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In the recently concluded webinar hosted by Telecom Review, industry experts convened to have an intensive discussion on digital transformation.

The session entitled “Outcomes of Digital Transformation: Ongoing Mission and Vision” involved the participation of Karim Benkirane, chief commercial officer, du; Danial Mausoof, head of sales for mobile networks in the Middle East and Africa, Nokia; Yahia Sefraoui, director of digital transformation, inwi; and Dr. Abdulhadi Mahmoud AbouAlmal, director of technology standardization & spectrum management, etisalat by e&; with Amitoj Arya, partner, telecom consulting, MENA, EY as the panel moderator.

Kickstarting the discourse, Arya addressed the panelists regarding the journey of digital transformation over the years and its key drivers. He asked them, “From your perspective, how did this journey evolve, and what would it mean to us for the next three to five years?”

Going Digital for Customers

Benkirane mentioned that the digital transformation journey was tough for the telecom industry, but that despite this, he believes that they have demonstrated the capability to empower customers.

“This is the digital transformation, from my view — putting an app in the hands of the customer to better understand what they’re buying and get access to various functionalities. Through this, we change and simplify the life of customers in general.”

He explained that there had been challenges to upskilling people and changing the usual waterfall approach to operations and collaboration between business, IT and other stakeholders. 

From a Moroccan point of view, the digital transformation journey started out as a business prospect where companies were pushing it as opposed to a demand coming from the customers themselves. However, there has been a shift in focus as it has become the “means to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”

Customer behaviors have dramatically changed. “For instance, if we put out a self-care application or any digital offer on websites, we are getting compared systematically to digital-native companies,” Sefraoui pointed out.

With this in mind, digital becomes a matter of survival. “Today, we’re not going to survive as an industry if we don’t adapt to the new behaviors and requirements coming from the customers,” he firmly expressed.

Indeed, there are a number of challenges that cannot be ignored, but the key is having the commitment toward cultural innovation in the market and building the capabilities that will enable digital transformation for societal and economic benefits.

e&’s major role in empowering customers’ digital experiences within Expo 2020 is a testimony of this commitment.

“By improving the customer experience, we will enable the sort of experience and interaction wherever they are. This will continue to be one of our major focuses, supported by the strategic partnerships we have across market players like telcos, hyperscalers and OTTs. We may compete in other areas, but we collaborate for the benefit of all,” Dr. AbouAlmal expounded.

Where Transformation Is Happening

“There are many drivers pushing digital transformation, but it’s all changed now,” said Mausoof. He emphasized that the main driver is unpredictability, seen from the impact of COVID-19 and the changing geopolitical situation. “This comes from everywhere, and we need to respond quickly from this.”

Elements of the supply chain are also changing, coupled with high energy demands, pushing people to actually start acting on sustainability.

Nokia has transformed its internal operations as well as managed services for many of its partner operators. Algorithms have already been used for years to enhance network performance. Moving to the next stage, they have delved into the convergence of AI, automation and analytics, “using the network data to ultimately improve network performance, improving the productivity of the people running the operations and producing best-in-class customer experience.”

Aside from customers being a core driver of digital transformation, the rapid adoption of data and analytics, among other technologies, also requires a lot of agility and flexibility.

“It’s not anymore about digital transformation; it’s about transforming experience,” Dr. AbouAlmal construed. This transformation journey started many years back but was accelerated by COVID-19. Since the pandemic hit, digital transformation has become a part of our lifestyle, accommodating dynamic needs and requirements.

e&’s massive transformation shows how Etisalat is planning to grow, not only as a telecom operator but as a digital and technology provider. “It’s part of our continuous efforts in promoting inclusive digital culture, bringing the community where we operate closer together.”

What Lies Ahead

“I believe that in the future, we will have a good foundation as an industry to take the lead and move on — from the tools, new way of working, people and technology,” surmised Benkirane.

In the next three to five years, the whole of industrial automation will also play a big part. The role of connectivity across industries becomes more essential, especially when we look at the demand for private wireless and 5G. There’s a plethora of use cases that need to be developed for mobile operators to drive sustainable improvements.

“For us, we will continue to support mobile network operators to improve their operations and impact the customer experience,” explained Mausoof.

Sefraoui believes that in the coming years, clients will continue to raise the bar of their expectations of operators. Also, in markets like Morocco, we will see “strength in the hybrid model where digital will interlock strongly with our traditional business, pushing for an omnichannel experience.”

Altogether, digital transformation has become more of a reality, and all parties are committed to contributing to the growth of the digital economy.

Responding to how Nokia is enabling its customers – MNOs and CSPs – on their digital transformation journey, Danial Mausoof felt that every digital transformation journey is unique. He stated that operational synergies of traditional CSPs or MNOs involved a lot of manual operation in their service centers, but now they have moved to a more autonomous operational model with some tools and platforms that support building and enabling performance-related data outcomes. He cited examples of tools such as orchestrating and self-organized networks to ensure the operational part of the networks is running optimally.

He said that Nokia has been working with operators across the Middle East and Africa and globally to better enable them to become digital service providers that are more cognitive. He furthered that Nokia is making sure that it is self-learning, more than autonomous and more cognitive, and that it is building into an ecosystem area.

“Another element is that now there are many options of technology available and various challenges arise at the basic level of connectivity, especially in the enterprises' segment. There are private networks, edge computing, 5G standalone networks, and so on, and for us, the key area of focus is on building the capabilities and operational environment through the network,” he noted.

The moderator then asked Karim Benkirane about what has usually worked better for his organization: re-imagining what the future looks like, embarking on a greenfield transformation or looking at multiple steps of transformation to get to an end state. He stated that the greenfield was a bold decision from du. “Ten years ago it was just a website upgraded from Web1 to Web3. Now it’s all about metaverse and the other technologies that can support this new trend of Web3,” he said.

He also mentioned that, after a full evaluation, the current IT ecosystem of the company was unable to support or drive this new phase, so it decided to build a new IT OSS and BSS, in addition to a recruitment process.

“It’s a journey; you cannot start migrating all your customers into the new housing with the same people who are really busy with operations. So, we took the approach to hire additional gurus and make sure that they can support the existing team and that they can redesign the future of the company.”

He also mentioned that the way of working has been upgraded to make sure that it will be a successful and smooth journey. The other dimension of the transformation is the selection of new vendors, raising the expectations and getting better outcomes. “When you bring new partners, new vendors, it's like bringing different cultures, different ways of working, different approaches and different tools.”

Benkirane echoed the intervention of Sefraoui about the vision and highlighted that “the organization needs to understand why the vision is very important, what are our KPIs and how we will measure our success.” He added, “We are still in the middle of the journey and it’s a long one. We are trying to build a new ecosystem and we cannot wait five years to measure the success of our greenfield program, so it has to be a short-, mid- and long-term KPIs.”

e& has gone through a massive re-branding and separation of entities. In this context, the moderator, Amitoj Arya, asked Dr. Abdulhadi Mahmoud AbouAlmal how the digital transformation is expected to accelerate the growth of some of the new entities. “The journey of digital transformation is to grow and excel in a number of areas rather than just connectivity,” he answered.

The importance of connectivity is increasing, and this is where telcos have the advantage. e&’s journey is going to build on the company’s abilities and strengths while solidifying partnerships with other parties.

e&’s rebranding earlier this year was guided by the vision of going beyond connectivity. “With a customer-centric type of vision and strategy, we have to keep in mind how we can get our customers into an omnichannel form of experience and solutions across all platforms. We need to make sure that our services are delivered for a unique digital experience,” explained Dr. AbouAlmal.

He highlighted that one of the major differences between shifting the approach from digital to traditional is in the types of services and solutions. It now requires automation to build the intelligence in end-to-end operations.

“That becomes a differentiator today, with AI embedded in a number of our activities, operations and technologies,” said the director.

Arya’s next question was addressed to Sefraoui, to discuss how inwi, being at the forefront when it comes to a digital service provider, is transforming to latch onto future opportunities.

According to Sefraoui, inwi has been through a very interesting journey so far, with the fully digital service offering bringing a lot of learning to the company. Yet, what is vital is to keep on disrupting in order to stay at the forefront.

The main advantage of bringing such a digital offering is the level of personalization proposed, which is not present in more traditional channels.

“If we are to continue being serious about this path, we will need to strengthen even further the customer research base on which we act. We have adopted so far a lot of ways of work that help us integrate the feedback from the clients within the way we develop, such as agile thinking,” said Sefraoui.

The opportunity inwi has with “digital” is the ability to test new things in a fast way and adapt to them.

“Another dimension which is very important going forward with digital is having a high-quality, state-of-the-art client service,” added Sefraoui.

According to him, going beyond the 100% digital offering and figuring out how digital truly interlocks and is intertwined with the rest of the business is also key.

Finally, Sefraoui concluded that the last thing that is going to differentiate inwi in the market is its operation model. inwi has to make sure it keeps its operation model well-structured through agility and flexibility to be able to adapt to the challenges and changes coming its way.

Responding to what the “secret sauce” for successful digital transformation was for the panelists, Karim Benkirane felt that for digital native companies, the risk appetite of the organization and the culture of the company were the key success factors. Yahia Sefraoui opined that the total involvement of the top management in the digital transformation strategy was of utmost importance.  Meanwhile, Dr. Abdulhadi Mahmoud AbouAlmal felt that the culture, more than the technology, was a critical aspect of digital transformation. “We need to believe what we're doing. That's really what we're going to have a difference in.”  He stressed that right from the technicians in the field to the top management, the vision of the transformation should be completely aligned. “When we are doing this sort of culture transformation, we need to make sure that our technologies and tools are correctly implemented, our infrastructure and KPIs are properly set to achieve the targets,” he explained.

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