Sunday, May 19, 2024

Technological shifts are happening every 3 years: Talal Al Mamari (CEO, Omantel)


Technological shifts are happening every 3 years: Talal Al Mamari (CEO, Omantel)

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CEO Profile

Talal Al Mamari is the Chief Executive Officer of Omantel since 29th June 2014. He has more than 20 years of experience in the Telecom and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Industry. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he held several leadership positions, and his preceding role was Chief Financial Officer.

Talal Al Mamari played an instrumental role in various strategies and programs, primarily the privatization of Omantel, the major restructuring project which brought together mobile and fixed operations, and the legal merger of Oman Mobile with Omantel. Additionally, he led Omantel to execute a transformational strategy that included capacity building, aspiring and dynamic work culture, growth & income diversification programs besides the shift from traditional telecom services to ICT solutions. This is further to forming the third-largest telecom group in the region by acquiring a controlling stake in Kuwait Zain Group.

Talal Al Mamari holds Board memberships in various Companies and Investment Funds such as; Zain Group, Oman Corporate Governance & Sustainability Centre, and BMJBR Properties Limited.

Talal holds a degree in Business Administration from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh – Pennsylvania as well as Senior Executive Program from London Business School, UK.

Omantel, the first communications company in Oman, was founded in 1996, with the government owning 51% of its shares. The company has experienced continuous growth, both domestically and internationally. What would you say is the key to success in this business and how does Omantel respond to the increasing demand with new trends in the ICT sector?

Talal Al Mamari: Omantel has a long history in the industry. Although the company transitioned from a public entity into a corporate entity in 1996, followed by a listing in what is now known as the Muscat Stock Exchange, our involvement dates back even before the Renaissance of 1970.

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Omantel was established to connect people and bring them closer together. Our existence and purpose have multiple dimensions including social and economic aspects. Time has its influence on everything including this industry making it highly dynamic.

One of the most significant changes we have witnessed in our market and industry relates to consumer behaviour. The way telecom services are consumed today is vastly different from even just a few years ago. The shift in consumption behaviour dictated the need for us to adapt. So, we did it.

These changes extend beyond the consumer space and also impact the enterprise sector where technology has always played a major role in the economic performance, efficiency, and productivity of enterprises. However, its role has evolved, from traditional connectivity requirements to offering solutions that address real problems within the business’s specific parameters.

So, when you ask me about the key to our success, I believe it lies in our ability to adapt and stay relevant while remaining true to our own purpose. We strive to align with the ambitions of our nation as well as serve as enablers to our society and cater to the needs of individuals and decision-makers across various stakeholder environments.

Whether it’s governance or environmental sustainability, our focus on society is deeply embedded in our strategy.

Omantel has a strong contribution not only in terms of environmental responsibility but also socially. Omantel helped reduce the impact of Tropical Cyclone Shirin in the Batinah region. Moreover, you actively participated in various events supporting SMEs and launched sustainability campaigns for vending machines. With such growth and social and environmental responsibilities, how does Omantel strike a balance? Could you share any upcoming projects and your personal involvement in them?

Talal Al Mamari: Since the founding days of Omantel, our purpose has revolved around society and, therefore, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) policies and frameworks are essential to our operations at Omantel.

The examples that you have mentioned align with our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda. Every year, we review our CSR agenda and define specific areas of focus, guided by our principles. Empowering youth and women in the country and closing the digital gap are high priorities for us.

Both of these examples, as far as principles are concerned, are supported by specific plans and contributions from stakeholders within the country. At this point in time, when everyone is talking about the shifts in economies, it is important to support and build capacity, particularly in terms of talent and upskilling the talents already in our countrymen. We have an agreement with the Ministry of Education to introduce a curriculum focusing on coding and digital knowledge from grades 1 to 4.

I am pleased to share that this project has already been implemented, and it is personally close to my agenda as a CEO. We also collaborated with the Ministry of Education to provide digital education during the COVID-19 pandemic. This collaboration led to the introduction of the region’s first Google Classroom Suite, which has been instrumental in enabling remote learning and is still benefiting the ministry.

Moreover, we have undertaken several initiatives to make Omantel’s celebrations more environmentally friendly, aiming for net-zero emissions. For instance, the building that you are visiting now for this interview obtains 27% to 32% of its power from solar energy. You may have also noticed solar power panels in the parking area. Whether it’s governance or environmental sustainability, our focus on society is deeply embedded in our strategy.

You recently signed a partnership with Vingroup. Could you share your plans for international expansion and which markets are currently your priority?

Talal Al Mamari: Omantel has two main strategic focuses when it comes to expanding beyond Oman. The first is what we refer to as non-organic expansion. Since 2017, Omantel has been the largest stakeholder of the Zain Group, holding a controlling stake. Consolidating the accounts of Zain Group since then has elevated Omantel from being a single-country operator to a regional operator, with seven other operations stretching from Kuwait all the way to South Sudan. So, that’s one level of international business.

We aim to expand and leverage our controlling stake in Zain through various initiatives and synergies, specifically in innovation, commercial planning, product development, as well as wholesale.

The second level of our international expansion revolves around our wholesale business. In telecom, the wholesale business involves carrier-to-carrier operations, like operator-to-consumer and operator-to-enterprise. We are capitalizing on Oman’s strategic location between Asia and Europe.

Over the past five years, we have invested over $970 million to enhance our position in the international market. This includes investments in submarine cables, with 16 already landing in five landing stations in Oman, as well as carrier data centres serving major players like Google and other hyperscalers. Currently, this business segment contributes over 28% of Omantel’s total revenue.

As part of our growth strategy in the wholesale space, we are expanding into Africa.

Talal Al Mamari

The specific agreement that you mentioned relates to our established relationship in Djibouti. As part of our growth strategy in the wholesale space, we are expanding into Africa. We have invested in a cable called Gulf to Africa, which will soon land in Ethiopia and be extended to eastern African countries’ shores within the next 2 to 3 years.

The IT sector in Oman is experiencing growth, attributed to the International Monetary Fund’s projection of a $115 billion increase in GDP by 2027. With this in mind, what investment opportunities do you see in Oman for both local and international investors?

Talal Al Mamari: We believe that the economy of Oman is undergoing a significant shift and this shift is not only quantitative in terms of GDP value but also in the nature of its contribution. Oman possesses a young population and boasts one of the best education systems in the region. This provides us with a solid foundation for responding to the economic shifts effectively. Over the past three years, Omantel has adopted a “shift gear” strategy, aiming to transform Omantel from a traditional telecom company into a telecom company that embraces this shift.

This transformation involves cultural changes, capacity-building, upskilling our talent pool within Omantel, and investing in establishing an ecosystem that supports the ICT sector. This ecosystem includes initiatives such as the Future City investments in FinTech startups, all geared towards addressing the evolving needs of the economy. We believe that through this ecosystem, we can effectively respond to the digital transformations happening in the public sector through government digitization initiatives and similar trends in the enterprise space.

Cloudification of services is currently taking place and Omantel is well-equipped to cater to these needs through its available services in the local market. We have also established a joint venture with the world’s largest data centre company, Equinix, in a 50/50 partnership. This data centre, located in Dhaka, serves players outside of Oman. Another data centre in Salalah is currently under construction and will cater to international carriers and hyperscalers. This is where our current investments lie.

So, the required response is to continue investing in the ICT ecosystem. This involves establishing companies that respond to the requirements of the market, taking calculated risks with tech startups in the ecosystem, and leveraging the capabilities within Omantel to enhance capacity and reskill our talent pool.

What is your perspective on the future of Oman and the technology sector in the GCC? We hear about impressive projects in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Oman. How do you envision the sector 10 years from now?

Talal Al Mamari: The same trends that I spoke about in response to the previous question are taking place throughout the GCC region, although perhaps at varying speeds. We observe societal transformations and the emergence of the digital economy across the GCC, which gives us a reason to be optimistic about the role of technology in today’s and in the future economies of the region.

We established Zain Tech, a subsidiary of Zain Group, about a year ago to address the growing demand for ICT businesses. Zain Tech focuses on cloud services, cybersecurity, data, and data monetization projects. Through strategic mergers and acquisitions, the company is actively building its presence and capabilities in response to this demand.

Predicting what will happen in the next ten years is anyone’s guess. What we have learned from the past is that technological evolutions no longer occur in 50-year or even 10-year intervals. These shifts are happening at a faster pace, typically every 3 to 7 years. As a result, the shape of the economy, and the response of societies will be immensely transformative, going beyond anything that we have seen before. The good news is that we have a very well-educated society, the population is young, and our decision and policymakers are responsive, aligning the objectives of the society with upcoming changes.

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