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Tunisie Telecom: Tailoring digital transformation to customer experience

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Mohammed Wassel Belhadj, CIO of Tunisie Telecom, discusses the telco’s long-term partnership with Huawei and its exploration of 5G, data center trends, and storage solutions.

Tunisie Telecom has announced the test of its first data call over 5G. As a CIO, what major trends and challenges are you considering with regard to 5G?

Mohammed Wassel Belhadj: Any CIO should balance vision and reality when undertaking any transformation, so that the adoption of new technologies becomes a business enabler for carrying out sustainable investments.

5G shouldn’t be regarded as a new generation of communication. The increasing bandwidth it brings alongside low latency and enhanced security are triggers of technological and cultural disruption. Industries will be borderless in a way that will let telcos orchestrate value-added services with partners from across the market. This will ultimately benefit the customer, who sits at the heart of the new era.

And to cope with this new paradigm, CIOs should work on achieving disruptive digitalization, agile time-to-market, and standardized openness. They should also seek to maximize automation and ensure effective collaboration, rational convergence, and the secure elasticity of innovative services. 

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has added more stringent challenges such as remote work as well as tough budgetary constraints. Amazingly, the major challenge facing CIOs isn’t technological or financial – it’s mainly about the cultural shift of operations at a team level.  

What do you see as the future of IT services and infrastructure development trends in the telecoms industry? 

Wassel Belhadj: 5G is a central topic for carriers, including IT service pervasiveness across the edge and core as well as IoT systems. People will move from traditional human-to-human connectivity to the human-to-machine and machine-to-machine digital realm.

AI and big data will be the cornerstones of the shift that we’re already seeing in many countries, including China, Japan, Korea, and also in the EU. This shift is also underway in Tunisia. To protect existing investments, the impact of 5G on architectures must be fully considered before we decide on acquiring new information systems and infrastructures.

5G is a world where everything is connected and where data is proliferating. Information systems need to process huge amounts of data faster than ever before, so we need scalable data center architecture to cope with sudden service surges. 

In my opinion, cloudification and layered decoupling are the future trends we’ll see in data centers. 

  • Cloudification allows carriers to deploy hardware and software resources in shared, scalable, autonomous, and secure pools. Cloud computing promotes resource optimization and operational efficiency while reducing TCO.
  • Layered decoupling enables resources to be used on demand. When computing resources are required, a limited number of infrastructure components will be called on.

This will help carriers quickly respond to market demands, achieve on-demand resource allocation, cut TTM, optimize TCO, and boost infrastructure and data-center scalability and efficiency. In the digital era, data is at the beating heart of transformation. Carrier data infrastructure requires 24/7 resilience and unpredictable elasticity.

The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted our reliance on digital services. In turn, that means that data needs to be hosted and processed by leading high-performance solutions for consolidated storage infrastructure.

Q3:What are the most important requirements that made you opt for storage consolidation?  

The force majeure nature of the pandemic has triggered greater urgency for digital transformation and highlighted the importance of a consolidated data infrastructure for supporting information systems. 

Data infrastructure supports interoperability between systems such as online Point of Sale, online marketing, video conferencing, customer management, and remote support. This can reduce data silos under a blended data infrastructure, one that features elasticity, scalability, cloud-enablement, high availability, and security, so as to cope with all these challenges.

Additionally, a self-service approach will drastically reshape businesses by placing the customer experience as the basis of all decision-making. Underpinned by convergence, automation, and security, cloud, AI, 5G, and IoT will catalyze this approach.

Interruptions to critical business systems, such as billing, CRM, or portals, can cause operators huge losses on revenue and brand image. Therefore, an optimal active-active highly available infrastructure is required to ensure data reliability and load-balancing. High performance and low latency are a must for a comprehensive customer experience. In addition, I believe AI capabilities can improve O&M efficiency and analytics to deliver high-value automated assistance and simplified operational support. Finally, data infrastructure should support smooth scalability and easy upgrades to protect investment and optimize ROI.

What’s your strategy in regard to data platforms?

Tunisie Telecom has already embraced digital transformation. We’re determined to take the lead in Tunisia’s ICT market and contribute to developing the digital economy. The core of the digital economy is obtaining value from data, which in turn drives enterprise decision-making and innovation. In fact, a large volume of data scattered in siloed systems is of low value – only after massive data is aggregated and key information is extracted can the value of data be realized. Therefore, building a complete data value chain of collection, storage, analysis, and digital intelligence is a prerequisite for obtaining digital dividends.

The best-in-class infrastructure for storing our data securely and efficiently is the foundation of the data value chain system. While Tunisie Telecom is used to dealing with the leading storage players in the market, we were still hosting our data in scattered architecture, leading to limitations in terms of performance and scalability amid an unpredictable boom in data proliferation.

So, we decided to go for centralized consolidated high-end storage arrays.

To do that, we challenged different vendors based on Gartner Leaders’ Quadrant. The solution we selected was a high-end all flash storage aligned with the critical services inherited from our carrier industry. The solution has unique advantages in reliability, elasticity, security, and AI.

Beyond outstanding technical attributes, we were looking for a partner rather than just a vendor. The difference lies in a long-term, win-win collaborative approach, knowledge transfer, a commitment to our stringent SLA, and a clear product roadmap. 

That partner was Huawei.

How does the solution satisfy your storage consolidation requirements?

Huawei has the advantage of built-in AI in almost all its hardware and software components. That put us in an advantageous competitive position while protecting our investment. Huawei's all-flash high-end storage is a great choice for critical business in the carrier industry, but it can also be deployed in other fields with high requirements on data such as financial services, education, and the retail sector.

Actually, Tunisie Telecom has been working with Huawei for several years as a strategic partner. Through our collaboration, we identified Huawei as a company that not only delivers equipment, but – thanks to its strong R&D capabilities –  also provisions advanced solutions that satisfy our requirements.

The knowledge transfer between TT staff and Huawei experts during project and support execution has also proven to be invaluable.

We’re moving fast on the digitalization track. And we need strong partnerships based on a win-win strategy that can accelerate the digital transformation of Tunisie Telecom and our beloved Tunisia.

This article is translated and adapted from an article that first appeared in leaders.com.tn.