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Mobile meccano

From the primary source: Igor Starkov, WINGS - "our solution resembles “LEGO breaks” where each content provider is free to design whatever he needs"

05.06.2006, MForum.ru

The market of platform solutions for the business of content and service- providers is rather large already. There are companies with the long experience in developing solutions for mobile operators, VAS-services providing on the market as well as companies offering their specialized solutions for mobile content market and having a good potential. Today we are meeting with WINGS Software House Company, working successfully on the market of solutions for mobile content providers. The correspondent of MForum.ru interviews Igor Starkov, the deputy CEO of WINGS company.

Igor, in one of the articles (No bad luck with VAS! Specifics of world SMS-commerce, author: Rodion Nasakin. Published in “Computerra” magazine ¹40 dated to November 3, 2005) “Computerra” magazine says WINGS Communication Server platform is one of the most popular solutions for content- providers. How did you come to this? The solutions like this are rarely created “for a rainy day” or “just so”? What was your previous occupation?

- Our company is the part of WINGS holding. Initially we were dealing with custom software development. In 2003 for example, we were developing a large project- the anti- hijack GSM/GPS system with satellite navigation and communication with “dispatching center” via SMS and CSD. The system is still used. On its basis we started to develop both vertical and horizontal solutions for content and service providers. This much about the platform itself. In other words, WINGS Communication Server platform was developed earlier that the solutions for content- providers. It is due to its flexibility that we can customize it for various purposes.

- As far as I understand, you are not limited by offering the platform to the future independent content providers, aren’t you? There are also other services you are offering to the market, right?

- Of course! We have a wide range of offers. If a company is not ready for the role of an independent player, we can offer them service- providing and aggregation. Since our company has the set of all necessary connections to the operators and the relevant licenses, we can also offer to the companies to rent our platform (or to rent a space on our server) etc.

To all the companies that have their own resources for entering the market – we can offer not only our platform, its integration with internal and external information systems but also the assistance in business arrangement. In the course of time our company gained a rich experience in this, since we were and are carrying out deployments in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Mexico. The geography will soon be broadened by Kazakhstan, Georgia and Tajikistan.

Consulting is one of the priorities in our business. Over the time we have realized that we are already consulting our clients, especially the new content- providers, since they have often got the lack of knowledge and experience in that sphere. We can see the clients are interested in consulting. Within the framework of that direction we are consulting on the choice of mobile services, taking into account their demand and technical feasibility, we give our recommendations on the service “mechanics”, we help to find the content suppliers and analyze the opportunities of integration with external and internal information systems, we prepare the detailed project analysis from the starting point to the readiness for technical implementation, we offer technical solutions and implementation and implement them on the platform. I should point out the possibility to cooperate with the clients in services approval with the mobile operators.

- It’s a long list. I wonder what is, in your opinion, the list of priorities to be borne in mind when the clients are making up a decision to purchase a solution.

- A number of factors are obviously influencing the decision-making. The situation cannot be simplified to “if….then”. I should say that a keen client should thing of the problems he might face after the purchase.

- Do you mean the support problems? But many, if not all the suppliers are providing the after-sale support.

- Not only the after-sale support. The very support you have mentioned very often turns in practice into a real burden for the client! Sometimes a client can run the acquired platform only in case of regular “maintenance” fees to the supplier. As a result, the client gets a new item of expenses and often, an obstruction for the business development, because of the uninterested supplier and the lack of supplier’s desire to customize the solution to the present- day needs of the client.

- Yes, it is a well-known problem, but very often it is the peculiarity of the complicated technical solutions. What the client gets is a “black box” with a user-friendly interface but with no right “to poke” in the box, since the supplier thinks the client can only spoil everything if he intrudes. It is really true for some cases, but very often it causes daily problems in operation, especially if it is necessary to introduce new services and conform to the market demand. Did you mean this?

- Yes, exactly. I would like to outline the scope of typical problems for a content-provider:

1. Impossibility to launch a new service on the existing platform (there can be various causes for that, for example everything should be done in a dramatically different way, or the developer is not interested in the customization, or sometimes, interestingly enough, the customization is more expensive that the standard platform itself).

2. The problem of timing, or as we call it, - WTM “Wait for Two Months”. The problem mostly occurs when the supplier is overloaded or not interested in providing customization services.

3. There is another way- to develop and customize by yourself, but it often proved to be very labor- consuming (you should start from the scratches) and/or these works can threat the functionality of other services on the platform.

Thus, having enlisted all the typical problems, I can definitely say that there is a low probability for our client to face the above-mentioned problems. And I am ready to prove why it is so!

- Yes, please.

- First of all, the main difference of our solutions from others is the flexibility and scalability. Moreover, if compared with what our competitors offer, our solution does give the client a freedom of action. Suppose, a client has a need to integrate SMS-voting or the dating service with an IVR based service -  the opportunities of the platform will enable to integrate it with other systems. In a similar way, if the demand for a service and the number of customers are increasing, there are no problems- our solution is easily scalable and it requires no involvement of the supplier (our company).

- Don’t other suppliers have this opportunity?

- It depends, but “monolithic’ solutions are prevailing on the market today. In the solutions like that one or a couple of features are superbly designed. (By the way, even the "monolithic solutions" are always better that the ones that area designed individually and in haste; you can still see the content- providers trying to create a platform of their own from the scratch.) The “monolithic” solutions, however, have a serious drawback- whenever it is necessary to deploy a new service, it turns out to be impossible- either the solution is not ready for that, or the programmers of supplier are occupied, or they are not interested in customizing the standard solution for one client. Meanwhile, the market is changing dramatically; it sets increased requirements to the possibilities of content providers to respond timely to the changes. As a result all the companies choosing a solution like ours can benefit a lot by providing the customer a flexibility and possibility to add services.

Our main approach is in providing a “LEGO breaks” for the client. One can easily configure the necessary shape and not stick to us, the suppliers in the future. It is enough to have one system administrator for platform management and re-configuration at the initial stage.

It is important to note, that since we are service- providers today, we can talk to the clients using one common language. That’s our positive difference from some competitors that are either focused on the solutions for operators and are not well oriented on mobile content solutions market, or are pure technicians.

- You were also speaking of the possibility to launch the new services without any functionality threat for the old ones.

- Yes, but before that, I would like to emphasize the reliability of WINGS Communication Server in general, as a result of consecutive system development. The consequence of this approach is the possibility to launch the new services without any functionality threat for the old ones. It is a very important parameter for content- providers today, since it has already become a tradition to blame them for low quality of the services.

The reasons for the fact that our solution has higher that average market reliability are motivated historically. Since the first deployments of our platform took place in telematics where the reliability requirements are very high (telematics – is the area of solutions for alarm, security, system for transport, it operates in the “aggressive’ external environment), it was developed with the consideration of all the possible protections, multi-level alarms, conflict escalation systems and resources reservation. Its main different from the competitors’ solutions is the ultimately higher reliability level. In our system an SMS cannot be lost under any circumstances. Even of the power sully of the server is switched off and then turned on, the processing of the queue will start from the very point of interruption.

The logic of system construction is standing apart from the operators systems; it gives the content- provider an opportunity of quick start. Even during the long-lasting process of connection with the operator (the process can even last for months) there is an opportunity to launch the system and test it on GSM-modem, for example. When creating the core of the solution we were trying no focus not on the content providers, but rather on such systems as ERP and CRM. This approach was fully justified in many areas, for example in mobile banking.

- Personalization, SMS-voting, SMS-chat and mobile banking. What else can your platform be used for?

Like any ”meccano”, it can be used for multiple applications. It is remarkably used for the implementation of mobile marketing projects. Unlike any other market sector, the mobile marketing sector needs ultimate flexibility of the solutions; the logics of platform operation vary from project to project. Our solution with its customizable logics is fully conforming to the requirements of the companies working in this area. The vivid evidence for that is our positive cooperation with the market leaders.

Additional areas of application: aggregation (of connections, content, logics), various integrated projects, including the ones with J2ME-catalog application, “pre-paid” etc.

We can now observe a stable trend – many, if not all the content providers want to “detour” the operator, i.e. to charge the subscribers directly and not via operators (the operators are stimulating this process by their current tariff policies). Our platform enables to facilitate the integration with different payment systems, it supports the issue and distribution of the own pre-paid cards for mobile content ( the cards can, for example, be activated on the WAP-site or in Java-catalog).

In general I would say our solution is optimal for all types of the innovative services.

- Taking into consideration all the opportunities of the system, can you say who is the potential customer?

The new market players, the existing market players, who realize the time has come to stop using the in-house developed or “monolithic” platforms and use more flexible solutions. Of course our target customers are the companies who want to enter the market with innovative, the so-called “niche” products: the regional content- providers, Mass media (TV and radio), BTL-agencies.

We do expect the business sector to become interested in non-voice mobile technologies soon; and we are ready for that.

© MForum.ru, Igro Starkov was interviewed by Alexei Boyko