CorporateInFocusInterviewsSMEStreet Exclusive

Digital Empowerment of Indian SMEs: The Airtel Way

Here are edited excerpts of an exclusive interaction between Mr Harish Laddha, CEO – Emerging Business, Airtel Business and Dr. Faiz Askari, Founder & Editor of SMEStreet. 

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Airtel works with over 1 million emerging businesses across more than 500 cities helping them connect, communicate and collaborate with their customers in a fast and efficient manner. Here are edited excerpts of an exclusive interaction between Mr Harish Laddha, CEO – Emerging Business, Airtel Business and Dr. Faiz Askari, Founder & Editor of SMEStreet. 

Faiz Askari: Please define Airtel Business and your customer portfolio. What importance do SMEs carry in this business? 

Harish Laddha: Airtel Business is India’s leading and most trusted provider of ICT services with an integrated portfolio of offerings to enterprises, governments, carriers, MNO’s and small and medium businesses. Our portfolio of products and services includes voice, data, collaboration, cloud, data centers, security, IoT, network integration, managed services, enterprise mobility, and digital media.  

This portfolio is backed by Airtel’s superior service quality, round-the-clock-infrastructure availability and focus on end user experience which makes Airtel Business a trusted partner for Indian SME’s who form a significant part of Indian economy. In fact, Airtel works with over 1 million emerging businesses across more than 500 cities helping them connect, communicate and collaborate with their customers in a fast and efficient manner.  

Studies estimate that Indian SMB market employs almost 40% of India’s workforce which is almost 106 million people. The segment spans across diverse sectors such as Education, Hospitality, Co-operative banks, Multi retail outlets and Hospitals/ Healthcare making it one of the widest in Indian economy. For Airtel also the sheer depth and magnitude of the segment makes it one of the most important markets. While we are working with over 1 million emerging businesses, we are working to expand our scope and footprint further to reach deep within tier 3 cities.  

FA: How can SMEs harness digital solutions in operations? 

HL: It is now said that India is one of the most digitised countries with the widespread adoption of QR codes, UPI payments and online citizen services.  

SMEs can harness technology and use digital solutions to streamline their business activities and functions & accelerate their business A digital first approach improves productivity and profitability, brings in more customers while improving resilience.  

As an SME sets itself on the digital journey it should remember that this exercise is much more than implementing digital solutions. It means realignment of company’s culture, structure and process to serve its ambition. Right from deployment of office internet to deploying an automated tool for inventory management or taking a cloud service backed with CDN to expand the reach of website or deployment of payment solutions with QR codes, the organisation needs to measure incremental gains and guard itself from going back to the traditional mindset of putting costs over growth enablers.  

Digitization and advancement have broadened the scope of SME and MSME operations. An online presence allows an Indian SME to transcend all geographical and time boundaries. Through the company website and mobile App, the online presence provides significant growth and expansion opportunities. This generates additional revenue in the form of new customers from local, national, and international markets. 

FA: How is Airtel business helping SMEs to grow in new normal? 

HL: Airtel has a suite of products for Indian SME’s. During COVID-19 we observed that Indian businesses realised that going digital offered multiple opportunities for growth. However, since these companies were small their requirements initially were more about getting started on the digital path. This lead them to Airtel Office Internet (AOI) which is one of our highest selling product.  

It offered not just high-speed internet connectivity, but also the security infrastructure and google office products besides static IP and unlimited calling. Thus, by bundling calls with internet, security and google workspace account, Airtel was able to bring several small businesses online. Similarly, the Airtel product suite also has solutions such as Airtel IQ which is world’s first network integrated Cloud Platform as a Service (CpaaS) transofrming customer engagement with brands at every touch point – whether it is sms, whatsapp or audio calls. For customers in the manufacturing segment we offer Airtel IoT which provides a secure, integrated , flexible and future ready platform based connectivity that can help integrate technology with their products and expand its scope manifold. Multi layered cyber security solutions from Airtel provides protection against vulnerability towards cybersecurity breaches customers across all industries.  

The main obstacle any SME decision maker faces is the lack of their awareness of the potential and business implications digital technologies can bring-in. In the post pandemic world, SMEs are looking for right technology, implementing it and scaling for growth. Airtel Business plays a pivotal role here in enabling the emerging businesses, SMEs and MSMEs. With our best-in class solutions & a dedicated team to cater to the SME’s, we are able to increase reliance on tech and make them future proof and sustainable against all crises.   

FA: How has the digital transformation changed for SMEs since pandemic and what is the future? 

HL: Pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by several years across the industries. It is evident from the businesses are operating in the new normal. We are also witnessing a significant technology shift not just from enterprises but also from SMEs in Tier II & III cities. The Transformation which would have taken years was compressed into months, reaching a point where people want to future proof their businesses. The pace has tremendously gone up, owing to migration to cloud which lets you move swiftly and seamlessly. In the future, tapping into the internet would be as seamless & ubiquitous as access to electricity and clean water for all the world’s population… leading to faster innovation, better flow of information, more access to markets, better opportunities for everyone and overall a much better environment for the human ecosystem to evolve. 

FA: Your views on privacy and security of data in the current times. 

HL: In post COVID world the currency that we all deal in is trust. This is all the more important for SME’s for whom customer details and payment information is the biggest asset. Considering that almost every single activity performed by an individual involves some sort of data transaction it is critical to take the necessary steps to protect their customer’s data rights 

Data protection laws ensure the security of individuals’ personal data and govern its collection, use, transfer, and disclosure. They also give individuals access to their data, impose accountability measures on organisations that process personal data, and supplement it by providing remedies for unauthorised and harmful processing.   

India is now one of the few countries in the world which has started putting there a framework for data protection. A comprehensive and modern data protection legal framework is important given that India’s desirous of projecting a global image of a digital economy with a thriving data services industry.  

FA: What are the hiring patterns? Have you witnessed any increase/ shift in your hiring to cater to SME requirements? 

HL: Indian small businesses value trust. They prefer to interact with people in person and want to know who they are dealing with when they make their purchase decisions. This is a trend that we see across the country and we have accordingly invested in our team to cover top 150 cities across India. This team has grown significantly in the past two years to meet the rising tide of demand from SME customers. Our efforts have been restructured under “One Airtel” umbrella so now we have a dedicated team to provide world class customer experience in delivery as well as service. 

FA: What sets Airtel Business apart from its competitors? 

HL: Airtel Business is set apart from its competition by the virtue of its ability to stay close to the customer. This helps us have a pulse on the customer’s needs which helps us innovate faster and get newer products to the market much ahead of the competition. Our new product portfolio and its acceptance in the market is a testimony to this core belief. Our sales support is in house which is backed by unparalleled focus on customer experience, which leads to newer benchmarks on Turn Around Time’s (TAT).   

FA: What is your go to market strategy for Indian SMEs’ market? 

HL: Our GTM strategy is focused on three different pillars. The first being direct engagement whether its digital or physical with the customers. This is intentional and helps us have a better command over customer’s needs and innovate faster.    

Second, we are always looking to launch innovative products which help our customers accelerate digital journeys, reduce complexity and costs. The focus on innovation is a key driver of growth for Airtel Business as it gives us significant pull in both customer and supplier eco system. 

 Third is focus on customer experience. Connectivity is like air and water in digital world which can be offered by everyone but the differentiator will be the experience and therefore Airtel Business has made significant investments in the area, so much so that it’s a cornerstone of our efforts in the SMB market. 


SMEStreet Edit Desk

SMEStreet Edit Desk is a small group of excited and motivated journalists and editors who are committed to building MSME ecosystem through valuable information and knowledge spread.

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