Telcos stand to expedite progress by engaging directly with customers as they roll out new services across South Africa. This emerged during an Industry Partnership project between MTN and leading international provider of digital training programmes, Digital Skills Academy.

As part of the partnership, a cross-functional team of six participants on one of Digital Skills Academy’s International BSc programmes worked remotely over a period of four months. Their primary objective was to exploit new digital methodologies to support the fast-tracking of MTN’s Fibre to the Home (FTTH) strategy. The team, which included employees of MTN Group, found that engaging the residents of a user-testing community resulted in an increase in take up of FTTH products – within the community and for the duration of the project.

Eric Jacobson, Learning Solutions Manager at MTN Group and a project participant, says that disruptions caused by the installation of physical FTTH infrastructure had initially created a level of resistance in the Parkmore community, located in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. But once the participants engaged in the project began working closely with around 3,000 residents, the community gained a deeper understanding of how FTTH networks operate and the benefits it can offer.

“In conducting our research and engaging the community, we became very visible, and residents’ acceptance of the products grew,” says Jacobson. “The lessons we learnt during this project have helped shape our community engagement strategies and the learnings were passed on to Smart Village, our outsource partner in rolling out fibre networks.”

“The user research conducted by the project team fostered awareness in the community and enhanced curiosity around FTTH deployment”, highlights Parkmore resident Simon Rae.

Another core part of the project was applying the user research findings to redesign the current FTTH self-help portal. This improved visibility, accessibility, desirability and credibility of the FTTH product offering”, says Jacobson.

Telcos must become more agile, upskill and change tack

“As we enter the 5G era, or Fourth Industrial Revolution, economies will shift from bricks and mortar into always-accessible, virtual economies with global reach,” says Jacobson. “To support this rapid change, networks must evolve to meet shifts in customer demand. Telcos will have to reinvent themselves to become ever-connected content service providers delivering a much more customer-centric service.”

“The workforce challenge telcos need to tackle – as they face this revolution – is to efficiently and effectively develop the skills needed to build a radical transformation.”

Recognising this, MTN has changed its focus in recent years, emphasizing that talent pools give businesses a strong competitive edge, and therefore investing in innovation through upskilling.

Jacobson says that in a time of ‘doing more with less’ and driving enhanced agility and efficiency, telcos can no longer rely on traditional upskilling methods, such as classroom-based training, to improve workforce competencies: “The problem with traditional upskilling programmes is that the cost can be prohibitive and it can be challenging to release people for training. This is why MTN partnered with Digital Skills Academy – their model is relevant and innovative, and because it is digital, the training is agile and has global reach.”  

The project team generated benefits felt across departments and into the community. “The model of this industry partnership project, whereby cross-functional professionals collaborate closely on a project, has had long-term impacts, including breaking down communication siloes with customers and fostering product transparency. The team also pinpointed specific needs for MTN staff”, says Jacobson. As a result, new training courses were offered to MTN call centre staff to bridge a knowledge gap of FTTH products and benefits.

The model also gave participants a valuable opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to a live project and build a portfolio of professional evidence. Learning-by-doing is a key component of Digital Skills Academy’s teaching approach. It enables both participants and the organisations they work for to upskill and enhance services in an agile way, says Jacobson.

Crucially, the project achieved what MTN had sought to do – the team developed a deep understanding of customer needs and paved the way for an online portal of services that meets those needs. As a second phase of MTN’s FTTH strategy, the Group decided to expand their partnership with Digital Skills Academy to address three new projects around FTTH portal refinements, improvement of FTTH service offerings and customer research.

Jacobson says: ‘We will continue expanding the network infrastructure, simplifying the process of adoption and making our products more desirable and visible – building on the first project with Digital Skills Academy.”