Interviews

Yasir Azman, Deputy CEO and CMO, Grameenphone Ltd

Yasir Azman was appointed as Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO) effective from May 7, 2017. He has been working as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) since June 15. Mr. Azman is an experienced professional with vast international experience in multiple countries and cultures. Before joining as CMO Grameenphone, Mr. Azman served as Telenor Group’s Head of Distribution & e-business and worked for across all Telenor Operations. He has also worked in Telenor India operations as EVP & Circle Business Head for Orissa and Karnataka circles during 2010-2012. In his previous tenure in Grameenphone, Mr. Azman played leading role to set up Grameenphone sales and distribution organization and to transform Grameenphone distribution structure. Throughout his career, Mr. Azman has proven track record as a leader of transformation, change management and business development. He has an MBA from Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University, and also attended several executive educational programs in the London Business School and INSEAD France.

“The introduction of 3G in 2013 has driven forward massive digitalization in Bangladesh, where today Grameenphone alone has more than 29 million internet users.”

What impact does digitalization have on the Telecom Sector?
Digitalization can be referred to connectivity and in our country where we have very limited infrastructure for fixed broadband,telecom sector can be held the prime source behind it. The sector started off with very basic mobile connectivity when GrameenPhone first launched its service back in 1996. Since then the country observed a great evolution in technology. The introduction of 3G in 2013 has driven forward massive digitalization in Bangladesh, where today Grameenphone alone has more than 29 million internet users. However, to get the full benefit of digitalization and its related services the nation needs to have high-speed internet connectivity which we can expect to have in the foreseeable future with the imminent introduction of 4G/LTE. which is another example of how this sector is making an immense contribution towards the digitalization of Bangladesh.
Secondly, our business model is being adopted to cater to the needs of digitalization. Customer behavior is changing and there is a growing demand for data, moreover more and more people are using Over the Top (OTT) content and other relevant digital services in their digital life. Clearly, communication is no longer dependent on voice connectivity only, even in the personal sphere. Moreover, machines are connected to machines or Individuals. We are entering a completely new era in communication in a digitalized world. The vernacular is changing to include the concept to “internet of Things’ or IoT.
Given changing customer demands, the telecom sector is having to invest in new generation technology in order to serve customers better. Operators are asking themselves how they can provide the right customer experience, how to make their services relevant to individual customers and create an experience that will encourage them to recommend those services to their peers. It is essential to create some intrinsic value for customers in their lives so that they are ready to pay for the service. Digitalization drives efficiency but if the business model is not efficient enough to drive the best value for the customer it can be challenging for the telecom sector to sustain its business. Digitalization demands transformation and changes not only in technology but more importantly on how do we think, it requires adjusting mindset to serve customers better in a completely different environment, where customer have easy alternatives within their reach. Hence, I would say digitalization is changing the telecom sector, as it is other sectors, immensely.
The telecom sector, as a whole needs, to find its role in digitalization and at the same time adopt a new business model. The operators have to find relevance in their customer’s lives as a connectivity provider or a digital service provider through with own services or through local and global partnerships.

The telecommunication sector has totally changed our communication paradigm and helped the economy progress as well. How do you evaluate the economic impact of this industry?
The telecom sector has impacted both the personal lives of our citizens, as well as contributing towards the growth of the private and public sectors. The efficiency introduced has led to a considerable GDP growth. Grameenphone generated approximately $1,504m of Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2015, which is equivalent to 0.8% of the total GVA generated by the Bangladesh economy and 30.8% of the GVA generated by the ICT sector. Grameenphone is the number one contributor to the government exchequer where a little over 52% of the total revenue earned by the company is paid out as direct and indirect operational and supplementary duties. Cumulatively the telecom sector in Bangladesh contributed 6.2% of GDP in 2015 (GSMA Intelligence).
Inarguably the telecom sector has been extremely successful in enabling people to stay connected with each other on the go. Connectivity has enabled people to move from one part of the country to another and take part in economic activities. Today, most of the people of Bangladesh have been able to leverage on this paradigm shift and complete tasks more efficiently – ultimately leading to greater productivity. With the advancement of digitalization, the telecoms operators have not only been able to empower people to stay connected online, but also made their lives easier through the introduction of new and disruptive digital services that are making a meaningful impact on varied aspects of their lives.
These shifts have significantly helped in global economic progress, with first-movers gaining the most benefit. The telecom industry in Bangladesh has been a catalyst for the creation of many new occupations and businesses, like retailing recharge or new industries like mobile financial services (MFS). Development and growth of the content provider industry are closely tied to the rise of the telecom sector. Distribution and advertising sectors have also seen huge developments due to mobile phone operations. In fact, the entire device industry and, in the coming days, IoT, will be sectors in which telecom services will play a large role and hence contribute to the national economy as well.

“To drive the digitalization journey forward, we have been supporting local technology startups through our GP Accelerator and Digital Winners platform to innovate and come up with more digital services and solutions.”

What are the positive changes you’ve seen in our country through the growth of the Telecom industry?
On an individual level, people are far better connected and are able to enjoy free flow of communication. While important, however, the benefits are far more than just the associated emotional benefits. Ease of connectivity has enabled people to push outside their comfort zone and work across the country and beyond our national boundary. I have personally seen that because of this connectivity people have access to labor and major manufacturing industries like the garment industry and others are growing. We have an increasing migrant population who are capitalizing on opportunities to get jobs abroad and staying connected with their near and dear ones thanks increasing penetration of mobile connectivity to their local areas. The telecom sector has tangible direct and indirect contribution to these two very big industries.
Our contribution goes beyond personal life benefits, every enterprise, be it a big corporation or a small business, have found immense benefits from mobile communication. Speed in execution and access to resources and connected communities has helped enterprise prosper. It is now unimaginable to run a business without mobile connectivity.
We have seen how, riding on the platform created by the telecom sector, Mobile Financial Services (MFS) has flourished in this country. There is now a shared economy. People sending money from one corner of the country to another; moreover, big economic activities are being transacted because of facilitation from the telecom sector.
Farmers are finding access to valuable information on how to handle their crops. Students in remote areas are finding access to quality educational materials. The health sector has found digitalization through initiatives like Tonic. People are finding access to government information. The entertainment industry is being digitalized, more and more artists are being encouraged to work for and with the telecom industry.
Most importantly, because of connectivity, in recent days we have seen how are the youth are being engaged in the IT sector – they are developing of different apps, working for global companies remotely from their homes all across the country. Many of these youth are successfully exploring the start-up culture and building apps and digital solutions that are revolutionizing how things are being done.

What are your thoughts on the manpower in this sector?
The telecom sector in Bangladesh is one of the biggest industries in the country. This unprecedented industry growth was only possible because of dedication and commitment of a highly skilled workforce. Two decades of operations in Bangladesh has placed us in a position where we have been able to develop a specialized workforce. The sector continues to attract some of the most talented members of the country’s workforce pool. The employees of Grameenphone are highly efficient. The direct GVA generated by each full-time employee for Grameenphone in Bangladesh was $169,623 in 2015, almost 23 times higher than the national average labor productivity per full-time employee in Bangladesh ($7,492).
As the sector matures, however, the skillset of the workers have to evolve with the change in business opportunities. I am happy to say that the Bangladesh workforce has managed to evolve with the industry needs with new and existing workers gaining the necessary skillset to remain relevant in the industry. Today the skillset of coders, data scientists, user experience analysts, and digital marketers etc. are in demand and telecom sector in Bangladesh is contributing to the development of such resources in these areas, in parallel to developing what is already needed to succeed.

What is the next step for your Telecom company?
Grameenphone has played a pioneering role in facilitating the digital transformation process in Bangladesh, to attain both the government’s and the people’s visions of a ‘Digital Bangladesh’. Over the years, the organization has clearly established its reputation and credentials as a leading digital services provider in addition to being a telecom operator.
Going forward, we want to continue making a positive impact on the lives of the people of Bangladesh by not only providing them with new and innovative digital services but also ensuring access to a greater range of affordable smartphones. Grameenphone is working to establish an overall eco-system that compliments the digital lifestyle of our customers.
To drive the digitalization journey forward, we have been supporting local technology startups through our GP Accelerator and Digital Winners platform to innovate and come up with more digital services and solutions. Our, White Board and Telenor Youth forum platforms are also actively promoting innovation among the youth. We are delighted to be able to support young, passionate and energetic individuals that aspire to Go Beyond.

“Ease of connectivity has enabled people to push outside their comfort zone and work across the country and beyond our national boundary.”

How are you helping other industries in Bangladesh through the work you’re doing in your own industry?
Grameenphone has the widest network coverage in Bangladesh, with 99% of Bangladesh under the purview of the GP network. Our strong, resilient network has facilitated our customers across and within industries to stay connected. This benefit alone has enabled industries to increase their overall productivity.
We have various services for people in different industries, including agriculture, health, and education, that enables them to be more productive in their respective fields. By transforming digitally and having digital friendly policies, we are supporting many companies to offer digital solutions through our network. For example, ride-sharing app Uber relies on our mobile internet connection to operate. Many companies use our vehicle tracking service to effectively operate their transport fleet. Tonic is delivering much-needed health and wellness services to customers who need it the most.
As businesses in Bangladesh are becoming more aware of the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), there will be a greater focus on using mobile connectivity to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Digitalization is not only limited to private enterprise and will ultimately change the dynamics of all types of organizations. Union Parishad’s in Chittagong are using our services to facilitate the availability of teachers in schools in rural areas on-time and on-site, through location-based services. The Dhaka City Corporation is using our service to ensure better and effective management and accountability of its sanitation workforce.
Finally, we continue to introduce greater innovation digitally by collaborating with different industries and supporting young innovators to add positive value across industries.

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