e& playing 4-D chess with its ‘AI-forward, AI-first strategy’

In February 2022, Etisalat rebranded to e&; the UAE-headquartered multinational was early in doing the hard work of reinventing from a telco to a tech-co, to borrow verbage from industry discourse. Two years in, Group Chief Strategy Officer Harrison Lung provided an overview of the company’s strategy with an emphasis on the fundamental role artificial intelligence (AI) plays. 

Speaking at the recent Telco AI Forum (available on demand here), Lung laid out e&’s “4-D” strategy: 

  • “Doubling down on our core telco business.” 
  • “Diversifying our portfolio of revenue both geographically as well as into technology areas.” 
  • “Digitizing our operations…We can only digitize our operations, both consumer-facing as well as our internal operation, leveraging many of the digital technologies out there, including AI.” 
  • “Driving sustainability across our brand…and people and communities that we operate in.” 

AI, Lung said, “is really the heart of our innovation efforts.” The goal is to build an “AI-empowered and an AI-first organization” focused on delivering innovation and driving productivity. “We think AI is going to be transformational to our business,” he said, calling out improvements to customer experience, internal operations, cost structure, and revenue expansion. 

He also talked through how e& evaluates the applicability of AI to different parts of the business both existing and aspirational. “Use cases [are] at the core of AI and AI implementation…Use cases [are] what the end customer will see and use as well as our internal employees or frontline staff. We think about how we assess AI use cases across a couple of different lenses,” primarily impact and feasibility. Impact covers everything from Net Promoter Score (NPS) to cost/return. Feasibility considers how easy, or difficult, implementation would be, availability/maturity of tech, the readiness of e&’s own tech stack, and governance across its portfolio of majority- and minority-owned businesses. 

AI for energy efficiency and network optimization

In April e& published a white paper that takes a deep dive into how it is now and plans to use AI with an emphasis on driving sustainability in resource allocation and energy efficiency and network optimizations. This covers a range of areas, including the use of robotics to streamline and otherwise reduce manual tasks and AI-infused sales, marketing and retail experiences. 

Lung expanded on these focus areas: “From an overall capex intensity and spend perspective, the network is by far the largest cost category…for a telecom operator,” he said. “If you’re actually able, through AI, to enhance and optimize your network even by 1% and improving this capex band, or even in some cases the opex band, in terms of the network efficiency, how you roll out the network, how you run the network, there’s significant financial impact to the bottomline.” 

He also referenced a joint venture e& has engaged in alongside Deutsche Telekom, Telecom, Singtel, and SoftBank. Announced during the most recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the JV’s goal is to develop a telco-specific large language model (LLM) based on the companies’ data stores. “We cannot do AI alone,” Lung said. “We feel like this JV really has tremendous upside opportunity because now we’re able to use this proprietary data to really enhance the current, I’ll call it more generic, large language models and really turbocharge it to make it super relevant and tailored for our customers.” 

AI-as-a-service to embolden connectivity offerings

Recall e&’s rebrand and the point of it which was to expand beyond providing connectivity to reaching deeper into enterprise and government to provide connectivity, solutions, services, consulting, and more; e& more if you like.

Part of this was establishing its technology services organization e& Enterprise which sells, among other things, AI-as-a-service. “This is where I think the crux and the growth opportunity is for us to be a market-leading not just telecom operator but a technology company globally,” Lung said. “We’ve been at the forefront of providing this robust, reliable connectivity for close to 50 years…With AI, our connectivity services can actually do more than deliver just speed and bandwidth. They enable smart, data-driven decisions that can improve efficiencies and outcomes.” 

“We feel like with the integrated offering we can be having the top of the house conversation as well as being [enterprises and governments] core partner,” he said. 

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