In challenging times, Telcos have a responsibility to contribute to society in a meaningful and positive way. Babak Fouladi, Chief Technology and Digital Officer at KPN talks to Total Telecom about the role of the Telco in modern society and why we should take a solution-focused approach to using technology to address global challenges.
Can you tell us about your role as Chief Digital & Technology Officer at KPN?
As Board member and Chief Technology and Digital Officer I’m responsible for the quality, security and reliability of the fixed and mobile networks of KPN. In addition, I’m working on the technological innovation of our company and the digitisation of processes and services. My position already indicates in which direction KPN is heading since CTO is currently still the standard name in the industry for people who have ultimately responsibility for ICT in a company. But technology is increasingly about digitisation, about digital connectivity. The future of KPN is also digital, a vision that we emphasise down to board level.
What does the term “modern telco” mean to KPN?
An important driver of digitisation is connectivity. A modern Telco therefore relies on the latest and best technology available. With 5G as mobile technology and with fast fibre optics, the promises of digitisation can also be substantiated. Strong infrastructure may sound ‘’old school’’ but it remains the key foundation of a modern telco. In KPN, we do not only invest in the technology, also in the services we offer. This service layer on top of the physical technology has three pillars: The first is ‘digital inside’. In order to propagate digitisation as a vision, you as an organisation have to act and think digitally. For us, this concerns the transformation of connectivity and services in this area to a fully digitised variant. It also concerns the digitisation of our own processes, of our instruments. The second pillar is ‘digital outside’. Looking at digitisation through the eyes of the customer. What are their needs in this area, what are they asking for? It’s not just about ‘one-click service’. It is also about how their data is handled. They need to be confident that their privacy will not be violated, that their data is safe and that they are in control of it. Finally, pillar three concerns the digital services themselves. You think and are digital yourself, you have digital interaction with your customers, but you also have to substantiate this with the right digital services and content, whether personalised or not.
From your perspective, how do telcos need to evolve to remain competitive in the modern connectivity ecosystem?
In my opinion telco’s will remain competitive with the best possible connectivity, with differentiated services and with an outstanding digital customer experience. That’s why our plan at KPN is to further accelerate the rollout of our next-generation fibre network to cover the majority of households and businesses in the Netherlands in the coming years. The importance of connectivity has never been stronger than today. Working from home has become the norm. Therefore, the need for fast and reliable Internet is greater than ever and that’s why this is
key in our strategy; to ensure the Dutch society stays connected and will drive the digitisation of services across sectors – from healthcare to education.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that telcos will need to overcome in the next 12-18 months?
Of course Telcos and the rest of the world currently face some big challenges. For instance the current global conflicts, record high inflation, rising energy costs and extending delivery times from suppliers. Also the security part of our networks and services will remain an issue. A connected society has huge advantages, but is also extremely vulnerable. When digital systems don’t function well the consequences are serious. Raising awareness and improving the security of digital life should increasingly becoming a clear part of our mission. After all, a sustainable future must, first and foremost, be a safe and secure one. But also the raising uncertainty and complexity of the world today, with the current situation in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate change issue.
I also like to think in solutions, instead of in challenges. We as Telcos can contribute to solutions to combat some of these major issues. Our networks support massive digitisation, essential in crisis situations since online access is often the only door to the outside world and contact with others. And we enable people to work from home, study online or continue doing business. And the digital infrastructure contributes to the global economy and to keeping healthcare and education affordable. And digitisation is more and more important as accelerator for sustainability.
Sustainability is a key strategic priority for KPN. As CTDO, what are the key sustainability goals and challenges that you’re working on currently?
We see every day as a chance to do better. Such as playing our part in tackling the climate issue. We have set Sustainability at the heart of our operations and thinking. We are a leading Telco in sustainability across the world. Our operations have been climate neutral since 2015 and we are on track to have 55% energy consumption saving by 2030 and net-zero emissions in 2040. We see further future energy savings by our network modernisation, for instance by switching from copper to fibre and by phasing out older generation technologies such as 3G or ISDN and transferring customers and services to new-generation technologies. Reducing our own footprint is key, but through our networks and digital services we enable customers and society at large to reduce their footprint via our ICT-services. In the past year, our customers jointly saved more than three times the amount of energy that was needed to keep our networks running, just by using our digital services.
What are you looking forward to at Total Telecom Congress next month?
As a telecom sector, we have made billions of virtual meetings possible with our networks and services in recent Covid-19 years. We no longer have to fly to New York for a meeting. Meanwhile, I don’t believe in a world that fully consists of virtual contact, because it’s so nice to speak and see some colleagues again. That’s why I look forward to sharing ideas and best practices on how we as a telecom industry continue to contribute the society.