Ahmad Julfar is taking a long-term approach to ensure Etisalat’s regional expansion succeeds.
With a career spanning some 23 years at Etisalat, Ahmad Julfar, who became chief operating officer of the UAE incumbent back in 2006, is showing no signs of slowing.
And as the company edges towards completion of a deal to acquire a 46% stake of Kuwait’s Zain Group – a deal that looks set to represent a major turning point for Etisalat – Julfar makes it clear that he sees plenty more opportunities for organic and inorganic growth.
With many of Etisalat’s biggest markets, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, facing increased competition and ever higher mobile penetration rates, the enterprise sector looks set to become a major growth driver for the telco.
Indeed, Julfar, who is now group-COO, says that Etisalat has already started to focus on developing its enterprise business across its global footprint. “We have started addressing business customers in a bigger way then we did in the past and you will see a big shift taking place,” he says.
Etisalat plans to start leveraging is growing geographical presence to offer enterprise customers throughout the region a single enterprise offering across multiple markets.
“You will see a lot of synergies being created between Etisalat companies. For example, if a company is headquartered in Saudi Arabia and they have branches in Egypt and UAE, we will provide them a single offering which will take care of all their requirements whether we are operating in these countries or not,” Julfar says.
“If we don’t operate in a particular market, we will use a partner’s network, whether it is a global player or a local player, and have a single offering for all of our enterprise clients.”
And Julfar is certainly optimistic about the potential of the enterprise sector to grow Etisalat’s overall revenues.
“The majority of the growth you will see in 2011 to 2013 will come from the business segments. In the UAE, the enterprise sector has been addressed in a better way than in Mobily and Etisalat Misr, so our focus is now very much on Mobily and Egypt.”
In the UAE, Etisalat plans to increase its investment in the enterprise sector, and also the small to medium sized business sector. And in terms of enterprise growth, cloud computing will play a major role, according to Julfar. “When I mentioned that enterprise is going to be the growth engine for Etisalat in the next three years, it is very much centred on cloud computing,” he says.
“All enterprises are looking for efficiency and faster time-to-market and they want to be ahead of their competition, so they want to focus on their core business and core activity and probably outsource non-core components such as ICT to other players.
“We see there is huge potential for cloud computing. What Etisalat is doing about it – we are building our own platform and are partnering with international players to bring the best platforms and services, as well as the offering itself, to those clients.
“The message to those customers is we will focus on our core business and help you to grow and reach new markets and customers in the future – this is the key message we are delivering to our key clients.”
Julfar says that the telco remains in commercial negotiations with a number of partners regarding cloud computing. While cloud computing is a broad concept, Julfar offers some specifics about the types of services that Etisalat intends to layer on top of the platform, and these include software as a service (SAAS).
Julfar sees a potentially huge market for SaaS, which he thinks could offer a win-win situation for telcos and software providers, as well as the end user.
“In my opinion, and as an example, Microsoft today has challenges from the Apples and Googles of the world, so they need to reposition their business model completely,” he says. “The old model of software providers selling a licence to end users is not going to work because other people are offering services in a different way.
That is why Microsoft is very much interested to offer this service on the cloud. It should make more sense to them, to their partners, as well as to their end users. In the SAAS model, Julfar explains that telecom operators have the potential to act as the distributor of the software, opening up a potentially huge market.