Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) recently deployed a telepresence solution, Cisco's TelePresence, to help the company's different departments based at different locations to collaborate with each other. M&M is now one of the few companies in India to have implemented a telepresence solution.
M&M has deployed the telepresence solution at three locations—its corporate headquarters in Worli, Mumbai; the manufacturing plant in Kandivli (also in Mumbai), and at Mahindra Research Valley, Chennai. "Mahindra is the first organization in the manufacturing segment in India to implement this technology," informs Vijay Mahajan, the general manager of corporate IT at M&M.
Initially, the idea of deploying a telepresence solution had very few takers. It was thought to be unviable due to its high upfront investment cost, as well as the recurring costs (in terms of bandwidth and maintenance). "As far as Cisco was concerned, the entire telepresence solution's business case was built on the savings in travel costs—it would be apt for global travel scenarios. However, in cases where travel costs between locations were not substantial, the business case was not strong," says Mahajan.
However, M&M was not looking at a telepresence solution only from a financial point of view. "We have always been at the forefront of adopting relevant emerging technologies, and the corporate IT team was confident that this technology was the solution to one of the problems being faced by users—the limitations of their video conferencing solutions. Despite having video conferencing solutions at 30 endpoints (locations), our users were not satisfied with the technology. The video conferencing solutions were not able to generate the desired level of trust between users," explains Mahajan.
Proposal for the telepresence solution rollout came from M&M's Centre of Technology Excellence, which is a cell dedicated to tracking and testing emerging technologies for the company's business advantage. The telepresence solution was first proposed by corporate IT to the business during its commissioning of the state-of-the-art research facility at Mahindra Research Valley. The setting up of this R&D facility in Chennai led to the need for high-level, real-time collaboration between various R&D professionals across Mumbai and Chennai, as well as between the R&D staff and the decision-makers at the company's Worli headquarters. "Having seen a fit with the business needs, corporate IT formally proposed to implement this telepresence solution during its annual projects and budgets presentation exercise," says Mahajan.
A telepresence solution is expensive; hence selection of the right vendor was a critical aspect of the project. The company evaluated vendors such as Cisco, Polycom, Tandberg and HP, as well as customized telepresence solutions from Business Octane. The entire technology evaluation was done by the corporate IT team of M&M. A cost-benefit analysis of all the competing telepresence solutions in the market was carried out by the team and presented to the management.
Cisco was finally chosen due to its wide presence across the globe. "The most notable feature of this solution was its engaging user experience," states Mahajan. "The technology made long-distance communication so live, that it felt as if all the people at various locations were in the same room. Hence it revitalized real-time discussions."
Since telepresence is a relatively new technology in the market, the implementing team did not foresee some of the challenges which arose during its implementation. "Allocating dedicated rooms of the prescribed size at various locations was a difficult task. Coordinating with various agencies such as the room renovation contractor, room designer, room certifier and technology implementation partner was time-consuming," recollects Punit Prakash, the project manager of infrastructure for M&M.
The telepresence solution's implementation started in December 2009, and it went live in April 2010. It was formally inaugurated in June 2010 by Bharat Doshi, executive director and group CFO of the Mahindra Group.
The most evident benefit from the telepresence solution for the company's R&D design teams was the shortening of design time scales. This was facilitated by the following advantages of the telepresence solution.
- Real-time view of development parts or prototypes for expert feedback.
- Opportunities for visual brainstorming sessions among the creative teams at different locations.
- Real-time exchange of ideas.
- Collaboration without the need to travel.
"The technology was introduced keeping in mind the requirements of the R&D department. However, it has also been widely accepted by other departments of M&M, especially the sales and marketing department whose staff is constantly on the move," says Prakash. As part of M&M's IT plans for the near future, Mahajan plans to go ahead with deployment of telepresence technology units in a phased manner across multiple locations in India and overseas.