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Zain deputy CEO calls for change of direction

Hisham Akbar urges prioritisation of commercial concerns ahead of technology

Zain deputy CEO calls for change of direction
Zain Group's deputy CEO, Hisham Akbar, outlined a new strategy at a company meeting in Dubai on Monday.

The deputy CEO of Kuwait's Zain Group has called on the company's eight operating units to increase their focus on commercial operations and customer experience ahead of technology.

Speaking at the telco's annual technology summit, held in Dubai on Monday, Hisham Akbar, deputy CEO and COO of Zain Group, outlined a strategy to put commercial needs ahead of technology, increase customer focus, and keep a check of costs.

"In the past [...], we adapted our commercial base according to the technology that was presented. Well, this needs to change. We need to be commercially driven and choose the technology that will adapt to that commercial need. So we are moving from our priority being technology to our priority being the commercial requirements," Akbar told the 300-strong gathering of Zain employees and partners.

Akbar added that the company, which posted a drop in net profits in the year to September 30, should steer away from "being first at any cost" with respect to new technology. He used the launch of LTE by Saudi Arabia's three mobile operators last year as a prime example of counter-productive marketing that demonstrated a lack of real insight into customers' needs.

"Last year 4G launched in Saudi Arabia, and three operators on the same day claimed they were the first to launch the service. That doesn't get us anywhere. It means nothing to our customers. Our customers don't care less if it is called LTE, 3G or whatever," he said. "They need a steady service and bandwidth they can rely on, and to them that is enough. But as techies we love to play with technology [...]  and we are losing sight of what our customers really need."

The deputy chief stressed the need for Zain's opcos to improve the way they communicate with each other and share information. In the past, the individual opcos have developed applications in isolation, often leading to wasteful replication of work in other units, Akbar said.

"We need to cooperate more between opcos, we have done many complications in the past where we develop applications in one opco but we don't share that info with other opcos and we come to know, after a year's worth of very hard work, a lot of investment. We come to know that everyone is working on the same application."

Akbar stressed that this must change. "After all we are one Zain and that should always be our aim, to work together. We should have a knowledge-based system where all opcos are sharing challenges, success stories on an ongoing basis - not just results. We need to be more open with each other and share information," he said.

In a warning shot to Zain's telecoms vendors, Akbar said that the telco's partners should embrace the new strategy of placing commercial needs ahead of technology and bring "sound business cases" to Zain. "We will not accept white papers that the aim of is to close a deal. We need something sound, it has to have a really realistic ROI."

"We expect our partners to come with proposals that will give us the competitive edge over our competitors in the region, and that is something we need to work on together. We will not accept being first to deploy just to have our competitors copy what we are doing after two or three months," Akbar said.

Zain Group, once renowned for its lavish marketing campaigns, must also keep a lid on costs and increase its agility, according to Akbar. "We need to be more proactive, more agile and more cost conscious. Gone are the days of big spending. Written-off projects are not acceptable any more. Success in the coming years is for a company that is lean and agile and we need to make sure that we are lean and agile," he said.

"Having customers as our first priority, second priority and third priority is extremely important. It has to be in our DNA. We have to absorb it, believe in it, practice it and not only preach it. If we don't change our way of life to completely focus on customers we will not get the job done and we will not deliver what we are supposed to do."

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