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July 1, 1997


SkyCell launches Unicom

SkyCell Cellular Services, one of the two cellular operators in Madras, has moved into a related business area - the development of telecommunications solutions to feed inhouse and external demand for software suited to the Indian environment.

A team comprising employees of SkyCell and Mastek, the Bombay-based software house, recently developed 'subscriber inventory management system' or SIMS.

To create the package engineers have mapped the sale process from application vetting, credit check, authorisation of credit limit, issue of invoice and receipt to actual activation and delivery of handset.

While each of these functions were earlier performed by different people, the new package integrates the various stages to reduce processing time from 45 to 5 minutes.

Diwaker Singh, SkyCell's managing director, said the new system would be commercially operational in mid-July. SkyCell has also sold six copies of SIMS to telecommunication companies in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Mauritius and Pakistan.

"Given the kind of subscriber base now and the projections for the next few years, we will need to share the costs by selling the package to other people," Singh pointed out.

The indigenous development of software appears to have paid off cost-wise for SkyCell. Along with UBest, a venture of Usha Martin Telecom, SkyCell is commercialising a billing package which, Singh said, cost them only 15-20 per cent of the label price of the off-the-shelf billing software.

The other problem with off-the-shelf packages is that they are all basically developed for western markets - the terminology (PSTN instead of DoT) and systems are tailored for practices in countries such as the US.

For instance, to change the date field from the American practice of placing the month before date and year, could mean a costly source code change bill for $10,000. Getting good support for imported software also poses a problem, according to Singh.

He said the new billing system, sold under the brand name 'Unicom', allows flexibility to create and manage individual tariff plans for each subscriber.

An exporter, for instance, could demand and get special rates on international calls. The company also expects to be able to offer special tariffs for closed user groups.

SkyCell's telecom solutions division (the formation of which is to be formally announced at the company board meeting next month) is also working on software for managing customer bases with functions to track usage patterns, credit control and collection.

Another package which is being developed is a sales management system to track productivity of the company's sales forces.

Each sales executive is required to log in the progress made at sales calls - whether the prospective customer has asked for information on tariffs or is at the advanced stage of choosing handsets.

Using this information, the computer periodically generates sales projections which are then matched against actuals at the end of the period. If the difference is substantial, the particular executive is counselled by the sales chief.

This system has been integrated with the direct mail and telemarketing databases so that "hot" prospects are immediately and automatically distributed among sales executives for a follow-up. According to Singh, SkyCell has confirmed orders for this software from companies in Asia, Belgium and Luxembourg.

A total of 14 SkyCell employees are into software development on a full-time basis. SkyCell also closely works with software development companies such as Mastek and Madras-based IBHAR.

The company has invested Rs 60-70 million in this division, but does not expect it to contribute substantially to business revenues, the bulk of which will continue to flow from the cellular service business.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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