Researchers have to ensure ideas are ‘best in world’ to get funding
Focusing on saving power from network infrastructure, data centres
SPEAK to Dr Gopi Kurup (pic), the chief executive officer (CEO) of Telekom Malaysia’s R&D unit, and he goes to great length to explain how TM R&D today is becoming much more integrated and aligned to the strategic goals of its parent company.
Gopi even talks the language of a sales executive, excited by the possibility of building apps that his commercial teams can sell to customers on a monthly, recurring fee basis.
But go back a few years and a key move that was instituted which helped make this alignment happen was the introduction of a competitive element to any research idea that was proposed.
“Where before almost any idea was promoted as if it were the best thing since sliced bread, our researchers had to now pitch their idea through a competitive process where at various stages, the idea could be dropped if its promoter could not convince us of its distinct nature,” says Gopi.
By the way, the committee evaluating the ideas would not just look to see if something similar was being done in Malaysia, but also compared the ideas against what other R&D units were doing globally.
All of a sudden, TM’s R&D unit went from one where no global benchmarks were adopted, to one which demanded its researchers benchmark their idea globally.
The heat was on and projects that got funded dropped by about 50%. Gopi is totally fine with this move that happened around the time he took over as CEO.
Next, the R&D unit started getting friendly with its ‘neighbours.’
“We are practically only 500 metres away from Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), and yet neither knew what the other was doing,” says Gopi.
“Today, both know each other well, with MDeC even introducing a special programme where MSC Malaysia status companies can use some of the top-class labs at TM R&D at no cost, up to a certain point. This is through a US$3,100 (RM10,000) voucher programme,” he adds.
National ICT custodian MDeC manages the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project which aims to further develop the ICT industry in the country. MSC Malaysia companies get benefits such as tax exemptions.
Inevitably, TM R&D also narrowed its focus to areas that were aligned to parent company Telekom Malaysia’s goals and objectives. In the past, focus was determined simply by whatever skills set TM R&D had inhouse.
With the alignment with its parent company, ‘Digital Services’ has become a current focus, with smart homes one area that Gopi and his team are working on.
This came out of asking two questions: Where is growth going to be in the future? And, “what role can we play?” he says.
With Telekom Malaysia (TM) having a broadband footprint across over 600,000 homes, Gopi clearly sees large smart home opportunities and says TM R&D is starting to build applications and proofs of concept (POCs) for TM to tackle this market.
A recent joint venture with UEM Sunrise also suggests that the market for smart homes will be bigger than just TM’s captive UniFi base. UniFi is the company’s high-speed broadband offering.
In the above, TM, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Intelsec, signed an agreement with UEM Sunrise, through its wholly-owned subsidiary UEM Land Bhd, and Iskandar Innovations for the establishment of a joint venture company that will offer and operate smart services in Nusajaya, located within the southern development hub of Iskandar Malaysia in the state of Johor.
Energy is another area Gopi thinks TM R&D can make an impact in for TM. Saying that corporations in Malaysia have been spoiled by cheap energy, he admits that TM’s infrastructure network throughout the country is not the most energy-efficient.
And this is where Gopi feels TM R&D can make an impact. Through a baseline study it did across the board for TM, which has now been adopted into the corporate procurement policy, TM is now buying more power-efficient equipment.
And where it is not buying equipment, it is relying on software to lower the power-guzzling energy demands of the 14 data centres it operates.
Meanwhile, an equally important role was played by simply following the field team out, observing how they worked and making changes to the way the copper cables were dealt with. This ultimately resulted in the rehabilitation of the copper network.
“By observing them, we (researchers) were able to introduce an SOP (standard operating procedure) to the teams that allowed them to improve their workmanship, provide troubleshooting guidelines to ensure no short-term quick fixes were taken, and that copper was paired together accurately to provide better bandwidth capability,” Gopi claims.
This was especially important three years ago as copper was getting more expensive and Fibre To The Home (FTTH) was not feasible yet.
It may not have been ‘high tech,’ but the introduction of a proper SOP helped set the tone for many improvements that followed out in the field, he argues.
“We just introduced a more scientific way to solve problems,” he claims.
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