A switch to real-time charging offered big benefits for Kuwait’s VIVA telecom company but it took all of IT expert Muhammad Ayub’s skills to steer it through
When Muhammad Ayub successfully completed a business transformation project for the mobile telecommunications provider VIVA in Kuwait, he was rewarded with a celebration at the company’s gleaming headquarters featuring balloons, ticker tape and a 30-foot banner with his photo on it.
It was a sign of the high stakes involved in the project – and the appreciation that it had gone well.
VIVA, which is owned by Saudi Telecom Company and has some 2.4 million customers, wanted to be more innovative in their product offering and deal with the problem of “bill shocks” – the moment when customers are hit with a bill, usually for data roaming charges, that is higher than they expect – and more than they want to pay.
One solution was to replace the offline billing system with real-time charging so that customers could see how much they had consumed and, if they had a credit, how much credit was left. Then, if the customer went over their credit, they would be disconnected.
The objective was clear to management – but so was the risk. As you move from one system to another there is always a danger that the new system will have wrong configurations or technical bugs that will interrupt the service for customers or disrupt billings. And while this transformation had been successfully carried out in the US and Europe, VIVA was going to be the first company to undertake it in the Gulf region.
But as head of VIVA’s business support system, Muhammad, who comes from Pakistan and was VIVA’s second employee when it began in Kuwait in 2008, wanted to push the project forward. To do so he drew on lessons he’d learned on the Making Innovation Happen (MIH) programme at London Business School (LBS) in 2015.
He knew how important it was to communicate with upper management and understand their point of view. So he presented them with statistics on why similar projects tend to fail around issues such as poor timelines, inadequate requirements and technical problems. And he demonstrated how he would mitigate such risks.
He also appreciated the need to manage the different stakeholders within the company and bring them along on the project journey too, overcoming any resistance to change. And he drew on a case study he remembered from the MIH programme that demonstrated the importance of finding alternative routes if the process ever gets stuck.
And then came the toughest part – convincing the senior management that the company was ready to go live with the new system.
“They were still worried about the chance of error,” says Muhammad who has experience of pioneering greenfield telecom operations in Bangladesh, Congo and Uganda for a previous employer. “But I was able to point to the thousands of tests we had conducted in systems, functionality, performance and financials.
“So we went live in April 2016 – and it worked.”
The project was completed within its timeframe, with no service interruption for customers, no financial loss to VIVA, no business billing interruptions or problems, and no increase in calls to the call centre or departmental reports of problems. A classic case when no news is good news. The move to real-time charging has gone on to produce cost savings for the company and create opportunities for the marketing department to develop innovative products.
“Carrying out the project really boosted my confidence and the appreciation I got from the company gave me real lift,” says Muhammad. “They encouraged and recognised my efforts which repaid all the tension and risks that I had gone through.”
The project success also sealed Muhammad’s personal success in developing his business skills. His first visit to LBS was in 2010 when he took the High Performance Skills programme and embraced the opportunity to overcome qualities that he – and colleagues commenting in his 360-degree review – felt were holding him back.
“I knew that I was too soft and that this was becoming a negative for me – people were taking me for granted and I needed to learn how to say no,” he says.
He became tougher on deadlines, making sure colleagues knew they needed to deliver on time. He treated meetings more seriously. And he worked to become more assertive in his interactions with senior managers.
“Initially it was a bit difficult,” says Muhammad. “But once I started seeing the results I thought ’Wow’. I knew I could keep my core values, I didn’t need to be arrogant, and I could use my skills to achieve things.”