ARN: Your conference here focused strongly on the topic of customer relationship management (CRM). Apart from sending a message to your partners and customers about its importance in the contemporary marketplace, was this an indication of your intention to involve yourselves more actively in this space - perhaps through your partnership with Siebel?
Giry-Deloison: There was a dual message there. One of them was a pretty straightforward message to our resellers, distributors and business partners, which is that customer relationship management is important.
There is another message which was hidden behind that - and which I hope wasn't hidden too far away - that if we claim that CRM is important for our customers, we believe it's important for ourselves.
It was therefore important for us to have two of our suppliers on stage saying why that was important - Andersen is our consultant for business re-engineering and Siebel is providing us with CRM applications - and show that we are doing what we're advocating ourselves. Now, what we are doing is going beyond the bits and bites of wires of connectivity, the basics of networking, to provide the inter-functioning, the inter-working of the applications such as that of CRM. These are typically the call centres, which in turn have to rely on a communication network. So, we're talking different layers, different strata which pile on top of the other of which users are largely unaware and that is the objective. Now, the applications are there to interface with the people and our job is to build networks only with communication means that allow people to take advantage of their applications.
Our job is to be the facilitator of applications that are there to allow companies to focus on their customers, rather than on its internal organisation.
But we are not in the business of telling people how to run their business. Where we come into the picture is simply in providing the environment to make it happen from a voice and data point of view.
Alcatel just announced its new
business partnership program.
Can you tell us a bit more about
the way this program will be
Créau: We have designed a business package based on solutions that are linked to different types of applications or pre-designed packages organised according to vertical segments. The idea is not really to customise these packages on a country-by-country basis, although if we see the need to localise them, we will consider it. Our global approach was designed in a way that makes special packages suited to special customer groups to ensure maximum market coverage.
We will therefore be expanding our retail partnerships, working on certification processes and on the development of call centre activities and partnering with application development companies to allow new solutions to be developed using our technology. At the same time, our partners will be able to customise those solutions according to their customers' needs.
It is quite interesting that you'll be using a unified approach as part of your renewed global market push, considering that such an approach hasn't worked as well in terms of getting you the same level of market recognition as your competitors outside of Europe so far. In light of that, how are you going to drive your market penetration, especially in a region as competitive and specific in its market behaviour as North America or in a market as culturally specific as Asia-Pacific?
Giry-Deloison: Our channel to market strategy in North America is going to be based on the indirect distribution-direct touch [model]. This is coming back to the partnership concept. The idea is to partner with a certain number of key partners of the nature of IBM Global Services and other big players who have the customer access in that market today. There is also the direct approach, however, which is needed because we are focusing on larger corporations such as Computer Associates who asked us to address their requirements in North America.
Those will allow us to penetrate the North American market, provided we do the right job in creating a specific market space in the converging voice and data field within a market that is not very competitive because of the existing duopoly on the voice and a monopoly on the data side.
Créau: I would say that Australia is not a typical Asian market in the way it is structured. It is actually very close to the European and US markets in its maturity, in the way the business is done. It's a market characterised by very advanced types of activities, which may not be the case in other Asian countries - perhaps in certain Asian countries, but not in the region as a whole. This is why we decided to implement our facility management centre for the rest of Asia-Pacific in Australia, for example.
But, at the same time, you've moved your headquarters for Asia-Pacific to ChinaCréau: Asia-Pacific is geographically huge - it takes something like 11 hours to get from Shanghai to Sydney. They are as far from each other as Paris is from LA. So, as far as the enterprise arm of Alcatel is concerned, we have certain centres of activities and China is one of them. We have a lot of customers in Shanghai. We also have activities in Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as operations in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, simply because Asia is too big a market too cover from one centre and we need to be close to our customers to satisfy their needs. Asia is an important market for us, we have a strong presence in Australia and, perhaps surprisingly, in the Philippines too, so now we are working on increasing our presence elsewhere in the area.
In Australia, as in North America, you have mainly been known for your telephony expertise in theconsumer market, but you have yet to convince the market that youhave the necessary expertise to be considered a serious contender for a top position in the converging voice and data enterprise space. How do you plan to achieve that?
Créau: The most important thing these days is to convince the early users that we have the best platform, the best solution on the market, but we don't believe in doing that through advertising, but through establishing a good reputation in the field, although different types of solutions will definitely require different types of approaches.
Of course, our partners will play an important role in achieving this recognition.
We have to be very pragmatic about this - our partners will be offering the best solutions for different markets with our full support. That includes, for example, a software partnership program that will allow the development of third party applications on our platform, as well as distribution and certification partnerships that we announced.
This is a new market that requires a lot of investment on our partners' behalf and if they are not willing to make that investment it will be very difficult for them to find their place there.
We will support them both through training programs and through approaching our customer base directly through seminars and conferences, for instance, to raise the awareness (of the new technology). The bottom line is that we believe that the best way to do this is to show dedication to our business partners and our customers in helping them leverage their business by using our technology - and the main benefit of using our technology is that it allows them to achieve better control of their customer base and reduce the cost of its management.
That is very important, considering that customer expectations are changing rapidly due to the introduction of new channels such as the Internet.
At this point in time, what is the key message that you want to send to your customers and partners both globally and in Australia?
Giry-Deloison: The key message is that data/voice convergence is happening now and it is something that can provide enormous business value. The trigger is the Internet, but the issue is not technological, it's a capability issue that will determine whether they'll stay in business or not. It's very simple.
Créau: There are a lot of converging factors in the enterprise area, like voice and data, fax and mobile and the Web, so it is very important for us to keep on the leading edge of things and see how things develop. Australia is the key market for us and we intend to develop the latest and most advanced solutions through our R&D centre there, as well as help our partners to successfully set up for new business paradigms to come.