DTW23-Ignite: Telia’s CEO on how focus on connectivity and customers helped forge change
When Allison Kirkby took over as President and CEO at Telia in May 2020 she had to make tough decisions about how to refocus the business for growth.
“We did not have a human or financial capacity to be successful at everything Telia was trying to be good at,” she says, speaking at DTW23-Ignite about Telia’s transformation before taking up her new role as CEO of BT at the beginning of 2024.
After taking the helm at Telia, Kirkby discovered that “we needed to change product services, tech, customer experiences, business model operations, our portfolio, our culture, the list goes on.” In particular, its customer experience was “cumbersome and frustrating, and extremely inefficient”.
Yet Telia’s perceived network leadership was still a strong element of its brand. In addition, the company had relationships with more than half the Nordic Baltic households and approximately 60% of enterprises, says Kirkby.
As a result, she chose to focus on “doubling down on digital infrastructure and network leadership to connect everyone to the best, most secure and most efficient and responsive networks”.
She then launched a large-scale transformation program to bolster connectivity services, streamline and digitize internal operations, improve customer experience and spur sustainable growth.
Fast forward three years and Telia has rolled out 5G coverage to 85% of the population overall across its target markets – Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia – with speeds of 300 Mbps and above. That is an increase from 77% of the overall population at the end of March 2023.
The company has also transformed its operations and incident management processes, reducing the number of critical incidents, which in turn has improved customer experience.
Other changes to processes and systems and a simplification of the product portfolio mean that “today and we are able to provide individual recommendations across all our channels to our customers”, says Dr. Rainer Deutschmann, SVP and Group COO, Telia Company, who shared the stage with Kirkby at DTW23-Ignite.
Overall, the company has reduced its product portfolio “by more than 50%,” she says, “which obviously frees up the capacity that we need to invest into the new products and services which we scale across all markets.”
Telia has also invested in making it easier to work with partners on more complex service delivery. “In an increasingly complex and competitive ecosystem, we need to provide our connectivity as a platform for our customers,” says Kirkby, “a platform that we can open up [to] key partners so that we can offer beyond connectivity services without having to own the full value chain ourselves.”
The transformation has meant that in recent years Telia has seen a “broad base return to growth in all of our core telco businesses reversing multi-year declines”. Not only are connectivity revenues growing at mid-single digit rates or higher, beyond-connectivity services such as IoT, data insights and security services are growing at high double digit rates, says Kirkby.
But she readily admits the company’s transformation work is far from done. “Much has been achieved, but there is much more to do,” she says. “And the environment around us will continue to change and we will need to keep adapting or reinventing at pace. We don't have a silver bullet for growth.”
Given the lack of easy answers for the industry, Kirkby recommends that telcos be “clear on why you exist and what you can uniquely do”, based on “an honest assessment of what your unique assets and unique strengths really are. And then double down on them because focus and consistency is key.”
This goes hand in hand with “ruthlessly addressing what you're not good at. And either fixing [it], selling or partnering”. Telia for example, has divested its Denmark operations under Kirkby’s watch. And the key in the longer term?: “Nurturing your corporate culture so that growth becomes sustainable and not just a flash in the pan.”