Power Wars

A decade back, UPSes were looked upon as
large unsightly system, usually kept under staircases or basements, emitting strange
buzzing noises all the while. Today, the technology is on the desktop. Slick look, compact
sizing, pre-installed user software, and microprocessor-driven hardware are the common
specs in the present-day UPSes. And, not only the technology has changed, other things
like user perceptions and market environment also seem to have undergone a sea change in
the last few years. While earlier, UPSes were seen more as electrical devices to be bought
and managed by the facilities department of corporate, today a UPS is seen more as a
peripheral (though still a neglected one) and the buyer (at least the corporate buyer) is
more aware of what to expect from the machine.

As for the market, it has been in a
constant state of flux ever since the economy opened up in the early nineties. While older
players like Tata Liebert and DB Power Electronics are finding ways and means to retain
their hold on the market, MNCs like American Power Conversion (APC) and CG Powerware (a JV
between Crompton Greaves and Exide Electronics) are trying hard to establish their brand
equity in the Indian market. And then, their are some like Tripplite who came with a bang
in the early nineties but tripped on the way.

The Market
In fact, the current market scenario can be guaranteed to set a veteran market analyst
scratching his head. Estimated at a modest Rs 450 crore, the UPS industry has over 300
large and small players. Not only is the market unorganized and fragmented, but there is
cut-throat competition as well. Consider this: the newly entered MNCs are vying against
national players, who in turn are battling with the regional players for their chunk of
the pie. And above all, there is the all-pervading and flourishing gray market with its
cheap and shoddy products. Says Biswajit Ghosal, Director, CG Powerware, “Of the
total UPS industry revenues, nearly 50 percent comes from the gray market. So the
competition becomes double edged-on one hand are the established players and on the other
the gray market players.”

Making matters worse is the absence of
standards, technology parameters, and business ethics. Each player is wooing the customer
with a predatroy prices, special replacement deals, customized products, and innovative
after sales support-resulting a marketplace where price-product wars,
distribution-networking tie-ups, and mergers/acquisitions are routine occurrences.

Current
& Projected Marketsize In The Product Segments (organized sector)
Product FY”97GrowthFY”98GrowthFY”99Growth2000
(Rs in
crore and growth in %)
Upto 6 KVA9022108.825137.328175.7
6-30KVA3520422251.22262.5
30-200KVA701681.21694.218111.2
Above 200514.65.7146.5147.4
Total20019.4237.721.2289.223.4356.8
Source: CG
Powerware

One would think that with all this, the
customer is finally getting what he deserves-choice, flexibility, and value for money.
Well, almost. While, from a technical point of view, competition is definitely spurring
companies to bring out quality products, the same cannot be said about marketing
practices. The complete lack of standards, coupled with the buyers ignorance about the
product, has led to a chaotic marketplace. A marketplace where malpracticing marketers are
having a field day, even spurring some of the established players to get down to dirty
marketing tricks.

Says Anand Ekbote, VP (Infotech Division),
Tata Liebert, “One of the biggest problem is of standards. There are no standards in
the country regarding the rating parameters, topology definitions, ideal backup time, or
optimal load.” Consequently, there are a plenty of instances where a customer ends up
buying, not what he actually wants, but what the seller wants to sell. Hence, a 3 KVA is
sold as a 4 KVA, an offline as a line interactive, and the customer is provided with a
distributed solution when he actually needs a centralized one or vice versa. The problem
is more intense in the under 5 KVA segment, and the reason is obvious. With over 200
players crowding this segment, competition is intense. Also, while most customers who go
in for high-end systems have technical consultants and generally are aware of their
requirements, the low-end buyer rarely knows his requirements. Starting from requirement
analysis till the implementation stage, he relies upon the vendor. Their are a host of
small and big players operating in under 5 KVA market-APC, Tata Liebert, CG Powerware,
Numeric Power Systems, Elnova, Aar-em Electronics, Kunhar Peripherals, Microsys, TVS
Electronics (TVSE), and Brain Control to name a few.

While APC is perceived as the undisputed
leader in the under 5 KVA market segment by most, their are also some who harbor antipathy
toward the UPS major. They claim that APC dealers are selling line interactive models as
online systems and that the UPS major is eating into the online segment even though the
company does not have any online models. Others question the technology itself. Says DV
Bhide, Chairman and MD of Pune-based DB Power Electronics, “The APC line interactive
is not a true parallel processing UPS as it does not control the output voltage or wave
form when on mains. We are bringing out a product which will take care of all this.”
Refuting all such allegations, Rishipal Sethi, Country General Manager (India and South
Asia) says, “We train all our resellers and all our manuals state the product specs
clearly. In none of the product brochures we have given specifications which do not comply
with the actual product. As for our product definitions, they are based on world
standards.” Another allegation against APC is that since the company caters to the
under 5 KVA products, it recommends customers to go in for distributed solutions. Sethi
has a different story to tell. According to him, “The perception in the market is
that centralized solutions are better. However, this is not true all the time. In terms of
procurement costs, a centralized UPS solution might cost less, however, the Total Cost of
Ownership (TCO) with a distributed solution would be much less and the cost of deployment
can be distributed.”

No one knows who is right and who is wrong.
But the fact is that there is a lot of misinformation prevailing when it comes to
topologies and other technicalities. UPS manufacturers are constantly trying to go
”one-up” in the competition by claiming a better technology. The truth is that each
technology has its own advantages, and each may be necessary for configuring
cost-effective power-protection, especially in complex networks.

Forecast:
The Industry In The Year 2000

  • The market will become more or less
    organized. Their will be a drop in the number of players operating-from over 300 to 60-70
    players.
  • Major MNCs like APC, Exide, Merlin Gerin,
    and Victron are already in the country. Two or three more players will try and enter the
    Indian market in the next few years, while a few will exit.
  • The industry will grow at a CAGR of 23
    percent.
  • A couple of MNCs will start their
    manufacturing plants in India. Exports too cannot be ruled out.
  • Taiwanese reverse engineering products will
    enter the market-it will be the last ditch attempt of the small players.
  • Import duties will be relaxed, reducing the
    number of gray market and unorganized units.
  • The main drivers will be IT and telecom as a
    result of which the 3-6 KVA rating market will see the maximum growth.
  • The power situation in the country will
    worsen-both in terms of generation as well as distribution.

Adding to the general confusion is the
buyer with his limited knowledge and low expectations from the product. UPSes have never
been ”very high involvement” products. Seldom is the actual user involved in choosing a
UPS. In fact, most of the time he is not even aware if he is using one at all. Says Sethi,
“Educating the customer has been our primary goal. Even our ads are about informing
the customer about the various topologies and technicalities of the product. In fact, our
biggest competition is no UPS at all.” Other than this, in India the expectations of
a buyer from a UPS are lot less than they are from other IT or electronic devices. This is
not very encouraging for quality-conscious buyers, who leave no stones unturned to bring
out a quality product.

However, most players agree, that this is
only a passing phase. The fact that more and more players are becoming quality conscious
as far as product specs are concerned is a good beginning. Second, the buyer is slowly and
gradually becoming more informed and seems to be developing a questioning attitude. Also,
a drop in import duty is anticipated, which would definitely go a long way in reducing the
number of gray-market operators and small unorganized units. Also, it is generally
believed that with most MNCs already in the arena, it is only a matter of time before the
market consolidate.

The Players: Wooing The Market
Though there are no common rules or business standards governing the industry, what is
common amongst all the players is that none of them is in a hurry to leave the field,
without a proper fight. What has given the market this competitive edge is the entry of
MNCs and with them-the brands, new technology, and marketing strategies. The once
indigenous market is witnessing competition at every level. And it is clear that only the
fittest will survive.

Market
Segmentation

Their are three main parameters to be
considered while segmenting the UPS industry-KVA ratings, technology, and end-user
industry.

KVA Ratings: When seen in
terms of KVA ratings, their are three main categories: under 6 KVA market, 6-40 KVA
market, and above 40 KVA market. Of these, the under 6 KVA market is the most price
sensitive, price elastic, and crowded of all the segments. A low-value, high-volumes
market, it commands 36 percent of the total UPS market in terms of value and 80 percent in
terms of volumes. Mainly catering to the IT and telecom applications market, this segment
consists of MNCs, national players, regional companies-and a hyperactive gray market.
While organized under 6 KVA market is roughly valued at Rs 90 crore, an equal value is
attributed to the unorganized sector.

The 6-40 KVA market primarily serves the
medical and telecom industries, and consists of MNCs and national players. UPSes sold in
this market have large backup times, advanced software features, and modularity. As for
marketshare, it is valued at around Rs 50 crore of the total UPS market in the country.
The above 40 KVA or the high-end UPS market primarily caters to enterprise-wide computing,
critical process industry, control and instrumentation etc. All the systems here are
online systems, requiring high backup time. Valued at Rs 60 crore, only a few national
companies operate in this segment.

Topologies: Three basic
topologies govern the UPS market-offline or standbys, line interactive, and online
technology. Standbys, ideal for small, less-critical standalone applications like PCs and
peripherals, kick off as soon as power supply is down or deranged. Line interactive
provides highly effective power conditioning plus UPS backup and are particularly
applicable in areas where power outages are rare but fluctuations are frequent. The online
alternative provides the highest levels of network power protection, conditioning, and UPS
backup.

According to a detailed market study
carried out by Frost and Sullivan, in 1996, the online UPS segment contributed to 60.8
percent of the total UPS industry revenues, with offline and line interactive segments
contributing 27.1 percent and 12.1 percent respectively. However, the study estimates that
in the year 2002, the Indian UPS industry would exhibit growth trends comparable to the
West and offline segment would see the highest growth. In the year 2002, the Indian
online, offline, and line interactive segments are forecasted to contribute 13.4 percent,
61 percent, and 25.7 percent respectively.

End-user Industry: With
regard to applications, the UPS industry caters to two main categories-mainline IT and
microprocessor-based equipment. As per marketshare, 70 percent of the revenues come from
mainline IT while about 30 percent come from microprocessor-based equipment. As per
industry segmentation, the main end-user industries implementing UPSes are computer and
dataprocessing, critical-process industry, control and instrumentation, telecom, and
medical. Amongst these, IT and telecom industries are the largest users; contributing
nearly 75 percent in terms of value, and 92 percent in terms of volume sales. This is in
tandem with the worldwide scenario, where 84 percent of the revenues are contributed by IT
and telecom.

And the spirit is definitely there, not
only to survive but to become the best. Says Ghosal, “We want to become India”s # 1
company. So, we”d better do things right. I will not trod the much-trodden path of the
leaders. If I do that I will never become a leader.” The company entered at the worst
time of the decade, but in barely one year it has grown to over Rs 9 crore. For its
strategic planning, it has adopted the scenario building and analysis tool which requires
the company to go in for extensive event analysis. Clearly, CG believes in understanding
the market before stepping in.

Adds Ghosal, “No man is an island. He
is part of an organization…an industry…and finally an economy. The economy of a
country is driven by the political and international trends. And that is why looking at
the future is so important, because that is where you are going to live.” According
to the company, its biggest USP is the Exide brand name and the fact that it can provide
end-to-end solution-from 250 VA rating to in above 5000 KVA.

Most players are of the opinion that
understanding the Indian market and power conditions is necessary if one wants to succeed.
While the Indian players like Pune-based Microsys and Mumbai-based Kunhar Peripherals feel
that they have a better understanding of the market than the MNCs, the foreign players are
going in for product innovations and tie-ups with indigenous ones. Says V Anantharaman,
President, Indmark Infocom Ltd, TVSE, “We understand the Indian power conditions and
the Indian market itself, through our experience in manufacturing and marketing of our
products since last 10 years.” The company has made changes in the product so as to
make it compatible with low voltage, variable frequencies, operational generators etc. For
instance, to suit the Indian conditions, the company has made changes in the Victron
product. Earlier, the product had just one indicator and a switch. But the company felt
that Indians are not used to this concept. So, it made changes and added six indicators
and two switches.

When it comes to understanding the market,
Tata Liebert, country”s largest UPS company, seems to know the market better than most.
The company has gone in for extensive product innovations to suit the Indian environment.
To begin with, all the critical components like the PCB, battery, and software are
produced in-house. Further, the company has installed extensive test equipment like
transient generators, spectrum analyzer, oscilloscopes etc. Says Ekbote, “The Indian
vendors do not have technical expertise while the MNCs lack market knowledge. Tata Liebert
is a JV between the Tata Group and Liebert Corp. We not only have technical know-how but
ample knowledge of the Indian market. And I guess that is the main reason for our
success.”

Bhide does not agree with the view that
only MNCs can bring out quality products. He says, “While in terms of glossy
packaging and brand equity, MNCs have an upper hand; in terms of features, we are at par
with them. In fact, we can compete with MNCs when it comes to prices and technology. It is
only the brand image that we cannot compete against.” An ISO 9001 company, DB”s main
thrust is customization and after-sales support. The company was the first in the country
to develop 40 KVA transistorized CVCF, way back in 1982. However, many feel that in spite
of being in the market since 1973, the company has not been able to establish a strong
brand image. Defends Bhide, “Till now, we were focusing on customization rather than
pushing any single product line. Recently, we developed 5 KVA UPSes for NPCL which could
withstand seismic tests. While value-wise the order was not very high, it was a
challenging project in terms of technical expertise. However, now we are planning to bring
out low-end fast-moving, price-competitive products.” Similar is the case with
Pune-based Microsys which plans to broaden its product range to suit the market
needs-fancy packaging, software, and hardware connectivity. Not only are companies revving
up to face foreign competition, some have also achieved considerable success. With 2,500
installations all over the country, Enertech Electronics has achieved the distinction of
being the only UPS manufacturer in the country to have become a supplier to the Government
of Hong Kong. Says GKK Singh, Director, Enertech, “Considering that Hong Kong is a
very sophisticated market, with many options available to it, this is quite an achievement
for an Indian company.”

Other than the product specs, what
distinguishes one product from another is the value-add provided by the company. For
instance, Numeric provides a Mac interface to computers and an auto save software along
with its UPSes: Kunhar has Powercom-trained engineers spread through out the country;
Brain Control gives customers tailor-made designs; and APC offers a two-year warranty with
all its products. Says Sunil Jose, Marcomm Manager (India and South Asia), APC, “We
do not sell mere `battery on wheels”, all our products have built-in software and are
technically up to the mark. In fact, the failure rate of our products is as low as 2
percent.” Instead of after sales, APC has a stock replacement policy for its
malfunctioning products. However, most feel that such policies do not have a future in
India. Says Ranjit Mohite of Pune-based Aar-em Electronics, “Sheer logistics do not
allow such a policy to work out in the long run. APC has a lot of financial muscle and it
is flaunting it right now, but for how long can it continue is something left to be
seen.” However, APC”s Sethi says that the company is very clear about where it is
heading. “We have been operating since last three years. And we have been successful.
So, we must have done something right.”

Most of the players feel that ultimately
what determines the actual standing of the product in the market is the
dealer-distribution channel. Says R Chellappan, MD of Numeric Power Systems, “The
call response time and service are vital to the business.” Most players are following
the traditional channel strategy when it comes to distribution. While, TVSE has 100
dealers and 5000 resellers in the country; APC has appointed six national distributors and
has OEM tie-ups with companies like HCL. Following an altogether different policy is CG
Powerware. “We are developing our own channels and have not appointed any national
distributors, as we do not want to be at the mercy of others,” says Ghosal. The
company is also encashing on Exide”s worldwide OEM tie-ups with Digital, HCL HP, Motorola,
ECIL, IBM etc. This is a major advantage for companies which have JV with an MNC.

However, not many of the national players
seem to be worried about the MNC connections. Says Chellappan, "They cannot score
over us because of the services we offer, with service locations spread across the
country." Each national player has his own view. Says Bhide of DB,
"Two-and-a-half years back, Siemens came, but we are still there. Clearly, we have
created a space for ourselves. And anyway, who ever matters is already there, so now it”ll
be a stable ride." Reiterates Mohite, "I am not affected by MNCs. Prices have
crashed. And from here on, it”s just a volumes game." All the players agree that
price seems to be the bottomline when it comes to attracting the customer, especially the
low-end individual buyer. While the high-end market is not so price sensitive, the under 5
KVA market is fully price-driven. "I have tried all the tricks in the trade. The
bottomline is price," says Mohite.

The battle has begun. Each player is trying
to match the other-in terms of product, price, advertising, marketing, and what not. Says
Mohite, "Our latest product-Champion UPS 425-will give APC a run for its money."
Till the battle ends, no one knows who are the winners, losers, or for that matter, the
survivors. However, what is clear is that in the coming years, the number of players will
come down significantly-while some will take up the role of distributors others just might
be forced to close shop and look elsewhere. The indications are already there. Datapro
Infoworld, which was earlier selling its own brand of UPSes, is an APC dealer today. Says
KR Venkatraman, Sr GM, Datapro, "Distribution is our strength and we wanted to work
with a company committed to customer satisfaction. We went in for APC as it is one of the
strongest brands today."

What is also clear is that the winners will
be winners in the true sense of the word. With the anticipated growth of the IT and
telecom industry, the UPS industry is considered one of the sunrise areas of the future.
At present, the PC versus UPS ratio is just 5 percent, however, this percentage is going
up with each passing year. And whoever can establish himself in the business definitely
has a brilliant future.

HIMANI SEMWAL
in Mumbai and Pune,
with reports from AKILA S in Chennai.

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