In a candid interaction with the DQ Channels, Arati Naik, COO and Director, Smartlink Network Systems Ltd. shares business strategies and growth plans of the domestic IT networking vendor in India and in the international markets.
How was the FY 2015 for Smartlink Network Systems in terms of revenue growth, market share and expansion?
Arati Naik: We follow March to April financial year, therefore, the financial year still continues for us. The last quarter was pretty good for Smartlink Network Systems in terms of business and reach. The most strategic step we took during 2015 was to restart local manufacturing under the “Make in India” initiative and that has really given us a major push specifically in the WLAN market. We also had a celebrity endorsement for our consumer line of products where we chose Sonakshi Sinha as a brand ambassador for DIGISOL. The celebrity endorsement helped us to create brand awareness among the consumers and It also helped us reach out to the new community that was not a part of our target audience at one point of time. We wanted the brand pull and we achieved that in metros and tier 2 cities. On the product front, some product lines did very well and some product lines witnessed de-growth. WLAN and switching market is growing, therefore, we had growth in those product lines. However, the router market is down and that is affecting all vendors in that space. Surveillance business has come up in a big way and we see a lot of prospects in the surveillance space. So, overall the year 2015 was pretty well for Smartlink
Which key trends majorly impacted the overall growth of the networking industry in India during the year 2015?
Arati Naik: When we talk about global internet connectivity, it is on a different level altogether. There is a lot of talk about iOT and Internet of everything. However, in India it has not yet picked up to that extend. There are still a lot more needs to happen to become those technologies everyday things. One good thing is that now there is a lot of the government push towards digitization and the growth of a networking market is a part of this push. Several state governments have rolled out various plans. 4G is coming up in a big way with Airtel and Reliance and such rollouts have given a push to the networking market. Vertical wise, education has picked up in a big way, followed by Government and PSU. However, this has been an organic growth and we expect it will take another 2-3 years at least to see exponential growth in the networking space. One more product line, we have to give a credit for the growth of networking is surveillance and getting into that field is going to be the next step for all the networking vendors. On the enterprise networking front, I would say that we have seen growth in wireless controllers and that is mainly because there is a lot of requirement of wireless hotspots. Thus, that market has picked up a lot. There is talk about SDN platform in high end enterprise networking segment , however it’s still in a testing phase.
You have been aggressively promoting “Make in India” initiative. What is your role as an Indian Networking vendor in this initiative?
Arati Naik: Government projects take a lot of time to complete. Secondly, as a networking device vendor, our role will mostly be on the hardware end and it will again depend upon the kind of project. Currently, there is a lot of talk happening but there is very less implementation on a ground level. These projects have been rolled out on a massive scale. Hence, there is an opportunity for everyone, but it depends on what devices and applications you are offering. While the City surveillance projects have been floated in a big way, many other projects are at tender phase and we expect that things will start picking up in next 1-2 years.
After entering into the tablet segment with DIGITAB brand of products in 2014, Smartlink suspended its tablet business within less than a year. What was the reason behind the decision?
Arati Naik: When we entered into the Tablet space in the year 2014, that time the entire market shift was towards tablet. It was actually a test market for us and we wanted to see if we can do well in this space. We wanted to bring a premium product which is as good as market leaders and try and see whether we can create a niche for ourselves. However, we realised that as far as tablet is concerned, people really don’t care about the brand but the specifications. Since everyone was giving that and, it was not a viable option for us to continue at that point of time. We had a one year test marketing period and we realised that it was not a right business to get into . Thus, we pulled out of the tablet business and shifted towards surveillance. We still have tablet as a part of our product portfolio but we don’t actively focus on it.
Considering the competition in the networking space, what innovations you have introduced into your existing product line which sets DIGISOL brand apart in the market?
Arati Naik: We are the only vendor who manufactures in India and we are very proud of it.When local manufacturing was a difficult option, our chairman started manufacturing in India when government support was meagre. Since we manufacture in India, we are able to customise our products as per Indian conditions and customers’ requirements. We are trying to Indianize the product so that the product is by India, for India. We focus more on the DIGISOL brand of products. One of the things that affect any device is power fluctuation and we have technology that protects the product from power fluctuations. Secondly, all our products are environmentally tested. We do 100% testing, which few brands do and therefore, our return rate is lowest among the networking vendors. We give lifetime warranty which nobody gives. We are also developing regional language Web GUI to focus on tier 3 and tier 4 cities where local language plays a vital role. All these efforts set us apart from the competition.
What are your marketing strategies to promote the brand in the domestic as well as international market? Does celebrity endorsement really impact product positioning and sales? How much growth you have seen in the sales of DIGISOL line of products after signing up actress Sonakshi Sinha as a brand ambassador?
Arati Naik: We want to first establish ourselves as an Indian brand and then scale on global level. If we can customise products for one country so well we can customise it for other countries as well. We have technology and infrastructure to do that and that makes DIGISOL different from other brands. Getting Sonakshi Sinha on board as a brand ambassador of DIGISOL is part of our marketing strategy which will ultimately help us in getting consumer exposure.We wanted to make it a pull brand from a push brand and therefore, we have made an in depth study before going for a celebrity endorsement. We wanted to make sure that our channel knows DIGISOL very well and they are confident to sell the brand. We have seen almost 100-150 percent growth in that segment after the massive marketing and promotion activities.
What are you focus area for the year 2016 in terms of channel growth and expansion? What are your business strategies to gain the leading position in the networking space?
Arati Naik: We are looking at 25-30 percent growth in the next financial year. Surveillance is the big thrust area for the next fiscal. PoE switching and Enterprise Wireless is another big market for us. Apart from that we will be looking at IOT based products and Smart devices. Networking will continue to be the focused area and surveillane the key growth one. We will also explore ourselves in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and African market and at the same time we will have our roots strong in India.