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Ian Dench, CEO of Ooredoo Oman

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Ian Dench

Telecom companies have played an integral role in keeping individuals/societies connected and informed amid COVID-19.

What were the technical and operational challenges faced by Ooredoo during the pandemic, and what solutions have provided people with reliable connectivity the most?

Our priority from the outset was threefold. First and foremost, the safety of our staff and within just a matter of days we moved everyone to working from home. Secondly, keeping our customers connected, ensuring network availability and fast internet connectivity for consumers and businesses – particularly as they too transitioned to working from home, being responsive to their urgent and immediate requests. Thirdly, supporting the government and authorities of Oman in whatever way needed or required, in particular the Health and Education Ministries, the Emergency Services and other institutions.

Almost overnight, people moved the majority of their work, studies, and lives to their homes, and there has been a much bigger reliance on the internet to keep people connected. Our ongoing heavy investment in our network meant that it was well equipped to cater to the increased data demands that this situation brought. 

Our digital transformation efforts have also paid off. We had to shut all of our stores overnight and our contact centre staff had to work from home, which naturally produced some challenges. However, we were able to keep all services fully operational with access to our contact centre, our app, eShop, and other digital channels.

What operational/organizational changes were implemented by Ooredoo during the pandemic? Are there any emerging trends in telecom that you may want to adopt as a service and/or utilize for corporate purposes? (I.e. remote employment, telehealth, AI systems etc.,)

Through our award-winning app, customers are able to pay bills, top up, subscribe to plans, seek help and much more and over the course of the lockdown, we added numerous new digital services, such as being able to update ID through the app, ordering home internet and even raising and tracking trouble tickets/complaints. Communication through social media also increased significantly, in particular, WhatsApp, where our customers can place orders and raise queries. We’ve also added multiple languages to WhatsApp to make it easier for more of our customers to contact us.

Our eShop has evolved significantly over this recent period, providing (in Arabic and English) multiple services with home delivery anywhere in the Sultanate.

We also upgraded services available to business customers through our dedicated B2B digital channels and business customers could stay in contact with their account managers.

Even though we have now re-opened our stores, we continue to provide convenient digital services, as well as over-the-counter services as before. And our contact centre is fully operational with the vast majority of people still working from home.

We launched a number of offers, discounts and freebies for our customers during the lockdown period, including free calls, extra data, faster speeds, and plenty of free add-ons. We are also providing free access to educational websites.

For businesses, we increased our bandwidth speeds to ensure employees could work from home effectively and efficiently. We also offered unlimited calls, data packages, extra speeds and much more, all of which can be accessed through the enhanced B2B app or through account managers, to make working from home easier.

Oman’s digital transformation agenda was already well on-track, but the pandemic accelerated it. The transformation that has been made under such unprecedented circumstances has been remarkable, and thanks to our resilience and adaptability, we have for the most part been able to continue our operations and serve our customers, under vastly different and unusual times.

More than ever, people have realised how much more convenient it is to do things digitally and how much value it adds to their lives and it’s unlikely they’ll want to go back. We want to continue the positive developments that have been made throughout the pandemic and use them as building blocks for a post-COVID world. That means not only strengthening our commitment to enriching our customers’ digital lives, but contributing to the economic and social prosperity of Oman, as together we strive to overcome the impacts of the pandemic and face the future with confidence.

You have recently been selected by EduFair as the official telecom partner for the virtual exhibition for Higher Education Institutes. What is the importance of participating in such endeavors?

We’re pleased to have this opportunity once again to show practical support for education as well as showcasing the many Ooredoo Business products and services that can support education and related businesses.

Supporting education is a key focus for us as part of our corporate social responsibility strategy and we believe it’s our collective responsibility to nurture the next generation of leaders. This has been supported by various initiatives, long-term educational projects and training programs, through boosting educational opportunities and incubating digital entrepreneurship

Since the pandemic, as mentioned above, we have enabled free access to educational websites and online communication applications as part of a collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), to support students’ educational needs in light of schools closing down.

Working together with government organisations and private institutions, we are helping to nurture and develop many of tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs and thus support Oman’s economy.

Furthermore, it is increasingly clear that online education will become a permanent component of all education in the years ahead and high-speed internet connectivity at home, and at educational institutions, is absolutely vital. With our significant investments in Fibre, 4G and 5G technologies, we are geared towards supporting this development in Oman.

You have been named by Forbes as one of the top-ranking companies in the region. What strategic steps have you adopted to get ahead of the competition?

This latest accolade reflects the Group’s phenomenal growth and vision. Our teams around the world are working to enable and enrich the digital lives of the communities we serve by providing much needed relief measures, innovative solutions, awesome digital services and great connectivity.

The Ooredoo Group is on a mission to empower customers across our global footprint to access and enjoy the best of the Internet in a way that is personal and unique to them. We continue to invest in our networks to ensure seamless connectivity that caters to our customers’ growing digital needs. The Group is working as a real digital enabler across its markets, with the aspiration of helping people simplify their lives and enjoy exciting and rewarding digital experiences.

How will your services benefit from 5G deployment/implementation? You have already opened pre-registration for 5G at home, what are the advantages of 5G technology?

The rollout of 5G marks a significant milestone in the Sultanate’s digital transformation journey, offering significantly higher network speeds with almost zero delay, which means faster downloads and uploads, better gaming experiences and super slick HDTV streaming. We have been gearing up for 5G for some time, upgrading the backbone connectivity to cater to the faster speeds and increased data traffic. Our 5G Home Internet service is now available in 88 locations in Muscat, Al Batinah, Al Dakhliyah, Al Wusta, Al Sharkiyah and Dhofar.  This new service offers consumers speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

However, the big promise of 5G comes with the low latency and the range of industrial applications it can benefit. It’s not just about self-drive cars and flying taxis, but how everyday things can be automated. For example, in the oil and gas industry, they may utilise drones to monitor wells and pipelines, as well as the automation of thousands of sensors.

There are also IoT solutions, such as smart metering, which we have already launched on existing technology in collaboration with the National Electricity & Energy Centre for the Public Authority for Water (Diam). In fact, this was the first-of-its-kind smart metering in Oman, which eliminates the challenges faced by utility providers when collecting meter readings, particularly in isolated residential locations.

The possibilities created by the technology will impact almost every aspect of our lives, all businesses government, healthcare, education, industry and the country is ready for it. We are excited to be offering our customers this transformative technology and taking their internet usage, and lives, to a whole new level.

You have entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Education to develop a new online education platform for Oman, what are some of the plans of this new agreement?

We’re very pleased to have signed this agreement with the Ministry of Education, as part of our CSR activities for Oman, and to be playing a role in Oman’s digital transformation while helping students reach their full potential in their educational journey.

This initiative is intended to address the challenges presented by COVID-19, ensuring that education is not disrupted moving forward. Linked to Oman’s Educational Portal, the platform will create virtual classrooms for students to learn from a distance across the country as well as enable discussion forums for teachers and administrators to share best practices and monitor growth and development in line with international indexes.

The platform will include the latest educational features and tools such as an e-library. User friendly and efficient, it will also ensure students interact easily with teachers, enjoy access to learning material, have their questions and queries answered, all the while keeping track of their progress. What’s even more, the e-learning platform will be accessible on mobiles and tablets through a dedicated App. It will also enable for additional material to be uploaded to aid distant learning as well as generate reports pertaining to the services available. Making it interactive, teachers will be able to host seminars, present projects and exchange ideas and perspectives that are beneficial to students.

How do ICT solutions address energy sustainability in mega cities? How can you implement ICT technology for security to ensure customers are given the protection and privacy they need?

ICT-based mega cities are able to leverage technology to enrich the lives of their populations, improve public services, transport, traffic flows, power, water supply, waste management, security and more.  They are well known not just for the quality of life of their inhabitants but also for their ability to attract businesses and investment.

Through the Digital Oman Strategy, Oman is working on harnessing the full potential of ICT and building on the sector as part of its bid to widen its economic prospects. Moreover, the implementation of new technologies as part of the Information Technology Authority’s vision of creating a Knowledge Based Society is facilitating the successful integration of new services in our homes, places of work, and throughout the education system. These steps are creating the foundations for future smart city initiatives in the Sultanate.  

When it comes to security, protecting employees and client data should be a top priority and making sure systems are resilient, secure and redundant will be just as important — if not more important — than new features.

How is sustainability driving growth in the telecoms industry? Do you a have a Green strategy in place?

As major consumers of energy to power our network, we are continually looking to new green technologies to reduce cost and improve sustainability. We deploy Solar Energy within our network where it makes economical and commercial sense. We also use special solutions to reduce the fuel consumption for generators in a number of sites, resulting in less pollution.

Our HSE department makes sure we are as environmentally friendly as is possible on a corporate level. They are responsible for our company recycling programme, overseeing our responsible energy consumption, ensuring office efficiency by saving paper and many more activities. They also work to ensure our employees enjoy a healthy work environment.

We do emphasise the importance of corporate and personal environmental responsibility and stewardship in all our activities. We focus on empowering our staff to play an active role in the preservation and conservation of Oman’s environment and to give a helping hand to communities. This includes holding volunteer-based events like our regular beach clean-up events and we have more activities in the pipeline.

As an organization, how committed are you to social responsibility? Tell us about your more recent CSR initiatives?

Corporate Social Responsibility has remained a mainstay of Ooredoo’s promise to enrich people’s lives. The company’s CSR programme, known as Ooredoo Goodwill, has grown to encompass all areas of the community, social development, education and empowerment.

Enabling budding entrepreneurs to prosper from the internet, our Springboard program (for women) and Spring Forward program (for both men and women), champion digital entrepreneurship and help young Omani’s to get their digital businesses off the ground, whether social media, online or app-based. Last year, we awarded teams from our Springboard and Spring Forward programs a start-up budget for the first time, as we placed a greater emphasis on education and supporting Oman’s economy by helping to develop and equip Oman’s future leaders and small business owners. 

Our annual Goodwill Journey, which celebrates its 16th anniversary this year, focuses on fostering women’s empowerment, education and self-sufficiency, as well as promoting the sustainable development of communities across the country. Some of last year’s activities included popening two new women’s incubators, taking the total to 13.

In partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, our Goodwill volunteers launched a carpentry room, computer lab and sensory room at The Al-Wafa Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children in Al Amerat. Three more sensory rooms in Al Khaboura, Nizwa and Ibra were also set up during the year, as well as the design and implementation of two ‘Digital Entertainment Rooms’ for the Paediatric Cancer and Paediatric Surgery rooms at the Royal Hospital.

Making good on our promise to promote education, we continued to update and enhance our popular Digital Tutorial App. For the first time in the Sultanate, Ooredoo is also preparing activity files for students in kindergarten and pre-school, which include video clips to teach the alphabet in Arabic and English, mathematics and science, in addition to exercises and educational activities from the curricula of a number of Arab and Gulf countries.

Along the same lines, the team donated digital devices to the Abu Hamza Al Shari School in Sohar, the Al Noor Association for the Blind in Ad Dhahirah and to less fortunate families in Masirah. We also visited hospitals in Sohar, building an outdoor playground, and in Duqm where they distributed medical beds to enhance the standard of care. Equipment was also donated to the Oman Association for the Disabled in Al Buraimi and the Omani Bahjah Orphan Society in Salalah, with whom a two-year contract was signed to support the ‘Saturday Market’ in Dhofar. The weekly event provides the families of the association with a unique platform to bolster their income and showcase their talents.

When COVID-19 hit, our priorities changed and we were able to mobilise quickly to redirect our efforts and support to initiatives that helped the nationwide fight to stop the virus’ spread and mitigate its wider impacts. Since March, we have donated various medical testing supplies and equipment to a number of hospitals across Oman, have provided free data to returning students contained in quarantine and also whitelisted educational websites.

For us at Ooredoo, our core values – caring, connecting, challenging – are not simply a statement, they are something we live by, and translate into action every day, every month, every year.

We’re a diverse group of industry professionals from all corners of the world. Our desire is to provide a high-quality telecoms publication that caters to an international market, offering the latest and most relevant telecoms information to businesses, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts.

Interviews

Cisco VP highlights need for inclusivity when entering the 4IR

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As the global health crisis slowly subsides, one cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic forced a brave new world onto all of us. Pandemic-infused conundrums have evolved from mere debates between both people and companies, are now being actionably championed by those looking to thrive within the fourth industrial revolution.

The future of work, digital transformation, cybersecurity, smart cities, privacy, and everything in between have been thrown into the limelight, as the decisions and regulations taken today will affect our relationship with tech for generations to come.

To everyone, it’s considered a whole new world of opportunity where organizations of all walks of life have been forced to convert to digital, not only to remain adaptable to the winds of change of technology, but to merely survive the data explosion to come.

A 2018 McKinsey survey showed that well before the pandemic, 92 percent of company leaders believed “their business model would not remain economically viable through digitization.”

While companies across the globe have invested their resources into future-proofing their organizations, not many have championed the 4IR as notable as California-based tech giant, Cisco, who has been pushing for a more digital future from the get-go.

Inside Telecom sat down with Reem Asaad, Cisco’s Vice President for Middle East Africa, to better understand the company’s focus and efforts for what’s ahead.

INSIDE TELECOM: Cisco has been a driving force in a number of technological avenues, most notably by championing both remote and hybrid working models; accordingly, how does the company view the future of work? And how will Cisco look to double down on this view?

Asaad: At Cisco we believe work is not where you go, it’s what you do. That’s why we’re flexible on the numbers of days in — or out — of the office. In fact, pre-pandemic only a third of our employees were in the office full time, so we’ve long been a hybrid-first company.

This puts Cisco, and our technologies, in a unique position to help other organizations advance their hybrid work strategies. We view powering hybrid work in two distinct ways: enabling a Hybrid Workforce and transforming Hybrid Workspaces.

Enabling a Hybrid Workforce means providing secure access and collaboration from anywhere, anytime. Transforming your Hybrid Workspace only happens when networking, security, and collaboration tools come together to enhance health and well-being, safety, and efficiencies.

INSIDE TELECOM: Remote working is considered as an important aspect of digital transformation with some calling it “a main pillar of the fourth industrial revolution,” with that in mind, how is Cisco looking to bolster digitization on enterprise-level with its offering?

Asaad: We’ve been taking significant steps forward in helping the industries unlock the potential of their hybrid workforces – providing with unique insights and studies, while enabling them to collaborate in new ways and drive inclusive experience.

Since the pandemic started, Cisco has launched more than 1,000 Webex innovations. At WebexOne 2021 that was held recently, we announced significant new innovations across Webex ecosystem, the industry’s first and most comprehensive end-to-end hybrid work solution.

Webex Suite’s new meetings and messaging capabilities help our customers empower equal participation, from everywhere. Similarly, our new collaboration devices enhance effective collaboration, and the new Webex Events portfolio powers hybrid events at scale. Additionally, Webex interoperability with Zoom, Microsoft and Google video communications platforms ensures seamless collaboration with customers’ preferred platforms and devices.

INSIDE TELECOM: As all aspects of life are quickly and fully transitioning into digital, the importance of cybersecurity grows along with it, how is Cisco applying a security-by-design approach to its products within its core industries of focus?

Asaad: We believe that security has to be at the heart of everything. Cisco is major player in the cybersecurity market, and we’ve been building security into all of our technology, including user and email access, device and endpoint protection, network security, and locking down apps and data.

We also made several product announcements recently, including SecureX enhancements that address integrating IT and security inventory and visibility, endpoint detection and response (EDR) to XDR transition functions, new cloud security features via its SASE offering, updates to its Umbrella cloud-based firewall, and a new cloud-native firewall for Kubernetes development environments.

INSIDE TELECOM: Companies, as well as people, are bombarded every day with a plea to become more secure online, yet cyber-attacks and breaches are dominating the news cycle week-in and week-out, giving the impression that these tips and pleas are not sticking. Since cybersecurity is considered one of Cisco’s fortes, what advice can the company give both groups to bolster their cybersecurity efforts?

Asaad: Whether we like it or not, cybersecurity is a topic that affects society as a whole. Security is the most important investment that a company can ever make. While it may be true that an investment in security is unlikely to generate new business, it cannot be denied that investing in security will prevent a company from experiencing serious resources losses and seeing its reputation compromised, perhaps irremediably. The damage can be so significant that even established companies have gone out of business after a cybersecurity attack.

Therefore, companies must secure every single component of the system: hardware, software, and network.

INSIDE TELECOM: As we’ve previously touched up, remote working, digital transformation, and cybersecurity are all intertwined in the development and transition into smart cities and communities; accordingly, could you briefly walk us through Cisco’s role within this transition?

Asaad: Digital technologies are the key driver to achieving social and economic good and powering an inclusive future for all. We at Cisco work closely with all public and private sector partners to develop an integrated vision, which reflects the leadership’s efforts to create community and aspiration-driven cities of the future, with flexible infrastructure that is capable to manage and deliver connected urban services.

From inclusive access to smart water systems, Cisco is a trusted partner in enabling cities to operate sustainably and meet the needs of their citizens.

INSIDE TELECOM: In your opinion, what have been the main obstacles within this transition?

Asaad: Many cities today have ambitions of becoming the smart cities of tomorrow. But to achieve this, they need to overcome the challenges associated with mapping out a complex strategy that involves public and private participants, direct and indirect stakeholders, integrators, network and managed service providers, product vendors and IT infrastructure providers.

Smart city planning is a balancing act that involves citizens, public organizations, state and local government and private enterprises. Once this balance is achieved, it creates huge opportunities for business, sustainability, disaster prevention, public safety, and quality of life improvements.

Investment must come not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in upskilling and developing digital competencies in the people who will operate and oversee various aspects of the smart city. With little margin for error, a smart city can only be enabled if the people bringing it to life are forward-thinking and fully knowledgeable of the tasks at hand. At Cisco, our Networking Academy (NetAcad) program is designed to do exactly that – build digital skills to futureproof careers and help nations advance their digital agendas. Since the program was introduced to the MEA region, we have trained in excess of 1.6 million students. Today, we have well over 1,600 active academies, in countries ranging from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, South Africa and Kenya to name but a few.

INSIDE TELECOM: How can Cisco, and other major tech companies offer assistance to governments to hasten the progression into smart cities in an efficient and secure way for all?

Asaad: At Cisco, we believe that technology is the ultimate enabler and unifying link which makes people’s ambitions a reality. However, in the context of a smart city, a city can only be classed as ‘smart’ if it truly works for its people. Top-down approaches to smart city planning often do not consider the idiosyncrasies which may occur on a more granular, grassroots level. This is a mistake. A smart city requires constant iteration between its leadership, technology providers, end users and the wider public to create improved outcomes which can benefit the masses.

To address this, at Cisco, we are proud to be running an initiative known as our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA program). The program is a long-term partnership through which we work alongside national leadership, industry, and academia to achieve a country’s vision for a smarter and more sustainable future.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are local examples of nations we work closely with in the region, via our CDA program. Sectors which we continue to work alongside local stakeholders to transform range from education and healthcare, to trade, tourism and energy. In each case, it is digitization which is key to developing a particular industry, and we think not only about how the city can be reimagined to for the benefit of the economy, but also to improve quality of life for all.

INSIDE TELECOM: Smart city development comes hand-in-hand with greener initiatives that are meant to foster a fiercer fight against climate; earlier in September, Cisco committed itself to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, could you briefly walk us through the company’s roadmap?

Asaad: For more than 15 years, Cisco has worked toward a sustainable future by reducing emissions, reducing waste, building more efficient products, and setting and achieving ambitious goals.

We recently announced our commitment to reaching net zero for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all scopes by 2040, 10 years ahead of when climate scientists say the planet must reach net zero to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Cisco’s net zero goal will be supported by ambitious near-term targets, including to reach net zero for all global Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2025.

To reach net zero include:

  • Continuing to increase the energy efficiency of our products through innovative product design
  • Accelerating use of renewable energy
  • Embracing hybrid work
  • Investing in carbon removal solutions
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Interviews

Salt Edge looks to steer digitalization of EU’s banking sector

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The global financial sector is witnessing an ever-growing change shaping Europe’s banking infrastructure into an increasingly competitive market. Open banking proved to people how it can alter financial services to accommodate their needs; all while fostering a continuing digitalization of modern life as Fintech companies set the stage for simplified yet optimized solutions to deliver reliable economic efficiency.

These changes have brought companies such as UK-based Salt Edge into the limelight as it supports customizable services for customers, by synchronizing banking services with users’ needs. Since customer loyalty and satisfaction sets the main pillars for the financial sector, the merger between technology and finance delivers Salt Edge with the needed tools to comply with consumers’ expectations with the immense rise of digitalization on all fronts.

Inside Telecom dives deeper with Salt Edge’s CEO, Dimitri Barbasura, to highlight the Fintech’s conduct of meeting customer demands in compliance with the regulatory authority. As well as delivering elaborated insights regarding open banking and its role in addressing the needed support for the UK as it embraces a modernized approach in its banking sector.

As one of the big names in the industry, piloting the ever-changing effect of the rise of Fintech on the European Union’s financial sector, the CEO elaborated on how the company is assisting in enhancing consumers’ financial status in the UK and on a global level. In addition to the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) duty in delivering high-quality services in coherence with governmental regulatory footprint.

INSIDE TELECOM: As the financial sector takes a bigger leap into a digital ecosystem, how do you think open banking will affect the European Union’s take on its current financial sectors?

Barbasura: From our position of open banking and open finance, PSD2, which is already two years old, is changing the world for the better. There are new products and solutions occurring, targeted towards the wellbeing of society – in general, individuals and business – in particular. Take, for example, on-the-go carbon emissions calculators based on personal expenses or the fairer credit assessment occurring from unified aggregated data, translated into financial insights. Especially in COVID-19 times, this has proven to be very helpful, allowing creditors to approach their activity more responsibly. Open banking increases security and decreases overall expenses by changing the instruments we use for paying. As these new payment instruments and solutions are being created, economic efficiency rises and makes what was previously accessible to bigger corporate clients – now available for SMEs. What used to be available for SMEs is now accessible for retailers, and so on. Budget planning, financial advising – all these solutions lead to open finance, which we hope will soon be consolidated by payment service directive (PSD3). Thus, data access will involve more than current payment accounts, including investment, lending, mortgage, and unveiling the full potential of the financial sector.

INSIDE TELECOM: The company’s API has been seen as one of the leading banking solutions for over 5 years, can you elaborate on some cases where the company’s API helped in consumers’ financial health and sustainability?

Barbasura: There are plenty of use cases among our clients showing how open banking works for the general well-being. Businesses like Credit Hero and Lendex have turned to Salt Edge for open banking solutions to ensure a wider financial inclusion for their customers. This is probably the domain where open banking has the most noticeable impact, allowing individuals and businesses access to funds otherwise unreachable to them. Using open banking data enables lenders to give a second chance for credit approval to potentially great loan applicants who have initially been rejected simply due to lack of credit history (first-time borrowers, migrants). Besides, open banking cancels potential manipulations in physical bank statements while helping financial institutions save on fraud detection, underwriting, or credit risk-related issues. Lenders see the authentic financial picture of potential borrowers and tailor their offering to the real-time status quo.

Another interesting use case is how open banking-based public financial management (PFMs) contribute to more responsible financial behavior. We live in a consumerist era. And, while most of us don’t even realize it, PFMs like Spendee, Toshl, MoneyWiz, and Planner Bee, manage to comprise all bank data based on open banking capabilities and transform it into a picture detailing the users’ financial behavior and the areas that need adjustments. Thus, end-users can shift from reckless expenses to a more rational, sustainable lifestyle. 

What we’ve carefully observed throughout our clients is that, by leveraging open banking possibilities, their companies become more viable. This is obvious since open banking contributes to preserving ecological balance by:

● Stimulating behavioral changes.

● Cutting down on unjustifiable consumerism.

● Enhancing green finances (green lending & investing).

● Improving financial inclusion for underserved categories by simplifying bank data sharing even across continents, for ex-pats, and introducing alternative reliable data sources for credit analysis for people with thin credit file. 

● Reducing plastic cards and cash use.

INSIDE TELECOM: In August, the company collaborated with software company Finastra. What was the incentive that led to this collaboration?

Barbasura: For most banks, especially those which are not tier 1, the legal and technical requirements concerning opening API’s access to their infrastructure are far from being crystal clear. They need to invest a lot of effort in understanding what vendor suits them best, what legal provisions they must respect in accordance with to become compliant, what assessments they must conduct, and the mechanisms they need to have in place. All this is very costly for businesses to accomplish. Add that to the expenses involved with opening APIs, making them usable, safe, sustainable, and integrable, with high availability and security requirements.

Finastra is a core banking vendor supporting multiple banks in the EU and beyond. They chose our solution as it includes a variety of options banks can choose from when building their digital banking puzzle for becoming PSD2 compliant. Prior to pre-integrating our solution into Finastra’s platform, Salt Edge has successfully passed all due diligence audits, safety systems, and data services checks, so that banks can choose our solution with peace of mind.

Our collaboration with Finastra is that happy situation where there was a market request, we had the perfect solution to answer it, and Finastra is the right partner to scale up the solution’s availability.

INSIDE TELECOM: Currently, the banking sector is enduring immense pressure to heighten its competitiveness to stay in the league. What approach does Salt Edge support to help banks optimize their profitability while reducing businesses’ time to market for new products?

Barbasura: First of all, Salt Edge helps banks become PSD2 compliant, which enables them to save time and effort resources and invest them in creating open banking-based products. In this perspective, our company acts as a technical service provider (TSP) for regulated institutions. Therefore, we cover all the above-mentioned for banks, due to our expertise, knowledge, and experience. Here are some of the ways we help banks and diminish their go-to-market:

●     We know and advise which use cases are viable for payment initiation, how to adjust the merchant proposition to it, what complications may occur on the way and how banks can overcome them and bring their project to realization.

●     We automatize a lot of processes. Out of 6,000 banks across Europe, some of them still require manual onboarding. In these cases, we either automate the process, where dynamic onboarding is supported, or we perform the entire manual onboarding process for the bank thus decreasing the timeframe required for the solution to go live.

●     We cover all the necessary components – technical implementation, connection to thousands of banks, highest security standards, consultancy for PSD2 strategies, and others. This way, we help banks to do everything correctly from the beginning.

Another advantage is that our clients work with one single vendor covering all the EU, which is very critical for payments. Imagine that a merchant works with a bank and sells its products all over the EU. In this case, the bank needs a vendor who will support payments across the EU for a seamless process. In other words, Salt Edge exceeds the notion of “go-to-market”. We literally help clients reach different markets from the EU, thus diminishing their expenses.

I’d also like to mention the value-added services provided by Salt Edge. Being one unique vendor, with one standard security model, one high-quality standard, helps us aggregate and provide all data, from various countries where our client is present, in a unified form to credit bureaus, for example. We use AI, machine learning algorithms, which again, saves lots of money for the client, and we are always adjusting and improving the algorithms upon our clients’ requests and feedback.

INSIDE TELECOM: Where do these approaches stand from a regulatory standpoint?

Barbasura: First, it all revolves around compliance with the open banking regulations from regions around the world: where data is kept, how it is encrypted and transmitted, who has access to this data, or how it gets anonymized. Take for example one of the value-added services provided by Salt Edge – financial insights. One of its components is data categorization. You cannot categorize something if you don’t know what you are categorizing. As a Technical Service Provider, Salt Edge works purely with information. Therefore, our activity is focused on safety. We perform regular penetration testing, vulnerability scannings, cyber security – and data privacy-related audits and certifications. We are always open to showing our clients and regulators our offices, our data centers, and demonstrating the operations and safety systems we have implemented. Maximum transparency and delivering exactly what we promise – this is what governs our relationships with the clients.

INSIDE TELECOM: What additional plans does the company have to enforce the role of small banks in accommodating the market’s needs, as Central Banks are working globally to issue their CBDCs?

Barbasura: We at Salt Edge are agnostic to underlying payment schemes and currencies since we work with any data set that can be presented as an account and set of transactions. As for CBDCs, we see lots of potential in it related to instant payments. It would be way cheaper (or even zero cost), which is directly benefiting small banks, end customers, retailers, and other businesses.

Actually, I believe that not having a stable digital coin in the 21st century, when all the premises for its existence and functionality exist, is rather strange. This is the future. It is safe, controllable, the source of money and the expenses are easily traceable, which is especially important for Anti Money Laundering (AML)/ Counter-terrorist financing (CTF) practices and terrorism-sponsoring prevention. CBDC is something that should have happened yesterday.

INSIDE TELECOM: To what extent will the company go to help these small banks defend themselves from any potential fraudulent scenarios?

Barbasura: We do work with data, but we are not specialized in fighting fraud, however, Salt Edge provides rich information for fighting fraud. We have very limited access to the interaction between the user and the bank. Nevertheless, we always promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking as critical components of the aforementioned interaction. Besides these two elements, using a combination of security measures like possession, inheritance, and knowledge combined in a user-friendly way enhances security utmost, decreasing risk.

When I say “user-friendly”, I mean that every integrated safety measure must be maximally client-oriented and thoroughly explained, in terms of why it is important, how it protects the end-user and how to use it.

We believe the most effective defense is when the bank and only the bank control authorization of the payment and end-customer pays using the WYSIWYP principle (What You See Is What You Pay).

INSIDE TELECOM: The UK’s historical role in the financial sector could potentially shape the Fintech industry’s future outline in the country. What solutions could the company implement to help heighten the UK’s role in Fintech on a global scale?

Barbasura: In this manner, Salt Edge can promote two things that are already going well in the UK. The first one is the Open Banking standard, which is very well compiled and, with the right support, would diminish the market’s fragmentation. We have developed the payment service directives (PSD2) Compliance Solution at Salt Edge and already tailored it to the particularities of existing open banking standards around the world, like Berlin Group, Open Banking in the UK, or CDR in Australia. We see the financial institutions from different regions struggling with these differences and believe that unifying these standards will simplify a lot of things. Second, we can promote strong customer authentication and dynamic linking – elements that are significantly increasing safety. We’re already doing that through Salt Edge’s mobile Strong Customer Authentication, which considerably enhances the security of the payment experience, minimizes fraud risk, and guarantees customer protection.

Next, the UK has CMA9, the country’s 9 largest banking group. It is constantly introducing progressive initiatives, such as VRPs and we think that, from the UK’s point of view, it would be very useful to have it supported not only by these nine banks but also by all banks that can ensure it technically. This would be an example to the EU and other countries looking at the effectiveness of open banking.

Using fintech solutions for paying, investing, saving, and other operations must become a norm, just like we’re using apps for any other needs. It should be a norm, not a privilege.

Another way that Salt Edge is contributing to the UK consolidating its role in open banking is by opening up markets outside the country for local businesses – offering access to 5000+ banks across the globe. Many companies need various geographies to grow bigger in spite of the UK being one of the most innovative markets.

Therefore, I really hope that regulators from all countries, including the UK, the EU, and others can unify all legal approaches in one unique regulation so that once a business gets licensed in one region, it gets the occasion to passport it in other regions as well. Besides other advantages, it would decrease expenses, and this is the direction all should strive to.

INSIDE TELECOM: Under which regulatory umbrella could Salt Edge implement these solutions to augment the UK’s presence in the industry?

Barbasura: To answer this question narrowly, Salt Edge Limited is regulated in the UK, with an EU entity in the process of becoming regulated in the EU at the moment.

In a broader manner, PSD2 has been transposed into each country’s legal framework with local adjustments which need to be taken into consideration when entering the market. And we always do it. As mentioned above, one of the ways Salt Edge contributes to the UK consolidating its leadership position is by helping UK businesses upscale within the country and further across the globe based on our solutions: Open Banking Gateway and Open Banking Compliance Solution.

From our point of view, we often act as technical service providers for regulated entities. In terms of general data protection regulation (GDPR), these entities act as data controllers, while Salt Edge acts as a data processor – processing data according to their instructions. Now, considering this, Salt Edge solutions are implemented in many regions, including the Middle East, Australia, LatAm. We are agnostic to regulation since we act by generically approved principles of security, data privacy, compliance, and governance of the data. Yes, there are details deferring from one regulation to another related to data storage, for example, but we always find satisfactory compromises with our clients.

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Interviews

Ian Terblanche, Global Strategic Sales & Channel Director at Sigfox

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Ian Terblanche Sigfox

As the world moves heavily towards digital inclusion, all aspects of life will become connected, paving the way to a more IoT-fueled tomorrow. A major player within this ring is Sigfox, the world’s leading service provider for IoT services, Inside Telecom sat down with the company’s Global Strategic Sales & Channel Director Ian Terblanche to discuss their solutions regarding this field, and its impact on connectivity.

Could you briefly tell us about Sigfox’s 0G network? 

Our global network allows billions of devices to connect to the Internet, in a straightforward way, while consuming as little energy as possible. Our game-changing approach makes it possible to send and receive data without the need for complex connections or SIM cards. Base stations simply listen in and capture specifically formatted radio messages from around the globe. Devices need something as simple, and as small, as the silicon chip that you find in a remote control.

How do your 0G IoT sensors and connectivity aid in the digital transformation efforts by incorporating real-time alerts about delays and transport conditions?

Sigfox has built a dedicated IoT network across 76 countries to serve 3 market segments:  

1. Security – we provide Securitas with an anti-jammable network for their home alarm service. Despite more people investing in alarm and remote surveillance systems to discourage burglars and enable them to react quickly to any intrusion, those same systems can be faulty, suffer from breakdowns or even jam at the worst possible moment because of a droppage in the GSM network linking them to the security company protecting your home. We also work with Verisure, a Swiss company that specialises in alarms with remote monitoring, to mitigate that potential risk in its own devices and system – by using our 0G network as a backup connectivity which, unlike the GSM network, is less likely to jam. Through 0G network connectivity, communications between Verisure and each individuals’ home virtually anywhere in the world is assured 24/7/365.

2. Asset tracking – we provide DHL with a global asset tracking service with seamless roaming globally. DHL has outfitted around 250,000 DHL roll cages with smart trackers using a 0G network. The result is improved visibility of the essential and valuable roll cages, which are used to transport large volumes of parcels – about five million shipments in Germany alone each working day. 

3. Monitoring – we provide the world’s largest food retailers with full end-to-end cold chain monitoring. This ensures that frozen food, for example, does not at any point in its journey go above the required temperature to keep it viable for purchase once in a supermarket.

In summary, no other network providers offer a single, global, open roaming IoT network that is exclusively designed and built for low cost, environmentally friendly data capture and transfer.

What are the benefits of using IoT to improve goods exchange between the EU and the UK? 

IoT allows both loaders and shippers to identify, track and isolate individual assets whilst digitally linking the required paperwork to the goods being transported. For example, in a mixed pallet shipment, where one consignment has an issue, the entire shipment is delayed. But, with IoT, the individual consignment can quickly be located, isolated and removed. IoT also provides near real time insight which allows decisions to be made quickly and at an individual shipment/consignment level.

What role does IoT play to reintegrate the UK into the European Union?

 IoT, if implemented correctly, provides the missing data to provide a clear consistent picture of cross boarder movement. In most applications, IoT bridges the gap between central data sources and the physical world, and in particular asset tracking and product movement. By strengthening supply chain visibility, IoT can dramatically reduce friction and minimize delays for smoother trade.

What is Sigfox doing to assist a post-Brexit UK to track transit paperwork towards shipment? 

We have several engagements across the supply chain within Europe and beyond. At their core, all of the engagements have the same requirement, to digitally link the physical asset/product to the required paperwork. This allows end-to-end visibility and facilitates near real time correction within the transportation process.

How does IoT implementation across supply chains aid businesses with Big Data? 

We believe that IoT fills a critical gap in the data required to give true end-to-end visibility. Most companies have good data sources within their enterprise estate and often their key suppliers can also provide data inputs. What is often missing is data from the physical world, outside of those companies and their supplier systems. IoT provides that data source to fill in the missing gaps, but the real question is how do companies gather IoT data from many different sources? This requires careful consideration.   

Will you be rolling out the fifth-generation technology to assist your IoT sensors? 

Our strategy is very clear, we work with the world’s largest silicon /semiconductor providers to reach ultra-low cost components that are sustainable and are the platform to facilitate IoT to enable everything. We have a combined roadmap with these suppliers and our eco-system provides the physical device manufacturing capacity to scale as the market adoption grows.  

Can you tell us more about any future plans to expand your services? 

We have many future plans, but not all that I can share right now. One I can talk about though is the strategic initiatives in our vision of open OSS. In response to growing market demand we are re-engineering our OSS to be a ubiquities data capture platform for multiple IoT devices. We see this as a key step to accelerate the entire IoT marketplace and to simplify data orchestration.

Could you please elaborate more on your recent partnerships with telecom operators to improve the quality of your services? 

We work with a number of telecom operators globally to provide a wireless portfolio with 0G connectivity for over 1.3 billion people and 17 million registered devices, and growing.  Our most recent partnership was with Citymesh in June, where Sigfox’s 0G network was selected thanks to our ultra-low consumption combined with low hardware and network costs. We will continue working with telecom operators to further develop offerings based on our 0G network.

As the pandemic slowly subsides, what have been some emerging challenges that you’re currently facing? 

CV19 has been devastating for so many reasons, however many positives have come from it: The environment has become a lot more central to many countries/companies thinking. Having faster visibility of issues and being smarter at making decisions has become even more important and finally the pandemic has totally transformed the historic view of supply chains. IoT adoption has increased, which in turn accelerates supply chains, and minimizes inefficiencies and costly delays.

What steps are you taking to resolve them? 

We have seen a big difference in the impact on different sectors: The logistics firms we work with have seen a massive increase in demand which has placed real stress on their infrastructure and asset management. Whereas in the brewery and retail (physical) sectors we have seen the opposite. What is common across all business sectors is that the pandemic has highlight real deficiencies in current business models which in turn has accelerated digitisation in all aspects of business re-architecting.

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