Driving digital in the UAE

Driving digital in the UAE

Emirates Integrated Telecom Company is better known as ‘du’, correctly rendered without a capital, its brand identity since 2006. It is the attacker in the market, having challenged the incumbent telecom operator which had the telecoms field to itself for 30 years before du came along. There are advantages and disadvantages in being a newcomer – the chief advantage is that it is easier to introduce the newest technology if you are not constantly having to update legacy system, while the disadvantage is working against an established player.

However du has positioned itself cleverly as the go-to communications service provider (CSP) for business, in a market where business growth is on everyone’s lips. Backed by oil wealth, the country has pursued a policy of diversification, encouraging the establishment and growth of non-oil businesses, with such success that its non-oil trade grew by a factor of 28 between 1981 and 2012. Each of the emirates is pursuing its own enterprise encouragement schemes, following behind Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where du is headquartered. The company has worked hard to enhance and expand its services in an industry that is at the heart of economic and social transformation.

Earlier this year the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that it was opening up the market so that du could provide home internet and landline services. The process is long overdue – mainly because of technical challenges. “You will see infrastructure sharing in phases,” said Osman Sultan, the chief executive. He said that the first phase would allow competition between du and Etisalat in fixed-line voice and internet only. The second phase will expand to allow TV services to be provided. However it is a move in the right direction – and meanwhile du has not lost grip of its lead when it comes to business services and mobile broadband, for which it was named the best mobile broadband network in the Middle East and Africa region in 2012.

Bringing people and businesses together is what du does best, says Rangarajan Kalyanasundaram, ‎Head of Marketing for the Enterprise and Government sectors. For the last six years he has been working on the front end of customer experience, operations and marketing to these key segments. “Our motivation at du is to make more commercially successful propositions, attract more customers and keep those customers happy. The question I ask is, how I can add value to a business client. That business is my customer, but at the end the customers of that business are the ones who will benefit if we can get the communications value chain right.”

From large corporates employing hundreds, such as Standard Chartered Bank and other multinational companies, through major companies with a UAE presence such as Dubai Aluminium and Microsoft, down to a host of small and medium enterprises, du serves its business clients through internal vertical teams dedicated to technology, media, healthcare, hospitality, construction, aviation and the like. This means that customers will always be able to talk to someone who really understands his business needs. “It is vital to understand the business of the customer to be able to give them right offers and propositions. We are probably one of the most innovative players, and we aim to be first to market with these solutions,” says Kalyanasundaram.

A good example is the partnership announced towards the end of last year between du and Microsoft, under which du will become the first CSP in the UAE to offer Office 365 cloud-based productivity applications and services directly to its SMB customers in the country. For the first time in the UAE small and medium-sized companies will have the benefit of cloud-based productivity tools starting from just 20 AED per month. SMBs are du’s fastest growing market, and these entrepreneurial businesses want to be part of a mobile-first, cloud-first environment.

“Currently, the SME market constitutes the biggest chunk of the UAE’s economy and is a key to the nation’s growth. We strive to match the ever-evolving needs of this dynamic business segment, by simplifying their work process. Our aim is to become the partner of choice for SMEs in the UAE. SME is a rapidly expanding segment, and we are targeting this significant growth by simplifying our processes. At du, we are constantly striving to enhance our customer experience decreasing any hassle that might accompany the business processes; hence, enabling our SME clientele to enhance their performance and productivity, while reducing costs among other benefits,” says Clinton Haswell, Vice President, SME Marketing in du.


“We want to give our customer the best value packages; no matter who the client is, they expect to receive great value, while managing their costs. We customize our solutions based on our clients’ individual business needs, for example they can add more data or national calls, if their business requires. We are the first mobile operator in the UAE market to offer free calls within the company, one of the best value services that we added to our business plan. Our sales channels are knowledgeable and equipped to help our customers in choosing the best plans for their businesses. Our new Mobile Business plans, which include simple add-ons, make this possible,” he added.

The Business Mobile Plan comprises a suite of five plans depending on the needs of the clients. Customers will be able to enjoy all of the included monthly benefits. The new plans come bundled with a host of benefits for business customers such as free calls within their company, included data, national and international voice, SMS and devices, at zero upfront cost – thus adding more value to their business. Additional add-ons include the national data bundle, extra national calling, SMS bundles and more.

Hany Fahmy Aly, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Business points out that this segment this segment has huge potential for growth. “We completely understand the needs and challenges of SMBs, and from our experience we have seen that they are early technology adopters, if products are packaged right. By offering the Office 365 suite of packages across all our core mobile and broadband services through our new collaboration with Microsoft, our SMB customers will benefit from yet another incredible effort to bring value-packed, enterprise-grade solutions to this market.”

Office 365 is however only the latest in the line of du’s responsive approach to its business customers. Another first in the region are the du Business Roaming Packs. “Our clients tell us that getting reasonably priced connectivity while travelling is always a problem,” says Kalyanasundaram. “We created this product for them.” The packs are flexibly structured, can run from 30 days to a year, containing a simple e-mail bundle, a ‘social’ bundle or a complete data bundle. Government customers have their own tailored solutions. “Today the biggest requirement for any business is data management and accessibility. We have highly advanced business intelligence tools within the business which keep us informed about our customers’ behaviour and preferences. This gives inside information into customer patterns that we can use develop new services.” This in its turn drives up du’s market share, he says.

Another big growth vertical in the business driven economy is hospitality. On top of its targeted mobile, fixed line and broadband solutions du’s IPTV service is proving very popular. It is the ideal solution for businesses like hotels, restaurants, gyms and other hospitality businesses in the UAE, he says, giving them a competitive advantage by offering their clients the choice of television channels from around the world that match their lifestyle and make them feel closer to home.

Despite the fact that it offers its clients a much larger range of tailored services than can be enumerated here this is a company that does much more than just react to perceived needs. Its industry forums bring together like minded professionals in different vertical sectors presenting them the opportunity for bridge-building among peers, and open dialogue to discuss the issues affecting their industries. “It is part of our Leadership Series,” Kalyanasundaram explains. “It also covers our Customer Advisory Board which gives them quarterly access industry captains from leading enterprises across diverse industry verticals, and also the CEO forums.” These last have seen some of the most inspiring speakers from round the world come to the UAE to meet an invited group of senior executives: recent speakers include Sir Richard Branson, Clayton Christensen, Chris Anderson and Malcolm Gladwell.

To deliver this level of service calls for world class IT performance in the back office. Hany Fahmy Aly points to the rapidly increasing demand for services delivered over the cloud, top flight security and data warehousing and backup. As every type of organisation wakes up to the potential of big data, storage and accessibility, voice, e-mail and even internet services are becoming a commodity. That is why du has put so much emphasis on differentiating its offering. “We are seeing more customers engaging in conversations with us on how they can introduce smart solutions and cut costs,” says Aly. “As a CSP we are becoming a business enabler. Customers really appreciate the value of a one-stop-shop for ICT enabled services, so the growth areas for us are now in ICT services linked in one way or another to connectivity.”

Traditionally growth areas have been mobile and fixed services, however the market is now evolving toward Cloud, Mobility and Convergence. In the UAE Managed Services annual revenue is currently in excess of AED 2.5 billion with double digit growth expected in the next five years. Managed Services is a dedicated business unit within du’s Enterprise business. du’s Managed Service portfolio covers all businesses Integrated Communication Technology needs including Advanced Connectivity, Managed Security, Business Cloud, and Converged Communication. This unit responsible for developing and launching new Managed Services propositions, taking them to market through direct and in-direct channels and is also responsible for the delivery of complex solutions with industry leading Service Level Agreements.

According to Abou Moustafa – Vice President, Managed Services in du, “The major trends emerging in the Managed Services space are centred on the need for organisations to have highest calibre security, storage and analytics tools and their people to be more mobile and collaborative than ever.”

So du is playing a big part in transforming UAE businesses large and small into smart enterprises – and lean enterprises, which are happy to outsource business critical IT rather than invest in in-house capacity. Cloud is becoming a key enabler here, says Aly. “Cloud gives you flexibility like never before – business without borders,” he says. It gives global accessibility, unheard of speed and scale, and peace of mind, because disaster recovery is no longer an issue.

The company is developing integrated solutions as opposed to standalone products, Hany Fahmy Aly concludes. “We try to focus on holistic enterprise solutions to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. We offer connectivity solutions and devices; we can host the information and the software that runs your applications; we can provide security against cyber-attacks or leakage of information; we can monitor and manage these systems. The key challenge for us and for any telco is having a constantly adaptable model which allows continuous innovation especially in customer service.”

It’s interesting that he ends on customer service, something that can be enabled by technology but can’t do without the human touch. So as well as investing heavily in its managed services and data centres it is also investing in HR. “At the end, you are only as good as your people – everything else is just a commodity!”


Anis Tabka