Myanmar fast-forwards to digital

After just a year in business in a country still playing tech catch-up with the rest of the world, it may surprise some that Telenor Myanmar is already entering the realm of digital telcos.

Written: Oct 2015

The great Myanmar leapfrog

Mobile towers multiplying across Myanmar are tactile reminders that a major technological leap is happening. Telenor alone has 3,100 towers nationwide – 100 percent of these equipped with 3G capabilities – and is expected to roll out another 3-4,000 towers by year’s end.

Myanmar’s economy is also entering a period in which its industries are maturing – take telecommunications. The operating environment has turned on a dime, providers are now able to deliver data more efficiently and prices of handsets are now lower than they have ever been – and still falling.

The change is seen in the customers as well. Of Telenor’s over 10 million (and counting) subscribers, 55 percent have passed on entry-level voice and text. They have skipped ahead to becoming data users.

“No one at Telenor Myanmar had expected it to get this high so quickly,” said Neelesh Pratap Singh, Head of IT, Telenor Myanmar.

Myanmar's digital frontrunners. Of Telenor's 10+ million customers in Myanmar, a staggering 55 percent of them are regular data users.
Myanmar’s digital frontrunners. Of Telenor’s 10+ million customers in Myanmar, a staggering 55 percent of them are regular data users.

Their use of technology is also closing in on the frontrunners in some of their more advanced neighbors. Most Myanmar mobile users go straight to the apps, Viber, Whatsapp, LINE, and show little interest in MMS or Voicemail.

And behind the scenes at Telenor Myanmar, parallel technology evolutions are happening at a brisk pace. The most fundamental of them: Telenor Myanmar is becoming a ‘digital telco’.

A digital telco

From an IT standpoint, Telenor Myanmar is already making this shift and it’s one of Telenor Group’s first. But what does becoming a digital telco mean?

“The differences between ‘telcos of today’ and ‘digital telcos’ are stark. Telcos today of course have customer touchpoints, they have physical and server-based infrastructure, and employ applications and architecture which of course underlie products, services and processes. But they don’t necessarily go beyond that,” explained Neelesh.

The full IT team at Telenor Myanmar (from left to right): Win Hein Htut, Thu Kha, Win Phyo Thein, Lin Thein Naing, Win Myo Zaw, Myo Kyaw Htun, Hein Latt, Sai Lin Naung, Wai Phyo Han, Varinder Singla, Paing Soe, Nay Lin Htun, Ye Aung, Nang Htike Aung, Phyo Htet Kyaw, Michael Naing Myo Aung, Neelesh Pratap Singh, Niranjan Srinivasan, Aung Myo Ko, Ather Naveed, Ye Myo Aung, Kyi Kyi Win, Hnin Wai Wai Kyaw, Mya Yi Win
The full IT team at Telenor Myanmar (from left to right): Win Hein Htut, Thu Kha, Win Phyo Thein, Lin Thein Naing, Win Myo Zaw, Myo Kyaw Htun, Hein Latt, Sai Lin Naung, Wai Phyo Han, Varinder Singla, Paing Soe, Nay Lin Htun, Ye Aung, Nang Htike Aung, Phyo Htet Kyaw, Michael Naing Myo Aung, Neelesh Pratap Singh, Niranjan Srinivasan, Aung Myo Ko, Ather Naveed, Ye Myo Aung, Kyi Kyi Win, Hnin Wai Wai Kyaw, Mya Yi Win

“We want to go digital. This means that first, customer touch points become digitally enabled moving from traditional channels to ‘mobile first’. Second, use of advanced analytics to improve customer experience and make automated rule driven actions. Third, continuously simplify and automate business processes so that we can simplify underlying architecture and applications. And fourth, that infrastructure becomes cloud driven.”

Telenor Myanmar takes to The Cloud

Neelesh tells us that already today, almost all of Telenor Myanmar’s services are running from a private cloud, a first for Telenor Group operations anywhere in the world.

“When we were designing our setup couple of years ago, we realized that there were no buildings suitable in Yangon which could have hosted a data center,” said Neelesh. Given Telenor’s launch timeline, they did not have enough time to build it. So it was decided to setup the data center in carrier grade containers. This also meant that they had limited space and needed to go virtual. Today, the entire IT setup is hosted in about 400 square feet of space. It can support up to 30 million subscribers. Telenor Myanmar is also the first in migrating all valued-added services, like ring tones, news, and radio applications to the virtualized setup.

The company has also seen a dramatic drop in costs associated with the storage, security and application of services because of this.

Technology customers don’t want

Before Telenor Myanmar can go digital, it needs to simplify. In short, it means streamlining and enhancing the areas more people – customers, employees and business users – want to use; while doing away with the services and processes which are now all but obsolete. Namely, voicemail, MMS (multimedia messages) and WAP (wireless access = non-html for feature phone internet) gateways.

Simply, digital store operations, including paperless customer application forms, are on the Telenor Myanmar IT to-do list.
Simple, digital store operations, including paperless customer application forms, are on the Telenor Myanmar IT to-do list.

Retail goes digital

Building on Myanmar’s launch, Telenor needs to enhance distribution capability. The plan is to develop an advanced retail management system. Keeping it as simple as possible, Telenor Myanmar plans to ramp up location intelligence, build a sales performance management system and develop partner mobile applications. The goal is to simplify and digitize the store operations in order to deliver a far better retail experience and higher partner engagement. Another goal is to digitize the sometimes cumbersome customer application form process, which in the future will become totally paperless.

Service and self-care go digital

From an IT perspective, good service is built on making the technical systems it runs on more efficient towards internal business users and on enabling Telenor Myanmar’s growing workforce to learn from each other and collaborate better in the service of customers. The company has rolled out IT NPS and implementing strategies for IT business continuity and process excellence. A billing disaster recovery system that allows geographical failovers at the most local level – and all cloud drive – is already implemented.

On the front end and already up and running is Telenor Myanmar’s Self-Care mobile application – the first self-care customer service in the country. A cloud-based call center solution has now also been fully operational for a year.

Myanmar's Self-Care application.
Myanmar’s Self-Care application.

The next 12 months

Though each one of these areas would be a major undertaking at any operator, requiring years to make fully operational, Telenor Myanmar operates on a more aggressive calendar. In the time span of just 12 months, most, if not all of these digital overhauls are on track to reach completion. Says Neelesh, “This is just how Myanmar is right now. Everything is happening at light speed in this country, and we need to stay ahead of it.”

I4A4263_web(1)