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Digital transformation… it’s OK to ask “what do you mean?”
Hands holding digital globe

Digital transformation… it’s OK to ask “what do you mean?”

by Yogesh Malik

You can’t escape talking about digital transformation these days. It’s become a key buzzword, especially within a telecom industry that is in a real need of change.

As CTO of VimpelCom, one of the world’s largest telecom operators, I fully agree that we need to transform and improve not only our services, but the way we do business. But what concerns me is that I’m not sure people understand why.

We need to find out what we mean by digital transformation, embrace this vision and let it empower the customer. A big issue that arises is confusion around how we actually define ‘it’ – and I don’t mean the textbook definition.

For me, it’s about dramatically changing the paradigm of our ‘typical’ way of working. I see three key dimensions driving this change: purpose, mindset and culture.

I can define purpose in one word –  the customer, a central component to our industry change and the most significant driver.

There is an ongoing debate about virtualization and digitalization while the industry is stuck in old mentalities, and remains unable to create disruptive innovations that answer customers’ truly digital needs. We have systems layered over systems, and the valuable customer and application data we need lies somewhere buried below. So, we need to build an interface to free up that ‘customer data flow’ that allows us to tap into their digital universe. Take the network as example, it could be 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi – the customer doesn’t care if we combine bandwidth or switch to an available channel, as long as their experience is seamless.

The second dimension we need to tackle in order to disrupt is the way we think. It’s time to drop incremental business models and the way we run operations. Having the full programmed value chain in every country from design, planning, and deployment to operations is not efficient in today’s consumer era. We should learn and even borrow from other industries, ones that have undergone disruption. For example, retailers who centralize design, architecture, and operations and local stores benefit from the latest clothing designs, and can plan and order with fast turnaround times for what they need for their local customers and markets. I call it clean sheet thinking. It’s fresh and innovative. It’s about being agile and thinking out of silos.

Clean sheet thinking should also be reflected as part of a cultural change within global organizations. Disrupting the ‘continue to do what we did yesterday’ mentality and really challenging people to think about new ways of looking at an issue or process will produce much more interesting results. It invites efficiency and enrichment. I always welcome ideas for breaking silos and the thinking behind them. To me it matters that the team is thinking about positive change, disrupting the status quo, because that’s what digital transformation is all about. This is what will get people behind real change and we need to build that spirit.

Today we use large global technology suppliers to manage network upgrades and maintain our infrastructure. If we keep running our networks, infrastructure and product development processes and systems the same way, we can’t be surprised if we continue to get the same results. We can’t be surprised when agile competitors come out with new data services that are free and funded by advertising, or launch over-the-top video channels with broadcast quality that consumes a lot of network bandwidth.

I’m not meaning  to make a move to virtualizing the network and functions sound easy: it’s not. But we need to make our network assets work better for us, become more cost efficient to run, easier to maintain, upgrade and operate, easier and faster to roll out new services. These will be table stakes for network operators competing in the future.

Let me leave you with three change enablers that I believe we need, to really transform. Enablers such as new ecosystems and disruptive partners, mobilized and fresh talent given new chances to grow, and finally, crowdsourced solutions that support innovative initiatives and open doors for pioneering technologies. At VimpelCom we are embarking on the journey of transformation and intend to become one of the pioneers of digital disruption.

Are you with me? I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas on digital transformation and what it means to you.


  1. Faheem Soomro
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Spot on!, we have to redefine our relationship with customers.

    The distance learning courses comprises of clear insights pertinent to digital transformation, can pave the way for meaningful inroads into the digital experience through the culture of performance, and enable us to step ahead of kerfuffles engulfing the digital transformation within the organization and the industry, specially in developing economies.

    For telecom operators, success will depend upon gaining a deeper understanding of coherent digital ecosystems, developing or acquiring the capabilities needed to implement digital ecosystems, and making sure the ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts.

    Succinctly, to prepare an agile response to the growing need of digitalization, prevalent technologies such as IOT (Internet of things), crowdsourced solutions and Emergency Telecommunications can be of lucrative interest.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Thanks for your insights. This blog is meant as an idea generating platform. We want to start a discussion and raise the status quo. It’s good to hear likeminded people that understand where the industry is going.

  2. Forruk Ahmed
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    “Hard practice, easy war, Must win”
    To me digital transformation is the hard practice by the service providers
    Making service easy & available is the war
    Customer satisfaction is the win
    It is all about how your customers are getting things easily.
    To my sense making service extremely easy & available for customers at right moment is the true meaning of digitalization.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Anna
    Posted 2 years ago - 2 reply

    Fully agree. I think that the main threat for any telco company is not anymore the closest compatitor on the market but the companies like Google. Facebook and Amazon. They own a userbase. And they now the user so well by analising the data so they can predict his wishes and intents even before he knows what he wants.
    They are launching products and services that meet user expectations and totaly replace a connectivity in old meaning of this word. People moved from calls to Skype, from SMS to Whats Up – they consume online, connect online, buy online. Telco companies must THINK DIGITALY no matter what projects or departments we are talking about. We all need to have a DIGITAL DNA inside of us and follow the user behaviour, analise it, use our data and predict the future creating a truly digital products. Also digital transformation its about an approach to any service creation – superfast, agile, lean based.
    Any project team inside of a big organisation has to be a start-up with the daily approach: “How can I win with the lowest burn rate, fastest time-to-market and best motivated team?”

    • Rob
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Let’s proceed with the startup approach!
      Think as a startup, act as a startup, be lean as a startup and go beyond any existing staeus quo, exactly as a startup.

      But be ready to be successful as startups usually are: rarely.
      Visionary innovation is magic, but it’s a lottery where very few may win.

      Is it acceptable by a big organization? if yes, then go ahead!

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      I’m glad to hear that you have the same mindset. We understand the journey is tough, but it’s also very inspirational and we are all a part of it.

  4. Roberto
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Being disruptive is the only way forward. Take a clean sheet of paper indeed. Draw up what people need or want. Even if they are not aware yet. Think beyond the current. Think beyond 3G, 4G, LTE. Think even beyond digital if that helps to free your creative process.
    Think IPhone. Think Tesla. Swim upstream. Think success. You’ll get it.

    By the way: There is enough satellite bandwidth to quantum leap terrestrial developments.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Aktar Hossain
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Partially understood. Confusion arises in the question of dealing daily works at desk. Does it also mean paperless job? How will be the support at which level from vimpelcom to a junior employee in Banglalink? Thanks.

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      I am glad that you have raised this. Actually paperless, open office culture, cross-functional teamwork to come up with new ideas and customer (both internal and external) are key parts of this.

  6. Sergey
    Posted 2 years ago - 1 reply

    Thinking outside the box is the main recommendation, but why did you start from CIS operation changees?

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

      That’s a great point. I fully agree that alternate thinking can come from any direction, and that various industries should inspire each other to transform. With VimpelCom, we are exploring disruptive solutions that will lead us closer to our customer. We are investing heavily in innovative thinking that will push us forward to become the operator of the future. To answer your question about emerging markets I would like to suggest a blog we have previously written about that approach. As you see emerging markets have always been our focus. These markets have proven to be great pioneering zones for innovation.

  7. Jay
    Posted 2 years ago - 0 reply

    I agree with you that customer centricity and business innovation are going to take telcos forward in digital age. When you think about understanding who the customer is and what he wants even that has to undergo sea change, he is no longer only your subscriber, he is a mobile consumer now who has access to larger set of digital services through you and his needs and preferences are much more broader and dynamic in nature. A plethora of opportunities exist around this I believe for Telcos and Analytics is going to be a key piece in this puzzle!

  8. Pim Dieben
    Posted 1 year ago - 1 reply

    Perhaps we should look at other companies and understand why they are successful. Often not because they have the cheapest offers, not because they are necessary top line innovators, not because they are a must have and therefore maintain their position. Often they manage to hit the right button. They delight the customer with offerings that are not always expected but come at the right moment. They trigger a smile, enthusiasm. They have fans rather than ‘customers’ or even worse ‘consumers’. They engage rather than roll-out their products and services, they have no distance to the consumer as they live an act as ‘real’ consumers; they are in fact consumers themselves. In essence they have a key characteristic; they are relevant in any aspect. They are real, their services are real-time and spot on. But there is more, in their contact interaction they understand what is the next step; and as there organization is built around ‘flexibility’ and this forms an integral part of their DNA the next phase does not come as a surprise; they don’t need to transform as the transformation is ongoing and part of their daily operation.

    So far so good, but how to get on becoming this ‘ideal’ Telco (or perhaps communication / content enabler) company in a sometimes / partially saturated legacy based industry? First we should get a very thorough understanding of who our customer is, what thrives him, what puts him or her down and what our role is in this. The data is there, it needs to be identified and placed into context. Then only we can see how relevant our contribution in our customer’s consumption, expectation and behavior is. This first step of the journey will provide reflection insight and will get us understand what the next products and services could look like. The time of try-and-see-what-works product launches is over, it will only be getting more exiting!

    To be continued…

    • Yogesh Malik
      Posted 1 year ago - 0 reply

      Interesting comment. To us everyone is a customer, or a fan. Not only people that are our clients, but also others that are living their digital lives and are in need for real-time targeted services. With new, agile technology we aim to cater to all customers out there. The first step is to really understand what they want and need, and when. I fully agree, traditionally telcos thought differently and failed to deliver the right service at the right time. That is why we have decided to transform, leapfrogging the old legacies and becoming an agile digital technology company rather than the perfect telco. I truly believe that the telco model will need to go through a major reformation if we want it to have a place in the Digital Economy.