The coronavirus pandemic which was first reported in Kenya on March 13 has dealt businesses a heavy blow. A series of shutdown orders by the State to help stem the tide of the virus has forced many firms to change operations and implement rapid organisational changes, including working from home plans and staff pay cuts.
Telkom Kenya’s chief executive Mugo Kibati spoke to the Business Daily about how the firm is building resilience amidst the impact of the pandemic and the lessons they have learnt so far. Excerpts.
TO WHAT EXTENT HAS THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IMPACTED THE OPERATIONS OF TELKOM KENYA?
Our front-facing teams, inclusive of staff attached to our stations, provided to us by our business partners, have gone through tailored training on how to conduct themselves at this time. We also continue encouraging our customers to transact electronically now that regular movement is highly discouraged. We have also made strategic reviews to our capital expenditure (Capex) and operational expenditure (Opex) to reflect the current realities, as is the case with other businesses across the globe.
WHAT IS THE COMPANY DOING TO REMAIN RESILIENT AMIDST THE OUTBREAK?
We have taken a holistic and deliberate approach to our employees’ welfare to make them feel secure and supported, thereby enabling them to serve our customers effectively. We have also activated an employee telecommute programme enabling non-location-essential members of staff to work remotely, while maintaining productivity.
IS THE FIRM LOOKING AT REDUCING WORKERS’ PAY AS IS THE CASE WITH OTHER COMPANIES? IF NOT, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COST CUTTING STRATEGIES INITIATED BY THE FIRM TO KEEP GOING?
Telkom has not taken that approach —the reduction of our employees’ pay — at this time. As an evolving business that has to always remain nimble and agile due to the nature of the sector and market-specific dynamics that we deal with, Telkom conducts continued reviews, on how to optimise on costs, through the adoption of more technology-based solutions that, will not only save on operational expenditure and to an extent, capital expenditure, but will also bring out further operational efficiencies to better realise our key performance indicators (KPIs) and consequently, our service level agreements (SLAs) with our customers.
WHAT’S TELKOM DOING TO SUPPORT THE FIGHT AGAINST THE VIRUS?
Technology continues to play an integral part in the lives of Kenyans. We continue to focus on social interventions where our core service will have direct and immediate impact. We launched the Soma na Telkom bundles, tailored to power the e-learning programmes of educational institutions.
We donated a 50 Mbps link to the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit at Mbagathi, enabling patients in quarantine as well as our heroic medical officers to keep in touch with their loved ones and the outside world. Telkom also provisioned the Ministry of Health and the National Emergency Response Committee with a free 200 Mbps Internet connectivity link to support their fight against the virus.
We also recently announced that we are powering the Afya Rekod health management platform that will facilitate Covid-19 monitoring and analysis and provide a virtual repository for storage of individual health data.
The platform will enable information sharing, empowering health workers on how they can best support patients and also protect themselves. Our service partnership with Loon, once deployed, will also enable us to support the government’s efforts to address and manage the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
WHAT LESSONS HAS THE FIRM LEARNT SO FAR FOLLOWING THE OUTBREAK OF COVID-19?
Having a strategy that enables the business to adapt to disruptive dynamics is key. We are also cognisant of the fact that tech solutions play a pivotal role in a variety of crisis intervention mechanisms and also enable businesses to still function, optimally, during such a time. From a human capital perspective, it is time for businesses to seriously consider work-from-home approaches for the long term. Therefore, we in the telco sector should push for a robust e-economy, bolstered with the necessary policies and regulatory interventions to entrench this.
IT WILL LIKELY NOT BE BUSINESS AS USUAL ONCE THE PANDEMIC IS OVER? WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM TELKOM?
Good question. We appreciate the role our network is playing in keeping our customers connected. In the past month, for example, we have experienced a 50 percent spike in data consumption, a growth that has been accompanied by a shift in the location of data traffic demand, from commercial to residential areas. We are currently fast tracking a network optimisation and rebalancing exercise, starting off with areas identified as needing immediate intervention. Our customers, therefore, should expect more reliable service, diverse products and solutions, post Covid-19. In the interim, we urge them and all Kenyans to stay at home and to stay safe, as we do our bit to keep them connected.
WHY IS TELKOM KENYA DROPPING ITS OFF-NET CALL RATES FOR ITS BUNDLED OFFERINGS OF HOLLA PLUS AND HOLLA PREMIUM TARIFFS?
Our calling rates (Sh 1.50) have not been reduced and have remained as such for close to 18 months now. We believe in providing value to our customers and this remains consistent with all our offerings. We choose to focus on our customers’ needs with similar zeal as we do on realising profitability. This is pertinent, more so, now, when households are experiencing budgetary pressure. Our message to our customers is that we continue to stand with them, during this time.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO EASE THESE HURDLES TO THE AIRTEL-TELKOM MERGER?
Discussions with the requisite regulatory bodies and other government agencies are still ongoing. The Competition Tribunal recently gave its ruling regarding the appeal we made together with our partner to the proposed merger, Airtel, with respect to the merger conditions contained in the Competition Authority of Kenya’s (CAK) approval. We are grateful to the tribunal for its ruling, that was favourable to our appeal. In the interim, we shall be reviewing the full ruling, to appreciate the comprehensive import of the same.
WHAT IS TELKOM KENYA DOING TO GROW ITS SUBSCRIBER NUMBERS THAT DROPPED BY 676,389 OR 16 PERCENT IN THE THREE MONTHS ENDED SEPTEMBER 2019, MAKING IT THE ONLY TELCO TO REGISTER A REDUCED CUSTOMER BASE?
We have reviewed our market engagement strategies this year and we anticipate a steady growth. Already, with the launch of the Soma na Telkom bundles, and other offerings that we are currently reviewing, we are optimistic of an increase in subscriber numbers.
We have also initiated an aggressive distributor recruitment drive to improve our market presence and expanded our sales organisation approaches to cover markets where our presence had been reduced. In the coming weeks, there will be more targeted brand engagement initiatives that should bolster our numbers.