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INTERVIEWS
By 28 September 2018 | Categories: interviews

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In the wake of the recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecoms World 2018 held in Durban, TechSmart’s Ryan Noik (RN) sat down with Eva Andrén (EA), the Vice President Managed Services Middle East & Africa at Ericsson, to discuss barriers, opportunities and disruption in the telco space, and what companies need to know.

RN: What do you consider to be the main telco shortfalls at present impeding SMME growth?

EA: The SMMEs are finding that digital solutions are the bedrock of their growth. The adoption of digital solutions is truly transforming the way everyone is doing business today, not just SMMEs.  Hence, affordable access to web resources is critical. I will not call this a telco shortfall as they are constantly working out solutions to ensure that their customers receive the best experience.

The expectations now of the digital-savvy consumer will strain traditional operating models, forcing businesses to shed legacy infrastructure and mindsets, and to transform into digital enterprises that are innovative, agile and effective.  We know that the data explosion and the increase of IoT devices has only just begun, with mobile data traffic expected to grow tenfold in the next five years.

RN: Can you give an indication of how much still needs to be implemented from an infrastructure point of view, and whether Africa and South Africa are making progress?

EA: I feel the challenge is that we look at the world in a traditional way. The most critical infrastructure is access to digital platforms. This is already becoming increasingly available today. Access is the starting point for all innovations and with this people can expand their thinking and build their own reality regardless of what infrastructure is available to them at present.

The key is to broaden their minds through the information now made readily available to them and think solution minded. This is what so many innovators around the world have done and today, the conversation is not about the challenges they faced but the solutions they have brought to the world from their own garages.

RN: If so, are we progressing fast enough to keep up with the pace and the demands of digital transformation? If not, why not?

EA: The pace of technological change is unprecedented – the rapidly evolving world of devices and apps – and enterprises are being pushed to come to grips with the complexity of these changes all at once. Meanwhile, customer expectations of total mobility, ever-faster connectivity, personalized services and perfect, instantaneous delivery seem to be growing as quickly as their data usage.

Therefore we need to bring new experiences to market that the consumer is expecting, which means we need to ‘work backwards” with the customer problem in mind. Digital transformation is not necessarily about adding more digital platforms but rather reviewing one’s strategy, focus, culture, agility, ability to experiment and co-create.

RN: What do you consider the standout breakthroughs from Ericsson in the IoT, and 5G space for enabling SMEs to grow more effectively

EA: Our new Ericsson ONE setup allows us to be open to co-creating with others in the application space to bring solutions to life. Ericsson ONE is a global community of thinkers and doers, designers, developers and entrepreneurs, brought together by a shared mission to create easy to use innovations that scale, last and solve real problems that people care about.

Ericsson ONE is where we incubate new businesses. This means potentially building SME applications on top of our platform to bring value to consumers. The goal of Ericsson ONE is to bring bold ideas that are of truly disruptive character to life. This will require one disruptive approach to collaboration, monetization and technology.

RN: Do you think South Africa in particular and Africa in general will ever be in a place where it can confidently say it has addressed all the necessary telco shortfalls that hinder SMME growth?

EA: SMEs in Africa are no different from the global ones. In the digital world it is important that we have access to the same resources to solve customer problems and enable new experiences. Mobile broadband provides an equal playing field for everyone.

Today, it is about what we can achieve with the access that we have and these opportunities are open to everyone, not just people in developed countries. As an example, in Senegal students from Senegal University won a Global innovations competition with a Virtual Reality application that revolutionises and simplifies the science lab experience in all schools in Africa. The playing ground has levelled. We have some incredibly unique solutions here.

The challenge is not the technology, the challenge is access to capital to allow time to build scale. Here in South Africa at the recently held International Telecommunication Union event, Uthini Technology won an award under category of Most Innovative Use of ICTs. Uthini Technology, using chatbot technology and artificial intelligence, connects first language speakers with students, using a structured learning path.

RN: How do the telco challenges vary from South Africa to Africa - are there similarities or major differences that stand out to you?

EA: The telecommunications industry is seeing massive disruption and most previous large telcos around the world are redefining themselves as digital companies, acknowledging that the old models of selling voice and data are archaic in a world of growing digital experiences. The South African market is not unique. The important element is the experience customers require in the digital era and it will be based on more than the ability to quickly create services, even if they are personalized.

A true Digital Service Provider ensures an exceptional customer experience that is contextual, consistent and secure across all devices, at any location, and across all customer touch points. This is the experience that lets customers extract the greatest value in the digital era, and lets operators compete more effectively, more efficiently and more profitably as they provide that value.

RN: Finally, it has been asserted that key to South Africa's growth is leveraging the digital revolution we find ourselves in to create more digital businesses and selling to a global market. In other words, creating an environment for more digitally based SMEs to grow. But what needs to be done so that we can realise that potential?  

EA: There is no doubt that in the digital era, digitally born companies will provide the foundation for success. Traditional industrial giants are already being disrupted. A small example to illustrate this is Amazon. To give you the perspective of the exponential times we are in:; Amazon’s growth in just the last one year, which equalled 500 billion dollars (Ssept 2017 to Sept 2018), could see them buy out a total of the top 50 African born companies who are on average somewhere between 2 Billion to 15 billion dollars in mMarket cCapitalisation. It is no longer an option not to take this seriously.

It is impossible to articulate how fast things are changing but in summary, getting everyone online in any country for free is a strategic imperative. Secondly, find the funding to genuinely capitalise the top 5000 start-ups. Herein lies the future. Everywhere else there will be disruption and shrinking. It is with this in mind that we all must focus on these three critical steps in Africa: Connect Everyone, Fund the new digital start up generation and Embrace Change! The digital revolution is already here.…

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