INTERVIEW: Veon’s digital transformation efforts may not currently win “a lot of street credit or credibility”, but that shouldn’t deter fellow operators from following a similar path, stressed Christopher Schlaeffer, the company’s chief digital officer (pictured).

Speaking to Mobile World Live a year after the operator rebranded from VimpelCom to Veon as part of its ambitions to become a technology-driven company, Schlaeffer said its digital offerings were “not just another project”, but they were “at the epicentre of what we do”.

In particular, he highlighted the Veon Platform, which offers customers in five markets (Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Georgia) a suite of internet services, including certain communications capabilities, completely free of charge.

Highlighting Pakistan in particular, Schlaeffer said the Veon Plaform became the country’s number one app on both Apple’s App Store and Google Play within six days of launch.

And the offer of totally free messaging, for example, is a “very important first step” on the road towards the notion of a “contextualised internet” and embedding services “into the communications dialogue”.

To that end, he suggested operators were well placed to offer digital services to customers for two major reasons: the huge size of their customer bases; and the amount of data they have access to.

“Operators, if they get their act together, have significant data. They can start with location, for example. If you know where customers are, things like taxi hailing services get a different kind of conversion rate because operators could better guess if consumers need a ride or not,” he said.

In the interview, Schlaeffer also spoke about the challenges of transforming operations internally and his vision for a 5G-powered future.