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Digital transformation… It’s ok to ask “What do you mean?”

I can define purpose in one word – the customer, a central component to our industry change and the most significant driver
Йогеш Малик

You can’t escape talking about digital transformation these days. It’s become a key buzzword, especially within a telecom industry that is in a real need of change.

As CTO of VimpelCom, one of the world’s largest telecom operators, I fully agree that we need to transform and improve not only our services, but the way we do business. But what concerns me is that I’m not sure people understand why.

We need to find out what we mean by digital transformation, embrace this vision and let it empower the customer. A big issue that arises is confusion around how we actually define ‘it’ – and I don’t mean the textbook definition.

For me, it’s about dramatically changing the paradigm of our ‘typical’ way of working. I see three key dimensions driving this change: purpose, mindset and culture.

I can define purpose in one word –  the customer, a central component to our industry change and the most significant driver.

There is an ongoing debate about virtualization and digitalization while the industry is stuck in old mentalities, and remains unable to create disruptive innovations that answer customers’ truly digital needs. We have systems layered over systems, and the valuable customer and application data we need lies somewhere buried below. So, we need to build an interface to free up that ‘customer data flow’ that allows us to tap into their digital universe. Take the network as example, it could be 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi – the customer doesn’t care if we combine bandwidth or switch to an available channel, as long as their experience is seamless.

The second dimension we need to tackle in order to disrupt is the way we think. It’s time to drop incremental business models and the way we run operations. Having the full programmed value chain in every country from design, planning, and deployment to operations is not efficient in today’s consumer era. We should learn and even borrow from other industries, ones that have undergone disruption. For example, retailers who centralize design, architecture, and operations and local stores benefit from the latest clothing designs, and can plan and order with fast turnaround times for what they need for their local customers and markets. I call it clean sheet thinking. It’s fresh and innovative. It’s about being agile and thinking out of silos.

Clean sheet thinking should also be reflected as part of a cultural change within global organizations. Disrupting the ‘continue to do what we did yesterday’ mentality and really challenging people to think about new ways of looking at an issue or process will produce much more interesting results. It invites efficiency and enrichment. I always welcome ideas for breaking silos and the thinking behind them. To me it matters that the team is thinking about positive change, disrupting the status quo, because that’s what digital transformation is all about. This is what will get people behind real change and we need to build that spirit.

Today we use large global technology suppliers to manage network upgrades and maintain our infrastructure. If we keep running our networks, infrastructure and product development processes and systems the same way, we can’t be surprised if we continue to get the same results. We can’t be surprised when agile competitors come out with new data services that are free and funded by advertising, or launch over-the-top video channels with broadcast quality that consumes a lot of network bandwidth.

I’m not meaning  to make a move to virtualizing the network and functions sound easy: it’s not. But we need to make our network assets work better for us, become more cost efficient to run, easier to maintain, upgrade and operate, easier and faster to roll out new services. These will be table stakes for network operators competing in the future.

Let me leave you with three change enablers that I believe we need, to really transform. Enablers such as new ecosystems and disruptive partners, mobilized and fresh talent given new chances to grow, and finally, crowdsourced solutions that support innovative initiatives and open doors for pioneering technologies. At VimpelCom we are embarking on the journey of transformation and intend to become one of the pioneers of digital disruption.

Are you with me? I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas on digital transformation and what it means to you.

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