Around 6 pm on June 21, 2016, Ambarish Gupta’s cloud telephony services company, Knowlarity, out of the blue stared at an existential crisis. A staggering 30,000 lines of its customers in Delhi were pulled down by telecom regulatory citing failure in regulatory compliance. Gupta stunned for a while could think of two options – fight the legal battle with the regulator till eternity even as the business crashes faster than stock market or go by the proverb – necessity is the mother of invention. A year later, Knowlarity stands hale and hearty that suggests Gupta chose latter.
When he realized that disconnect is much more than just a technical issue, the panic quickly set in at Knowlarity’s head office in Gurugram. And he knew that it won’t be fixed in a day’s time. “We had no idea about how soon regulatory body and telecom companies would be able to resolve the problem,” says Gupta.
But that’s the external war zone, internally he fortunately did have control over one thing – routing the calls from Delhi data centre to those in Mumbai and Chennai as the lines were unaffected. “The advantage of cloud telephony is that it’s possible to forward a line to a different data centre in another city without changing the number,” adds Gupta. To do so, he had to simply change the direct inward dialing (that allows a caller to connect directly to the person without getting routed via the board line number of an office). But this had to be done manually and swiftly for each of the 30,000 lines. “Our customers depended on us completely to support their sales and customer services,” claims Gupta.
No Way Out Now
Here's what was completely out of his control. Transferring each line required three minutes using a feature phone and for 30,000 lines, 90,000 minutes were needed. This meant, it required (90,000/60/24 = 62.5 days) more than two months to return to normalcy. Moreover, there weren’t that many people to do that. Clearly, Gupta had neither the time nor the capacity on his side. Thankfully, the misfortune struck Knowlarity in the evening when call volume goes down. The team worked overnight to transfer emergency services lines at least, like hospitals or those who had to run campaigns in the newspaper or television the next day. “By 7 am we managed to transfer all the emergency and priority numbers to data centres in other cities,” he recalls.
However, that was nothing compared to what Gupta was about to witness in next three days time. Unbelievably, Knowlarity was able to transfer all 30,000 lines in just three days. “That was nothing short of a miracle. The incident pushed our capabilities to think and innovate to the extreme.” One of the programmers at Knowlarity tried connecting multiple feature phones to the computer via universal serial bus (USB) and transferring multiple lines using firmware level driver. And it worked. As many as 20 lines could be transferred at one go that reduced the total time to three days. The customers too gave their hands into the situation but there were few who wanted services restored in less than three-day time. “We offered them a new number that they could publish on their websites without charging them extra. Many customers accepted that,” adds Gupta. The affected 30,000 lines belonged to 4,000 customers out of more than 15,000 customers Knowlarity has across Asia and the Middle East. The loss, however, was meager against what had he expected. “Two per cent of the affected customers left us and we lost less than one per cent of our revenues. But in particular we won.”
Knowlarity was able to gradually get back to business as usual with sales activity restored fully in less than two weeks time. The lines too were restored in few days due to government support. “The people in telecom authority were intelligent about what cloud telephony does. This helped us,” concludes Gupta.
(This article was first published in the June issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)