Digital transformation can improve the lives of consumers by leading to new services, while opening the door to new sources of revenue. The telecommunications industry is at the cutting edge of this transition, both as an industry that is experiencing shifts in its market environment, and as a key industry driver of new technology adoption.
Pedram Dehghani, a UAE-based tech leader with over 19 years of experience managing IT infrastructure and mobile technology projects as a CIO, talks to CIO Middle East in this Q&A about his experience providing IT solutions and security defense to telecom operators. An edited transcript follows.
Many telecommunications companies are working to transform themselves in order to operate and deliver value in new digital ways. What are some challenges you have faced during this journey?
A great challenge I think many CIOs can relate to in the telecommunications aspect of DT is being able to constantly bring something efficient and compatible that all can relate to, with content and ancillary telecom services in mind. Being able to offer something that can be both efficient and beneficial for the whole team while still entering the cloud is a challenge.
One of the pillars of success in the digital transformation process is the involvement of the entire organization, including senior management. Why is this crucial? As CIO how do you encourage employees to be part of the digital transformation journey?
Of course as CIO, I try to encourage everyone that is part of the organization to get hands-on and involved in DT. Not only will the transformation help the whole team, but it is very important to keep teamwork in mind.
Everyone that is part of the organization has a say in the decisions that will end up having an affect in the progress of the workspace. Considering the fact that different sectors will have different opinions and strategies is a great concept to keep in mind. It will enable the opportunity to keep a smooth, developing system that will end up being helpful to all; rather than a system beneficial for a limited group of employees that will be stable for a limited period of time.
What are the factors that you value when choosing a certain technology?
I keep in mind the factors of the project I am working on, and the goals I must accomplish/reach by the end of my work. Indisputably, I always keep in mind the budget of the project and that is something I believe many businesses forget when considering a path. Without a doubt, choosing the strongest piece of tech is most important to keep a functional task, but a factor many tend to forget is that sometimes the most expensive, exquisite-seeming pieces lack the exact requirements of the task.
Another great factor I always keep in mind is “will this piece benefit the company as a whole and also in the long-run?” Keeping in mind the long-term effects of a model is undoubtedly one of the most important key factors to keep in mind. Not only must the piece start [out as] beneficial, it must also continuously grow and finally end in a beneficial manner. Finally, understanding that DT is a “transformation,” meaning it should be change for the better — helping to resolve problems, and not create issues — is a core element as well.
2020 is the year of 5G. What are the challenges that telcos are going to face during 5G transition? What are the keys for a secure 5G network?
There are several challenges, but we should concentrate on the transition from mmWave, mid-band spectrum and Non-Standalone to Standalone (NSA / SA). First is mmWave spectrum add-on. This gets more coverage than other problems with the spectrum as it highlights one of the major improvements and requests for modern 5G technology. 5G’s early implementation is a non-standalone system with a 4G and 5G Run LTE core managing both. By the end, operators will be switching to SA networks to take full advantage of the new 5G core capabilities.
Industries need to gain expertise, identify emerging risks and learn how to mitigate them to be effective with a stable 5G transition. Building a secure 5G requires us to take a holistic view, and not just focus in isolation on individual technical parts. For example, it is important to understand interactions between user authentication, traffic encryption, accessibility, overload situations and the aspects of network resilience together. It’s also necessary to consider the related risks and how to better manage them.
What do you think telcos will look like in 2020?
Telecommunications providers and corporations are also trying to find out what the 5G “killer features” would be. With the introduction of 5G, we’re likely to see new forms of devices we’ve never heard of before.
In fact, at the moment 5G is very much in the “build” phase in 2020. Nonetheless, as humans come to better understand [its strengths], we should expect to see the next wave of 5G-based solutions. The move to 5G is projected to generate a windfall for suppliers of networks, technology, and equipment. Gartner estimates that revenues from 5G network services worldwide will hit $4.2 billion in 2020, showing growth of 89 percent year-over-year.
What makes a successful CIO?
Certainly not everybody has a CIO role. It requires an unusual ability to be both a large-picture strategist and a leader oriented to execution who can pay attention to details. It also helps to surround yourself with positive people with a varied skillset.
The perfect CIO is the one who can bridge the gap between the technology and market. Through helping it unlock its fullest ability through technology, the CIO brings importance to the company. He needs to continually convey the product vision to the entire business value supply chain.
CIOs must have or develop leadership skills at the management level. CIOs must be able to recruit and retain great people, and they must have the charisma, vision, strategic expertise and relationships synonymous with the world’s best executives.
One of the challenges facing the future CIO is to be both a business leader who is a technology promoter while also running the IT organisation. That can be a very challenging position.