MTN Zambia CIO shares lessons from a digital transformation journey

MTN Zambia CIO Lanre Lamina talks about the telecommunications provider’s progress on its project Oxygen and shares leadership insights from two decades of IT management experience.

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MTN Zambia

MTN Zambia recently embarked on a major digital transformation project aimed at remaking the company into what company CIO Lanre Lamina calls a “fully digital operator” over the next four years. In this Q&A, Lamina talks about the telecommunications provider’s progress on its digital journey and shares leadership insights from two decades of IT management experience spanning software development, infrastructure and business systems.

MTN Zambia is part of the MTN Group, a telecoms company operating in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. For the enterprise, it offers services including managed networks, unified communications, security as a service, and software as a service.

Lamina has played leading roles in a number of transformation initiatives in information management, application and platform consolidation, and route-to-market strategies.

Edited excerpts from the CIO Africa Q&A with MTN Zambia CIO Lanre Lamina:

What is the most demanding initiative for which you’ve been responsible?

The IT transformation project in 2018 which incidentally was my first project upon taking up my current role. The project involved migration of key IT platforms running on the Shared Services hub in Uganda and localizing them in Zambia, establishing a new IT organization and recruiting staff for 80 percent of the IT resources, establishing new IT Governance framework and business and supplier SLAs. All these were delivered within six months and we achieved significant cost savings.

How do you measure and communicate the ROI of IT investments to stakeholders and what’s your approach to evaluating the success of digital transformation initiatives?

A critical requirement for approving IT investments in our organization is the submission of approved business cases which includes business KPI improvement targets and ROI analysis. The committed KPIs are reviewed and communicated to stakeholders as part of the post-implementation review process.

Where is MTN in its own digital maturity in terms of talent, skills or ways of working? How much already resides in the business units, or in functions like IT and marketing versus what needs to get built up?

MTN last year launched a comprehensive digital transformation strategy called Oxygen with the objective of transforming our entire technology stack to enable MTN to become a full digital operator by 2023. A critical element of the strategy is Digital Workplace, which is aimed at adopting and implementing workplace modernization and digitization tools such as unified communication and collaboration, ubiquitous connectivity experience, business process automation and optimization and workspace mobility. I will rate our current maturity as Digital Emerging and our target is to improve the maturity to Digital Intermediate by end of 2020 when about 60 percent of the Digital Workplace transformation initiative would have been delivered.

What critical skill(s) are important for CIOs to learn in order to better lead their organizations in 2020 and beyond?

In this age of digital disruption where every business is forced to either transform or be disrupted to extinction, the CIO cannot afford to remain as functional/technical leader or executive. Business expectation is that since digital transformation is driven by technology, CIOs must play a catalyst role in the transformation agenda of the business. Thus for CIOs to effectively lead their organization in 2020 and beyond three critical skills are required:

  • Business acumen – this covers both knowledge of the business and the ability to run IT as a business with full accountability for financial and clear success metrics.
  • Transformative leadership skills – a CIO must position himself as pragmatic and visionary leader, able to leverage technology to accelerate the organization transformation journey as well as getting the IT team to have a big picture focus.
  • Relationship management – the CIO must be able to leverage relationships to influence the organization leadership’s decisions to support the IT cause. Moreover, having the right soft skills will help manage business perception of IT value contribution and enhance the success of the IT strategy.
  • Risk management – as CIO drives innovation within the organization, they must also have a robust risk management skill to anticipate and mitigate risks.

What technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on your sector in 2020 and which areas of operations will be impacted most by such advances in IT and in what ways?

  • Artificial Intelligence - Robotic automation will greatly impact in IT Data Center and network operations centers as well as front office and call center operations.
  • Internet of things - IoT offers telecom operators new sources of revenue aside the impact on operations.
  • Social CRM - this will will enhance organization’s customer engagement capabilities beyond the traditional IVR and Call center channels and will leverage on social media for customer experience and engagement channels.
  • Big data - Big data will create huge opportunities for personalized customer offerings and personalized/contextualized customer experience management. It will also be a source of new revenue as anonymized data as a service for 3rd parties.
  • Cloud & Open API - The quest for agile products and services delivery will be enhanced by operators’ ability to leverage on Open API for service integration and orchestration.

What is the biggest technological challenge you face and how do you plan to use IT to gain competitive advantage?

As a telecoms business operator in the process of transformation to a Digital Services operator, we operate in a highly competitive and disruptive market and the ability to innovate and be nimble in product and service evolution is extremely critical. However, legacy IT platforms are not evolving at the pace required to enhance the business innovation and competitiveness largely due to budget limitations but also due to inflexible architecture. For example, existing legacy billing platforms do not have the architecture flexibility to manage the IoT billing requirements or the evolving 5G as well as digital operator business model. Thus a comprehensive replacement will be required which again brings up the issue of funding constraints. To overcome these challenges, we plan to leverage on three approaches – adoption of Cloud services (SAAS) to consume services that are either complementary to existing platforms or a replacement through Opex model, leverage OpenAPI for ecosystem partners’ integration as well as the adoption of Agile/Scrum delivery methodology for improved speed to market in products and services delivery.

In your leadership role, how do you maintain a business focus while ensuring that innovation within the company stays on trend?  

I believe the starting point in maintaining business focus is in driving strategic synergy between IT and the business. The IT strategy must be synergized with the overall organization strategy for IT to effectively play the role of transformation enabler. All members of the IT team have been orientated and accustomed to the fact that we are a business enabling function whose priorities are determined by business priorities. Our innovation strategy is also centered on four pillars – product/service differentiation, customer experience management, new revenue streams enhancement as well as internal digitization and business process optimizations.

What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?

I belong to the transformational leadership school of thought. Your best performance as a leader is achieved through engaged and motivated staff. Every member of my team must have a clear line of sight of how their role and contributions influence the achievement of the organization’s objectives. I believe leadership integrity, coupled with empathetic leadership is key to sustainable people engagement.

What do you attribute your success in the IT field to? How has your success in IT impacted or moved forward enterprise digital goals in the past?

I believe my success in IT field can be attributed to my ability to step out of my comfort zones and take on challenging opportunities. I am primarily motivated by the opportunities to learn, acquire new skills and expanding my horizon much more than the monetary rewards in making career decisions. I also believe in continuous, self-paced learning as we operate in very dynamic field and the ability to continuously update your skills and competencies is a key factor for continued relevance, success and sustainability in this profession.

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