Zain pioneered mobile telecommunications in the Middle East and Africa and has achieved market leadership in most of the 8 countries it operates. Scott Gegenheimer is Zain’s group CEO of operations and is responsible for the leadership, management, and oversight of the group’s operating companies.
The big question for us is: “How does a telco change the way we run our business so that we can use the new digital world capabilities to both identify new areas of growth in the digital space and better leverage our existing telecom infrastructure?” In the past—and this is true for most telecommunications companies even today—it could take three or four months to launch a new product or service.
Now, with API platforms and cloud computing, we can launch new services in a matter of days with the ultimate goal of bringing this down to hours. The agility and flexibility, and how easy it is to scale, makes working with the Apigee platform quite compelling. It all helps to reduce cost, enable reusability, and achieve faster go-to-market.
Uniting operating companies by exposing APIs
For us, the biggest advantage of a single API platform is how we can consolidate to have our whole group reading from the same playbook. On the business side, we previously had to negotiate and then integrate with each of the eight opcos (operating companies) in our group.
Now, with the group API platform, we have the ability to consolidate integration efforts into one single, seamless, and evolving interface. The fact that we can now sign a group contract and readily deploy service across our group companies is probably the biggest advantage for us.
Digital transformation is always tough, and what we’re really talking about is business transformation at a deeper level. There's a lot of complexity but in the end it always comes back to people, processes, and technology.
For me, the culture—the people part—is probably the most challenging aspect. Culture change is difficult at any company. I have found that one of the fastest ways to move forward with this transformation is to get one early adopter of a single exposed API on board for just one project. Once the other country operations see that success, they’re more willing to adopt the same service, and then we are in a better position to accelerate implementation across the group.
We just launched our group-wide API platform on Apigee Edge, which will allow us to connect our operating companies around the Middle East and Africa on a single enablement platform. We’ll be rolling it out gradually after the initial pilot phase in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
A partnership born in the cloud
The decision-making process to settle on an API platform took us about a year. This involved looking at vendors, organization, addressing questions like “do we have the right people to run this,” and doing an RFQ. And then Apigee came in and launched the cloud API platform in 48 hours! This was a crucial step in our digital transformation journey.
Google’s acquisition of Apigee gave us a big boost in confidence, especially when looking at the long play and the many opportunities to team up with them. We realized that we wanted a partnership, and we thought the combination of Apigee and Google was strong. We’re looking forward to having a strong relationship with Apigee and figuring out other steps that we can take to further our digital transformation.
Leapfrogging toward customer satisfaction
One of the interesting things about our business and our region is that most of our consumers are digital natives. The cell phone is an extension of how they live. They do everything on the phone, so whether it's payments, making communication calls, or streaming, almost everything is done from the device.
What we've seen with our customer satisfaction and net promoter scores is that the digital channel rates are much higher with customers. It's more than double our traditional scores for our call centers and retail shops. People like to have control of what they're doing, when they want. Being digital natives, our consumers expect us to provide them with a seemingly endless array of capabilities. Not only do they expect services like payments, streaming, and making calls, they expect them to be delivered with the speed and agility an API platform provides.
Looking forward with Apigee
Just after implementing our API platform, one of the opcos started implementing a new service and our opco technical guys wanted to give the vendor a cumbersome direct connection to the SMSC (short message service center). We had to explain that we have an API platform. Why would they want to do an old fashioned direct connection and not go through the new platform? That’s an example of the culture change we have to work on inside the company.
As we continue to press forward with our digital strategy, it will become increasingly clear across Zain that APIs and an API platform give us the agility and speed to execute so we don’t have to deal with legacy solutions like direct connections. We're just at the beginning of executing our digital strategy, but the API platform underlies all of our digital pillars—within Zain and with the outside.