JT’s goal over the next five years is to have one-third of its technical staff to be software developers, said JT CEO Graeme Millar, in an interview with ZTE Technologies, focusing mainly on the operator’s journey to success, management philosophy, and transformation strategy. JT is a full-service global consumer and business enterprise provider headquartered in the Channel Islands.
What trends do you see shaping today’s telecom market?
I think the biggest trend at the moment is the massive growth of data. For an operator, that presents a lot of challenges. On one level, it is good news—people want to use more and more of the products we produce. But as the volume goes up, the price we can get per unit goes down. Customers expect higher data throughput at lower price with higher reliability than ever before. Meeting that demand is our biggest challenge.
JT has maintained great growth momentum, especially in the international markets. What’s your recipe for success?
About 70 percent of our business is now outside our home market. We had almost nothing outside the Channel Islands market 10 years ago. I think the two keys to success are listening to what customers want and to be innovative. From nothing, we have grown a very large IoT business. We now have over two million active IoT devices worldwide, from a base of zero five years ago. We have also developed a number of fraud protection services. We have grown our roaming business significantly, whereby we resell our roaming agreements to the other operators. All of these have come from listening to customers and moving quickly and in an agile way to service those needs. I should also say it is important to have a very reliable base product.
How do you cater to the needs of a sophisticated user base in the Channel Islands? Could you give us some examples?
Because we are a full-service operator in the Channel Islands, we provide a whole range of services including fixed service, mobile service, broadband and hosting. We’ve achieved two big innovations. We bought and installed the LTE-A network. In parallel to that, we rolled out fixed broadband with fiber to every home and business in Jersey. Since June this year, every customer in Jersey gets a 1 Gbps point-to-point synchronous fiber connection to their home. That is a great complementary service to the mobile LTE-A network. We provide the most reliable, lowest-latency fixed and mobile broadband services to our customers. This has created a huge amount of growth in the market, whether it is a consumer customer using more and more things like smart home applications or many of our customers who’ve actually started digital business even in their home because they now have the connectivity they could never have dreamed of before.
Work approach is also a success factor for a company. Could you share with us your management philosophy?
I think the most important job of senior management is, to use an expression I’ve learned when I was working in Holland, getting everyone’s nose pointing in the same direction. That’s really the key, I would say, to what we have been trying to do at the management of JT. It’s about explaining what the vision for the company is, what the strategic direction of the company is, and then working with all the stakeholders (the employees, the unions, the shareholders, the regulator, and the government) to get everyone aligned to go in that common direction. I think that if you can achieve that as a management team, you can achieve quite extraordinary results even if each of us is quite ordinary ourselves.
What’s your strategy to maintain sustainable growth?
We did a reorganization this year and launched a new five-year strategy. We have organized ourselves into local domestic business based in the Channel Islands and international business. We recognized that the two businesses have different characteristics. Locally, we seek to provide the best possible network quality at an affordable price and a reliable service to our customers. Internationally, we’ve got four product groups—IoT, fraud protection services, messaging, and roaming services.
The thing that pulls them together is our vision for 10 years’ time—we’ll increasingly buy services rather than hardware from companies. At the moment, we are considering buying a 5G core. In the future we think ZTE will actually have a core as a service, a virtualized product, and we’ll buy a slice from you. Then the question is how to differentiate yourself in a market where everyone is buying the same thing from vendors. For us, the answer is to create a service wrap around the products we deliver.
To provide a service wrap that differentiates itself from competition, we need to develop software to do that. So, we are transforming the company, our goal over the next five years is to have one-third of our technical staff to be software developers, which is a very big change for JT as today almost everyone is an electrical or mechanical engineer. Our vision for five or six years’ time is buying common network components from vendors but making terrific services for our customers through the software we write to make the billing, provisioning and management of those services very easy and transparent for our customers.
Telcos worldwide are facing the dilemma of reducing cost without compromising the technological development of their networks. How do you balance your technology ambitions with the need to reduce costs?
In our case, it’s about growth. In a way, we are lucky. We are relatively small so there’s a huge potential for us to grow. We have grown very substantially over the last few years, and we hope to grow again. Actually, as you grow, you spread your costs over a bigger customer base, and naturally you see a reduced cost per customer. That’s how we are tackling it. As I said, we are luckier than many bigger operators around the world because we’ve got potential for growth, which is a lot more difficult for big carriers.
What are your primary goals for JT in the next three to five years?
In five years’ time, in the domestic market, we’ll evolve the product offering so that we have a fully converged fixed and mobile, full IP network that has high reliability, low latency, and is very easy to access and remotely configure and provision which customers will be able to do themselves.
For the international business, I would hope that we’ll be a major player in the IoT business, focusing on not only on connectivity. Recently, we bought a software platform called NOMAD. We see us offering IoT products that combine connectivity with security, with the ability to manage and switch SIMs and also manage the devices remotely. I think that will be our biggest international area.
What are your expectations and suggestions for ZTE?
I think ZTE has been very successful by focusing on technology, in a very short period of time, you have become a strong technology leader. At the moment you are going through a business transformation and as regulation changes there is a need to consider compliance in a way you haven’t in the past. I would say embrace that as an opportunity. It will make your business better. There is a potential in three or five years’ time that you will be a leader in compliance. There will be a lot of opportunities to sell your experience in compliance. It’s a developing area in the world.
The future is about collaboration, partnership and working together. You have a new young leadership who I think will lead you into a world of partnership and collaboration. The most important thing for a company to do is always to keep the customer at the heart of everything you do and develop your people so that they grow with you, and finally it is good to remember to be humble even if you are big and strong.