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To deliver next-generation digital experiences and differentiated services to its customers, M1 is partnering with Microsoft to harness the power of cloud to accelerate its digital transformation journey. Telecom Review Asia interviews Nathan Bell, Chief Digital Officer at M1 Limited and George M.P., Director of Enterprise Commercial at Microsoft Singapore to find out how this collaboration drives M1’s ambition to become a digital service provider and add value to customers.

Earlier this year, M1 unveiled a new brand identity and goal to become Singapore’s first digital network operator, how is this direction important today and in a post-pandemic world?

Nathan: Even before the pandemic, we have already seen a shift in consumer behaviour towards digital platforms and services, and COVID-19 has further accelerated this shift. With changing consumer behaviour and the advent of digital interactions, it was important for M1 to relook how we can remain relevant.

As much as the pandemic threw a wrench in many plans, it also highlighted the need to accelerate digital transformation not only for M1, but for many other organisations. As such, M1 embarked on a journey to evolve into a digital telco to increase scalability and enhance customers’ self-service experience so that people can work from anywhere and everywhere. This enhanced our ability to connect with new partners in weeks instead of months – all done to achieve the larger goal of customer centricity and to deliver personalised made-to-measure experience.

In line with Keppel’s Vision 2030, which includes empowering communities with connectivity, M1 is doubling down on innovation and radical growth in our technology infrastructure to stay ahead in the digital landscape. Our advanced new digital capabilities that further support our promise to deliver personalised experiences, will ensure M1 is at the forefront of building Singapore’s digital economy and transforming the telecommunications landscape.

George: COVID-19 has shown very clearly the critical role that telco operators play in our society and economy. The shift to a hybrid way of life and increased virtual engagement – from remote working to online learning – has driven demand for connectivity services and hybrid work and play experiences on an unprecedented scale.

The rapid evolution of the internet into a primarily mobile platform has also changed consumer behaviors and their digital consumption habits. Consumers now expect digital services to be seamlessly available – anytime, anywhere, and on any device – prompting telco operators to embrace digital transformation in their operations and evolve their service offerings to deliver new, integrated experiences for consumers.

As such, telco operators like M1 no longer serve as just network service providers. The increasing demand for always-on connectivity, communication, and collaboration – from mobile and entertainment to daily needs such as online banking and shopping – has driven telco operators to double down on innovation to stay ahead.

Coupled with the rise of 5G networks, telco operators are now more challenged than ever to embark on digital transformation to deliver faster connectivity, immersive experiences, and differentiated services to its customers. For M1, this transformation is built on the cloud, which brought the scale M1 needed to serve an increasingly discerning customer base and allowed them to optimise the overall customer experience.

M1 has chosen Microsoft Singapore as a strategic partner to chart its evolution from an operator to a digital services provider, tapping on Microsoft Azure to power M1’s systems. How will this partnership on the cloud support M1’s digital transformation?

Nathan: M1 utilised a software defined approach to the digital transformation, and we chose to build our digital platform in the cloud, so as to not face restraints and have access to scalability – we are able to scale up with demand or contract during market challenges, such as the current global pandemic.

Another key factor in moving to the cloud is the reliability, scalability, flexibility and performance M1 will now have, alongside insight to data analytics, without the worry of having to identify and procure additional infrastructure. With Azure Cloud, M1 has been able to simplify our architecture and consolidate multiple processes with easy customisation. It has ensured the quality and performance of our digital platform and has allowed for continuous growth as we move away from a premise approach. This allows us to focus on the needs of our business as we have the full support of a partner like Microsoft ensuring our infrastructure is always available.

George: Singapore is one of the most competitive telco markets in the world. To stay ahead of the curve and keep pace with consumer and business needs, operators need to be at the forefront of innovation, and this is why they embrace solutions such as Azure to power their digital transformation.

Through the power of the cloud, M1 can take the first step to its goal of becoming a digital service provider by offering a much wider range of digital services, and reduce costs by shifting to digital-first channels. It removes a massive proportion of capital expenditure and operational load, allowing M1 to have the flexibility and scalability to build go-to-market muscle and develop new digital services for its customers.

What are the new capabilities of M1’s digital platform?

Nathan: Our digital transformation is enabled by a future-proof new technology stack which is able to integrate all aspects of our systems onto one digital platform. Working with some of the world’s leading technology service providers, we were able to shift almost all aspects of M1’s back- end system (barring physical network assets) to the cloud – a first in the telco industry.

Today, we are 90% cloud native. We managed to consolidate 150 legacy applications down to only 30 applications to run the business. In addition, we were able to streamline over 200 databases to a single data lake, enabling real-time data analytics.

With a strong technology platform as a foundation, we can continue to build new capabilities and develop innovative products for our customers. As we are now cloud native, our platform will continue to evolve naturally as updates from our tech solution partners will be integrated automatically, effectively and more frequently, removing the manual integration barriers caused by our previous legacy systems. This also makes it more cost effective in the long run as we do not need to invest in major system upgrades.

How will this transformation deliver value to consumers and industries?

Nathan: M1’s new digital platform will change and simplify the way we work and bring real value to our customers. The move to a cloud-based native platform will provide us tremendous agile business benefits and flexibility such as allowing us to drive changes in real time, match business demand, ease up integration with business partners as well as allow customers and partners to self-serve, and more.

With this back-end technological change, M1 will become even more relevant and accessible to our customers. With the ease and flexibility the platform offers, customers can move from queueing at the store to self-service and our customer support staff can effect changes immediately with a touch of a button. Our new digital platform improves customer experience as it streamlines our processes. By being cloud native, a lot of tasks can be simplified and fulfilled in real-time.

Today, consumers can do everything from paying bills, shopping for new devices and adding new services holistically and in real time – right from the palm of their hands. In fact, we have created over six million permutations and combinations to provide that ease of use to our customers. With our single data lake, we are also able to generate real-time data analytics and provide actionable insights to better serve our customers. Tapping on this technology also helps reduce human errors and boost customers’ confidence when using M1’s services.

George: At Microsoft, we envision a world where operators can transition from costly and time-consuming investments of upgrading and maintaining complex technology, to one where they can free up resources to support the creation and innovation of new services for consumers and industries by leveraging the power of the cloud.

Through our partnerships and combined experience in telecommunications, Microsoft is accelerating M1’s cloud adoption and powering a new suite of digital-first customer journeys. For instance, the integration of Openet’s cloud-native solution on Azure will enable M1 to leverage real-time usage data and as a result offer its customers more personalized and seamless digital experiences across all touchpoints.

This partnership with M1 marks a new chapter in Microsoft’s collaboration with the local telecommunications industry to unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever. The introduction of Microsoft’s technology to the operator’s edge, coupled with our strong developer ecosystem, will help operators future proof their networks, reduce costs, and pave the way for new services and business models.

Through this transformation, M1 is now leveraging Microsoft’s technology to innovate and derive new digital revenue models, products, and services for enterprises, which will in turn be able to do the same for their customers and industries they serve. This will also create further acceleration of the industry-wide transformation across telecommunications.

With the rise of 5G and IoT applications, as well as greater demand for digital connectivity, what is the role of technology in driving innovation for the telecommunications industry?

Nathan: 5G is a crucial milestone to enable an interconnected infrastructure that makes our spaces more efficient, convenient, safe and liveable. With 5G capabilities incorporated into devices and machines, it will drastically change the way we do things for both consumers and enterprises. At M1, we see 5G as more than connectivity infrastructure, but instead as a key driver of a digital future, and we look forward to exploring more 5G use- cases for B2B, B2G and B2C projects.

The rollout of the more secure and resilient 5G SA network in the next few weeks will allow us to tap into the full potential of 5G technology and open up a wider range of applications from cloud gaming to autonomous vehicles and remote surgery. Already, M1 has achieved a record of 15 5G live use cases and trials, putting us at the forefront of 5G development as we seek to continue stronger down this path.

Over the past two years, M1 has also been working closely with our key shareholder, Keppel Corporation, harnessing synergies to strengthen our propositions and creating more business solutions. Playing a crucial role in the larger Keppel ecosystem through leveraging our digital solutions and 5G network, we are able to enhance Keppel’s suite of urbanisation solutions, including smart yards of the future, smart townships and buildings.

Understanding and recognising the potential that 5G brings, M1 is excited to see through the development of use cases alongside the development of the 5G network. Even as the network progresses, the technology will enable more services and new industry applications as well. M1 is committed to driving innovation and unleashing the capabilities of 5G to realise the vision of Singapore’s next bound in the digital world.

George: As we move into an era of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge that is driven by massive technology shifts in ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, and people-centered experiences, the telco industry has taken on a unique role in the realisation of 5G and next-generation digital experiences for consumers. With the rollout of 5G, service providers must also continue to evolve their workloads – including operations, network management, sales and marketing, customer care, and billing – to quickly define, deploy, and optimise new offerings that will realize the full business potential of 5G-enabled services. Operators can simplify these workloads, reduce costs, increase productivity, realise efficiencies, and increase organisational agility through intelligent processes and automation on a trusted and secure cloud.

Additionally, we believe that the use of technology can automate and accelerate not only the 5G core network, but also expand the reach of programmable networks, delivering new edge solutions that offer advancements in cost, speed, and security for operators. The rise of 5G will also open new frontiers for developers to unlock new use cases and create a next wave of edge applications to benefit end users.

By infusing data, artificial intelligence and mixed reality into the cloud and powering it with 5G, we get an intelligent cloud and intelligent edge that presents tremendous potential for the industry to come together to provide real value to customers through enhanced digital services. In the long run, these partnerships will also drive the development of sustainable developer and commercial ecosystems, which will accelerate the delivery of exciting new capabilities at the edge, and spur continuous innovation for the telecommunications industry.

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