Interview with Bill Chang, SingTel

15 July 2011 | Kavit Majithia


Kavit Majithia talks to Bill Chang, EVP business at SingTel, about his role in integrating ICT services with traditional telecoms and raising awareness of such a strategy across Singapore and Asia.

 
To start a role in a new company, work in a sector that is not entirely your domain and operate in a largely emerging market is difficult enough. To change the ethos of a large regional operator like SingTel and to introduce the company to a different way of thinking about how it uses its resources to cater to an evolving telecoms model is an entirely different challenge. Yet this was the task that faced Bill Chang when he took his role as EVP business at the company in November 2005.

He looks relaxed, as he takes a seat in the swanky Addendum bar, central London, ready for a tour around Europe to raise awareness of a new cloud computing platform. Largely developed by Chang himself, the platform aims to sell different telecoms services in the same way the utility sector operates. The keynote speech delivered by Chang for this is on YouTube, and with over 6000 hits, it outlines the sale of different types of ICT services, including storage, software and server applications. Described as an “intelligent utility”, the private cloud platform caters to customer needs on a pay-by-use basis without the need for contracts or obligations to the company.

Convergence of services

Before presenting this and other cloud-based initiatives emerging in Asia to a host of companies and media across Europe, Chang’s first stop is to talk to Capacity about his role in the development of SingTel’s ICT offering as a whole.

“It was clear to me when I joined that we had to integrate telecoms and IT services for long-term sustainability,” he reflects. “We did not want to just be an infrastructure provider. We wanted to create an experienced layer of services, and five years ago our first foray in to cloud was to introduce hosted emails to SMEs.”

This was the starting point in the cloud computing space for Chang, for SingTel and, maybe for Asia as a continent. Today, Chang believes SingTel operates the largest cloud infrastructure platform in the region. It has partnered with the biggest software houses in the world, including Google, to bundle applications and it has also developed business intelligent applications and one-stop support for SME customers, in addition to its utility platform. How and where did Chang find inspiration to aggressively target such rapid growth?

“Apple,” he says simply. “We want to be Asia’s biggest and best one-stop ICT provider. This was a vision I laid down three years ago – we want to be the Apple of the B2B industry.”

It’s an ambitious vision, but one that Chang can dare to pursue, considering his experience in the ICT space. With over 18 years of management experience in leading ICT companies, including Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard, his appointment at telecoms operator SingTel came as a welcome transition.

“I took a leap of faith in a sense,” he said. “But I was sure my experience in IT and IP could be applicable in the service provider industry and since then I have never looked back.”

The transitional period

As in any industry or business, a new person coming in and altering the ecosystem of an operation to integrate a different type of service is a difficult transition – one that Chang faced head on. “Once people start seeing a clear vision, once they see the case studies and get the proof points they start believing. They get on this train and they start pushing to bring us to where we are today,” he says. “This is not to say it is easy. There is a complete DNA change and a certain culture, skill and talent base you have to acquire. You need to build up a huge ecosystem of partners to pull towards this one direction.”

Chang has succeeded in raising awareness of such a model and applying it in SingTel’s business, but can such influence reign across the country? As a board member of the Workforce Development Agency in Singapore and a former ICT sub-committee member, he provides advice and insights to shape economic developments, and direct specific sectors, including ICT advancements.

“With Sydney and Hong Kong, Singapore is one of the most developed regions in Asia-Pacific. We have enabled fibre access to every home and we are already deploying LTE-4G networks,” Chang says. He attributes much of this telecoms success to the fact that Asia did not suffer as badly as other regions in the global recession, and during this period many countries, including India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore invested in networks, subsea cables, satellite systems and, of course, a huge IT talent base.

Potential in Asia

Economic market watchers predict that by 2015 Asia will be the world’s largest economy and Chang believes it is essential that companies capitalise on such potential. When considering international operators that do business in Asia, it only accounts for approximately 15% on average, according to Chang, and it is important this increases to realise the region’s full potential in telecoms. “Perhaps a reason for this low figure is Asian companies tend to be very nationalistic,” says Chang. “There is a challenge for a company from Europe or the US, from the value-added space, to come in to Asia and partner with a telco, because of either closed economies or a business culture issue. This is slowly evolving however, and companies in the region are realising that partnership with expert companies in a particular value-added space is the best way to scale business.”

Two segments of telecoms

The fact remains that telecoms operators will always be telecoms operators. There was obviously a reason why SingTel sought out Chang and used him to aid the evolution of a business from being a stand-alone telecoms operator, to an integrated telecoms and ICT provider. The main message that he has instilled in the company is innovation. If SingTel can be innovative it becomes interesting, he says and by supplying a range of services “it means customers can buy a network, a video, security and hosting from one provider; in essence, they can enable simplicity and reduce complexity”. But there are numerous companies in telecoms that have not evolved in such a way and if they have plans to do so, it may be too late to have much of an influence.

“I now call telecoms a service provider industry, and pretty soon it will be split into two segments,” Chang concludes. “One segment will be regulated down the value chain as a provider of the fat pipes that provide connectivity and wholesale, the dumb pipes. The other will be a provider with potential to move up the value chain of telecoms, IT, cloud and mobility. That is what I, and we, are doing at SingTel.”

SingTel

History:
SingTel traces its history back to 1879 when Singapore became one of the first cities in the east to have a telephone service. It now operates as the leading mobile operator in the country, and it has significantly transformed its business since the market was fully liberalised in 2000 to include an international subsidiary. The group also has investments in Indonesia, India and the Philippines.

CEO: Chua Sock Koong is CEO for the SingTel Group. She joined the company in 1989 as treasurer and was appointed as CEO in April 2007.

Customers: In addition to over 400 million mobile customers in 25 countries as of March 2011, the company provides a host of solutions to small, medium and large enterprises and its global presence caters to a range of international companies.

Networks: SingTel has an extensive communications network and advanced infrastructure. Its mobile network covers 100% of the population in Singapore and 94% in Australia. It also has interests in over 50 submarine cables with landing points in 50 locations across Asia,

Products and Services: SingTel offers mobile, broadband, fixed line and entertainment services. In September 2010, it launched high-speed fibre services to cater to applications for home and business users.