Chief Information Officer Titi Fakuade outlines how COVID-19 has produced unexpected benefits and discusses the operator’s plans for becoming a major...
The disruption from the global pandemic has yielded some unexpected benefits for Lonestar Cell/ MTN. The Monrovia-based telco has capitalized on the growth in digital to strengthen its mobile payment services. In contrast, customers, either through working from home or consuming more data, have become more digitally savvy – which complements the company's core vision to empower and provide everyone with the benefits of a modern, connected life. Therefore, we continue to evolve our technology and IT landscape to enable true innovations that provide business value to align with our goal to become a FinTech and digital player.
"The good thing about COVID-19 is it has accelerated adoption," said CIO Titi Fakuade. "There are so many things we do now that pre-COVID we wouldn't have engaged in – such as virtual conferences, meetings which require providing people with data and internet services wherever they may be. With the rise in Work From Home (WFH), people can work effectively while adopting these tools.
"Mobile Money services have been a huge focus for us, and we have been able to implement 'push and pull' strategies. Consumers have warmly received it, and the banks were relieved as it freed up their spaces, and they avoided handling cash."
Mobile Money marks the latest phase in an ongoing commitment to improving the customer journey – and again, COVID indirectly helped facilitate demand. "There was a need to ensure that customers who couldn't visit the service centers should be able to perform some services themselves through self service options and use of our digital customer service channels. Combined with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, we became even more customer-focused and improved their experience with Lonestar Cell MTN."
While mobile payments were in place before the pandemic, banking services, such as international remittances, have been enhanced. "For Mobile Money, we're looking at breaking new barriers, having third party developers onboarded through an open API within the next six to 12 months," she said.
Other developments included a new instant messaging app 'Ayoba', powered by MTN that allows people to chat with anyone regardless of whether they have the app or not. The App allows people to enter discussions without worrying about data – invaluable for fostering communication during lockdown – and access exclusive offers and discounts. Leveraging digital channels through social media has also helped grow the brand's profile.
"We have to ensure that services are highly available, and customers can get services on demand," she said. E- learning is another key trend, which has broken down the barriers, so now customers can join courses wherever they are."
Cybersecurity, another vital area whose profile has soared in tandem with the WFH movement, has also received enhanced focus. Around 80 percent of employees worked remotely during COVID, and the company could leverage seamlessly on the technology. "E-commerce is here to stay, with online purchasing growing. There is no turning back. We are living in an age of 'the new normal' ", she said. "There was a need to be empathetic with the teams and strike a balance between engagement and isolation. I had one-on-ones regularly to keep on top of things."
As Lonestar Cell MTN's network evolves, it looks at new technologies such as 5G. Still, she said that the priority now is exploiting existing technologies and big data and analytics, which will propel the business forward. "We have a lot of insights that must be exploited for business value – that's a continuous journey," she said.
Virtualization technologies will take greater prominence as Lonestar Cell MTN looks to raise efficiencies in tandem with greater workflow automation.
"We have solutions that use robots, ensuring that we are constantly monitoring the network, and ensuring services are available from the huge demand of the customer base," she said while "Chatbot and AI space are areas of opportunity”. As someone with a physics background, there is a need to be solutions minded, forward thinking and work well within a team."
"Africa is a continent with huge digital potential; it's evolving even faster after the pandemic. We see customers who were previously resistant now accepting change, and they won't return to the old ways." "There will be a blend in the future – a lot of people still miss the personal interaction, depending on the age segment.
Culture remains critical for rallying around a common goal and vision. "For us to continue to succeed, our empowering culture plays a vital role. Everyone believes in the vision to lead delivery of a bold new digital world, and we have a common belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a connected life. These impact our actions on a day-to-day basis."
Lonestar MTN has many partners, providing strategic collaboration, which is critical to continuous evolution of digital experiences for our customers. There is a need to ensure they are ecosystem partners as the relationship cannot be one sided.
Some of the partners we have strategically collaborated are Secure and Trusted Alliance Services for infrastructure supplies, Comviva to provide mobile solutions and digital VAS and Kapptivate for quality of experience, monitoring, and testing.
"Partnerships needs to be strengthened as we progress on this digital transformation journey," she said. “We have a plan to transform into a digital operator, under our ‘Oxygen’ transformation programme. To achieve this effectively, we will need our partners to work with us.”
"We will try to move into agile operations, enabling growth within the market, within the enterprise, and within the connected workspace."