Flushed with success in its traditional Russian marketplace, Bercut is now looking West to further expand its range of services to European operators, as Priscilla Awde explains
From Russia with...well certainly interest. But also, what appears to be a different approach to solving the needs of telcos especially in getting multimedia products to market fast.
Bucking the trend, Russian software solutions developer, Bercut, is challenging the scepticism and prejudices which traditionally hamper Eastern European companies wanting to do business outside their domestic markets. Started in 1996 at a time when access to Russia was restricted, the company developed a range of solutions mainly for mobile operators and, importantly, largely without the help or influence of Western suppliers or their technologies.
Rather than a burden, building 'everything from nothing' meant that software developers were not hampered by tradition, and could take a new approach to some old problems. "We started from scratch, explains Roland Orlie, Director of Global Business Development at Bercut International. "We didn't follow American or Western ideas, so our products have features and technologies which are highly innovative but unconventional. Although our software runs on open platforms and interconnects to standard systems, our products operate unconventionally and take advantage of optimal solutions. We can configure and create solutions very fast and, because we didn't have to go through all the different stages, we have leapfrogged much of the GSM technology.
"Initially reactions from Western suppliers and telcos were adverse, but when we asked them to look at and test our products they were pleasantly surprised."
Apparently they liked what they saw. The company is expanding from its solid base with Russian operators and winning contracts both regionally and within sophisticated and developing telecoms markets around the world.
Having grown up in a Russian market that has evolved from numerous, highly localised, small mobile operators into a few national carriers, Bercut expects to turnover £30 million this year. Supporting its push to develop end-to-end solutions, the company has developed selective partnerships with companies in Western Europe a model it aims to expand along with marketing channels.
Orlie attributes Bercut's success to the fact that the software not only works well but saves operators money in the process by cutting roaming charges, increasing flexibility and making it faster and easier to communicate with customers.
"Mobile operators will only survive if useful applications and content are brought to consumers fast and easily," he notes. "There is huge competition for telcos especially as new services like VoIP are being offered by companies which aren't telecoms based. Packet data is easily delivered and will be cheap. Because of competition, mobile telcos are at the mercy of market demand consumers drive the show in the mobile world which is why it is so important to make it easy and convenient to get information to end users.
"The new growth is in mobile systems which can be upgraded very fast and flexibly. Although enterprises are not getting the answers they are looking for, this is only the start of a vast, explosive proliferation of devices and technologies. There is a constant evolution of services and applications nothing is fixed.
Bercut's strength, Orlie believes, lies in the fact that it is staffed by young, highly educated and motivated engineers who speak the same technical language as customers and who are more interested in bits and bytes than politics.
"Others stick to a standardised approach, but we are more dynamic and individual and therefore more flexible," he says. "Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen so that customers don't have to be squeezed into a mould. The business case determines buying decisions and our systems give a fast return on investment."
Innovation extends to payment methods developed for the low cost Russian economy. In a scaleable investment approach, telcos pay for what they use which reduces the cost of entry. Further, prices only increase with traffic volumes and subscriber numbers, so fees rise along with the growth in the business. Offering sophisticated, scaleable software systems at low cost is a model Orlie expects will work well in the world's developing countries in which mobile communications are growing fast, but where the economics leave little room for high up-front investment.
Grouped into three lines of business managed solutions, customer care and CRM, and intelligent multi-services products are based on a smart platform and offer all the advanced features common to modern telecoms systems. Implemented as stand-alone or in combination with third party systems, all products provide end-to-end management of customer applications and services in a secure and scalable environment. Easily configured, all systems are based on open standards and can therefore be quickly integrated into existing systems. Content providers can quickly write applications to run on a variety of transport systems.
Fundamental to the product range, the IN@family is a scalable, multi-services intelligent network which, as well as ready-to-use applications, includes customisation tools for bespoke development. Based on an open three-layer architecture and supporting OSA/Parlay specifications, the platform can be integrated with switching equipment from all the major vendors. The system supports fully featured VPNs including separate rates for different users on the network. Dynamic filters allow users to bar calls, create individual profiles and route calls as needed via SMS, USSD, the SIM menu or over the Internet.
The roaming platform analyses and processes signalling traffic between host and client operators in real time, providing end users with cost effective international connectivity. Using the USSD GSM transport protocol rather than SMS for mapping, allows operators to roam at the lowest costs possible and pass on savings to customers.
Based on a Java card in the mobile phone, menu based browsing makes it easy for operators to personalise services to individual users, sending them particular information as requested. One national Russian operator has successfully scaled up its browsing system from one to 13 million subscribers.
Pre- and post-paid customers are handled on the same service platform and the system supports real time billing for auxiliary services, including SMS, USSD and GPRS. Making life easy for telcos, Bercut's CRM product includes an out-of-the-box call centre and unified customer self-care system. Operators have all the tools required to offer customers a personal service and to support the rapid development and launch of new products.
Orlie is convinced that because Bercut systems have supported Russian operators as they evolved from small local companies and grown via consolidation into national carriers, they will work anywhere.
Taking a single minded, entrepreneurial approach, Bercut has streamlined its goals and focuses on making it easy for telcos to communicate with customers and introduce value added services fast, efficiently and cost effectively. The aim is to fix problems for customers and especially for the big, global operators which purchase centrally but which need flexible systems that can be easily adapted to meet local conditions.
"Innovation is the company culture," Orlie says. "We have short lines of communication with customers and provide individual solutions rather than standard off-the-shelf systems. We don't religiously stick to a standardised approach but are more dynamic, individual and therefore more flexible. Bercut is a very different company. Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen; to offer scalability and functionality at low cost."
Guided by its own 'can do' philosophy, Bercut is going West.
Priscilla Awde is a freelance communications writer