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With Malaysia poised to be one of the next key players in the race towards 5G deployment in Southeast Asia, Telecom Review Asia Pacific sat down with TM ONE’s Chief Network Officer, Ir. Azizi Hadi to discuss the transformative plans for 5G in the region and the importance of working closely with customers to ensure a smooth and seamless transition into the next phase of the digital revolution.

Do you believe that a customer-centric outlook is crucial for the advancement of emerging technologies like 5G within Malaysian society?

I’m a technologist and I know that technology alone will not make it without the support of the customer. For example, I told my team not to go out and sell IoT or 5G, but if you look at the solutions that we have, we must have sensor or data collection point. This sensor is connected to the back-end platform via communication link which can be wireless or wired.

As long as the network can support the data transmission between the sensors, then the information or the data can be carried to the back-end. The back-end is where we store the data and where we use artificial intelligence or machine learning to process data and come up with information for customers to help their businesses, whether it means generating more revenue or incurring lesser costs.

We believe if we work for the customers, it will work in our benefit, whether it’s in the same vertical or an adjacent vertical. 5G is a journey and we all need it.

In your quest to bring awareness of 5G to the Malaysian market, have government initiatives aided in this endeavour or do you feel that more can and should be done?

I believe that the government sets the direction, aspires to achieve something and helps with funding, but I do not believe that we could be funded wholly by the government. For example, the Malaysian government came up with a blueprint for a digital nation and it focused on three areas; digital society, digital business and digital government, all of which are intertwined.

We started to define what it means to have a digital society. It is basically a society that is fuelled by ICT, broadband, usage of smartphones, applications on smartphones and many more. This can be considered a smart society because these gadgets help society to have a better life. You won’t need to drive out to get food anymore, you can order it online and it will be delivered to your doorstep. You don’t even need to go to the bank or carry a lot of money. Everything can be done with a click of a button. A digital society is so much safer.

For digital businesses, our team has been working closely with customers for a year and a half on a lot of solutions to change the product development process. When it comes to digitisation, you cannot have a process with delays or forces you to wait till it is completed. In digital businesses, you need to come up with a viable product, you find the customers needed to use it and work with you in order to make alterations where necessary until they are happy with the product.

In terms of a digital government, we have recently launched an initiative known as the 10T (10 transformative smart solutions) in August. You can find out more about this on our official website. The solutions range from smart homes, smart traffic lights, smart parking, smart water management and smart agriculture among others. Instead of sending people to get things done, everything will be connected to a sensor or network and so on. I assure you there will be more in the future as we are working on this but the event was a way to highlight our claim on this digital space. There are a lot of service providers in Malaysia who talk about this but we actually launched this initiative with customers already on-board.

What kinds of challenges did you face when it came to introducing 5G to the Malaysian consumer base?

One of the challenges that I faced initially pertained to connectivity revenue. It was declining and continued to decline. We agreed that we needed a new revenue source, but it has to be adjacent to what we do. The organisation was very generic. I believe if we continued to be in that generic mind-set, I think we would continue having standard horizontal products. This is when we agreed to realign ourselves into a vertical industry.

I proposed this to the board in 2017 and told them that I would have 12 verticals, and although they agreed to it in principle, they said that 12 verticals might be too many for us to operate. I told them I wanted it to be brand new so that we could have teams that work with a smaller group of customers and understand them better through the usage of design thinking and agree unanimously on what customers need to transform digitally.

All these verticals have their own director, like a mini CEO or industrial expert that we have hired to help customers by talking to them and doing research on what their needs may be, and in this way they will be able to come up with solutions for each case. So that is what we’ve been doing the last few years.

In your opinion, how is TM ONE renewing its own business mandate to cater to the inevitable adoption of 5G and its eventual dissemination into the Malaysian business ecosystem?

We went through our own transformation within the organisation, our mind-set, our skill set and our business models. We had to change our customers’ businesses from preventive to predictive. A lot of things have changed. Connectivity has been our core business for many years, but connectivity is becoming a commodity. If you don’t look beyond connectivity, then the organisation will become irrelevant in the next 3 to 5 years.

We need to look at new opportunities and requirements. We have to work very closely with customers. We need to change our product development process. We were using standard gated processes for our product development, but in a digital world this does not work. You have to transform and you have to change. So we have now moved from traditional gated processes product development to MVP (minimum viable product).

The work does not stop here though. We are also changing our whole product concept. We used to take a long time to launch products, but in this case, we understand our customer needs and we begin to use emerging technologies like IoT, AI, Big Data and so on, and integrate these all into our solutions. Most importantly, if you are able to create a platform like this, you can manage your solutions efficiently and be very competitive in the market.