PARTNER FEATURE: As one of the largest operators in the Middle East, Kuwait-based Zain is now targeting a smarter network approach based on artificial intelligence (AI), as it looks to complete its evolution to a true digital services provider.

Huawei Better World Summit, a two-day online event, saw operators come together to discuss ways the ICT sector can continue to power economic growth, as well as explore the role of technology in a post-pandemic world.

For Kuwaiti operator Zain, the focus was put firmly on the latter, as it opened up on its digital transformation journey, with AI deemed a key part of its push towards becoming a more technology advanced and innovative operator.

The company, which currently operates commercially in eight markets in total, has already made strides in 5G, launching the next-generation technology in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, adding to LTE services in Jordan, Lebanon and Jordan.

Delivering a presentation at the summit, Khawla Al Jaber, Strategy and Performance Director at Zain, said the company hopes to expand its 5G and 4G offering to more markets, while revealing that an average data volume of almost 15,000 Terabytes runs through its network daily.

And it is this sheer volume of data that makes it essential for the operator to use AI tools as part of an effort to understand the “inside of customer interaction and behavior, and also to build on the innovation we’re aspiring to achieve”.

To outline the company’s aims, Khawla Al Jaber used a quote from group CEO Bader Al Kharafi: “Enabling a culture of innovation is a necessity for corporate growth and skills development.”

Innovation programmes
As a first step towards its wider digital journey, Khawla Al Jaber used her presentation to open up on some of the work the company has undertaken which is contributing to its overriding vision.

In particular, she put the spotlight on four initiatives, placing an internal focus on the growth of its employees, the youth of today, as well as disability and gender inclusion.

The first, dubbed ZAINIAC, operates as an internal collaboration platform, allowing employees from across the firm to share ideas, put them into action and build business cases, which are then put to different stakeholders.

“Some of the winning ideas are being implemented internally within the organization, or even towards the customer, which is very promising,” said Khawla Al Jaber.

Turning to the younger generation, ZYouth serves as a framework used by different operations within the operator, to enable initiatives for youth. This aims to ensure they are acquiring the right skills to help power the workforce of the future.

On to initiative number three, WE ABLE is a new addition to its programmes, and aims to ensure disability inclusion.

“We believe everyone in this community has value to add. By availing assistive technology to people with disabilities, they are able to continue working in a similar way to everyone else.”

Last but not least, WE aims to promote gender inclusion. It started as a women empowerment initiative, but gradually became more broader and inclusive, to  ensure it is able to empower everyone across the organization.

Four pillar strategy
In line with an internal push towards developing its employees and instilling a culture of innovation, the company has also translated this ethos into its wider corporate strategy.

Again, using the power of four, Zain’s Khawla Al Jaber explained exactly how the company is embarking on its evolution towards a digital services provider.

The Zain executive pinpointed the enterprise segment as a market with “great value”, with a target to provide the right innovative solutions to any organization, from a big corporation to an SME.

Moving to its more traditional business, another pillar of its strategy is focused on telco infrastructure, looking at standardization and simplification, ensuring it is ready to be future proofed.

And there is also a drive on growing its portfolio, both in terms of company acquisition and looking at opportunities in different vertical areas.

Naturally, moving towards a more digital-first approach is key to success, and digitalization across its entire business is the main pillar of this corporate strategy.

An ecosystem of analytics
Khawla Al Jaber spoke of the company’s belief in building an ecosystem of analytics, which will underpin this goal.

“Starting with having a focus on different deliverables for those services that require analytics, we look at big data enablement use cases, availing different resources in the data lake, and also building on different insights that come from the network and the customer,” she explained.

By using AI and analytics, Zain is also looking to expand customer value management solutions, building its offering based on predictive analytics, enabling it to not only offer more tailored solutions, but also follow a specific target segment.

By introducing AI into its network operations, Khawla Al Jaber said the operator would be able to simplify and optimize service delivery, as well as improve both network and IT infrastructure.

In conjunction with using AI technology to develop different services, Zain has also simplified its network infrastructure by transforming its “ICT foundation”, utilizing both NFV and SDN.

Khawla Al Jaber added: “On the BSS and OSS layer, we’re trying to look at simplification of the service delivery, where we are looking at convergent initiatives and orchestration initiatives as well.”

For the customer, other data-based initiatives include the use of digital advertisements in Jordan, AI-powered interactions for eCare through voice and chat, as well as using Robotics Process Automation to help with automating and ensure repetitive processes are simplified.

The 5G opportunity
With 5G live in three of its markets already, Zain is confident that its AI-based approach will be at the heart of a multi-service network strategy.

And Khawla Al Jaber believes 5G will serve to accelerate the adoption of AI in telecoms, with services including intelligent automation, maintenance, network planning and design all being enabled by the technology.

“We’re also looking at an AI-based solution that will not only predict the delivery of those plans, but also prescribe the way it is implemented and enhance the performance of the network, end-to-end, both indoor and outdoor.”

But, how exactly does Zain envisage it can achieve this?

Well, it plans to introduce its own AI blueprint, a framework that will accelerate operation digitalization with AI technologies and applications, eventually leading to a completely autonomous network.

“We want to essentially build an AI engine, which we will put on top of our existing big data lake, or within it, which will enable us to have AI models, algorithms and use cases,” asserted Khawla Al Jaber.