Sharmin Zaman, Chief Marketing Officer at Summit Communications Limited shares the story behind the grand success of the company and her insights into the growth of the Bangladeshi ICT sector in the years to come.
Please take us through the journey that led you to become the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Summit Communications Limited (SComm).
In 2006, while I was still a BBA student at North South University, I started my career at one of the renowned private TV Channels as an HR Executive. I was selected through a walk-in interview and being impressed, they offered me flexible working hours to accommodate my study even though the position was a full-time one. Later, after completing my graduation, I joined Grameenphone in Direct sales, which is now called Business Division. My journey as a salesperson started there. As a key account manager at Grameenphone, I was responsible for a portfolio of customers covering all aspects starting from acquisition, and relationship management to retention. During my career there for 5 years, I was promoted to a managerial-level position as a Specialist.
In 2012, I was offered a position at Summit Communications Limited (SComm) for incubating the Sales and Marketing role in this new company. I was the first one to join the S&M team as well as the head of the function. Back then, SComm had just started its journey as the transmission infrastructural operator and was at its very nascent stage. One of the first challenges I faced was establishing a telco parallel industry in an already mature telecommunication sector. At that time Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and Internet Service Providers (ISP) already had and operated with their own infrastructure. They used to do the transmission business themselves. So, they were essentially our competitors and we had to sell and establish our products to them. This was quite a challenging and unique position to overcome. Nevertheless, we kept our spirits high; we tailor-made the products and services for their specific needs, brought down the prices to their affordable level and finally managed to implement a customer-centric team all over the touch points with the customers. As a result, we became the largest market shareholder in our segment and managed to build a profitable and sustainable business over time. This was a huge entrepreneurial journey that developed our mindset and capabilities at a different scale.
While leading the S&M function for 9 years and with the results mentioned above, I was awarded the position of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in July 2020. We have achieved many milestones and will continue to work relentlessly to make communication more accessible to the nation.
SO FAR, WE HAVE LAID 47,000 KM OF FIBRE OPTIC NETWORK COVERING ALL 64 DISTRICTS AND UPAZILAS, PROVIDING 35% OF THE COUNTRY’S INTERNET CONSUMPTION AND HAVING OVER 1700 TOWER PORTFOLIOS.
Summit Communications Limited (SComm) has committed itself to developing a Digital Bangladesh by connecting every household in the country to world-class multi-media services. How would you assess SComm’s progress so far in realising this endeavour?
SComm began its journey twelve years ago with a vision to connect every household in the country by strategically executing a wholesale B2B business model. The idea was to empower mobile operators and internet service providers (ISP) with a world-class common infrastructure by which they would be able to connect each and every household in the country to their network. So far, we have laid 47,000 km of fibre optic network covering all 64 districts and upazilas, providing 35% of the country’s internet consumption and having over 1700 tower portfolios. After Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTN) providers came into the market, a silent revolution has been happening over the last decade. Thousands of ISPs mushroomed all over the country basing their services only on NTTNs and International Internet Gateways (IIG). This has had a tremendously positive impact on small operators in thanas and upazilas who can now connect from anywhere in the country through the SComm network. More importantly, they can obtain any amount of data or internet bandwidth at very affordable rates – nearly only 3% of the pre-NTTN era costs. This was previously not possible as ISPs were dependent on large ISPs and larger ISPs were dependent on mobile operators. This process hindered the growth of smaller operators, much of which stemmed from the larger operators’ motive to have a competitive advantage and keep a strong hold of the market. So, we have managed to really bring a huge opportunity in the market for everyone to compete and grow on a level playing field riding the common infrastructure. This significant contribution by SComm has allowed huge growth of fixed broadband and mobile broadband in the market. Fixed and mobile broadband penetration was 0.28% and 3.8% back in 2010 respectively. Now it is 6.63% and 65.61% in 2022, so, I would say that we are halfway through our journey but still have a long way to go.
You have led SComm to earn its position as the country’s largest telecom & ICT Infrastructure operator in only 12 years. What critical success factors led to achieving this phenomenal feat?
It was not my singular effort but the collective vision of a big team working together, each member vehemently giving their best, led by capable leaders. At first, we demonstrated a unique entrepreneurial ability whereby we started building such a huge network with a very low investment. In our first nine months, we were barely a team and had not laid down a single kilometre of the fibre network, yet we managed to sell our future network to the top twenty ISPs of the country for a contract where they even paid in advance to build our network. We then continued to build our nationwide network and managed to provide services in 64 districts within a couple of years by taking leases from the existing available fibres from different operators. Later, when we started having a good cash flow and the demand started to soar, we started to build our own network. We followed a few fundamental philosophies that let us achieve this feat. We built the network and services by focusing mainly on our customers’ needs. Even now the highest focus of SComm’s management is customer-centricity. We also tried to create higher value than conventionally possible. This required us to have an innovative mind, out-of-the-box thinking, and utilise lean investments for maximum returns. We make an active effort to recruit up-and-coming young leaders with a hunger for growth, who are open-minded with a passion to learn, innovate, and change the world. Finally, we ensure that all the basics of operations are sound and strong, like simplified automated processes, and governance with adequate policies and procedures, with a focus on 100% compliance with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices.
SCOMM IS BUILDING ITS CAPABILITY TO ACCOMMODATE HIGHER SCALES OF OPERATIONS IN TERMS OF VOLUME AND QUALITY. THE MISSION IS TO MAKE SCOMM THE PRIMARY ICT INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE COUNTRY THAT NEVER GOES DOWN.
IT/ICT is one of the most competitive industries in the world. The buying cycle is gradually increasing as more vendors are introduced into the market and the complexity of products and services increases. What new challenges do these present for ICT companies’ B2B marketing strategy?
In general, the technological innovations and advancements which happened over the last decades, like AI, IoT, 3D-printing, nanotechnology, and infotainment platforms, to just name a few, are changing the world rapidly. These products, their features and commercial adoptions are creating complex products and adding new vendors to the value chain. In the future, anything we touch and use on daily basis will be digitised and it will have its own complexities at the back end. However, I see more opportunities than challenges. The challenges are mainly in the integration and convergence of ICT which will happen anyways based on the growing need in the market. Another challenge is keeping pace with the advancements – it happens so fast that there is a rat race and in the process, many companies and investments are going bust. We only hear the success stories, but many investments of successful companies are suffering. We are all familiar with the examples – Kodak, AOL, Nokia, Yahoo, BlackBerry, and more recently, Google Glass, and Amazon Fire Phone – all went bust despite huge investments.
How do you envision the growth of the ICT sector in Bangladesh over the coming years? What role will Summit Communication Limited have in its growth?
SComm is building its capability to accommodate higher scales of operations in terms of volume and quality. The mission is to make SComm the primary ICT infrastructure of the country that never goes down. The reliability of SComm services will facilitate all the modern technologies of the world – 3G, 4G, 5G, and IoT – as well as reach the excellence in service that our customers deserve. Over the next 5 years, we will have all rural areas covered by having our presence in all unions. We will have towers in all 64 districts and all upazilas. We will have our own submarine cable connecting international destinations. All in all, our end-to-end world-class infrastructure will facilitate and empower the growth of digital Bangladesh.
The ICT sector is sure to adopt all the technologies mentioned above. They will need to be supported by basic connectivity with high-capacity broadband being available everywhere. We hope and believe mobile operators and ISPs who are giving the services at the retail level will connect more with higher capacity facilities from SComm and meet this market demand.
Photographs by Shihab Mohammad