A transformational mindset for growth
Embracing change is key to unlocking wholesale’s future potential, says Mardia van der Walt (Niehaus), who just hit two years as SVP at Deutsche Telekom ICSS
“I believe it is my role to create the environment of a culture where everyone feels they have a purpose in the organisation,” says Mardia van der Walt (Niehaus), senior vice president at Deutsche Telekom’s International Carrier Sales & Solutions (ICSS) division. “Everybody needs to know how to individually contribute to make our strategy a reality.”
This is van der Walt’s ethos – that the ability to face the multiple external challenges and changes taking place in the wholesale industry starts from a place of harmony within. The idea is that fostering individual potential and creativity leads in turn to a collaborative organisational culture.
“I believe that without the buy-in of every team member, execution cannot happen,” she says. “It’s all about mobilising your team to achieve a goal together.”
Van der Walt has just passed her second anniversary since taking up her current position in September 2015, seeing her role as being one of “transformational” leadership to handle change. This, she believes, is crucial at a time when trends such as the rise of cloud computing, network virtualisation and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as the decline in traditional voice services, are dramatically reshaping the wholesale landscape, creating a need to adapt and identify new areas for growth.
“Upcoming trends will disrupt existing wholesale business models,” she says. “Securing our position in the overall ecosystem and value chain will be a real challenge. I see our role as an enabler of connectivity focusing on enabling interworking between the different industry players.” The whole industry will need to embrace these challenges, innovating to find new growth drivers and business models, she adds.
Van der Walt herself is certainly no stranger to initiating change for growth, and she comes from a strong background in IT solutions and outsourcing. In an earlier position as CEO of Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems in South Africa, she took the company from twelfth to first place in the country’s ICT sector and grew revenues by more than 380 per cent – as well as building the staff from a few hundred to over 2600 employees.
And immediately prior to her current role, she took the reins as the project lead for Deutsche Telekom’s post-merger integration of GTS Central Europe. After helping to solidify and bolster the Group’s position in Eastern Europe, it took little time for her to be selected for her current role.
One of the keys to taking ICSS forward now is cultivating employees’ individual skills, says van der Walt. “It is my personal goal to ensure our employees work in an environment that allows them the freedom to make business decisions, supports ambitious goals and helps them grow in their roles.”
Apart from that, she describes three other main pillars of the company’s strategy. One is to continue growing the business in a way that supports ICSS’s aim to be the wholesale partner of choice in Europe and beyond, generating scale by aggregating the wholesale business from all Deutsche Telekom units.
The second pillar is ensuring efficiency through a lean, agile organisation that focuses on costs, automation of services and a range of products that meets customer needs.
Last – but certainly not least – is the delivery of simple, fast and reliable, high-quality products that continue to present ICSS as a player into which partners can place their full trust. “We really pride ourselves on the quality and security of our products,” says van der Walt. “Whether it’s from our Global Voice, Mobile World, Internet & Transport or our Carrier Enterprise Services, our customers can always be guaranteed they are getting a reliable, secure and trustworthy product.”
And underpinning all these areas to support the company as it adapts to the range of new market realities is security, through ICSS’s 360° defence strategy.
The company is well aware that having an edge in that critical feature of the business can be a clincher in customers deciding whether to choose its services, says van der Walt, particularly given the context of the strict German legal framework within which ICSS operates. And that’s not to mention the evolving market and the extra layers of security necessitated by trends such as the inexorable march towards cloud services, the growing number of connected devices and the explosion of data use.
This rise in data is reflected in ICSS’s activity in recent months to cater for the extra demand. In May, the company increased its IPX capacity to 100Gbps for Telekom Deutschland in anticipation of a surge in data roaming over the summer with the scrapping of roaming charges in the EU. Then in August, it launched a new IP PoP at the Equinix global exchange in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, expanding capabilities for partners at one of Europe’s major internet hubs.
And in September, ICSS upgraded its IPX ports at the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX) to a capacity of 2 x 100GE to help meet future roaming needs. All this growth clearly requires a continued focus on quality and security.
Security is key
“Security really is in every element of the entire ICSS product portfolio. We realise the importance of security in today’s interconnected world and this is in the forefront of our development efforts,” says van der Walt.
One factor that acts as a key differentiator for ICSS is that it provides its security portfolio across all business areas, she says, helping to ensure that there is a robust offering throughout the company’s products. On top of that, the company is aided by the scale and expertise of Deutsche Telekom, giving it the opportunity to benefit from Group-wide innovations in security.
Van der Walt adds that ICSS’s product range in this area has vastly expanded alongside the introduction of a multitude of newly launched offerings in the mobile, voice and data arenas, giving customers access to “state-of-the-art solutions”.
One such new addition is the company’s SS7 Firewall, to protect against the rise of SS7 security breaches that have seen criminals access networks, tamper with communications, listen in on calls, locate and track users, and steal valuable information.
This firewall employs leading-edge technology to block any efforts to intercept communications to customers’ devices, and listen in on their conversations. ICSS centrally manages it, ensuring the provision of an integrated service that can help bring a halt to fresh attack scenarios, and offers monitoring and reporting services that are easy to use and understand.
The company’s other products in this area include its MPLS-based IP-VPN, global IPX platform, fraud-fighting voice and SMS+ offerings, and powerful tools to defend against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. And in 2016, it launched its innovative DDoS Defense strategy in collaboration with Arbor Networks, providing capabilities for backbone, in-cloud and on-premise protection against DDoS attacks.
Together, the security products that ICSS offers can help to make the company a secure global gateway for customers across all services as it moves from legacy infrastructure into a more virtualised environment based on SDN, NFV and IP services.
This in turn helps to provide a springboard for other up-and-coming services such as those in the IoT arena, in which a huge plethora of connected devices accessing the network from a wide variety of different locations will need to be secure in the wake of the growing prevalence of activities such as DDoS attacks.
“With regards to IoT, we believe the next big challenge and also opportunity will be enabling global connectivity beyond permanent roaming to provide large-scale authentication solutions, and securing devices and networks,” says van der Walt.
In terms of IoT itself, she believes that the future will be in the seamless integration of multiple access technologies and models. And here too, ICSS can harness the expertise of the entire Group. “Within DT Group, we have developed a wealth of experience for integrated, enterprise-grade IoT solutions, with multimillions of connected devices in operation and a decade of experience and development,” says van der Walt.
Again, she stresses how important it is that the company is flexible enough to move with the times to meet all new challenges head-on. “Our main focus at the moment is securing our current business and profitability, despite major changes in the industry,” she says.
An inclusive approach
As a female leader who strongly believes in a transformational approach for moving with the times, van der Walt is meanwhile keen to see more women come up through the ranks in the industry. “Personally, I have taken the initiative to mentor and coach as many young managers as time will allow me,” says van der Walt. “I’m hoping through doing this that I can help guide these talented young women into the next step of their careers.”
She says there have been many positive changes in this respect in recent times, although noting that telecoms remains a male-dominated industry for now. Van der Walt points out that there are many young women coming up through the ranks at Deutsche Telekom and females working in “classic” areas such as HR, finance and marketing, but still few in IT, network and technology.
Nonetheless, she says the company is making significant progress in narrowing the gender gap. With 40 per cent of its supervisory board now made up of women, Deutsche Telekom currently exceeds the requirement of a German law passed a couple of years ago that this proportion must be at least 30 per cent.
And van der Walt cites the Group’s many programmes to help improve representation for women, including company daycares near its headquarters, flexible working hours, more scope to work from home, and even areas where parents can bring their children in case of emergencies. “All of these steps have been taken to encourage women to become part of our industry and not have to sacrifice being a mother,” she says.
Her own support for the entry of more women into IT ties back in with her efforts to ensure a culture of inclusiveness at ICSS, which underpins the rest of the company’s activities. By bringing everyone together and getting them to move in the same direction, says van der Walt, the organisation can become even greater than the sum of its parts: “It’s about getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”