Jio Infocomm has been the ‘Kohinoor’ not only within the Indian shores but at the global platform too.  As Jio forays into the market, the telecom industry has not only witnessed a variation; rather it has created a renaissance in the entire business community.

“I am a big believer that technology shapes mankind” – Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & MD, RIL
This particular segment showcases the digital journey of Jio Infocomm – starting from the concept, inception, nascent stages followed by the success story so far. We bring you the excerpts from an exclusive conversation with the perfect duo, who share a deep insight on building a stringent ecosystem where business meets technology and vice versa.

Interviewer: How would you define your journey that started with Reliance’s Jamnagar refinery to date along with the journey of Jio?

Kiran Thomas: From a pure technocrat to a seasoned professional, I was a part of multiple startups within the Reliance group. My association started in 1997 wherein I was working as an architect –managing teams, vendors and making many technology choices. After completing my Business degree from Stanford University, USA, I rejoined Reliance Infocomm that was at a very early formative stage.

My business degree was a dominant force in pushing me to understand the finer strings of the business domain. Planning, strategy, and designing business solutions were some of the key areas, and I started working for. The good thing was I was able to track the evolution of the business, right from the word Go! Understanding the major components of the business – strategy, planning, team building, human resource, process design and finally operations added a lot of expertize and strengthened my capabilities.

Post the de-merger of Reliance Infocomm, and the company ventured into the retail segment with Reliance Retail in which I was a part of the initial set up in forming the core team. It was a more complicated business than Infocomm as we came up with a multi-format strategy and were engaged in doing multi-segments and multiple types of stores at a PAN India level. Moving forward, we launched our telecom operations with Jio in 2010. As we were betting on a technology (LTE – Long Term Evolution) which was not yet proven, we took a little longer to launch Jio. It took around 2-3 years to mature the technology, and from that point onwards, it was just marching ahead. We don’t think that we will have another new business in the next five year as this is the business of businesses. So on one side, it was the startup lifecycle, which gave me many perspectives and learning about grasping the nuisances of the business and because of my technological grounding, I was more eager to explore solutions from a technology point of view. Now it’s over 21 years!

Interviewer: Was re-joining Reliance after completing your Business degree a planned move or it was destiny that bought you again to the company?

Kiran Thomas: For sure, it wasn’t a pre-planned move. After completing my MBA, I was more inclined towards business rather than technology as I wanted to work in a business area which was more to my liking. The chemical and hard industry was not what I was looking for, or else I would have opted to work with software companies, startups or even joining a company at the Silicon Valley, which would have been a natural choice. Also, I was determined to come-back as I knew India was the ‘next-growth’ engine, mainly because of the liberalization. So if Reliance hadn’t happened, I would have probably stayed back in the US.

Interviewer: You are incredibly fond of Basketball and Technology. How do you relate these two and what keeps this passion ignited?
“Sports create a youthful outlook”

Kiran Thomas: Basketball and technology are two different facets and ‘team aspect’ is the only common virtue which connects the two. Basketball taught me the importance of team, as every member is strong in some or the other aspect. Second is discipline – as patience is the key to success. Continuous learning is the third element which I learned in Basketball. Similarly, technology is quite similar as it continues to evolve and we continue to learn new concepts. So yes, both of them play an important role.

Your core belief and manifestation are two key things. I believe that adaptability and getting adjusted is quite important and it’s important to marry the strengths which you have. It’s a continuous process of ‘unlearn’ to ‘relearn’.

Interviewer: Kindly talk to us about your journey and overall experience of these 17 years at Reliance.
Anish Shah: I joined Reliance Infocomm in 2001, and my journey coincides and is quite similar to the journey of Kiran Thomas. While I commenced my journey in technology, he started exploring the business side. Since I came from an enterprise technology background having worked with renowned companies like GE and Godrej, I had a strong understanding of various enterprise processes along with the technology behind it. As I joined in the build phase, I focused on certain things that were critical for launch and also crucial to sustaining in the future. Slowly and steadily, I was a part of the campaign in building the key infrastructural services. Having a prior exposure of ‘organized retailing’ helped me immensely to contribute to the retail business. So I was managing the architecture and technology segment, while Kiran was overseeing the business side. Right from the 1st day, we had an absolute clear perception that we should not think of technology as an afterthought. One of the unique things about Reliance is whatever we do, we do it at scale, and therefore everything has to be unique and different. So, we both started working together in building up Jio software organization. We specifically looked into the software organization part building the technology and business model cohesively. Integrating every IT function was our primary objective, and this design led to the foundation of our infrastructure which we named as ‘Integrated System Organization.’ Implementing the big-data architecture, we assimilated every component and created a ‘new-age architecture, which was smooth, stringent and gave a rock-solid performance.

Interviewer: Over the years, what has helped you the most to evolve as a successful business leader?
“Strategy cannot be thought in isolation”

Anish Shah: After joining Reliance, I realized that my knowledge of technology was not enough to cross the horizon; as you have to know everything holistically. To be a successful leader, you have to understand everything in totality. Before joining Reliance, I never thought of the various aspects, components, and the underline architecture while designing the strategy for the business.

Interviewer: Connectivity, data, and intelligence are the foundations of the 4th industrial revolution. How is the telecom industry embracing digitalization in India?

Kiran Thomas: Telecomm is only one of the aspects of what we do. So when we are trying to create a digital transformation with a compelling new experience, we plan to answer four areas- connectivity, smart devices, relevant content, and lastly the concerns or doubts related to a fairly new concept. Here, connectivity plays a pivotal role as it’s a pre-requisite to integrate other components like IoT, cloud, people, or even edge computing to name a few.

Processing the data is a core requirement for the industrial revolution to be successful. The human interface should not be a hindrance while the data is communicated using technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and others. In the 4th revolution, as machines would be interacting with other machines, the level of intelligence has to be seamless so that machine communication takes place uninterrupted and also the human can add value to that communication. In the Indian perspective, we realized that along with connectivity, we need to create the capability which can enhance the creation of new things. So with Jio, we are determined to create the foundation of connectivity and develop an intelligent network which can be an add-on for the new services.

Interviewer: Going from zero to over 200 million subscribers in less than two years is an incredible and remarkable achievement. What was your key strategy to achieve such success?

Anish Shah: 5th September 2016 was the D-day when Jio opened its gate for the consumers. In today’s market, there are very few organizations that are good at executing at scale. Right execution, strategy, and approach are the critical components which need to be coupled along with a right vision. We aimed to impact the way in which the internet was consumed in India within the fastest possible time. Our Chairman – Mukesh Ambani drove this process as he had a clear vision of how he wanted to execute the entire process. Consumption and the delivery system were the parameters which had to be executed uniquely. A clear mandate was given to every team, and very unconstrained liberty was assigned to do their respective job, without worrying on the business side. At every level, the work was progressing in an open manner which was not dependent on each other. We had a target to build a software capability, architecture, solution which will acquire a million customers each day! Across the globe, none of the Telco’s had ever designed a solution that can onboard one-million customers every day in a seamless way to its network. The foundation of this unified interface was the ‘Aadhar technology,’ as our acquisition speed increased about hundred times compared to the manual process. The parallel execution by every team in a continuous manner with a scale of operations which was very clearly articulated and defined led to the launch of Jio Infocomm in such a grand scale.

Interviewer: How digital technology does play a key role in a business to be successful particularly in the e-commerce sector in India?

Anish Shah: In today’s market, every organization and established players are trying to put their focus and invest in acquiring customers. I believe that in the e-commerce industry, technology plays a very prominent and important role but not a full role. In the e-commerce market, dealing with people is the most important objective; technology alone cannot make you the winner. In our country, it is more challenging regarding the environment, regulations, diversities, and for various other reasons.

Kiran Thomas: Customer, range, convenience, and experience are the four elements of every retail business. Usually, every business picks up one model and develops the business. Technology has enabled us to pick up all these models and work according to it. Although, Technology hasn’t given answers to some areas, but yes technology continues to evolve every day. ‘Service’ is the 5th element which is unique to the Indian market. Co-opting the local business entrepreneur can be a very powerful partner to do things or to augment the digital experience with a service aspect which traditionally has been not the focus of many e-commerce providers in the country. Since commerce is a multi-sided model, we have to work in every facet of it and technology pushes you to select the best commodity. Technology cannot bring the service aspect, and that’s one area which needs to be worked upon, so to taste success in the e-commerce sector, the 5th element needs to be in place.

Interviewer: Jio Money – an offering from Reliance Payment Solutions Limited is growing in stature. How do you look at it?

Kiran Thomas: For us, Jio Money is a component of our commerce structure. Our commerce strategy is quite ambitious within which payment is a component and is not a standalone opportunity. Our vision is to be digital as well as physical. We aim to smoothen the process wherein the transaction between the customer and seller is instant, safe and without any deductions at either end. Offering a seamless digital experience wherein every party – customer, seller, and the bank are all ready to embrace the transformation from being physical to digital, is our ultimate objective. COD has to be transformed into DOD. Although we have structured Jio money is a different entity, we see it as a much larger offering to the customer, within with payment has a dominant role to play.

Interviewer: How is the young generation – Akash and Isha Ambani incorporating the culture and work ethics of Reliance?

Kiran Thomas: I am reminded of my days; The DNA of reliance is very distinct and certain. Self-belief, purpose, managing the people are some of the core ethics that come naturally to them, and secondly, they have been placed on a very fast-paced learning-process. There intellectual understanding is taking them to the next level, and they have been challenged every day at work, and as a result, they become stronger every day.

Related Posts