Helping SMEs through innovation

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Telecom Oman (TeO), the latest name in the telecommunications industry holds multiple telecommunication licenses issued by TRA. Apart from offering advanced telecommunication services, they also aim to build a sustainable technology start-up eco-system. Excerpts of the interview with Gurkan Ozturk, Chief Executive Officer of TeO.

Could you tell us in brief about TeO brand?

TeO is the new generation telecom and technology brand of Oman. With our identity, we wish to be more than a traditional telecom brand and stand different from the rest of telecom brands in Oman. The logo itself is unique, where Arabic and English elements constitute the whole logo rather than one being the translation of the other. This design demonstrates our positioning and vision that embrace people from all walks of life in Oman – be it Omani or an expat. In this respect, we don’t limit ourselves and serve all mainstream customer segments or niches.

From a conventional point of view of customers for telecom, yes we are a company that will provide well-known telecom services such as mobile and fixed broadband, telephony, fiber and so on. On the other hand, we are equally a technology, social network, app and Internet company. In the future, you will see TeO evolving into a more digital brand. We aspire TeO to be an iconic Omani brand that symbolizes the march of the Sultanate towards digitization, in which every person in Oman takes pride.

What are your initiatives aimed at helping the SME sector?

We see a big gap and underserved market when it comes to enterprise services, especially for SMEs. Cloud is the key to this market and we will be launching multiple cloud services in the future. Localized apps is another market that offers promising growth and capitalization opportunities for telcos. Leveraging our upcoming cloud and marketplace platforms, we aspire to enable an open app development and publishing ecosystem for local App developer SMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs. By this way, not only will we meet the huge demand for localised Apps and content but we will also contribute to the wealth and growth of local technology companies, as we will be sharing the financial returns with them. Helping build a sustainable technology start-up ecosystem is our promise to the Omani society.

How would you create brand loyalty?

I take brand loyalty as the most important sustainable strategic competitive advantage on its own. Many other competitive strategies and advantages such as innovation or low-cost can be imitated by the competitors or some such as monopolistic power or some new technology fade-away as time passes, but brand loyalty stays available as a strategic weapon for long time. As hard as to lose it, it takes years, a specific culture and large investments to build it.

In this respect, one should not think loyalty is something that can simply be created by sophisticated marketing campaigns and fancy loyalty programs with bells and whistles. Although such tools are vital to create brand awareness and derive potential customers to some call-to-action we want them to take (such as subscribing to a specific service), effective marketing communications can’t replace the beauty of fulfilling your promise towards your customers, no matter what your promise is. My take on the basic rule of creating brand loyalty and sustaining it is – Consistently deliver on your promise! If your promise is generic and good enough and your value propositions are coherent, hopefully your offerings will be embraced by many mainstream customers, which will help you achieve sustainable growth and deliver on your financial top and bottom lines.

What do you feel is lacking in the local market?

As opposed to common perceptions, we don’t lack technology and we are not expensive either. The telco technology available here in Oman is on par with many other developed markets. To give an example from my home country Turkey, which has a massive 75 million market and is said to have one of the most sophisticated telco environment, is just enabling 4G technology. We’ve had it in Oman for the last 2 years now! Yes to some extent I would agree that portfolio of the services and solutions offered in Oman are somehow limited when compared to more advanced markets but the main reason is not the lack of technology. For some services the market conditions are not feasible to roll-out; such as IPTV. For some its simply that the market is just opening to new entrants like us that are ambitious to launch innovative services which financially do not make that much sense for bigger operators to launch yet. Cellular and fiber connectivity in Oman is also developing. Please note that Oman is a large country with a difficult terrain and low-density population spread to the remote areas, which makes it very difficult and expensive to cover with cellular and fiber/cable network. In this I will not refrain giving a warm credit to Ooredoo and especially to Omantel for the tremendous job they have done so far. In the meantime Government launched a very promising initiative with Oman Broadband Company whose mission is to boost fiber to home coverage in Oman. Hopefully as TeO we will also be participating in their efforts when we are granted relevant licenses we are seeking.

Another misbelief is that telco services are expensive in Oman. The most commonly consumed service by large is mobile data here and I can tell you price of mobile data is one of the lowest in the Middle East according to researches and market reports.

Why these misbeliefs then? The main issue boils down to one problem consistently pointed out by the people from diverse social and economic classes I speak with: poor customer experience provided by the industry. People do not find service purchase and activation processes customer friendly, consistent and coherent here. The same applies for after sales support when there is a problem. Customers often need to bounce between different customer interface points such as retail outlets, online and call-center till they can file their complaints properly. Once filed, some problems take days to be solved and this process is often not transparent to customers. Such a poor customer experience causes large erosion on the value perceived by the customers, hence the perception of expensive services and mediocre technology.

We are heavily investing our time and resources in building top-notch business automation systems and cultivating a service-oriented culture around highly skilled human capital in order to bring our customers’ experiences up to the standards they deserve once we start to operate in mass markets.

What makes TeO different from other service providers?

I think it is every executive’s dream to have that magical elixir to create a market disrupting differentiation so that his/her new entrant company acquires a good chunk of market share now. So am I… But the bitter truth is that such an elixir does not exist and it requires time to develop a differentiation for any new entrant. So I will respond to your question as what differentiation we aspire. TeO to offer once we are full-fledged in the market.

As I explained earlier, customer experience will be a key factor we will be working on. We just want a few simple things for our customers.

It will be easy to access, purchase and activate our products/services. So will be escalating your problems and we will promise to solve it timely with no hassle. In doing all, we will have a smile on our face and you will have a positive experience throughout your dialogue with us.

We will be transparent in our tariffs and prices. At any point of time, you will be able to easily access specific service charges, your balance and billing information.

We will listen to you and be responsive to you. We will promise a satisfactory dialogue with anyone, especially on transparent channels like digital and social media.

I believe this is all our customers want. I don’t see our pricing strategy, technologically advanced infrastructure, fancy marketing campaigns as relevant to this simple formula.

What innovative services will TeO be bringing to the Omani Market?

Innovation does not necessarily imply offering innovative services only. As management, we are working hard to cultivate an innovation-driven culture in TeO. This means innovating in all corporate functions and processes from technology and network infrastructure to marketing, distribution, financial operations, business modelling and so on.

For example I dare to say that we have architected and are deploying the most advanced and flexible business process automation IT infrastructure not only to support our operations but also the innovation process itself in Oman with the lowest cost possible. We could do so because our top and mid management comprise people from technology and innovation backgrounds. Lo and behold this is intrinsically another innovation!

As per the services, we believe creating a true integrated services proposition will be a major innovation in Oman. Integrated services mean enabling an omni-channel experience for customers. Customers should have a seamless and unified awareness, reach, purchase, subscription, usage, billing and support experience with all services TeO avails regardless the channel: online, call center, own retail and partner outlets. This is a huge task and easier said than done; but we are ready for this challenge.

There are already two existing players in the market and their foundation is very strong as well. How do you feel about being in competition with them?

Having two strong competitors do not intimidate us; on the opposite we are encouraged and energized by their presence. We want to them become even better, more qualitatively and financially stronger than they are today, which will only contribute to a healthier, more sophisticated and bigger market. We need their capital expenses for larger connectivity investments leading to a more connected Oman. And we need their thought leadership and marketing expenditure power to educate masses of consumers about new trends and services such as Cloud or 5G. And we need their massive buying power so that they keep Oman’s IT and technology economy moving and growing. I would rather prefer taking some market share from a market that’s grown 2-3 fold to taking percentage-wise larger market share from today’s limited market. Our market potential is under capitalized and I believe we can only grow it collectively, hence my respect and need for our larger competitors.

Speculation is that Samatel has been rebranded to TeO. Is there any clarification you can offer?

There has been a lot of speculation, for sure. Let me clarify this issue once and for all.

Our investors had strategic interest in the telco market in 2012. It would take longer time and large financial resources to enter the market by forming a new company as everything boils down to applying for and receiving operating licenses from public agencies and stakeholders controlling the market, such as the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA). A shorter path to starting such a telecom company was acquiring another existing company in the market. Back then Samatel was an existing company with CLASS II Reseller and CLASS I International Gateway licenses. Unfortunately they were in financial distress and were looking for strategic buyers. This was where our shareholders’ interest crossed the interest of Samatel’s ex ownership and our shareholders decided to proceed with the acquisition of the company. To reemphasize, this transaction was specifically aimed for Samatel’s available licenses. However, as per the regulations and laws, a telco company can not sell its licenses to another entity just like any other corporate asset. So the only solution was acquiring Samatel equity, which naturally tagged along all assets and liabilities and heavily damaged then-current Samatel brand of it to our shareholders.

Unfortunately we could not change Samatel brand immediately upon acquisition. There are some regulations here regarding changing the brand immediately – as long as the company has even one customer, the brand needs to be sustained for a while. It was just not possible to kill Samatel brand at that point of time. I believe the confusion for the public is rooted here.

I hope this makes the issue clear to all your readers. Apart from the mandatory transaction that happened in 2012 due to legalities and regulations, we have no connection whatsoever with Samatel. Our ownership, our board, our Management, our office, our business name (Integrated Telecommunications Oman SAOC), everything including our spirit is genuinely TeO today.

What were some of the challenges you faced while initiating TeO?

We entered a telecom market dominated by two strong incumbents. Entering a strategic market as a private and smaller company is the key challenge in any geographic market around the world.

The telecom market in Oman is under heavy transformation as per shifting consumer and economic dynamics: Consumers demand more than ever now. Knowledge based economy and society is key to the Sultanate’s grand vision of taking its place in developed economies’ league. Digitization and advanced telecom infrastructure play a key role in this transformation. The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) of Oman is no doubt one of the most important government agencies that can truly facilitate such a transformation. In this respect, they undertook a challenging mission of improving the current regulatory environment that will support this change by developing effective, efficient and transparent regulations that will help flourish the market and gradually open it to competition and new players like TeO. Certainly the Government as per the Sultanate’s 2020 Digital Oman Strategy backs up their efforts.

Naturally such a drastic change never comes without hurdles in strategic national markets such as telecommunications. Especially during our early days as the new entrant, we faced serious challenges in finding our way in a plethora of uncertainties and arbitrary practices adopted by the dominant market powers. When I look back though, I can say we, as well as the market, took a big way. We see the market is improving and we expect 2016 to be the climax of its transformation thanks to the effort of the Governmental stakeholders of the industry, TRA and telecom companies like TeO.

Of course I can’t tell enough how difficult for us was to decouple ourselves from Samatel name in early days as I explained before. This was a big personal challenge for me to relentlessly communicate to key stakeholders the real story behind Samatel acquisition.

When do you officially wish to launch TeO?

The brand is already in the market. It is just that we haven’t launched it as a mass-market consumer brand. We are already operating a few business lines via our consumer and business facing product brands such as Allo, TeO Business and TeO Globe. We are also in the preparation of launching our mobile reseller (MVNO) services soon, which will expand our Allo brand’s operations to larger customer segments. I believe we have shown a good traction so far with these. TeO is our corporate brand for the moment and it will stay so till we launch it to mass markets depending on the availability of the licenses that will enable the fulfilment of our “true integrated services” promise.


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