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Customers in the front, technology… at the back

The evolving CTOCustomers in the front, technology… at the back

by Yogesh Malik

When you think of a CTO, be honest, do you think of a techy guy who plays with gadgets and hardware and spends his day with feature checklists, vetting new systems and vendors. Well, we need to shake off that image, and fast.

Look at the mobile operator world, has the ‘technology first’ approach worked?  Sure, we have great technology and vast high-speed networks but we’ve become complacent and detached from our customers and the kind of services they are looking for next.

The CTO’s job has changed significantly over the years. Today, I need to be much closer to our customers, innovate with industry-leading high quality services and deliver much greater returns to investors. This sounds like the job description of the business teams, but that’s who the CTO is today – a tech leader that has to have a business brain and be very close to the customer.

And that’s reflected in the team I’m hiring to support me – technical skills and business brains, IT, security and privacy experts from sectors outside of telecom, analytics and data scientist experts and even marketing graduates or CMOs.

The action starts with understanding the customers we have today, what services are they using, are they happy with us, what can we do better, and are we always two steps ahead of what they need? How can we personalize services and improve their experience?

As mobile operators, we have a lot of data on our customers but we can’t say that we really ‘know’ them and it’s often obvious to them that we don’t, and that there are times that we don’t fully understand what they are asking for.

I’ll give you an example, I told one of my utility companies in The Netherlands that I want all communication in English, yet I continue to receive my SMS alerts and bills in a language that I do not understand – it could be ‘Klingon’. This is not acceptable in a digital world where Google gives you an option on every screen to ‘choose your language preference’ and even allows automatic Google translate plugins to almost any platform or service.

Big Data and related analytics are at our fingertips now and we need to start connecting the dots at a much faster pace in order to find deeper insights around our customers.  This will enable more responsive and immediate modeling of products and services to meet their needs – in real time. The organization of tomorrow also needs to ensure the relevant analysts and teams have access to all parts of the business in order to truly derive customer centric, smart data and insights. Customer care needs to be closely aligned with marketing, marketing with technology, commercial with marketing and network operations. The linear organization of yesterday is no longer adequate. We need to radically shift our thinking around our business models, how we structure our teams and who should be learning from who in the organization.

This allows us to know a customer ‘end-to-end’ without the silos that have defined the internal structures of traditional business models. It is then that we will really begin to innovate, personalize services, improve customer support, and be more efficient with network investment.

So if you know of any data scientists out there with ‘business brains’ – I’m looking for them – drop me a line. I’m listening.




  1. Sean Trainor
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Your utility bill example is a good one. Not only did you as a customer identify a problem – you offered a solution. How often do big organisations lose sight of the fact that they have customers who are CTOs, CMOs, engineers, scientists, designers, six sigma black belt practitioners? Customers who are only too happy to point out ways to improve. But their feedback goes into the big database with no context, your ideas go in the pile of ‘nice to haves’ while the escalated ‘angry customer’ complaints are prioritised.

    In an ideal world the customer service employee who received your suggestion/complaint would be empowered to act as a triage, categorising the problem based on ease and impact of implementation, and firing it real time to a scrum master who could mobilise the right support to unblock the problem. I think that is less about big data and more about making small decisions based on real-time data.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Good insight Sean. I don’t think the scrum master’s role should be a nice to have but, rather, a must have. We need to mobilize thinking on how to make it happen. Call centres are resolving the same issues again and again, while if we used the data in a more efficient way, we would have been able to focus on utilizing the wisdom our internal customers bring quicker.

  2. Faheem Soomro
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Thanks for enlightening the updated JD’s of a modern CTO. Well, along way to go, there are various stakeholders that are unaware of the evolving digital world locally. In order to satisfy our customer needs, we have to be empathetic, we need to understand them pragmatically to deliver wow! customer experience. For instance, we have a friend with a problem. Yes, we want to help them solve it. But first we want to make sure they know we’re listening, we understand, and we care, have to use the same approach with our customers, and they’ll remain loyal to us, just like those friends. Last, but not the least, it is customer’s feedback that needs to be analyzed correctly to alter our responses. On the Network side, we have built our network, we understand our network and we have to maintain our network effectively, because it is technology….at the back, who needs to serve our customers and avert a contributing factor towards customer churn and bad customer experience.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      I can’t agree more that the backbone of customer experience relies on network development. We need to own it, but we should not get too narrowly focused on technology and lose touch with customers.

    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    So true, Yogesh. But isn’t it true for long. Oops! what about Nokia dominance? Because they failed to place Customers in the front, technology… at the back, you know the rest: disaster. Thank God, we are not too late yet! For an organization with customer excellence for survival & sustainable growth there is no other alternatives available.

    Let me add some juice to your thinking buffet:

    1. We need to have one core group for network technology group which should share their views/ideas with different opcos….

    2. For customer centric technical approach, our technology structure should comply accordingly. For example, Tansport Network Planning is divided into Wireless & Optical team. So it is Device centric. And the best solution would not go with the customers. If it is in accordance with customer centric solutions. It must be divided into Access& Backhaul. So in access layer whatever best for the solution, the team will think, innovate & go for it rather limiting there ideas narrowly only to Wireless microwave for last mile access……

    3. During Budget & BP teams should be provided some smart time window for analysis based on their customer center solutions rather traditional way of trend analysis. what was true for yesterday, might not be … …

    4. There should be some additions of adventurous new blood flowing into Technology veins in department levels who can add values thinking differently…

    5. In tomorrows world which is cruel, …

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Thank you. Nokia’s oversight of touch screen technology got them to miss out on a huge opportunity and made them lost a huge market share. They failed to see customer’s need. Your remaining points are valuable indights. The change will need reorganizing our thinking about customer in relation to technology.

  4. Omar Manur
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Customer first is a fantastic approach. Simple, obvious yet oft ignored/back-benched. We should in parallel keep a keen focus on the internal customer because a happy customer internally also exudes the same energy while interfacing with the external customer/stakeholder. And a very interesting insight on the CTO of today’s world . . .

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Agree we need to understand the needs of our customers, regardless of whether they are “internal” or “external.”

  5. Amal Gupta
    Posted 1 year ago - 1 reply

    “Customer First” enabled by Technology is the “mantra” of the digital world. In-fact that’s to the connected world, the new age consumers or Gen D so to say, hate to be fish be it net or spear fishing. These Gen D customers who are always “connected” get engage (rather hooked) with the companies only once they feel the sense of ownership. At the same time, if the companies don’t live up to the expectations, they ‘demonize’ immediately.

    For sure, technology enables the good product/services to establish that connect; a bit time enabler!! Happy to see a technology leader adopting a fresh approach to build his team to enable technology to the forefront. I hope you get the right brains!!

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 1 year ago - 0 reply

      Thanks for your comment Amal. I’m glad you acknowledge my thinking. If you would like to discuss further please contact me directly or tweet @yogeshsmalik