Op­por­tu­nity by open­ness

A lot of com­pa­nies may talk a big game about trans­parency and diver­sity. But few are prac­tis­ing what they preach quite like Op­tiva. CEO Danielle Roys­ton talks about the im­por­tance of be­ing open, hir­ing the best peo­ple for the job – and what comes next.

Comms MEA - - Contents -

A lot of com­pa­nies may talk a big game about trans­parency. But few are prac­tis­ing what they preach like Op­tiva.

The word “trans­parency” is one that gets bandied about a lot in busi­ness. The prob­lem, though, is that while many ex­ec­u­tives may talk a big game about the need for their com­pa­nies to be open with cus­tomers and the pub­lic, the re­al­ity is they are of­ten any­thing but.

But trans­parency is what Op­tiva chief ex­ec­u­tive Danielle Roys­ton is all about. In fact, she’s so trans­par­ent, she’s even hon­est about the fact she’s rel­a­tively new to the telco in­dus­try – some­thing not ev­ery CEO is will­ing to con­fess within the first five min­utes of an in­ter­view with some­one they've never met be­fore.

Then again, trans­parency is some­thing Roys­ton says is key to do­ing good busi­ness. “A lot of CEOs want to tell only the good side,” she ex­plains.

“So I’m a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. If you want some­thing in six months, but it’s go­ing to take nine months, I’m go­ing to tell you.”

She ex­pands on the im­por­tance of trans­parency. “We re­ally want our cus­tomers to have an ex­cel­lent ex­pe­ri­ence, so I’ve been re­ally trans­par­ent as a leader.”

Roys­ton has been CEO of Op­tiva for about 18 months – be­gin­ning her role on Valen­tine’s Day (Fe­bru­ary 14) 2017, no less. Be­fore that, she spent 21years with ESW Cap­i­tal, spe­cial­is­ing in turn­arounds for busi­nesses that might be strug­gling fi­nan­cially. In the case of Op­tiva – which was founded in 1999 in Canada, and orig­i­nally known as Red­knee – Roys­ton is open about the fact the busi­ness sup­port sys­tems (BSS) com­pany has pre­vi­ously had some speed­bumps on the road to growth.

“It’s not go­ing to be fixed overnight,” she ex­plains. Yet she’s op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. “We’re ris­ing from the ashes. We’ll see how it goes – we’re go­ing with two feet in.”

Roys­ton is cer­tainly well on her way. When speak­ing for an in­ter­view, she was in Lon­don and pre­par­ing to head to Lux­em­bourg to meet with clients, af­ter hav­ing pre­vi­ously been in Tan­za­nia, South Africa, Chile, and more. “I filled a whole new pass­port book in less than a year,” she jokes.

Such seem­ingly non­stop trav­els are nec­es­sary,

though: af­ter all, Op­tiva boasts more than 100 cus­tomers in more than 80 coun­tries. In the Mid­dle East and Africa, it has cus­tomers in places in­clud­ing South Africa, Mozam­bique, Tan­za­nia, Ethiopia, Oman Tu­nisia, Ye­men and even Afghanistan. De­spite all those cus­tomers all over, Roys­ton points out about 80% of Op­tiva’s rev­enue comes from charging prod­ucts used mostly by tel­cos.

Ben­e­fits of the cloud

As Op­tiva is chang­ing, so too is tech­nol­ogy, ex­plains Roys­ton. That tech­no­log­i­cal change, she says, ex­tends not just to her com­pany, but the in­dus­try as a whole. One of those tech­nolo­gies Roys­ton says is chang­ing things dra­mat­i­cally: the cloud.

But Roys­ton isn’t just a believer in the cloud in gen­eral: she ad­vo­cates an open cloud.

“Every­one is run­ning this in their data cen­tres, from the Mid­dle East to Africa to North Amer­ica,” Roys­ton ex­plains.

Roys­ton says an­other ad­van­tage of the cloud – es­pe­cially for tel­cos – is it’s an adapt­able tech­nol­ogy, which is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when cus­tomers have dif­fer­ent needs, such as if they plan on up­grad­ing to 5G or not.

“The prob­lem is my cus­tomers have to pre­dict de­mand,” she ex­plains.

“Over-pro­vi­sion­ing,” as Roys­ton ex­plains things, can be dis­as­trous fi­nan­cially if it turns out the tech­nol­ogy does not be­come widely adopted or is soon re­placed by some­thing else; re­al­ity, she says, needs to live up to the hype. “I had a cus­tomer call 3G a ‘noth­ing-burger.’”

She says more. “The way you get burned is you over-pro­vi­sion, you over-in­vest.”

Hence the cloud, says Roys­ton. “What’s nice about the cloud is you don’t have to make that in­vest­ment up front.”

A di­verse fu­ture

The fu­ture is not just be­ing driven by di­verse tech­nolo­gies, Roys­ton ex­plains. She says it’s also be­ing driven by di­verse work­forces – which, aside from the ne­ces­sity of help­ing to cre­ate a more equal world, will be key if busi­nesses hope to keep up with their com­pe­ti­tion. “You can al­ways ben­e­fit from a more di­verse point of view,” she ex­plains.

A very im­por­tant part of that diver­sity: gender diver­sity.

Roys­ton says it’s needed in the telco in­dus­try. “Last year I met two fe­male ex­ec­u­tives the en­tire year. There is a real lack of diver­sity.”

To help at­tract – and re­tain – a di­verse work­force, Roys­ton says re­mote work­ing is an op­tion for some busi­nesses. “By hir­ing tal­ent that is vir­tual, you can hire peo­ple from around the world,” she ex­plains. “I think the trend is to be more and more vir­tual. There are smart peo­ple ev­ery­where – of all gen­ders.”

And Roys­ton prac­tices what she preaches: not only does Op­tiva have gender-blind hir­ing prac­tices to re­duce bias, but the com­pany is in the process of go­ing fully vir­tual – go­ing from hav­ing about 20 phys­i­cal of­fices around the world to an en­tirely re­mote work­force.

So, amid changes to how the com­pany op­er­ates, a fo­cus on trans­parency and equal­ity, and em­brac­ing new tech­nolo­gies in ways that don’t re­quire cus­tomers to over-com­mit re­sources with­out know­ing what kind of re­turn they’ll get on their in­vest­ment, what might the fu­ture hold? Roys­ton says she knows ex­actly what she’d like peo­ple to be say­ing about Op­tiva in five years. “I want peo­ple to say ‘that is a telco-fo­cused soft­ware com­pany that has all their prod­ucts in the cloud.’”

Not to men­tion con­tinue to be re­fresh­ingly trans­par­ent with cus­tomers, the pub­lic – and even journalists at tech mag­a­zines in­ter­view­ing some­one from the com­pany for the first time.

We re­ally want our cus­tomers to have an ex­cel­lent ex­pe­ri­ence, so I’ve been re­ally trans­par­ent as a leader.If you want some­thing in six months, but it’s go­ing to take nine months, I’m go­ing to tell you.”

- Danielle Roys­ton

I think the trend is to be more and more vir­tual. There are smart peo­ple ev­ery­where – of all gen­ders.”

- Danielle Roys­ton

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