Industry Thought Leadership

Grasping Opportunities in the Digital Era to Evolve to Telecommunications Sector

April, 2018
Osman Sultan

Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du)

Telecommunications in the Middle East has become an ever-evolving industry characterised by opportunities arising from new challenges in our increasingly digitalised world. The industry is constantly being disrupted, giving players ample opportunity to demonstrate their agility by quickly adapting their business models to this reality while effectively leveraging their assets. In our region especially, challenging the status quo has opened new avenues for operators to monetise services, streamline operations, and make the necessary investments in creating a sustainable strategy for the future.

Cybersecurity is one of the most glaring challenges faced by operators today as it poses some of the greatest threats to ICT industry players across the region. As such, the ideal strategy for overcoming challenges and maximising opportunities is heavily contingent on effective cybersecurity measures which protect individual operations. First and foremost, it is vital for telcos to have the right tools to protect their network, the integrity and privacy of their customers’ data, and the security of their transactions. They must also offer cybersecurity solutions for customers as part of their ICT services – especially those offered to enterprise customers – helping them to achieve more secure and efficient business practices whether they are start-ups, large businesses, or government entities.

Beyond cybersecurity, to achieve sustainability in the ICT industry the development of advanced technologies like 5G and IoT is crucial. Irrespective of current network maturity, moving with the times is a must, and across the region we are witnessing the advancement of network capabilities. In the UAE, for example, the government aims to be at the forefront of digital transformation and is working towards building a smart city. Lebanon, on the other hand, is working towards building a 5G future - we are all at various stages of network development in the region, however, some things remain constant. Use cases must be defined, business models must be adapted, and next generation technologies must be implemented through tangible, actionable plans. Telcos must seek to transform the way companies work and the way people live, with sustainability built on long-term partnerships and collaboration built on the common goal to achieve what’s best for the country and its people.

Equally important as external factors like these are internal factors, like corporate culture and workforce competence, in achieving and maintaining business sustainability. Maintaining a strong culture in the workplace hinges on the ability of all employees to embrace the constant change that besets the ICT industry. New concepts are sprouting every day, as the likes of artificial intelligence and robotics are now well-established, with high potential to impact our businesses. Therefore, it is imperative to promote a culture of change, and create an atmosphere that nurtures cross-discipline dialogues.

ICT is becoming more and more complex and by asking the right questions, we can seek the right answers. Since we are moving from unshared certainties to shared uncertainties, the recipe for embracing the culture of change is openness, transparency and collaboration. As part of an innovative industry that will inevitably play a large role in global progress today and in the future, it is critical to embrace change and seek out ways to ensure its success.

Across the region, as I see it - telecoms companies will operate at three different levels over time. The first one will be an increasingly software based infrastructure provider. This is part of the larger ensemble where the government will assume a more dominant role. The second one will be a consumer-focused digital entertainment and lifestyle services business providing music, video and digital services. The third one will be an enterprise solutions business serving B2B customers.

However, it’s not enough to have a vision and ambition to achieve it. ICT players need to start building the right competencies, talent, leadership skills and processes beginning today. They need to have an action plan to turn their ambition into a reality.