Let’s Talk
Interview series
Бизнес
08.06.2017

Let’s Talk with Arti Ots

CEO of Kcell Arti Ots talks about digitalism, WhatsApp, artificial intelligence at Kcell call center

Before coming to Almaty Arti Ots held the CEO position at «Elion» operator in Estonia. Nurtleu Zhakeshov, the graduate student of KIMEP University is talking with the CEO of Kcell about the local telco market features, comparing it with Global trends and future outlooks.

Arti Ots about telecom market trends and Kazakhstan

Before coming to Almaty Arti Ots held the CEO position at «Elion» operator in Estonia. Nurtleu Zhakeshov, the graduate student of KIMEP University is talking with the CEO of Kcell about the local telco market features, comparing it with Global trends and future outlooks.

– You’ve been managing Kcell – the largest Kazakhstani mobile operator since 2015. Does your wide international experience help you in our country?

– The telco industry is very similar across the Globe. It doesn't matter where you’re working – in the UK, in Estonia, in Kazakhstan or in any other country. But you always need to apply the different approach, and there is some local specifics. I mean, today Kazakhstan has one of the most competitive telco markets in the world. And that is completely different type of challenge – the way you lead the organization in such a market.

– What kind of tasks did you set for yourself, when you became a CEO of Kcell. What was your focus?

– When I came here, the company was mainly focused on prepaid segment with “Activ” brand. When you're taking a leadership position in the company, you should understand that it is not for long period of time. And just at that time you start new directions of development.

The first one was the evolution of our retail model. Today in Almaty and in a number of other cities in Kazakhstan we have created a slightly different way of serving customers, than people used to have from other operators. As the second step we’ve put a very strong focus on B2B. When I came here, the B2B share in Kcell was just a few per cent. The business solutions, which we offer today to our corporate customers, didn’t exist even 2 years ago. The third was the aim to improve the network quality and infrastructure.

– Comparing Kcell with it’s competitors, the Company now is driven by the quality approach, rather than price, isn’t it?

– That’s true, and this is also the reason why we need to put extra efforts in to  the quality. After 2 years I can say that we have achieved quite a lot. And there is still a lot to achieve in that respect. If you are focused on quality, your customers keep demanding far more quality, than they would expect from any other operators. So our aim is the conscious improvement of our services and infrastructure.

– How can you evaluate a level of Kazakhstani mobile market development, and Kcell in particular?

– As I already said, this is one of the most competitive markets in the world. The good part of it is that the operators are forced to find new solutions on how to create better efficiency, how to innovate services and also how to maintain high quality services at the time, when the prices are going down. In my opinion, these factors create a very interesting market environment for the customers in short term. However, it also pushes the operators to find possible synergy for the future. You know about our cooperation with Beeline.

– What are your expectations regarding key trends on telco market in the coming year?

– The one is inevitable, and it is digitalization. The way you use your smartphone is digitalization. Basically there are number of areas, which are already digitalized – maps, for instance, or chatting with your friends. And you do it naturally. These trends are actually expanding the borders of cities, of your relations with the government or with various companies. You see the trend, when everything blurs on bundles, and you don’t even recognize that using the same way of communication at the same time robots reply you via artificial intelligence when you call some companies or Government. And when you dial Kcell call center, you hear a voice of robotic answer, which behaves like a human being.

– What about the customers’ loyalty programs?

– In my opinion - they don't work. What customers basically want - is the network working completely seamlessly. We integrate ourselves more with technology, and we expect it to work well. 10 years ago, if the phone didn’t work, it was not a big deal. Now, when your network is poor or down, you almost stop functioning, because we integrated phones into our lives, which are so around the technology. People don't know how to ask their way on the street anymore - they rely on GPS. That’s how dependent we are, and there is no chance, that we could miss it.

– Messengers are pushing out the voice services. How does Kcell react to that?

– I believe, that in this fluid world we play a role of the integrator. We only need to develop the areas, which are not evolved so well. I’ve got Skype for business video-conferences, Telegram, Facebook messenger, iMessage and FaceTime for my family, Viber, SMS– the traditional one. I don't use WhatsApp, because I would not be able to work – everyone is using it. If some of operators think they would invent something new, which would use 80% of people, they are fooling themselves. I believe in the organic way of communication. Some of the things go forward, some of the things die. The most of people are not aware if the MSN messenger still exists, but it used to work for years. And actually a lot of people still use it to call each other. That’s amazing!

– Do operators’ revenues still strongly depend on voice?

– Yes, it is still a big share of our revenue, but if you would see the tendencies, the voice is going down, the data is going up. The voice is not the place, where operators actually make money. It is more about the question, how much of your monthly fee is located on the voice, and how much is on the data. From the customer’s point of view it is all included.

– Last year mobile users got an opportunity to change an operator without changing the number. What about your subscriber base, did you see any changes?

– I can’t guide you on the future. But when the mobile number portability was introduced, we saw that in Kazakhstan it was very much for B2B – the corporate customers’ game. Here most of the people use mobile number less than a year, so you don’t need to put efforts to bring the number from one network to another. We are speaking about 30 million market of all active SIM-cards, not more then 100 000 people changed the number through MNP. They are not the market makers.

– What kind of important projects Kcell is currently focusing on?

– Today we are concentrating our efforts in providing 4G together with Beeline to provide the best possible capacity for all the customers need – listening to music, watching videos or be sure that you reach your destination via GPS. We are focused on coverage. The second big project is the billing SWAP. The billing system is a very complex system of 35 subsystems; it is complicated, and it’s not like a PC on your table. Unfortunately, every single operator in the world needs to go through this once every ten years. We are at this moment now. Obviously, it has challenges of implementation. And, thirdly, what we are of course doing, is building the coverage in the areas, which are still not covered. Partially, it is a social project, because, whenever you go out in the big cities, the business cases are almost nonexistent. Whenever you need to go to your relatives, its better the network should work also there. Kcell now has the largest network in Kazakhstan, and we are keeping this way – there are hundreds of new locations of the coverage.

– What kind of inputs can be brought by Kcell to e-commerce market?

– Local e-commerce market is still at an early stage. For my personal life I have bought most of the suits and electronic devices online, also in Kazakhstan. It is very convenient – there are no taxes for buying abroad. We now are active in developing the online channels. At the moment they are not yet at the level we want them to be, but in the future customers will score themselves online – that will be a dream way of the services delivering. We are about to start our own service of mobile money. If you don’t have a quick payment system, internet shops and the credit system, supporting your commerce, you can’t actually develop further. Kaspi Bank is one of the best of our customers, but I also see a lot of advancement, when it comes to thinking about this.

– Is there such a thing as the company’s social responsibility in your country?

– Yes, in a number of areas. But I do not believe in the programs of social responsibilities, as they used to be a few years ago. Naturally we do some charity projects. But I want to emphasize - all of our operations are fully transparent, and the way we, for instance, buy services or operate our company is the way of the highest international standards. Within the recent couple of years I have come across the people, who don’t understand why I am not making deals around this table, why we need to follow the processes. I think this level of transparency is much a higher social responsibility, than just supporting the ones who need it. We do it as well, but our compliance is very important.

Bliz-questions:

Favourite dish: I love grill very much. I have my own grill at home, so it is a Kazakh beef, grilled in saksaul. I`ve tried Kazakh wine. Even though it is very expensive, it is good.

Favorite place in Kazakhstan: I have actually been in 17 cities in Kazakhstan. Here I need to be very fair – it is Almaty. It is a place where I feel like home. I have a very nice house in the mountains, I jog and ski there. I really enjoy staying there.

The most surprising Kazakh traditions: One thing that I like here is that when you are a foreigner, you are very welcome in this country. I feel like… How do you call it in English? Я – алматинец.

EDUCATION
MBA FROM HENLEY BUSINESS SCHOOL
WHAT IS YOUR MARITAL STATUS?
I™M MARRIED WITH 2 CHILDREN
WHAT SPORT YOU DO?
I LOVE JOGGING AND SKIING
FAVOURITE DISH:
A KAZAKH BEEF, GRILLED IN SAKSAUL, AND KAZAKH WINE
FAVORITE PLACE IN KZ
I NEED TO BE FAIR ΠIT IS ALMATY. I HAVE BEEN IN 17 KAZAKH CITIES, BUT HERE IS A PLACE WHERE I FEEL LIKE HOME
THE MOST SURPRISING KAZAKH TRADITIONS
WHEN YOU ARE A FOREIGNER, YOU ARE VERY WELCOME IN THIS COUNTRY. I FEEL LIKE– HOW DO YOU CALL IT IN ENGLISH? Я – алматинец.
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