Internet of Thing (IoT) is a technology that will transform daily life. How does ISC software and Plug & Play integrate with any device?
What we agreed on since our inception in 2011, is an IoT integration platform, creating the tool needed to integrate industrial devices with enterprise application and cloud. It is a pretty unique proposition in the market because we neither produce data nor use it, but we are a gateway in the middle for the purpose of making the integration process as simple, fast, and as inexpensive as possible.
This can be done by creating the driver concept in an industrial space, like when you buy a $50 printer, you receive the driver inside the package or directly from a website. Every application can use this physical resource to the driver, and before Alleantia, the concept of drivers was aimed at commercial hardware not for an industrial one. Thus, we decided to propose our standard for this XPANGO format, meaning a driver which needs communication, semantics, commands, and other information that allow every application to use this industrial device independently from vendors and technology.
How does IoT help data acquisition and connection between machines? Increase speed and efficiency of applications?
This is the main objective for IoT: reducing the data input from humans, whilst someone can obtain precise and fast data about your production. As such, this is the first stage in which we are replacing human input with an automatic one. The second stage is trying to transfer massive quantity of data that humans are not able to acquire – creating big data whilst learning to understand how the machine can be optimized and how one machine can be integrated with others along the supply chain, up to predictive maintenance.
I don’t see that real implementation of predictive maintenance is able to predict a lot of failures, but the reason is not because the model is not running, but because you have to see when machines breakdown more often to configure items. It’s just a matter of time before we can accumulate our statistics and for this reason, which is our third rule, IoT can improve production by creating the database, which many companies are accumulating production data for.
Can you explain more about IoT apps and the way it helps connect IoT edge with any business application via cloud?
Let’s simplify it, we can consider our ISC software to be like the Android operating system and the gateway that ISC runs inside a machine to be like the smart phone carrying that OS. What we allow for our partners, is mainly independence of their vendor or software.
The app can be installed over the gateway together with our ISC accessing certain subsets of the whole data; just like when people install any app on their phones and it requests accessing the contacts, pictures etc. This is what Alleantia does. Then this data is streamed through this application.
The main advantage of this approach is you don’t create an umbrella environment when you get the gateway cloud platform or analytics from one tender but creating something that is more scalable. In this case, you can install an app for each specific usage.
Can IoT software prevent errors and problems from happening? And if problems are present, how can they be solved immediately?
IoT can prevent a certain set of mistakes. Thanks to a proper IoT app, when you launch a production of a certain material, all the recipes needed along the production chain are uploaded to each machine, thus the system is ready to prevent errors.
Another important thing is that what you can prevent is not really an error in terms of production but error in terms of procedure for cyber security. So you can upload files directly from the cloud to the machines.
“One click is enough to create a real revolution.” Give us more insight about the benefits of digitizing our activities?
What we are looking for is to create a simple solution that allow machines to speak with IT words in 60 seconds, in just one click. People have to select a name and an item from our catalogue then insert and click connect.
The first exercise that we suggest to our customers is when you have plenty of data from your machines, just take two of those and automatically fill them into our ISC software – that usually comes later. By just saving the data entry, which is possible in a few minutes, you can start to use other handles of data that you have. Ultimately, with a few clicks, you will change your organization.
Tell us about the XPANGO technology?
XPANGO technology is the idea from which Alleantia was born because we wanted to create a solution that really sets the standard, for the mere fact that every institution is focusing to create a common language in terms of “bit and bite”, to connect industrial devices together then connect them to the app.
No one at the moment is taking care of the semantic data, the usage of a certain value has to be treated in a certain way and this number translated from one unit to another, later transferred to all machines. All this information is addressed by XPANGO which is not just a matter of data exchange but information exchange.
How do we use the XPANGO driver?
When we have to connect the device, you have to select the proper driver like a printer for your pc and click connect; that’s it. If you have to connect to a new device that has never been connected to Alleantia, we provide driver editor and online tools for free, thus creating and distributing your driver over our public library. We are working on an ecosystem and promoting it to create drivers that are freely available.
What are the key IoT trends defining Industry 4.0?
Increase productivity for the end user and for factory owners, increase the OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency), reduce time and activate a predictive maintenance strategy.
IoT is used to increase the topline of your balance sheet, increase revenue, save money by reducing the number of employees in factories due to the coronavirus and enabling better remote ability and enhanced maintenance.
There are even banks that are interested in this process because if you have a smart product, you would pay in a smart way. If the machine is an industrial device, you need a financial institution that helps you create a sort of labor use. Many banks are integrating IoT in their financial services.
Data security and privacy is a growing concern. What is your company’s guarantee for protecting data?
We usually address and solve such problems, but there is always the risk of data theft by cyberattacks which requires adding multiple fire walls and many tools to prevent such malicious activities.
The main problem is data ownership. When one customer decides to use Alleantia, he/she is deciding to choose “access rights” when using IoT apps and who sees the data– similar to installing an app on your mobile.
Mohanned Alosta, CEO of Libyana Telecom
How has Libyana handled the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic? What were the main challenges? And how were they met?
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the entire world, we, at Libyana, faced challenging issues on both the service providing and operation sides; however, we find ourselves in the right direction facing all of them.
On the service side, the lockdown naturally boosted network traffic, we were ready for this specifically since Libyana started network expansion in 2019, and continuously till this day, to ensure service quality for our customers. Our network expands simultaneously with users’ demand, maintaining the best user experience and enhancing it.
On the management side, our main focus centers on protecting our employees and partners aiming to minimize the risk of infection, by restructuring our operations throughout 2020, keeping only 30 percent of employees working from the office, with the remaining team working remotely.
At the same time, we utilized all solutions such as ERP, Online Dealer, Online Meeting to keep the business running normally regardless of all these circumstances. This proved to be an experience full of lessons learnt which will help us achieve our digital transformation plans.
In 2019, Libyana partnered with Expertise France to boost the local startup scene. Can you tell us more about this initiative? And what other efforts have been made to push startups forward?
Libyana gives special attention to innovation and entrepreneurship as a part of its social responsibility; the initiative with Expertise France aims to establish a first-of-its-kind center, which includes a business incubator and accelerator, called FabLab. In addition, we launched a new project, called Stream, offering all sorts of services and training to support entrepreneurs and MSMEs in Libya.
Stream provides training and support both technical and financial to 101 participants from 10 different cities through 7 programs over the course of 15 months. Through this project, 21 idea holders have managed to successfully transform their ideas into startups, while 76 percent of the startups that previously participated in the program stated that they experienced an increase in revenue following enrollment allowing for the creation of 126 jobs.
How are you planning to accelerate the company’s growth in 2021?
As the main telecom operator in Libya with all circumstances currently facing us and the telecoms industry, it is a big challenge for Libyana to keep stable growth in 2021.
First, as all online traffic increases due to lockdowns, we will focus on maintaining our network expansion and optimization efforts in an all-level capacity, capability, and stability, to be ready for any sudden traffic increase.
Second, we will continue our digital transformation journey for both our subscriber services and company operations, to improve the user experience and company efficiency during and after the pandemic.
Due to the effect of the on-going worldwide economic depression by the coronavirus, ARPU degradation is expected, thus, we are building more digital services to provide diverse service offerings to our subscribers.
With the African continent being heavily reliant on FinTech, are there any plans for Libyana to jump into the financial services sector?
As part of Libyana’s vision of enhancing our customers’ lives by connecting people in every way shape or form, we are planning to enter the FinTech sector by offering several solutions such as mobile money and online payments, which are part of our digital transformation strategy. The financial sector in Libya faces several issues, which is why our aim is to fill this gap and connect all Libyans on the financial scope as we do in telecommunications.
With 5G being the talk of the town in the telecoms industry, can you tell us about Libyana’s 5G efforts within the country?
Libyana is ready to embrace 5G, where the current network supports 5G evolution smoothly. Currently, we are analyzing the best business models for 5G and its application for Libya’s needs, as we are aiming to provide excellent service experiences and best service value to all Libyans.
Are there plans for the company to expand outside of Libya?
Currently, we are working for more cooperation with global operators to improve the subscriber roaming experience. For the time being, expanding into other markets is not considered a top priority on our list since times are still fragile due to the economic recession and the COVID-19 situation, but we continue to keep eyes on the global situation and all opportunities around us.
As technological advancements such as 5G, IoT, AI, AR, VR, and the like are starting to hit the mainstream, which one interests you the most? Why?
Both 5G and IoT are our highest priority, where the demand for M2M and massive data has drastically increased. A massive country such as Libya, which mainly leans on its oil and gas industry, needs to discover new opportunities in order to be ready for the 4th Industrial revolution.
Cybersecurity has become a must for all ICT/tech companies, especially during the COVID-era. How has Libyana strengthened its defenses against cybercriminals?
Cybersecurity is one of the highest priorities for us at Libyana, as we have three lines of defense:
- The first line is all employees implement self-control over the cybersecurity of products such as strong cypher, VPN, identity authentication, and so on.
- The second line is identifying and protecting all the service units against any cybersecurity risks to systems, assets, data, and capabilities to ensure delivery of critical infrastructure services.
- The third line is a Detect and Respond mechanism, implemented appropriately into our activities to identify the occurrence of a cyber breach and take action on it immediately.
What is your stance regarding the ban on Huawei in some countries?
We understand the decision of some operators to exclude Huawei, however, its worthy to note that the ban has caused an interruption within Huawei’s supply chain. This has made the Chinese telco enter “survival mode,” which makes it face uncertain risks within its network operations and evolution, especially to operators that exclusively purchase equipment from Huawei.
Huawei is considered a titan in the telcoms world due to its strong comprehensive strengths, which is why we, at Libyana, have constructed parts of our network with Huawei equipment. In parallel, we can only hope that the company resolves its disputes with the United States as fast as possible to avoid the operating risk of its customers, and to protect investments and maintain competitiveness in the 5G era.
How did Libyana weather the storm during years of war and a struggling local economy?
Nowadays, telecoms is considered one of the most important sectors in Libya, keeping our customers connected regardless of the current fractured society, providing services to the whole country during all crises.
In case of any force majeure, we do our best to solve issues immediately guaranteeing civilians the communication they need. As the ceasefire agreement was signed earlier this year, it is expected that next year the satiation in Libya will hopefully become better and Libyana will continue its work to provide stable services.
We do not only consider ourselves as a telecom operator, but more of a basic society service provider; thus, regardless of what happens, Libyana’s main target is to always guarantee high-quality service to our subscribers while maintaining our contribution to the country.
Joe Fizor, TBI Lead Solutions Engineer and Tech Guru
How will 5G impact enterprise mobility in 2021?
5G will be a source of additional redundancy and diversity to company networks, providing much higher bandwidth and throughput. From a mobile perspective, 5G will allow several variations that need to be considered, such as 5G narrowband which will be great for IoT devices. End users looking for high performance and the ability to work remotely will need to focus on the wideband offerings which will have the higher speeds, low latency and high-capacity consumers have come to expect when hearing 5G.
How will remote work evolve in the coming year? How can businesses prepare for that change?
As many businesses continue to have an ongoing, larger remote workforce, we will see businesses running a cost analysis of price per square foot of office space versus the price of SD-WAN and/or business grade connections to remote users. Security has to be at the forefront too – we are no longer protected by the four walls of the office, but rather facing a diverse set of users on known and unknown devices. Focusing on Zero-Trust security architectures will continue to be critical. With the introduction of SASE as a newer framework, we will continue to see providers push identity access management (IAM), single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), etc. to secure remote users. Additionally, as we continue the shift to remote work, businesses will need to balance their approach to gaining visibility into users/applications while not overstepping and straining their users through micro-management. The ability to enact “big brother” roles may prove too tempting for many. Unfortunately, we may not like it as end users, but visibility and analytics will continue to grow and be a top priority.
Growth in 5G mobility requires greater security measures in parallel. What can a company do from now?
Though mobility security is difficult, we cannot rely on the expensive firewall deployed on the edge of the network, sitting in the office that no one has entered in 9 months. Businesses need to understand the options regarding mobile device management (MDM), endpoint security, identity access management (IAM), and single sign-on (SSO)/Multi-factor authentication (MFA). Through MDM, companies can secure and remotely wipe devices if lost or stolen, push applications to ensure users have the tools they need, setup containers for business applications if the device is personal and go as far as expense management. This will help secure devices, but companies can go further with IAM and endpoint security to limit access based on location, device type, time of day, etc. Also, keep in mind that the security measures everyone needs to consider with 5G are no different from 4G LTE. Now there is more speed, more capacity, and more damage that could be done through malicious attacks. For example, DDoS attacks can – and have – stemmed from IoT devices. So, if you consider the high performance increases we will see with 5G, now with far greater bandwidth, many could be setting themselves up to witness some truly gigantic attacks.
When training/retraining a remote team (in preparation for 2021), what should be at the top of the agenda?
Top of the agenda for training should be discussing and reviewing business approved tools, applications as well as devices, along with security awareness training. If the business does not approve of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, then that needs reinforcement. Remote users can lead to nightmare scenarios for IT professionals and implementing policies to minimize attack vectors is critical. Communicating this to remote teams is just as critical, and educating them on how to stop phishing attacks, best practices when sharing information, keeping devices updated, and leveraging strong passwords will help strengthen every companies’ security posture.
What challenges/risks are the remote workforce likely to face in the coming year? How to mitigate these risks?
The remote workforce overall is an easy target for many attackers. Businesses and their employees need to be on the lookout for fraudulent emails and increased phishing attacks. Unsecure Wi-Fi connections can lead to man in the middle attacks, connectivity issues, and unknown third-party applications. The best advice I can give is to stay diligent. Check who is sending emails/attachments. If a request seems strange. . . pick up the phone and call to confirm the request. It really boils down to the same security framework we use on the network – Zero Trust. Assume nothing is safe and use caution in all aspects of work and personal life.
Mazen Mroue, Chief Operating Officer at MTN Nigeria
How have you focused on expansion in the market?
We believe everyone deserves the benefits of a modern, connected life. This is the philosophy that drives our expansion strategy. We are focused on strategies that help us achieve sustainable results and ensure that people remain connected through our voice and data service offerings. Our expansion efforts are focused on opportunities in financial technology and digital. The next three years will see us investing about N600 billion to accelerate the expansion of our network infrastructure, deepen population coverage and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiatives. In the fintech area, we will continue to leverage our Super-Agent licence to support the Nigerian government in achieving set objectives for closing the financial inclusion gaps. At the same time, we continue engaging relevant authorities to obtain a Payment Service Bank licence. Our expansion plans are also largely determined by our customers; we are committed to nurturing and earning their trust and will continue to invest in new products and services tailored to meet their needs.
Digitization is reshaping the industry landscape. How are you optimizing customer touchpoints?
Digitization will enhance the delivery of telecommunication services and also help economies perform better. Digitization, when properly implemented, will lead to improved socio-economic benefits for citizens by providing additional job opportunities and boosting productivity. We have continued to see this in action, partly due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and we believe that as a company in active collaboration with the country, we should continue to make necessary investments to deepen and fully deploy a digital economy. This is why in 2019, we restructured our digital division in a bid to drive the growth of our digital business, make significant contributions in enabling the ongoing digital revolution by providing access, interconnectivity and applications and most especially, improve intimacy with our customers. We are leveraging and combining technology such as cloud, mobile, social, data analytics, artificial intelligence in innovative ways to improve service delivery. We offer an integrated suite of communication products and services including voice, data and digital service with 2G, 3G and 4G LTE technology as well as exploring 5G technology. We were the first telecoms operator to test the 5G technology in West Africa, and we will continue to make the required investments to deepen and optimize digital solutions and touchpoints for our customers.
How is MTN Nigeria meeting the telecommunication needs of the rural communities in the country?
We are constantly looking for ways to ensure that everybody including those living in unserved and under-served communities has access to voice, data and fintech solutions because we believe that connectivity has a significant impact on the quality of life and socio-economic outcomes for people and the nation. Through our rural telephony programme, we have identified 3,000 communities that will benefit from our network expansion plans over the next three years. This is being delivered through a phased approach. Over the course of this year, communities in Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, and Port Harcourt have already begun to benefit from this program.
As a telecoms company, what has been the greatest challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic? What course of action have you taken to buffer the effects?
The pandemic greatly affected the global economy and health systems leading to unavoidable loss of lives and finances. To this day, many industries and economies are still dealing with the effects of the spread of the virus, and in some countries, the government and health sector are continuing to contain the spread of the virus as new cases are recorded.
With all the uncertainties that came with COVID-19, it was important for the business to adapt quickly and to a considerable extent, put plans in place to avoid significant disruptions that could have otherwise caused major setbacks. Our focus was on keeping our customers connected all through the period and on our staff welfare. We executed a digital transformation that saw our staff working from home while our essential workers continued to work at our physical locations while observing strict hygienic measures. We strengthened the reliability and sustainability of our networks to ensure that our supply chain was not affected, made availability for spares as a mitigation strategy, and we developed products and services to assist our customers. With all this in place, we have been able to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our operations. As part of our commitment to the communities we operate in, we made financial, product and service investments and fostered partnerships to support the efforts of the government and the NCDC. We also waived a percentage of our service charges on our MoMo Agent network and provided payment extensions for our postpaid customers.
What are the current telecommunication challenges/opportunities in Nigeria?
The need to accelerate our transition to digital is essential and presents an opportunity for growth. The world is fast moving from the conventional way of doing things, and with the outbreak of the pandemic, we have seen that we must move more quickly. During the early days of the pandemic, digital means of communication ensured that the day to day running of many businesses and the economy did not have to stop, thereby preventing additional business losses. Providing access to finance through innovative financial technology solutions is another opportunity area. It benefits vulnerable groups by fostering better socio-economic outcomes, supports the government’s economic and financial inclusion objectives and supports the activities of other conventional financial institutions.
IoT/5G/Cloud Hope – or Hype?
This is definitely “HOPE” for Nigeria and the rest of the world. I say this because of the potential to improve living outcomes through job creation and help economies work more efficiently. As the world steadily moves towards digital even as the outbreak of COVID-19 has further accelerated the process, many countries, including Nigeria have now experienced some of the benefits of these innovations. These innovative technologies will enhance connectivity speed a hundred times faster than the current 4G networks blurring geographic and operational borders. It will support the delivery of healthcare services, improving remote diagnostic and treatment outcomes. It will also enhance socio-economic outcomes and experiences of everything digital, including financial services and the emergence of innovations, smarter cities and healthier people. At MTN, we fully understand the immense potentials of IoT, 5G and cloud, and we will continue to make the required investments to deepen and support the deployment of these technologies in Nigeria.
What trends in the industry right now excite and perturb you?
Over the last decade, the telecom sector has reinvented itself to match the rising demand for content and digital services. We are now comfortably in the age of smartphones which is widely affecting the reach of digital marketing, making it easier to understand consumer behaviour and allowing us as network operators to personalize our offers and products to meet customers needs and their expectations. Digital Marketing is taking our businesses far providing a better Return of Investments, and by having a clear understanding of our own customers’ journeys and experiences, we are now able to identify what’s working and what needs to be changed or improved.
How have you approached change amid the pandemic?
With the outbreak of the pandemic and the challenges, it was clear that the only way to remain on a growth curve was to quickly adapt and make quick decisions and changes that may have previously seemed impossible. As an organization that is committed to delivering value to all groups of stakeholders, we adopted a stakeholder-first mitigation strategy with a critical focus on employee satisfaction, customer experience, shareholder satisfaction and family life. Our approach has been adapting to the changes, making critical decisions quickly, investing in critical infrastructure, investing in our people, our community – especially vulnerable groups and supporting the government in all its efforts to limit the adverse effects of the pandemic.
What do you hope to achieve in your current position?
Since my appointment as the COO of MTN Nigeria, I am proud of the collective success we have achieved prior to and after my appointment. It is that solid foundation that I am riding on and will continue to ride on to deliver and achieve sustainable results. Throughout my stay, I will continue to provide the necessary leadership and direction to our commercial and technology functions while harnessing new and existing technology to deliver the best customer experience and accelerate digital innovation for shared prosperity for the nation. This is all towards achieving the end goal of leaving a legacy that successive leadership teams can leverage for the continued growth of the business that impacts the Nigerian economy positively.
As 50% of Nigeria’s population is below 18, we need to be resilient and speak the language of the new generation. We are a well-known brand in the country. Still, we need to play in the space of the young generation, and we need to adapt ourselves to their language, without losing the relationship and interface we have established with the current generation.
How do you plan on accelerating business growth?
In accelerating business growth, we are guided by the principle of shared value and prosperity because we believe that the success and growth of our business are linked to the success, wellbeing and development of the communities in which we operate. Therefore all of our growth strategies are targeted at identifying and investing in opportunities that bring about positive and sustainable impacts for the people and the government. We will continue expanding our network services to ensure more rural communities are connected. We will leverage our quality of services and new technologies to continue increasing smartphone penetration in the country and enable existing and new users to join the digital world. Our commitment remains to play our role in leading the private sector contribution to the digital economy and financial inclusion. By doing so, we will make the necessary investments in our critical infrastructure, expand our network and support the Nigerian government’s goal for digitization.
Describe yourself in three words?
Stay humble and be persistent; success will follow!
MTN continues to empower young entrepreneurs in Nigeria. What has been the most recent initiative and how successful was it?
A recent youth empowerment initiative is the Revv Programme which was designed as a give-back initiative to address the critical needs of SMEs during the COVID-19 period and in the aftermath. We are targeting 10,000 SMEs and have been delivering a series of business-related masterclasses, advisory services, marketing and technology support services. The ongoing Y’ello Star is also a youth targeted initiative which provides a platform to discover, nurture, expose and launch music talents in young Nigerians.
Through the MTN Foundation we deliver ICT and business skills training to young people between the ages of 18 – 35 with the aim of improving their chances of gainful employment. This we deliver with some of our ecosystem partners, including Oracle, Google, IBM, KPMG and Digital Bridge Institute (DBI). We also provide scholarships to eligible 200 level students studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses and also to 200 level blind students studying in public tertiary institutions across Nigeria.
What’s next for MTN Nigeria?
In the coming years, we will continue to explore ways to ensure that our customers have the best customer experience and will implement our strategy with a major focus on fintech and digital. The next three years will see us invest about N600 billion to expand our network and accelerate digital transformation, and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiative. We will continue to invest in our infrastructure to deepen access to technology and accelerate financial inclusion for underrepresented groups.
The industry will continue to be a key driver in the transformation of lives – both in the business and personal space and with no doubt, the telecommunications industry will continue to be a catalyst for economic development. The future is bright and very promising, especially with the very young generation forming the bulk of the population. This is a huge potential because all these young people will rely more and more on access to communication and digital services. We are confident that together with all our partners we will drive Nigeria to the next level and ensure that jointly we will address the digital economy agenda.
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