Telkom is a diversified group of companies, which started out as an incumbent fixed line operator in South Africa. Over the years, it has diversified into a mobile business and an IT business, alongside Towers and Property and a network infrastructure business. Lunga Siyo heads up the small and medium business division of the company, which evolved out of its Yellow Pages business. “We had three entities within the group that were servicing these small and medium businesses,” says Siyo. “An IT company, BCX, selling IT solutions, then a fixed line operator selling voice lines and data and broadband. Yellow Pages was selling marketing services and advertising. We’ve combined all of those three entities into one we initially called Telkom SMB.”
The organisation has since evolved, however, into a brand known as Yep!. “It’s a marketplace business, in essence,” says Siyo. “We wanted to serve our customers using a digital marketplace rather than physical stores or via telephone, just to make it easier for businesses. Think about a bakery. They want to make sure that they bake cakes, and sell them to their customers. They don’t want to be bogged down in administration and the services that enable them such as broadband, telephony, IT. They also want to market themselves.”
Yep!’s offering caters to both such impulses, as Siyo explains: “We can create a marketplace for them so that they can drive traffic into their own physical stores, while also creating new revenue streams through digital channels. We started by linking up small businesses with customers. Beyond creating an online store, we were creating an entire ecosystem of products and services that small businesses could buy from the platform itself, starting with connectivity products, but also looking into adjacent solutions such as financial services.”
Making that a possibility has required internal transformation at the company, which Siyo has overseen. “We wanted to serve our customers better. Now, instead of calling someone at a contact centre, you can actually go online and self service. You can buy more products online via an ecommerce platform for customers.” Another big focus has been on improving the capacity to sign up new customers. “What we needed to do was to first look at legacy systems, look at processes and start automating them. For instance, the credit scoring process previously involved an individual taking your details, going to another team, looking at the credit check and only then could they tell you what kind of product that you qualify for.”
That process has now been automated through an online, web-based platform which relies on APIs to interact with legacy systems. “These systems have been put in place to make sure that we can transform ourselves as a business, but also to transform how our customers interact with us,” Siyo says.
The technologies involved in the transformation have been various, but one of the standout examples has been the harnessing of data, whether it be structured customer data or the unstructured variety. “Data is key,” says Siyo. “The question is how do you pull that together and create a view of the customer in terms of what they have with you, and what they might actually be buying elsewhere. That actually allows us to create better solutions, or even look at products that we can aggregate on their behalf and offer to them.” Automation has been another cornerstone of the company’s approach, with the use of robotic process automation (RPA) technology widespread.
Accompanying Telkom on its journey have been a number of key partners. BCX, a sister company, is one such example, offering extensive IT capabilities with both homegrown and third party software. “They’re a systems integrator, but they’ve also developed systems themselves, such as RPA, which we utilise. They're our technology partner, who works with us to create our platforms.” Consultants Accenture play a particularly important role in the user experience design process. “Everything that we develop is led by experience design,” says Siyo. We first listen to the customers and then we design a customer journey. Accenture helped us to develop customer journeys that meet the demands of our customers. Most importantly, we were looking for a partner that is not just a digital marketing company or a consulting firm, but a firm who really understands customer service, as they do, and can develop seamless customer journeys for our platform.”
Alongside the introduction of technology has been an attendant focus on culture. “We started implementing an agile way of working from a tech development perspective, with daily stand ups, scrums, sprints and all of those things.” That cultural evolution has also helped to make articulating the vision for the introduction of technology easier. “To create a business case, you have to know what you're developing and how much money you’re going to make out of it before you can get any capital released to change the organisation.”
Common to all organisations the world over, COVID-19 has impacted Telkom’s way of working. Remote working has left an impression, with plans to change policies and enable flexible location and working hours. Siyo emphasises the fact that this requires a change in management style. “How do you manage people that are working virtually instead of focusing on what they do on a daily basis? How do you drive proper outputs from your own people that are driven by certain key indicators that would add value to your business? You look at productivity and output.” It’s also provided an opportunity to accelerate Telkom’s approach into ecommerce by virtue of changing consumer patterns in response to COVID 19.
Thanks to the changes that have been put in place, Siyo is confident that the company is very ready to thrive, even with the current circumstances. “We've become a platform business, completely - aggregating both the demand and supply side. We’re evolving out of being just a normal telco, into a platform player that is able to help small businesses scale and grow.” That tallies with his wider mission to grow the South African economy by allowing small businesses to thrive and contribute more. “Right now they probably contribute around 25% towards our GDP. We think it should be around 50- 60%, more like in developed economies. Large enterprises don’t drive GDP growth - small businesses do.”