Article: How telcos can take a leap in 2020: Interview with Farid Basir, CHRO, Telekom Malaysia

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How telcos can take a leap in 2020: Interview with Farid Basir, CHRO, Telekom Malaysia

With 5G and other next-gen technologies come into the picture, how telecommunications companies can capitalize on the ongoing disruptions to attract and retain its employees.
How telcos can take a leap in 2020: Interview with Farid Basir, CHRO, Telekom Malaysia

Telecommunications technology is developing at such a fast rate that telcos are constantly reviewing their business models and assessing their required skills. Skilled workers are essential to drive innovation and change, however, the war for talent is fierce and the labour shortage is only going to increase.

In an interaction with People Matters, Farid Basir, CHRO, Telekom Malaysia, who will be speaking at People Matters TechHR Singapore 2020, shares that there is a need for employers to instil continuous learning and development into their culture. Employers that embrace this culture can train and retain workers who are open to the skill changes required to stay competitive in the sector.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

What are some of the driving forces impacting the telecommunication sector in Southeast Asia? How is it different from other regions of the world? 

Technology has been a major force of change in telecommunication industry. To name a few, 5G, NFV/SDN, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have been a game-changer in the growth as well as disruption in the industry.  The changing customers' demands driven by the advancements of technologies and the maturing connectivity market, are pushing telcos in ASEAN to explore new revenue streams by going beyond their core area (connectivity) into ICT solutions.

Another driving force is government regulations & policies. For instance, Myanmar is seen to be the next Asian telecommunication company as the government decided to invest further on infrastructure as well as operations regulations. Foreign investments in Myanmar has also seen foreign countries invested in their telco. This trend is not much different from the other regions but ASEAN is several steps behind the mature markets in terms of technology adoption due to several factors such as economy, high entry barrier, legacy mindset of businesses, lack of innovations, and limited initiatives by the government.

Technology has been a major force of change in the telecommunication industry. To name a few, 5G, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have been a game-changer in the growth as well as disruption in the industry.  

So, amidst these disruptions, how can we push the performance and health of telco organizations?

We are now living in a highly disruptive age where industry boundaries are collapsing which then triggers multiple sources of competition.

Generally there are three rules that can push the performance and health of telcos. They are:

  • Better before cheaper: Don’t compete on price; compete on value. Connectivity has become a commodity. The maturing market and price erosion lead to margin pressure in telcos. Telcos need to explore new opportunities beyond connectivity services while playing to its strength to differentiate in the market, such as offering network based ICT solutions (e.g., SD-WAN, IoT) instead of competing against the incumbent IT providers
  • Revenue before cost: Drive profitability with higher volume and price, not lower cost. Whilst pushing for higher volume, it is also important for telcos to increase its operational efficiency by adopting new technologies such as AI, analytics and cloud to drive profitability. Most telcos position themselves as digital transformation enablers, but are often laggard with their internal transformation. According to Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Malaysia’s mobile-cellular penetration rates in the first quarter of 2019 rose to an average 131.4 percent from 130.2 percent per 100 inhabitants in 2018 while broadband penetration rate is at 127.1 percent per 100 inhabitants compared with 121.1 percent per 100 inhabitants in 2018. Based on the market demands, the higher volume is coming from mobile-cellular penetration
  • There are no other rules: Do whatever you have to in order to remain aligned with the first two rules.

The skills that are highly needed to stay competitive in the market besides updating and upgrading the technology would be improving the service which will get gain competitive advantage.  

As we look into the future, telco’s leaders must be sure they have the right skills and talent to deal with rapidly changing markets and new competitors. What are these skills which are required by the telecom industry to stay competitive in the market?

I think that the skills that are highly needed to stay competitive in the market besides updating and upgrading the technology would be improving the service. By improving the service, a telco will have the competitive advantage.  To strategize and execute well in getting a bigger market share will also be a skill of a leader that is highly important. Understanding where to sell and whom to retain and ensuring churn is mitigated.

Other steps that we can also consider:

  1. Open for partnerships: Going beyond connectivity requires new skillsets. ICT solutions are often vertical-centric. It is important for telcos to be open for partnerships in order to expand their capabilities and drive brand leadership. The collaboration should include not only the technology partners, but also cross-industry and go-to-market partners.  
  2. Agile: The telco leaders should consider going beyond their comfort zone and consider new technologies. They should also be agile and ready for changes. For example to equip the sales team who have been selling connectivity, with new skillsets to sell other solutions such as cloud and IoT.
  3. The business acumen competency allows telco’s leaders to apply knowledge of an organization’s business model and competitive situation. It can be combined with other competencies, such as critical evaluation, consultation and communication to deliver the strategic activities.  
  4. To stay competitive, the organization should focus to hire talents that have technical competencies like network strategist, network security, data mining, technology and solution evaluation for both in fixed line and wireless technology focus area.

With the telecom industry going through massive consolidations, what are the top trends you see in Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia? What kind of opportunities these mergers and acquisitions can bring to the industry?

One of the consolidation and merger of large telecommunication company including the proposed merger of Telenor’s Asian operations with Axiata Group which will give birth to the region’s largest telco by revenue. It would operate across nine countries, serving a customer base of 300 million out of a combined one billion population.  Some telcos are actively acquiring new non-telco companies/start-ups to expand their capabilities while others have strong venture capital arms to invest in startups to drive innovations.

Nevertheless, various opportunities from these activities including:

  • Merger and acquisitions can allow companies to achieve efficiency through greater scale and scope, as well as gain access to new technologies and markets however; they can also serve to reduce competition and result in market dominance
  • A huge plus point for the deal is the innovation center resulting from the merger, which will create new skilled jobs. However, some of the concern is related to redundancy which might cause loss of employment 
  • To become bigger or grow in size and leapfrog the rivals. In contrast, it can take years or decades to double the size of a company through organic growth. Bigger means better strength and also confidence among stakeholders. Yet in that same time, different cultures can create challenge and communication barrier among employees. 

How do you see the job avenues in the telecom industry? Do you predict the jobs will grow in the sector? And how can one ensure that they are attracting the right talent? What is your strategy to attracting and retaining talent? 

I can see jobs in telecommunication still show positive demands as recent report on Critical Occupations List 2018/2019 by TalentCorp listed several position that highly needed by telecommunication industry: Software Tester, Information Technology Manager; Application Development Manager; Data Operations Manager; Network Manager; Application Security Engineer; Database Manager; Information Technology Infrastructure Manager; Information Technology Sales Manager; Creative Multimedia Manager; Chief Information Security Officer; Information Technology Business Development Manager; Software Development Manager. It shows that jobs in telecom sector will continue to grow. Moving forward, the demand for telecom jobs will shift from the core telecom skills to value-based positions, such as data scientists and solution consultants. The conversations with the customers are changing from technical benefits to outcome-based.

Merger and acquisitions can allow companies to achieve efficiency through greater scale and scope, as well as gain access to new technologies and markets however, they can also serve to reduce competition and result in market dominance.

To ensure the organization attracting the right talent, we must have a concrete and robust talent management strategy. Organization must continue to review their EVPs to ensure its addressing the multi-generational talent needs.  Organization must prepare their talents or existing workforce for re-skill especially in areas for network infrastructure in relation to Fifth –Generation (5G). In addition, jobs creation related to network security and data analytics will be significant in the near future. 

Strategy in attracting and retaining the talent can be done by using the following:

  • Exposure to new technologies / future skills to increase their knowledge. 
  • Holistic approach in rewarding talent either in term of monetary (salary, bonus, incentives, allowances) and non monetary (benefits, educational assistance)
  • Providing an innovative environment and promotes creativity hence; able to utilize their innovation and creativity to develop product and services  
  • Structured career pathway and development program for fresh graduates to fast track their career growth.

What's your take on the future of jobs now that technologies such as AI, IoT, and big data are making inroads into business DNA and transforming jobs?

In order for business to survive, they should have the capability to predict and act accordingly to the internal and external factors that shape the business success and failure. By adopting the technology like AI, IoT and Big Data, it can accelerate the growth and performance of the business. The technologies such as AI, IoT and analytics will not replace jobs but will transform the job scopes and requirements. For example, a product manager is still needed in the future. However, instead of developing a product based on the industry trend, the technologies will enable product managers to use data and insights to develop solutions that are tailored for customers' demands. It is important for the telcos need to equip themselves with these emerging skill-sets (e.g., AI, IoT, Analytics) in order to leverage their data and differentiate in the market. There are many third party platforms available in the market, but internal capabilities are still required to further unlock the data and connect the final dots between the platforms and customers' requirements. These skills are also important to enable telcos to improve their product capabilities, customer experience, as well as internal efficiencies.

How do you see the year 2019 from people and HR perspective? Do you see any specific trend that has implications for 2020 and beyond?

From people and  HR perspective, 2019 focused on to develop skills or re-skills their people that meet industrial revolution 4.0 with several critical future skills including big data analysis, machine learning, complex problem solving, digitization, critical thinking and emotional intelligence. 

As businesses continue to face challenges in meeting the revenue, skills requirements undergo rapid change and organization to think differently about how they can access the talents in  varying ways and mobilizing internal resources rather than hiring unnecessary from outside. Hence, recruiting has become harder than ever. 

Another trend is the use of AI, cognitive technologies, robotic process automation which making job more digital and more data-information driven. Everything should be supported by concrete data analysis before any decision being made which is good in reducing the risk. 

Gig employment have been considered alternative work or options supplementary to full-time jobs so far. Today, this segment has grown and gone mainstream, while organizations are looking strategically at all types of work arrangements in their plans for growth.

Are you planning to leverage any technology to better manage your people and drive innovation?  What are your plans and people's priorities for next year?

Yes, we have established Human Capital Innovation team who are responsible to leverage on technology that includes the implementation in-house application that performing functions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well robotic process automation hence ease daily operation and maintenance. 

Our plans and people's priorities for next year started when we move into a new operating model based on the Agile way of working, to strengthen our customer focus, efficiency and tempo. 

In addition to instilling Agile, this realignment is also meant to reduce duplication and overlapping responsibilities. As such, most of our functions are centralized to allow easier implementation of a unified set of rules and procedures, streamlines processes, reduces resource requirements, resulting in a more consistent experience and making life easier for our customers.

It is the mission of the HR Team to partner with our business and functional units to maximize the potential of our greatest asset—our PEOPLE, in support of the Group’s values, vision and objectives. 

We embrace change and the opportunity it brings. We are focused on empowering collaborations that enable the Group to anticipate, innovate and respond to market volatility and fulfil customers’ needs. To better equip ourselves to achieve this mission, we have undertaken a realignment exercise and started to move TM HC into a new operating model that is based on the Agile way of working. 

Leveraging on the agile operating model to increase business focus, efficiency and effectiveness, our priorities among others will be Future Skilling, Wellness at workplace, Robust talent and career management process. 

Join us in Singapore for People Matters TechHR 2020, Asia’s Largest HR & WorkTech Conference on 19-21 February 2020. Click here to register.

Topics: #TechHRSG, #Outlook2020, C-Suite

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