Bader Al-Kharafi spear­heads in­no­va­tion at Zain Zain in­vests in dig­i­tal fron­tier as part of strate­gic fu­ture

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

KUWAIT: Tele­com providers across the globe are un­der pres­sure from a bevy of to­day’s dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies, es­pe­cially emerg­ing over the top (OTT) ser­vices like Whats App, Viber and oth­ers. The re­sult has be­come an in­flec­tion point for multi­na­tional tele­com op­er­a­tors. Some are shift­ing to­ward be­com­ing, in ef­fect, lo­cal util­i­ties pro­vid­ing dig­i­tal ser­vices, but mean­while hold­ing fast to a di­min­ish­ing pop­u­la­tion of tra­di­tional cus­tomers.

Oth­ers are forg­ing a new path, es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the dig­i­tal lifestyle provider of choice, and more im­por­tantly rein­vent­ing the con­cept of tele­com op­er­a­tor to in­clude a much broader, more di­ver­si­fied port­fo­lio that of­fers tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions, smart city part­ner­ships and a vi­sion of an all-en­com­pass­ing dig­i­tal fu­ture.

Zain: The dig­i­tal fron­tier

Zain, Kuwait’s big­gest tele­com op­er­a­tor by sub­scribers, is at the fore­front of this strate­gic mind shift. Tack­ing with the winds of change is never easy, es­pe­cially for a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar multi­na­tional with op­er­a­tions in eight coun­tries across the re­gion. But as one of the only pri­vately-held tele­com providers in the re­gion, Zain is more ag­ile and flex­i­ble when it comes to re­spond­ing to chal­lenges.

Kuwait Times sat down with Emre Gurkan, Chief Strat­egy and Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer at Zain, to learn more about the tele­com’s strat­egy and vi­sion for the fu­ture. Zain’s strat­egy for the fu­ture rests on six pil­lars, said Gurkan: “Cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, op­er­a­tional ef­fec­tive­ness, value man­age­ment, busi­ness-to-busi­ness (en­ter­prise), tal­ent

de­vel­op­ment and most im­por­tantly for the fu­ture, Zain Dig­i­tal Fron­tier In­no­va­tion.” ZDFI is the brain­child of the Zain board of di­rec­tors’ sub­com­mit­tee charged with Zain’s evo­lu­tion. Led by Zain Vice Chair­man Bader Al-Kharafi, Zain has es­tab­lished an ex­ec­u­tive-level sub­com­mit­tee tasked with im­ple­ment­ing a group-wide fo­cus on in­no­va­tion, share­holder value and the fu­ture as part of ZDFI. ZDFI will lead the charge in tran­si­tion­ing the tele­com provider’s tran­si­tion to a dig­i­tal, data-cen­tric fu­ture through a multi-tiered plat­form. First, Zain will fo­cus on cap­tur­ing rel­e­vant tech­nolo­gies through an ‘in­no­va­tion fun­nel’ that iden­ti­fies cur­rent and fu­ture trends in the mar­ket - both re­gion­ally and glob­ally - and de­vel­ops op­por­tu­ni­ties through ac­qui­si­tions, de­vel­op­ment or part­ner­ships.

A sec­ond ef­fort will fo­cus on the de­vel­op­ment of dig­i­tal ver­ti­cals across a broad spec­trum of seg­ments in­clud­ing video stream­ing, VoIP, e-com­merce, fi­nan­cial and tech ser­vices and health­care. Zain has inked part­ner­ships with FOO, a mo­bil­ity so­lu­tions de­vel­oper and con­sul­tancy firm as well as global games provider Zep­to­lab (Cut the Rope game) and book­ing.com

A third pil­lar of the ZDFI strat­egy will be cor­po­rate ven­tures. Zain will take de­vel­op­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial plat­form to a whole new level with a cor­po­rate ven­ture strat­egy that gives Zain ac­cess to a broader port­fo­lio of in­vest­ments and helps it iden­tify po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties rel­e­vant to the re­gion. Al­ready, Zain has in­vested in three ven­ture cap­i­tal firms in­clud­ing MEVP, Ear­lyBird and Wamda.

“The In­ter­net is about build­ing scale,” ex­plains Juha Korho­nen, In­no­va­tion and Dig­i­tal Ser­vices Di­rec­tor at Zain. The busi­ness logic is chang­ing, with co­op­er­a­tion in dig­i­tal ser­vices and more co­op­er­a­tive busi­ness mod­els.

Co­op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion are key to Zain’s strate­gic plans. The multi­na­tional is not only iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial ex­ist­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, but is also spear­head­ing an en­trepreneurs’ net­work that will es­tab­lish an en­tire dig­i­tal ecosys­tem for the re­gion.

An­other ini­tia­tive by Kharafi is the Zain In­no­va­tion Cam­pus, known as ZINC. The first cam­pus, es­tab­lished in Jor­dan two years ago, is al­ready en­joy­ing suc­cesses, and Zain will now open a sim­i­lar one in Kuwait. The en­tre­pre­neur net­work will bring to­gether all the com­po­nents needed to swiftly bring prof­itable and ex­cit­ing new dig­i­tal ideas to mar­ket, in­clud­ing ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, a startup in­cu­ba­tor, the in­fra­struc­ture and an al­ready es­tab­lished cus­tomer base, fo­cus groups and the tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence of a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion.

At Zain’s re­cent two-day Dig­i­tal In­no­va­tion Fo­rum, lead­er­ship from across the group con­verged in Kuwait to share strate­gies, ex­pe­ri­ences and best prac­tices and iden­tify im­por­tant devel­op­ments in e-com­merce, OTT, dig­i­tal con­tent and e-health.

A sort of dig­i­tal town hall, the fo­rum, like the Zain Dig­i­tal In­no­va­tion Fron­tier pro­gram it­self, is part of a larger re­ori­en­ta­tion tak­ing place at Zain. Rather than re­lin­quish­ing the pitch to younger, faster but rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers in the new dig­i­tal era, Zain is lever­ag­ing its decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, es­tab­lished cus­tomer base, en­tre­pre­neur­ial net­work and a cut­ting edge in­no­va­tion strat­egy to rein­vent it­self.

The strat­egy that will po­si­tion the com­pany not only to con­tinue earn­ing prof­its but build value for share­hold­ers, shape the fu­ture dig­i­tal land­scape of the re­gion and re­spond ef­fec­tively to global dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies. “In­no­va­tion and flex­i­bil­ity are the lifeblood of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies with dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion of­fer­ing huge growth op­por­tu­ni­ties that will ben­e­fit many of our stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing cus­tomers,” ex­plained Gurkan. “Con­tin­u­ous trans­for­ma­tion is a must in mod­ern busi­nesses and Zain is well on its way to trans­form­ing it­self to be­come a dig­i­tal lifestyle provider.”

KUWAIT: Emre Gurkan, Chief Strat­egy and Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer at Zain, speaks to Kuwait Times. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

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