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Telecom Review, the Middle East’s leading ICT media platform, explored the different areas of digital transformation in its recently-concluded virtual panel titled ‘Digital transformation driving the next phase of innovation’.

Live online on November 10, 2021, industry leaders shared insightful views on understanding the cloud’s role in digital transformation, meeting emerging opportunities and challenges, innovating business models, and investing in digital skills to meet digital transformation goals, among others.

Kickstarting the virtual event, Toni Eid, CEO, Trace Media and founder, Telecom Review welcomed the speakers and participants and introduced the session’s moderator, Ghazi Atallah, former CEO, NXN. The session consists of distinguished panelists namely Sebastian Alberto Delgado, vice president, IoT & AI, Etisalat; Günther Ottendorfer, chief technology & infrastructure officer, Ooredoo Qatar; Karim Benkirane, chief commercial officer, du; and Danial Mausoof, head of sales, mobile networks, MEA, Nokia. 

Preliminary

The virtual panel began with Atallah giving an overview of the topic at hand — digital transformation — and the panelists sharing their initial viewpoints.

For Delgado, the topic of digital transformation is very broad because it involves everyone with each having different roles. “It’s been accelerated during COVID-19 and now the world is not the same. This acceleration has created a lot of new opportunities in different use cases. One example is cloud adoption which is a key component that all companies and governments are looking at and it’s one of the key pillars of digital transformation.”

While for Benkirane, as a telecom operator, digital transformation has been a platform to gain the trust of customers and give control in their hands. “It is an opportunity to make sure that we can provide a seamless experience and take the customer to the next level. The digital tools will also help in creating a new revenue stream that requires investments and different skillset.”

Ottendorfer emphasized that digital transformation is a journey and at Ooredoo Qatar, they have structured it into four phases, “The starting point is to simplify and retire legacy systems, then introduce digital enablers and automatization, innovate with new, smaller partners with APIs, and in the final phase, bring that innovation into our core systems and services.”

Being relatively new in the Middle East, Mausoof was amazed at the level of intense focus and initiatives that are present in the region, both on the government and operator sides. “Digital transformation allows us to drive continuous improvement and we need to take technology as an enabler. As an industry, we have a role to play in imagining no boundaries and what business models should be.”

In-depth discourse

All of the panelists have mentioned technologies such as edge, cloud, 5G, IoT, and AI as important aspects of digital transformation, as well as the necessity of bridging the digital gap of talents. For digital transformation to be fully achieved, a combination of technology and talent should be in harmony.

Moreover, within the session, Atallah has thoroughly questioned the panelists about the relevant measures, particularly in innovation and infrastructure, that should be considered in the digital transformation path, the process of remodeling talents, top B2B segments for digital transformation services, emerging opportunities during COVID-19, and their prospect winners and losers in this era.

Mausoof expressed that digital transformation should be more outcome-based than process-based. Hence, for telcos, transformation is more focused on operational efficiencies as well as resilience. “In telecom and IT, it’s always been buying or building, and that has changed. It’s not about buying anymore, it's how we consume this overall infrastructure with KPIs falling into operational efficiencies.”

Tackling about digital talent development, Benkirane explained how du was able to build an agile ecosystem of digital gurus, alongside their commercial roadmap. “Digital gurus want to keep learning. They know that what they build today will not be relevant tomorrow. This culture of learning needs to be part of HR tools for retention.”

Interestingly, in terms of customer experience, Benkirane has mentioned how telcos previously have a negative net promoter score (NPS) which is a widely used market research metric asking respondents to rate the likelihood of recommending a company, product, or service to a friend or colleague. Thanks to digital transformation, the NPS of telcos today are higher. The digital journey also made the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) into the mainstream. This is when a new product is introduced in the market with only basic features and the other features are added later on as per feedback.

Taking a regional perspective on the top B2B segments for digital transformation services, Delgado cited a lot of examples of industries that are in this journey. These include smart cities, manufacturing plants, digital health, and automotive. In line with this, emerging opportunities during the pandemic emerged as people rely more on online, eventually leading to the shift towards the cloud.

Mausoof and Ottendorfer have both agreed that the digital government has expedited its services, especially when it comes to healthcare like conveniently checking vaccination status via an app. Mobile money and online learning have also emerged. On the other hand, phygital segments are becoming less demanding as per Benkirane.

When it comes to declaring who will be winners and losers (players or industries) in this digital transformation era on a five-to-ten-year outlook, the four panelists have zoomed in to several priorities.

Delgado said, “It’s not a matter of sectors or industries, it's more a matter of how these companies are going to face these changes. At Etisalat, we have created the co-creation labs where we co-create solutions together with our customers, with different methodologies to go for an MVP very quickly and in a very agile way, and from there, we can evolve it.”

Delgado believes that the winners are going to be the companies that understand digital transformation and have already started because those that haven't started yet are already late. “The losers are definitely the ones who don't believe that by using digital services, they can improve competitiveness in the market. In addition, Mausoof pointed out, “It’s going to be important not to let your eye off the customer and fundamentally, technology investment is a priority. Companies that will invest in R&D will surely see a good return on the transformation.”

Mausoof specified that healthcare will have a massive transformation, with the amount of awareness it receives due to the pandemic. Ottendorfer also added that the push for online education and easier accessibility to a broader range of the population will also win, alongside transport and logistics.

Last of all, Benkirane claimed that there will be no winner or loser, “Across all verticals and industries, we will all win.” In the telco space, the fintech industry shows a lot of potential for partnerships and is one of the segments that would continue to prosper.

Briefly responding to the query about security, Ottendorfer stated, “Challenges will be there, but they can be easily mastered in a digital strategy than in a conventional one.”

Wrap up

As part of the panel, a three-question poll has been launched to the audience. When asked, “Has your company embarked on the digital transformation journey?” 89% answered yes, 7% answered partially, and 4% said no.

When asked, “Is your company working on developing its employees’ digital skills?” 82% answered yes and 18% said partially. For the last question, “Do you consider cloud to be a pillar of digital transformation?” 96% said yes while 4% said no.

Benkirane shared some final thoughts regarding the audience perception which is obviously in line with what has been discussed. “The statistics show that everyone is taking the wave. There is no CIO, CTO, CCO who's not speaking the digital language. No doubt that it's one of the top five agendas of most CEOs today.”

Before the panel concluded, Eid commented as well by saying, “It’s a fact now, we are living digital. No one will go back to analog transformation. We are all going one way towards digital transformation.”

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