“The BSNL: The Real story of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited”

BSNL

” BSNL: A telecommunication organization where communication is RANDOM”

Introduction:

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was formed on October 1, 2000.
BSNL was born from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which was part of the Government of India’s Ministry of Communications. BSNL was created to take over the business of providing telecom services and network management from the DoT.

When BSNL was formed in 2000, it absorbed employees who were working in the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and were involved in providing telecom services. This absorption was part of the process of transferring the telecom operations from the DoT to BSNL.

When BSNL was formed, its management structure was established to oversee the operations of the company. The management of BSNL includes a Board of Directors, headed by a Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), who are responsible for the overall management and decision-making of the company. The Board of Directors is appointed by the Government of India.

When BSNL was formed, the management personnel were not directly absorbed from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Some officials from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) were placed on deputation to work in key management positions in BSNL during its initial formation. Deputation is a temporary assignment of an official from one organization to another, usually for a specific period or purpose. This could have been one of the mechanisms through which experienced personnel from the DoT contributed to the early management of BSNL.

Perspective:

First we must get a perspective here: Running a telecom company requires a combination of management personnel, infrastructure, and technology.

Let’s first talk about Management:

“Most of the BSNL management (ITS) is still on deputation basis from DoT even after 23 years of BSNL’s inception. This suggests a lack of vision either in the government or in the management regarding the future prospects of BSNL. The operation of the organization has been likened to a leaf flowing in the stream of a river, being splashed in every direction by the ebbs and flows of government policies over time, but without any concrete direction.

If there is no sense of purpose either at the government or management level, it appears there was never a solid objective to build and develop an organization that could contribute to nation-building and the greater good of the public. As a result, the structure of this institution is still not clear and visible enough for anyone to say, ‘this is what it should be.’

So, why blame the government or management? The mission and vision for an organization are typically developed by its leadership, including top executives such as the CEO, along with input from other key stakeholders such as board members, senior management, and sometimes employees. These statements are often created as part of the strategic planning process to articulate the organization’s purpose, values, and long-term goals, guiding decision-making, inspiring employees, and communicating the organization’s direction to stakeholders.

If an institution does not have a proper and standard structure, it is the first step towards its decline because to achieve any goal or objective, there must be a supporting structure.”

Personnel:

BSNL was created with much of the legacy of DOT, so it was inevitable that it would inherit the burden of employees along with other infrastructure. With around 350,000 workers, it was one of the largest employers in India at the time. Over time, the workforce reduced due to superannuation, but the BSNL management continued to recruit graduate engineers at the Level of Group B as Junior Telecom Officers and Junior Engineers at the level of Group C in large numbers.

However, there was no clear objective in terms of organizational structure. As the number of employees increased at the operational level, there was little career progression for these graduate engineers, with promotions being rare for more than 15 years in 95% of cases. This lack of progression is not desirable in an aspirational organization. Additionally, the management largely comprised DOT-recruited ITS officers, most of whom were still on deputation. Despite these challenges, when BSNL faced financial difficulties and began to decline, it still had around 160,000 employees.

Infrastructure:

There are many glorious stories about the reach of BSNL across India in terms of exchanges, length of optical fiber cable, and number of towers. However, the reality is that most of its infrastructure is obsolete. In general, most of the equipment has a technical life of 15 years, after which either the quality degrades or they become obsolete.

The infrastructure laid down by BSNL was mostly done during the period from 2002 to 2010, when it had a huge amount of cash reserves. However, the required standard operating procedures were missing because every work was being executed at the discretion of the operational Area Head. By and large, objectives were not commensurate with the aspirations of the organization, as required checks and balances were missing.

Another major blow to BSNL came from the state-led road development work in almost every nook and corner of the country, especially from 2016 onwards. Most of the optical fibers laid prior to 2016 were badly damaged, leading to optical losses and the shifting of underground cables to overhead cables, as the fund crunch had already started for capital-intensive work (new or rehabilitation work).

Simultaneously, batteries and power plants were losing their efficiency, and there were rarely any capital investments in these apparatuses and plants.

Technology:

The telecom technology is changing so rapidly that every 8 years interval, there is a need to upgrade every intermediate connecting point, whether it’s Switching Equipment, Transmission Equipment, Routing Equipment, Wireless Communication Equipment, Access Equipment, or Network Management Equipment. Mostly up to 2003-2004, BSNL was functioning in a monopolistic market, and private players were in a nascent stage to tackle the telecom needs of such a large country. Getting a new connection was a dream, so no one was talking about the quality of services.

However, as the competition grew, the subscriber base of this behemoth started to decline due to two reasons. First, the accessibility and availability of BSNL services were difficult as it was unable to serve the needs as per the requirements of customers. There were huge waiting periods, so potential customers started to look for alternatives which private players were able to capture. Second, the quality of service and response time was poor, and the availability of options made people switch to other private service providers.

This was the phase when BSNL went into a vicious cycle from where its recovery never seemed feasible. As private players strengthened their foothold and increased their capacity in terms of better equipment and better management of services, BSNL lacked the basic parameters that propel the quality of services. While private players were making necessary replacements in their equipment, whether it’s transmission or others, BSNL was/is running with old equipment, which are either obsolete or running at minimum capacity.

It is not that no efforts are made, but the actions or capital is commensurate with the need to cater to the needs of the populace. Still, as of today, BSNL is in deep water where many efforts are being made to revive and thrive, but it is a long process to rebuild an organization, especially with its old structure and less than required capital.

For example, there are a variety of problems that need to be addressed in one go, like the replacement of batteries and power plants simultaneously because both are required in good shape to function at any site as per industry standards. If either is having trouble, the other will be affected, and the whole system will collapse. In the same line, the alarm system is the one monitoring mechanism that is degrading the quality of services and other service parameters necessary for operational efficiency.

The private players have a very robust alarm system that even if a door is opened at any site, they would get an alarm, and the site technician gets a message about the suspicious activity on sites. But BSNL lacks all these capacities at the equipment level, so some faults are recognized only after two to three days.

Similarly, the backbone of any telecom service provider is its fiber cable. If it is in good condition and monitoring is robust, 90% of field problems are resolved. Private players are using armored optical fiber cables, and if they face any fault, their response time is very low, and in some cases, it is less than 2 hours. So what is the issue with BSNL, which has the largest optical fiber cable network across India? Most of the BSNL cables were laid prior to 2008.

Since optical fiber cables are laid along highways and roads, if any road widening or reconstruction activity is performed, it’s going to be damaged badly, especially in cases where the cable is unarmored and was laid when road infrastructure activity was not on such a large scale, as has happened in the last almost 10 years. As we are able to view, the deployment of technology, whether it is state-of-the-art equipment or armored cable, which helps to increase operational efficiency and reduces response time, is still missing in BSNL.

NOW let’s look on hindsight:

n the lifespan of any individual or organization, what seems most important is the timing of action. It’s the timely action that leads to the growth and survival of an entity, no matter the level and fierceness of competition. If any individual or organization does not maintain the timing of its action, it is sure to slip into a vicious cycle, where its existence will be in the hands of others.

BSNL, as an organization, never matured. There are hundreds of reasons like government policies, organizational structure, inertia in employees, technologies, processes, and so on.

But the most important factor is the accountability of management, which was missing in the last 23 years of BSNL’s life. Why such a blunt statement about management? In 100% of organizations, the vision and mission are forced from the top down. I don’t think there is any exception.

When this organization was carved out of the erstwhile DOT, two groups of employees were posted: one at the management level (Group A/ITS) and the other at the supervisory and manual level (SDE/JTO/TM, etc.). During the lifetime of BSNL’s existence, the recruitment was conducted for JTOs, whose eligibility criterion is “must be a graduate engineer,” meaning a holder of BE/B Tech. Fortunately, the same is the eligibility for appearing in UPSC through which selection for ITS is conducted. And for JEs, the eligibility is a diploma or degree in engineering.

When ITS officers are inducted through UPSC, with the same eligibility criterion but a higher level/difficulty of exam, and after undergoing intense training, they are honed with skills that help them make any organization a better place. Then why couldn’t BSNL, which recruited around 25,000 graduate engineers since its inception and who are doing every technical work which otherwise was being performed by ITS officers, under the management of these ITS officers, prepare these graduate engineers as their successors?

It may appear that since accountability on the governmental front was lacking, which resulted in a misalignment of the intentions of these individuals with the mission and vision of the organization. This can be better understood by considering the public choice theory.

If the management in the last 23 years could not groom these graduate engineers for higher responsibilities, could not design the organization structure as per the need of the time, and could not put in place the processes and checks and balances, whose fault is it?

If there had been a better organizational design, better processes, better technologies, better infrastructure, and a better infrastructure monitoring mechanism, would BSNL have been the same organization?

Recently, a national newspaper published an article about the salary burden of employees in BSNL. Had there been a ladder of promotion and rationality in recruitment, would BSNL still have been in the same condition?

Had there been the induction of technology when BSNL was sitting on the largest cash, would BSNL have been in the same condition?

During the last two years, BSNL acquired a good number of customers in the FTTH segment, but could not maintain and forge the right relationships, as it is unable to service the customers’ needs in terms of quality of service, which is the top priority of today’s customers.

Why so? Because BSNL lacks quality infrastructure and state-of-the-art technology, which are essential for fostering a genuine loyal customer relationship.

The organization has started an attendance system, which is good, but are processes aligned with the objectives of the organization?

Is the objective of the Individual Performance Management System (IPMS) in sync with the institutional goal, when 20 or so points are inserted in IPMS marking, while the Honorable Minister spoke about 5-6 points in IPMS? How can one judge the performance when there are so many parameters and none resonates with the state of infrastructure and technology available on the ground?

So if organizational design is missing, irrationality in recruitment is dominant, the infrastructure & technological gap is huge, working technology is obsolete, and no system supports alarm detection in a commensurate way to take quick action, are all these due to employees? If anyone thinks so, then one has to rethink their thinking process.

The ultimate perception is that the employees are the burden in this organization, but no one talks about the accountability and intent of management in the last 23 years. On one side, a narrative is going on that employee strength is sucking all the revenue, while management is still in the process of recruitment.

In the absence of vision and rampant discretion, BHARAT SANCHAR NIGAM LIMITED has become an institution without a skeleton, and the narrative is pushed in public that employees are the culprits, while fault lines are elsewhere.

While superficial knowledge and opinions about the institution may malign the image of employees, the ultimate loss of its failure would be absorbed by the people of this nation, where there is a resource crunch and every resource diversion has an opportunity cost.


Vodafone Idea is a shining example of this, where no one talks about its fall being due to employees. Why is that?

Conclusion:

A solid foundation in terms of organization design, infrastructure, state-of-the-art technology, care and nurture of employees, processes, and standards are required to build this organization as per the needs of New India.

A despondent employee cannot trigger a virtuous cycle; it’s only the management and government focus that can uplift and create the PSU, which may prove to be useful in the longer term. Otherwise, everyone has been watching BSNL for the last 23 years.

Words of Wisdom

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a famous quotation by Lord Acton, a British historian of the 19th century. It suggests that a person’s sense of morality weakens as their power increases, and if they have absolute power, their corruption is total.

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