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