CEO of A1 Slovenia: Well Prepared for the Digital Future

If one business strategy has to be put in one sentence than for Dejan Turk, CEO of A1 Slovenia and Vip Mobile it would probably be this sentence: “We believe in a boutique approach, providing the user with a boutique experience”. Therefore, the company is constantly improving user experience at every single point of contact with the user. Although the markets in Slovenia and Serbia are relatively at a different stage of development, the quality of service and the focus on each user are a common denominator for both of them.

What makes Slovenia and Serbia fit to be a part of the one organizational unit within the framework of the A1 Telecom Austria Group?

 At the time of the merger into one organizational unit, the Slovenian and Serbian companies only provided mobile telecommunications services. Today A1 Slovenija also provides fixed services, however, at the time this was probably one of the factors why the owners decided to merge the Serbian and Slovenian companies, and not, for example, the Slovenian and the Croatian one. Also from the perspective of telecommunication services use, Slovenian market is somewhat ahead of Serbia. For this reason I suppose that the owners saw a chance to transfer the know-how from Slovenia to Serbia. It is my great satisfaction that we have also been successfully transferring the knowledge and experience in the opposite direction, from Serbia to Slovenia.

However, operating in two markets comes with numerous challenges. To list just a few, we have two currencies, two alphabets, two religions and, last but not least, a distance of 500 kilometers that involves crossing two borders. When arriving in Serbia, I quickly found out that I cannot simply transpose my leadership method from Slovenia. First I had to get to know the organization and tailor my managerial style to it, as well as the whole environment I entered. After a few early hiccups I believe that collaboration between the countries is now good, and brings numerous benefits to both markets.

 Having been knowledgeable about the prospects of the entire region, how do you see the progress of each of the markets in terms of the development of digital services?

 Slovenia is generally ranked right in the golden middle of EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. As a technology and digitalization geek I often observe how countries I visit are developed in these areas, and I believe that this assessment is realistic. Serbia is perhaps a step behind Slovenia, which, up to a point, is the result of fixed infrastructure, as the one in Slovenia supports about 25% faster internet connections. Another important thing is that Slovenia took to digitalization a bit sooner than Serbia. However, digital services have been developing rapidly also in Serbia, and I believe that both countries are well prepared for the digital future. For example, online retail is recording swift growth in both countries, pointing to the fact that users are getting increasingly at home with digital services. This is actually the first step towards digital services also becoming a reality.

Our companies have been staying on top of these trends. In Serbia we launched the mWallet mobile wallet and the MAIC personal assistant, while in Slovenia we have already introduced our first bot responding to users’ questions the customer support center.

 You are the youngest mobile company in Serbia and often seen as a provider that attracts younger users. What is your niche market in Slovenia and how do they differ?

 The telecommunications market has matured up to the point that the key difference between the competitors is not in the products, but in the user experience. We believe in a boutique approach, providing the user with a boutique experience. This may sound contradictory, but we have as many niches as we have users. We know that every one of our 700,000 users is unique. We can segment them, but in the end each and every one has their own expectations, needs and desires. Therefore it is no longer enough to tailor our services and experience to the segment, but we have to tailor them to each and every individual user. We have been improving user experience at every single point of contact with the user. We want to unify and improve it across all channels, from the shop to the social network or a home visit. We know that long-term trust and satisfaction leads to a partnership that benefits both sides.

How is the role of the mobile phone in the life of consumers evolving, and what does it mean in managing the business of a provider in a strategic way?

 The fact that mobile penetration in Slovenia is at 119%, and in Serbia at 121% of population says a lot about the role mobile phones play in people’s lives. And we can expect this trend to continue growing in both countries. Mobile phone is not just another device, but most people find it to be a central access point for access to information, for managing their social life and for planning daily activities. On the other hand this also raises users’ expectations when it comes to their telecommunications providers. The amount of transferred mobile data in Slovenia practically doubles every year, and users continue to want increasingly faster fixed connections. Consequently we have been investing big into the development of our own mobile network and fixed mobile access, and in Slovenia we recently built our first fiber optics network.

Because of increased online and social media presence, users are increasingly exposed to cyber threats. This means that today we are much more than just a telecommunications operator, as we also ensure our users’ cyber security with services like A1 Guard and A1 Protekt. The former allows parents to limit their children’s access to inappropriate online content and restrict their internet time, while the second protects the user’s mobile phone from viruses, spyware and online fraud. We are also entering the fields of Internet of Things, mass data analysis, security solutions for advanced business users, and artificial intelligence.

From a strategic viewpoint, many things are changing for telecommunications operators. Not only because the role of the mobile phone is changing, but also because the role of technology in people’s lives is changing. This also means that the operators’ revenue from core business is in decline, with many new competitors cropping up, and an ongoing market consolidation. Telecommunications operators have been looking for new roads. A1 decided to develop into a provider of comprehensive information and communication technology solutions. Some products I listed earlier are the first steps in this direction. Many others will follow, both in Slovenia and in Serbia.

 How do the users differ and how does it affect the type and quality of services to be offered? Is it the age (Millennial and Z generation) that drives the change, or the technological breakthroughs, or something else?

 We live at a time when there is only one motor of development: the internet. It is the foundation for the operation of practically all content we use. The younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z) are leading the way, as they hardly know any other sources of information, entertainment and shopping. These generations are technologically much more literate than all those preceding them. Technology has been part of their lives since their birth, and they have all the information at their fingertips. I have an opportunity to observe this in my children, who were born directly into the digital world. My wife and I naturally strive for our children to have diverse interests and not to spend all their time in front of a screen. We believe that we are actually managing to achieve this through example. On the other hand, these screens will most likely be their future in one way or another. And my wife and I also want our children to be ready for such a future. That is why we also make sure to introduce them to technology, to help them reap the benefits it ushers in. Naturally we try to expose them especially to those services we believe will be most useful for them in the future.

New services are being developed practically every day. It is up to consumers whether these will become mass services or just a footnote in history. The successful ones generally provide some type of improvement to people’s lives, while those that crash and burn often do not have any added value. Numerous services remain somewhere in-between. The force of development may be technology itself. However, its success completely depends on consumers and their perception of the benefits that technology brings.

How soon can we expect to go on a 5G network in Slovenia?

When it comes to 5G, it is important to be aware that this is not just another technology bringing faster data transfer, but a technological revolution. Until now, internet has been used to connect devices that are primarily intended for communication. 5G will usher practically all other devices into the connected world, everything from dustbins to street lamps. Then there are also smart cities, robotics, the entertainment industry, self-driving vehicles and numerous other new possibilities for using technology. However, it will only be worth thinking about commercial 5G use once we actually have these services and know how to monetize them. Only once monetization is possible, does a technology become actually interesting for providers. According to the current forecasts, this milestone will be reached in 2021 or 2022. Until then we will continue developing the potentials of 4G, as they are not yet fully exploited.

Photo: Ziga Intihar