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As digital technologies gain a deeper foothold in our everyday lives, telco players are urged to restructure their business strategies and models to seize emerging opportunities and create value for more segments of customers. Operating with the core principle of a digital-first ecosystem, Zain KSA has been an early mover, reinventing its value creation model and adopting agile strategies, thereby swiftly responding to the changing customer behavior patterns. Sultan AlHadlag, Zain KSA’s business development and marketing executive general manager, discusses in an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, the company’s data-driven transformation into a one-stop-shop digital partner and business technology provider and its impact on empowering Saudi Arabia’s business environment and economic growth.

Zain KSA has grown into a pioneering provider of telecom and digital services in Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us how you managed to reach this status in such a short amount of time?

Zain KSA is a major player in Saudi Arabia’s ICT market of more than 35 million internet users (January 2022) and a strategic enabler of the Kingdom’s accelerated transformation into a regional digital hub. We are committed to our vision of becoming the leading telecom operator and provider of digital services in the Kingdom, by following a strategic approach that leverages our expertise and resources to develop with this expanding market.

To advance within this high-potential digital environment, Zain KSA has adopted a robust strategy built on a set of pillars and strengths to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming the digital provider of choice for our wide range of customers, from businesses and government agencies, all the way to the end users.

Capitalizing on our core infrastructure strengths, we have set out to build a future-forward network. Zain KSA currently operates through an award-winning 5G network with a broad geographic coverage (5,000+ towers covering 53 cities) and a broadening vertical expansion enabling numerous use cases across multiple fields. Our well-invested infrastructure base has enabled us to transition and expand into new business verticals and tap into innovative market segments. Through our deep-dive approach, we understand the pain points of our customers and design the solution to address their specific needs, hence providing our customers with built-to-fit solutions that fill in the white spots in their customer journeys.

What are your plans for developing Zain KSA’s business offerings over the coming period?

In line with Zain KSA’s ambitious business development strategy, we have outlined a roadmap that aims to stimulate economic growth by improving the profitability of all our products and services while increasing our footprint in the digital landscape, with a special emphasis on business solutions.

With the expanded scope of our operations in the government and enterprise sectors, we aim to position ourselves as the partner of choice and a one-stop shop for smart business solutions. Currently, we are focusing on enabling businesses through cloud services, automation, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence and have a rich portfolio, covering a diverse ecosystem of scalable services that offer differentiated customer experiences with well-designed bundles and packages.

Capitalizing on Zain KSA’s experienced human capital, trusted infrastructure, ecosystem of partners and innovative mindset, we have goals that go beyond telecom, as we tap into more adjacent markets, including smart city networks, financial services, professional services and use case development for different industries. We have even developed a specialized smart city strategy that tackles smart transport, smart utilities and IoT solutions in a variety of sectors such as smart logistics, smart security and other relevant use cases. We have already undertaken high-profile projects in this domain, providing consultancies for a variety of established government and enterprise entities where we have helped build the essential blueprints for early smart city development plans.

After recognizing the unlimited market potential, we have adapted our business offerings to be ready for a digital future in all domains, with a prime focus on data-driven urbanization, Industry 4.0 and next-gen solutions for future-proof businesses.

How does Zain KSA keep up with shifting customer needs in a highly competitive environment?

Our top priority at Zain KSA is to deliver a seamless customer experience by providing quality services that are diverse, relevant and future-proof in the sense that they address the evolving needs and rising expectations of our customers.

Instead of the traditional off-the-shelf approach, we utilize our strong customer analytics and data mining capabilities to gain insights and ultimately create bespoke solutions for the customer to address all of their immediate requirements. Simultaneously, we measure the impact on our customer’s business and on their end users in order to scale up our offering and bring about more customized solutions that will add more value to all stakeholders.

Our “Digital Default” approach, through the automation of our internal systems and business processes, enables us to dedicate all our capabilities to supporting our clients, providing them with immediate attention. We start by understanding our client's needs and move to co-building the service/solution together with them to ensure a 100% match to their requirements. Along the same line, we have been very careful to make customer interactions with us more convenient for all our valued customers.

We also ensure customer satisfaction through our system of customer support that simplifies communication via multiple channels, including our contact center, social media accounts with a live chatbot, WhatsApp, IVR and frequent customer surveys.
In terms of service delivery, Zain KSA is always on the lookout for the latest and best practices in the market, aiming to become the leading technology partner for the Kingdom’s business environment. We focus on anticipating and addressing customer needs with innovative technologies like private 5G and SDWAN use cases. We are also rolling out the region's first Integrated Digital Risk Protection Platform for cybersecurity support. This is in addition to hosting and managing a full suite of services that are completely hosted in the Zain KSA Cloud powered by Alibaba (fully compliant with regulations, highly certified, private and locally deployed), including managed WIFI, managed router and managed SIP. These state-of-art unified communication solutions enable enterprises to operate more efficiently and reduce cost with a much lower Total Cost Ownership than self-managed services.

How has Zain KSA’s business model evolved to accommodate the challenges that have accompanied the digital boom?

In response to the fast-tracked digitalization and shifting paradigms of the next-generation telco market, which has been accelerated by the new mindset induced by the pandemic, Zain KSA has moved early on to restructure its business model, focusing on vital factors that enhance our profitability and sustainability and maximize shareholder value.

We are gradually migrating to a CAPEX-light telco model that enables us to shift value from infrastructure ownership and maintenance toward technology-focused areas of the value chain. We have also implemented structural changes, such as network sharing by joining CITC’s Open Access initiative, where we are collaborating to find the optimal value proposition for this cooperation.

Meanwhile, we remain committed to our strategic pillar, which is enabling our customers through digital transformation and providing scalability and resilience to ensure their business continuity. Zain KSA is the first to champion the Effective ISP Model in the Kingdom to address challenges related to total cost ownership for our customers. We have developed this smart model by adapting an effective-rate approach with a minimum fixed subscription and managing a billing approach that is convenient for users.

These initiatives are part of our open-ecosystem roadmap, through which we aim to drive up our customer base and attract innovators across multiple fields, including financial services, industry, and digital innovation.   

What is your strategy to preserve your operations and ensure long-term success?

In order to provide our customers with world-class service and forward-thinking solutions, we adopted a long-term vision that resonates with our distinguished brand and culture and, at the same time, responds to changing consumer demand trends. Our human capital is a critical enabler of Zain KSA’s identity, and therefore, we carry out capacity-building projects in accordance with the national Human Capability Development Program. We also focus on talent localization, with a localization rate of 86% (at the end of 2021), and have launched a number of initiatives, including partnerships with universities and other training institutions.

We also attribute our success to our national role as a key enabler of the Kingdom’s digital transformation, promoting the growth of the Saudi ICT sector and fostering a better quality of life across Saudi Arabia by promoting digital inclusion, in line with Vision 2030’s goals.
Simultaneously, we focus on the continuous development of our resources and tools and are constantly on the lookout for the best partners and technologies, laying a solid foundation for future growth.

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