Industry Thought Leadership

Mobily Digital Transformation within COVID-19 Implications

October, 2020
Omar S. Al Rasheed
Chief Digital & Experience Officer & A. Chief Strategy Officer


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s citizen’s and residents are amongst the leading users of global digital platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat with a wealth of a about 70% youth majority population. This growing demographic is dominantly focused on digital, and the pandemic didn’t leave a choice for the rest of the population.

In an increasingly complex and toughly challenging market, competition is high, Telco’s are not just competing for connecting people anymore. Pervasive computing and software technology services, applications and platforms are constantly being launched and accelerating the ‘minimum expectations’ our customers have of digital products.

As a result, major Saudi brands were already implementing large scale digital transformation efforts prior to the pandemic to improve the quality of their services, deliver products that meet customers’ expectations, stand out from the crowd and also optimize their internal processes increasing employees’ performance and satisfaction.

Large Saudi based companies have already begun this shift in the last years. They’re focusing on investing and revamping their user-centered design thinking innovation processes, creating internal startup-like innovation teams, establishing “Google like” non-corporate workplaces, attracting and retaining the niche talent whom are necessary to deliver & actualize the kind of company performance that facilitates long term digital success.
Business has rapidly changed. The consumer has changed even faster. Spoilt by on-demand choices, the world is at your fingertips. With seamless “single click” user experiences, you can stream content, group conference, get anything from your city delivered within few hours and anything from the other side of the world within days.

Digital Transformation is a key pillar of Mobily’s GAIN strategy. The ‘Digitalization’ end result at Mobily has been synonymous with incremental gains rather than just rocking the boat. Soon after GAIN came into effect, we were engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated the need for accelerating three years of digitalization across the entire operating model in this year.

True to GAIN’s strategic objective of being an Integrated Telco, we started by tackling both internal and external integration on a solid digital foundation of globally standardized APIs. We strongly believe that when complexity is addressed correctly and permanently, the business becomes much simpler to operate. Hence our focus for internal integration was “simplification”of processes leading to internal digitalization. This enables our infrastructure to be open and ready for integration with external partners, to offer better and more varied services to our customers. Serving our ultimate goal, achieving customer excellence through operational excellence. While this is easy to summarize in a few sentences , there are several on-going initiatives currently to achieve on-going value realization for customers and employees.

Using “Design” As A Differentiator
Luckily for us, Mobily’s strategy to invest in creating a digital department with a dedicated design unit 2 years ago paid off. When Covid-19 hit, our digital app experience was already easy to use, ready to scale, earned the position of the number 1 telco app rating in the middle east and flexible to quickly adapt to the new changes that the pandemic required.

Telecom, a typically traditional industry, isn’t at the forefront of innovative experiences and design that delights and inspires anymore. The instinct of most companies is to hop on the “digital transformation” bandwagon in an effort to be in line with the new digital era. Often this involves a glossy design refresh, shiny new tools, and fancy processes that promise to streamline and modernize. Unfortunately, this is where things go wrong.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting a grand reveal that shows an “overnight” transformation, but this tactic can come at a high cost if executed improperly or too hastily. Processes fall to the wayside, tools go unused, and eventually all that’s left is only a nice-looking brand design without any substantial long term value delivered.
So, when Mobily moved forward with a massive design upgrade two years ago, we decided that we wanted to powerfully hone in on our digital maturity as opposed to the often vague and superficial concept of digital transformation.

We weren’t interested in satisfying symptoms of an underlying problem or turning ourselves into a feature factory as we tried to transition to digital. It is superficial changes like a freshly built website and a mobile app. or a new tech stack to underpin them that misguide corporates into thinking they are digital. Knowing this we were committed to ensuring that our internal operations and processes were well-prepared to support and sustain the complexities that would come with this kind of long-term change. Our teams rolled up their sleeves to begin the “True digital marathon”.

Reaching digital maturity from an unaware state can be a difficult transition for a large traditional company. With that in mind, we opted for a multi-phase rollout (which is currently in play) to ease the change management process, especially from an operations and customer experience standpoint.

While a bit unconventional, this phased rollout has yielded strong results, showing steady month-on-month growth in digital and customer experience maturity. Our target solution was broken down into smaller, actionable, design-driven experiences that could be meticulously planned and individually implemented while plugging into the other pieces to form our product vision.

One of the largest drivers of our industry leading digital experiences is our close integration with the customer experience department. Our digital team is driven by experiences not commercial or engineering teams. We’re able to align across the company and look at things simultaneously from two views. The first being a holistic 30,000 foot view, a single experience map of our CX journeys, where each cx journey has its priority and maturity assessment. And second, dig into details by designing each customer journey, in a myriad of multiple possible user journey flows. For example, where others design a single payment flow, we may design 10-20 user journeys: we carefully design and monitor first time experiences to be different, easier, step by step, with less visual noise and we design returning customer experiences to be almost like AI, already present you with your preferred options so you speed through and get back to living your life. That’s not all, prepaid, postpaid, fiber, all have their unique journeys and so do credit card, vouchers or cash options etc.

COVID-19 Situation: A Stress Test for Telco’s
The whole world was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis reshaped lots of business notions, and like any change you can choose to simply resist or learn from it, evolve with it to capitalize on it and that’s what we agreed at Mobily; to embrace the change and do what we can to drive benefit from it for our customers. At Mobily, we remained optimistic, there was no scope for negativity and we didn’t lose confidence in our infrastructure and capabilities of our talented dedicated team members, who faced the most challenging demands of their jobs ever with unimagined continuous peak loads. The pandemic was a stress test not only for us but for all Telco’s’ capabilities providing SWOT to leverage on in order to further solidify the business foundations necessary to survive and thrive in a digitally powered world.

According to a report by VISA, there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers switched to a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency and shifted to making purchases through digital channels. Triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.

Moreover, the crisis accelerated the journey of the realization of Vision 2030 goals of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with respect to digitalization and becoming a cashless society. The change in consumer behavior mandated the majority of businesses to re-think their business model by integrating with the right technology enablers. Though not to forget that these changes had their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to pandemic and the time required to build and adapt to a new business model.

Need for Telco’s’ Resiliency:
During the COVID-19, despite being one of the least impacted sectors, Telco’s have found themselves at the center of a fast-changing world. Amidst lockdowns, staying connected was in great demand, in addition to being safe and healthy, as entire populations were staying home and Telco’s’ traditional & digital infrastructure became increasingly essential for day-to-day personal & business interactions.

As always, Telco’s rose to the challenge by being backbones of robust and strong societies worldwide – which is undoubtedly something to be proud of as an industry. Telco’s have achieved this by proving themselves to be agile, decisive and ensuring that networks can cope with the surge in demand. After decades of connecting people, Telco’s finally received appreciation as providers of critical infrastructure in times of need.

Going forward, enterprise resiliency is by no means certain. Apart from the unforeseen increased demand on networks, disruption to frontline staff (e.g. sales & customer care) and a volatile supply chain is unsettling network rollout time frames along with execution of other commercial plans. The above are all key issues to address as we evolve to the ‘new normal’ and reflect back on the lessons learnt and their implications on the way Telco’s operate in the future.

COVID-19 & Acceleration of Digital Transformation @ Mobily:
The crisis situation turned out to be a test of the several pilot programs that Mobily was running, which needed ample time to be scaled up. However, time was not on our side, the scalability test came much earlier than anticipated as traffic on digital channels accelerated exponentially.

The Digital Transformation journey though has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for Mobily. Like most of the Telco’s, legacy infrastructure was one of the key bottlenecks to digitalization. Going with the approach of a completely new stack had fundamental inherent risks, which not all stakeholders were fully satisfied on the implementation implications on the business.

In such a situation, Mobily decided to follow essential steps and leverage the fundamentals of digitalization – agility, open source, analytics etc. Within the agile framework, scrum methodology was adopted, which was completely different from using the traditional approach where functions are done in a sequence that may not result in the same benefits being realized, or if they are, to a lesser degree.

The true north shall always be the customer need, and in a digital world this is expressed by the need for simplicity in usability. This isn’t luck nor random. It can be scientifically measured in 5 core attributes: how to learn to use the system (learnability), how quick to use the system is (efficiency), memorability, simple error recovery and satisfaction of use.

When designing a digital product user experience, the user journeys should be designed end to end, starting with the bigger picture scenarios, then digging deep down into the details. A significant number of our plans and programs have been purposely designed to deliver in the long-term, and the seeds we have been planting have started to pay off. One such testament is our mobile app, a digital gateway to Mobily’s services in the consumers’ hands, that has attained the highest app rating from telco customers in the whole kingdom and all middle east. This is a real reflection of our adherence to these scientific processes of lean principles, experience design and usability engineering whilst focused on the “True North”.

Our foundation for the design refresh is based on three experience principles — Dynamic, Empowering, and Inspiring — which cascaded from Mobily’s Brand eco-system. We created these principles by referring to the Limbic System, an experience map modelled after our “emotional brain,” helping designers tap into the psychology behind the human emotional response.

This served two purposes:
It enabled us to map four distinct behavioral customer archetypes (Early Adopter, Premium Enthusiast, Value Seeker, Optimizer) to the system, helping us define what kind of brand experience customers actually wanted across our B2B and B2C offerings.
It broadened our understanding of both the current and desired brand positioning compared to competition and subsequently, the experience principles that would help in differentiating us.

These principles are firmly woven across our Product and Content Strategy, aligning brand positioning and perception by enriching the brand’s values with an experience layer that resonates with our target audience. The approach delivered, legacy systems were no longer an excuse, longer cycle times were history, overhaul of the complete infrastructure was not required.

We have the vision of not only supporting the Kingdom’s national transformation plan but to act as a catalyst, to work as a key player in achieving the successful execution of Vision 2030. Amongst several initiatives to realize this objective, we plan to innovate by bringing new delightful experiences and technologies that bring value to our customers in multiple sectors like education, banking, government services, health and beyond.

Innovation that combines the power of digital with the science of customer experience design can produce lots of valuable enjoyable solutions that enrich peoples’ lives. As we innovate we aim to bring such positive impact on the Kingdom and our people, that our work becomes a case study for the region to aspire to.
Our commitment is to always strive to utilize the latest technologies and inventions, to innovate in order to continuously make people’s experiences and lives better not only as a business objective but rather a mission of life.

In summary, COVID-19 truly accelerated the digitalization efforts at Mobily in the form of carrying out execution in non-traditional ways, which have paid dividends. Penetration of digital sales, recharges and customer interactions (through digital channels) have multiplied many folds with Mobily reaping the benefits through efficiency, faster time to market and better customer engagement and satisfaction. Despite all the efforts and successes along the journey, Mobily still has a long way to go, however the outcomes prove that we are in the right direction to becoming the leading Digital Telco.