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As a digital-first telco, du aims to deliver on its ambitions to become a more innovative, purpose-driven, customer-centric, performance-focused organization with excellent customer service. CEO Fahad Al Hassawi discussed how they will continue building on recent progress and deliver even greater value moving forward.

As head of one of the leading operators in the region for almost two years now, what have been the key changes you have observed, and how will the company continue its transformation journey in 2023 and beyond?

The challenges of the past two years have underscored the essential services that du and our industry provide. Thanks to our team’s dedication and our investment in connectivity, our network performance has been exceptional, even with significant growth in demand and shifting consumption patterns. Our responses to changes caused by the pandemic have showcased the strength of our networks and the resilience of our talented team members as they navigated unprecedented challenges and continued to provide outstanding communications services to our customers.

du opened a new headquarters (HQ) in Dubai Hills to accommodate rapid growth and accelerate its transformation journey to a digital telco. The new space supports the company’s growth strategy as part of its ongoing transformation agenda through four key elements: design, culture, productivity and employee well-being. As part of its strategic growth initiative, the purpose-built HQ is designed to inspire innovation, collaboration and efficiency in a future-proof, sustainable environment. du has a strong culture of employees from diverse backgrounds working towards a shared vision, taking pride in what they do and sharing their successes collectively.

As a digital-first telco, du is increasing investment to dramatically improve coverage, reliability and speed by leveraging technologies such as 5G. In terms of Industry 4.0, du is accelerating Industrial IoT (IIoT) adoption for manufacturing and other industries in the UAE to drive the digital transformation of production facilities and operations. du aims to deliver on its ambitions to become a more innovative, purpose-driven, customer-centric and performance-focused organization with excellent customer service. As part of our ongoing transformation agenda, we are expanding staffing and capabilities in multiple departments, as well as increasing the telco’s ability to service current and future markets.

In addition, du has undertaken its largest digital transformation project to date to maximize its business and operational capabilities. The project supports the launch of new services that utilize new technologies, facilitate a world-class experience, improve reliability and empower stable systems and platforms. It is an initial step in one of the important transformations at du in line with its aim to become the best digital telco in the world and contribute to the UAE leadership’s transformation agenda.

du’s largest digital transformation project further accelerates its journey to a digital telco and supports the company’s growth strategy as part of its ongoing transformation agenda. Complementing du’s strategic growth initiative, the project will enable the telco to improve its time to market, customer experience and engagement, as well as avoid customer and service interruptions. As a result, du will be able to offer customers a wide range of differentiating services that will add value to their lives and redefine customer service in the country.

As du continues its transformation to exceed customer expectations, our partners and team members have played a significant role in the success of our journey to becoming a fully integrated, customer service-oriented company that leverages technology to provide the highest quality services for customers.

du prides itself on having a positive impact on the community. How will the digital telco continue to deliver its CSR initiatives in the new year ahead?

du has a longstanding commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to grow the positive impact we have as a business, especially in areas where we are uniquely positioned to make a lasting difference. As industry leaders, we utilize our resources to pursue the possibilities and potential that accompany the new digital era and facilitate sustained development. Ensuring technology is seamless, accessible and democratized for every UAE community aligns with the UAE National Agenda, and we are committed to making an invaluable contribution to transformation and sustainability.

du is also engaged in strategic collaboration that will ensure support for humanitarian and charitable initiatives in and outside the UAE. These partnerships allow us to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of people who need it when they need it the most. In addition, du regularly participates in volunteering initiatives to support the elderly, the younger generation and people of determined groups. In one of du’s activities on this matter, du partnered with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to spread awareness of online risks for children to ensure their safety. We have launched several initiatives in the field of online safety education with the objective of ensuring a safer internet for the UAE community. These initiatives include school-focused digital well-being sessions with Injaz UAE and EdComs Middle East. du will continue its contribution to providing solutions and spreading awareness to protect the young generation.

We support a green future through our environmental sustainability efforts aimed at helping to protect the planet. With regard to sustainability, du has initiated steps to remove and fuel generator-powered mobile sites and link them directly to the electrical grid. In the near future, the company will also look into large-scale solar installation to speed up its move to clean, sustainable energy sources. We have put in place a comprehensive sustainability strategy that aims to guide us towards achieving our vision to add life to life. These will help us deliver the benefits of ICT to everyone, make our people happier and most importantly, operate ethically and responsibly.

As part of our efforts to support the UAE’s business sector, du is committed to empowering entrepreneurs and paving the way for SMEs to contribute to bolstering the national economy. Our innovative new space at the new HQ in Dubai Hills has enabled du to align with the UAE leadership's directives to provide a conducive environment that supports business for SMEs.

Honored as the "Best Middle Eastern 5G Innovation Operator" at the 2022 Telecom Review Excellence Awards, how will du continue to innovate and provide customers with the best possible experience?

Exploring and harnessing the latest technologies to drive innovation, accelerate digital transformation and deliver a digitally inclusive future through customer and society-centric benefits is among our top priorities at du. As a digital-first telco, du is increasing investment to dramatically improve coverage, reliability and speed.

du is committed to creating growth and opportunities for the UAE and enabling customers to fulfill their business needs by leveraging technology and our 5G network and succeeding in the new digital world. By leveraging our 5G capabilities, we are designing and innovating use cases that take advantage of this technology to transform client organizations. We have investments allocated to develop the 5G network, enhance performance and efficiency, and ensure customers avail the very best communication services. We are also focusing on forging alliances with global and local partners to deliver economic and social benefits to the UAE.

The United-IX initiative is the first cooperation of its kind in the Middle East. How do you see it impacting the interconnection system at the national level and in the long run?

The Internet Exchanges Union initiative “United IX,” aims to link the SmartHub-IX platform, supported by Etisalat by e&, and the UAE-IX platform, supported by du, to form an integrated interconnection system at the national level. As part of this partnership, du will harness the world-class capabilities of our “datamena” center to create and design hybrid environments for ICT systems. Our interconnection services and solutions that we will provide under this partnership will enhance the capabilities and quality of modern communication technologies, enabling our partners and all stakeholders to establish direct and secure communications and link their operations across multiple sites, as well as achieve savings in time and costs.

In its 10th year, UAE-IX is the first carrier and data center for neutral internet exchange in the Middle East, connecting global networks, network operators and content providers in the GCC region. With 3 terabytes of connected customer capacity, United IX serves nearly 100 customers, including global corporations, carriers, cloud, content providers and emerging technology platforms, as well as banking and financial service companies.

Diversity and Inclusion have been brought into the spotlight in the ICT industry. As a telecom brand, how do you raise this awareness and encourage this framework in the workplace?

At du, we strive to create equal and exciting opportunities at the workplace through our continuing efforts to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our workforce and beyond. We believe that empowerment and diversity make us a stronger, more capable and more creative company. It heightens the chances for new opportunities and for developing new ideas. To this end, over the past year, we took a number of important steps in this area; therefore, we at du have established councils such as the Gender Balance Council and Youth Council. Each of these councils has principles that promote equality, break stereotypes, enhance collaboration and reduce the gaps between generations.  Moreover, du culture believes in its people and its customers. We have relaunched new values that we believe will serve us better and align with our vision and company identity. The changes will improve the workplace environment and help us serve our customers better.

As an organization, du has always believed in the UAE leadership’s vision to reach new horizons by driving change and pushing our collective boundaries. Our talent is key to driving du’s progress towards our goals by leveraging a rich training and development culture. Each member of our team at du adds highly specialized expertise focused on agile business transformation. We invest in our people and in our communities with excellent growth prospects and industry-leading skills development programs that open advancement opportunities.

Our goal is to achieve significant, sustainable organizational and cultural transformation by rallying people around a shared purpose and introducing new ways of working in a transformative journey — one that will inspire unimaginable results and strong leadership at every level.

Further, we aim to scale our value proposition by unleashing the unique talents of our human capital to ensure both the short- and long-term success of our organization and expand our capabilities as we adapt to thrive and grow in the face of constant disruption. Looking forward, we will work towards solidifying du’s position as an employer of choice and an active supporter of transformation in the areas of organization, culture and technologies.

Through the execution of knowledge-driven initiatives powered by next-generation technologies, we are allowing employees to develop a growth mindset and take control of their learning path. Each year, the People Learning & Growth team at du recognizes learning champions who embrace our curiosity-driven values that focus on professional development.

Initiatives such as the Harvard Manager Mentor Program, Huawei certificated courses and Seeds for the Future program have successfully trained du employees to use cutting-edge technology and accelerate innovation, improve customer experiences and elevate du’s performance as a leading digital telco.

What steps is du taking to remain at the forefront of the UAE’s global standardization process? Why is standardization important for telcos?

Digital technologies supported by international standards are powerful tools to enable collaboration and open new possibilities. As a steadfast supporter of the UAE leadership’s vision for a knowledge-driven future, we have partnered with the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT) to join the UAE’s Champions 4.0 Network. It will enhance the adoption of advanced technologies and their integration into the daily operations of industrial companies in the country.

By joining the network, du will support five small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through its extensive expertise in technology, to promote the adoption of advanced technologies and create new industrial investment opportunities, which will help contribute towards sustainable economic growth.

The UAE’s Federal Decree-Law No. 20 on standardization and metrology is a solid foundation for developing the national specifications and standards system, which will strengthen the industrial sector and boost the national economy. du is establishing itself as a MENA standardization work leader at the forefront of the UAE’s global standardization process.

What are du’s net-zero goals, and how will you fulfill them while offering the best digital solutions and connectivity services?

Today, we consider ourselves a leader and enabler for sustainability in the UAE. Through our technology solutions, environmental management and social projects, we have been able to create a very positive impact on the UAE, its economy, its environment and its people.

As we expand our network, i.e., the base transceiver stations and data centers, our environmental impact is bound to increase due to energy consumption. To address this impact, we have invested in a range of energy-efficient technologies, such as energy-efficiency hybrid generators, solar energy and free cooling systems. Our latest state-of-the-art Nautilus data centers have been designed with the lowest achievable Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.35. This is better than the regional average PUE (1.8) by 25%. This results in a significant energy reduction and, hence, a reduction in CO2 emissions.

We have shops, offices, warehouses and call centers that consume energy, and we employ a number of electricity reduction strategies to address our sustainability impact at these sites. To date, our LEED-certified stores located in Fujairah, Mirdiff and Me’aisem City centers have saved a total of 696,468 KWhr (AED 287,690).

We are also proud of our recent partnership with Masdar City to leverage our world-class sustainable Internet of Things (IoT) technology to deliver a complete view of the sustainability of Masdar City’s assets while facilitating processes such as asset benchmarking, performance and predictive analytics, along with insights on digital operations.

If you could describe 2023 in one word for du, what would it be? How do you see du performing this coming year and contributing further to the growth of the UAE's digital economy and the overall Middle East ICT industry?

Innovation. du focuses on networking the ICT services of the future by acting as a key enabler of government entities’ digital transformation and innovation in the public sector. In line with our continuous efforts to improve national digital infrastructure, we aim to build on recent progress and deliver even greater value moving forward.

Further, du aims to support industries in their digital transformation journey by capitalizing on new technologies. We continue to be a pioneer in 5G and network solutions, as well as delivering best-in-class network infrastructure. We are working towards accelerating enterprise 5G use case development and enabling UAE enterprises to experience the future on our 5G network.

du is committed to providing “a network that gets you” in terms of customers’ network needs, whether it’s an enterprise or an individual. Optimal network performance is an important key to enabling digital transformation in various industrial sectors. du is committed to smart networks transforming individual and businesses by delivering the best network experiences across the UAE.

Are there any promising collaborations or projects in the pipeline for du in 2023? How do you plan to solidify du's relationship with stakeholders and customers and achieve strong and sustainable growth?

As industry leaders, we utilize our resources to pursue the possibilities and potential that accompany the new digital era and facilitate sustained development. Ensuring technology is seamless, accessible and democratized for every UAE community aligns with the UAE National Agenda, and we are committed to making an invaluable contribution to transformation and sustainability.

As a digital telco, we embrace the disruptive technologies of tomorrow to create further growth and opportunities. In the 2022 edition of GITEX, we signed more than 15 MoUs to further develop concepts that are accelerating the development of future-ready cities in the new digital world, in line with the UAE government’s innovation roadmap. We are highlighting ICT services of the future by acting as a key enabler of government entities’ digital transformation agendas and will continue to do so in 2023. 

du is focusing on networking the ICT services of the future by supporting and implementing smart city infrastructure and facilitating visualization and optimization. We continue to transform services in the public sector through cloud migration and the adoption of disruptive technologies such as Blockchain and AI.

We aim to infuse the concept of blockchain and the Metaverse to deliver an enriched experience for anyone accessing government services, whether that’s an investor or someone looking for healthcare, transportation services and so on.

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