Answering the Call: Turkcell CIO Ilker Kuruoz says IT-powered growth and innovation are the company’s calling cards for success.
by Aaron Lazenby
While much of the world is still wrestling with the fallout from a global economic crisis, Turkey is on the move. According to data from the World Bank, the per capita gross national income of Turkey has consistently outpaced European and Central Asian counterparts. And in 2011, only the economies of China and Argentina grew at a faster rate.
That growth puts Turkcell, the national telecommunications leader boasting approximately 35 million customers, in a unique position. While the Turkish mobile phone market still has room to grow, management needs to keep their eyes on the horizon as the expanding economy brings new opportunities to the regional operators.
For Ilker Kuruoz, Turkcell’s chief information and communication technologies officer, this means deploying IT solutions that strike a balance between pleasing customers and delivering new, innovative services. No small task, because on a typical day the company handles more than 300 million SMS text customers—reaching a peak of 16,000 messages per second.
A lot of customers producing a lot of data means that Turkcell requires a smart infrastructure to keep operating smoothly—especially because Turkcell’s leadership knows there are many opportunities to boost new lines of business through the multiple terabytes of data the company collects.
“We have to handle the dramatic increase in data traffic with the proper investment and optimization of our networks. That’s critical,” Kuruoz tells Profit. “We have to find sustainable business models to generate more revenue for covering our investment and operational costs as well.”
Here, Kuruoz explains how his approach to enterprise technology is helping Turkcell deliver the customer experience subscribers want, and driving innovations to ensure that the company maintains its leadership position.
Profit: What is Turkcell’s formula for growth?
Kuruoz: The Turkish economy is now the 16th-largest economy in the world, and we have remarkable GDP performance over the last nine years. But the communications market has grown even faster. In 2009, we saw 3 percent growth. In 2010, we had 6 percent; and in 2011, 9 percent. Even so, the penetration level is at 88 percent, which is well below European average. So we believe there is still enough room to grow further.
Customer experience management has become more and more important in order to recruit and retain customers. We launched a Customer 2.0 initiative focused on automating and streamlining our processes. We developed an application integrated with our operational systems that helped us discover our customers’ needs and send them real-time offers to enhance their experiences. For example, if they are about to reach their data or voice paid-usage threshold, we can offer them a chance to buy new packages.
Profit: How does Turkcell’s leadership plan to grow the business beyond customer acquisition?
Kuruoz: New technologies are enabling us to do very fast analysis of big data to enable machine-to-machine communication [M2M]. We have aligned with business and created technologies where we can manage millions of devices that connect to our network. We can work with our partners to manage their facilities or communication infrastructures, or monitor the status of their products.
For example, in the logistics industry you need to track cargo. Many companies deal with transportation of sensitive goods, like frozen food or health supplies. These items have to be transported under certain environmental conditions, such as maintaining a certain temperature or humidity reading. So, our technology can be automated to monitor the healthy transport of these goods and communicate that data back to logistics providers in real time.
Also, Turkcell has developed a health meter with Istanbul University School of Medicine that I am very proud of. The university’s faculty is helping us develop these applications from the health side, and we are developing the software and the equipment. With our equipment, people with chronic diseases can take tests at home, the results of which can be automatically transmitted through our M2M platform. Doctors can monitor this data remotely. Beyond convenience, this can enhance the quality of service—if there are any alarming changes in the patient’s data between regular scheduled visits, doctors can take proactive actions to help them.
Profit: How is Turkcell’s leadership addressing other mobile trends?
Kuruoz: We see near field communication [NFC] as being an area with a lot of potential. In Japan and South Korea, NFC is part of life. We have done a lot of research and development in this area, and we have established a couple of world-class solutions. For example, in 2011 we launched the first MasterCard certified NFC solution for mobile payments. This solution is also unique with the capability of carrying multiple credit cards in a single in-line memory module [SIMM]. And we have also developed the first SIMM-based commercial toll-collection system.
Now we are also working in the smartphone area to expand NFC capability. We have rolled out five Turkcell-branded phones, and four of them have NFC capability as a built-in feature.
Profit: What role does Turkcell’s IT team play in addressing the company’s business goals?
Kuruoz: The role of IT is becoming more and more critical, not just in the telecommunications industry but in all industries. But in telecom, the change is happening faster. Most of the innovation in products and services—and on the customer experience management side—is driven by IT. Basically, at Turkcell, IT is at the heart of all processes and touches every business line, including support functions and cost structure optimization. We have a strong alliance between business and IT.
Profit: What role do Oracle’s software and services play in Turkcell’s IT infrastructure and strategy?
Kuruoz: Oracle has been one of Turkcell’s main vendors from the start. Oracle has a strong presence in the telecom industry, and we use Oracle products for most of the solutions we develop here, from customer identity management to our prepaid transaction server.
When it comes to strategy, we really have to focus on continuous innovation. We have to innovate to preserve our leadership position.
Oracle also helps us handle the big data we are collecting. Turkcell moved to Oracle Exadata in 2010 to boost data warehouse performance and ensure that we could deliver critical business reports efficiently. This was a major need because Turkcell was already handling more than 500 terabytes of data—a number that continues to grow. Oracle Exadata sped up reporting time by 10 times, and it is estimated that we will see a savings in the magnitude of millions of dollars in upcoming years.
Most of the vendors and partners we depend on for our services also use Oracle technologies. And over time, Oracle has become a more strategic partner through the company’s acquisitions. For example, we were using Sun for our hardware, software, and throughout our service side. And we were using BEA in our middleware environment. Now these are both part of the Oracle portfolio.
Profit: Looking forward, what strategic initiatives will you be focusing on in the next year or two?
Kuruoz: When it comes to strategy, we really have to focus on continuous innovation. We have to innovate to preserve our leadership position. In our research and development teams, we track what is happening all around the world, from Silicon Valley to the Far East.
I am also focused on the simplification of IT. Historically, telecommunications companies have been very complex environments with redundant platforms and products. That’s one of the reasons we use Oracle technology, because it’s important to consolidate our platforms and infrastructure.
Also, we use cloud computing internally, and there’s a great opportunity for us to become a cloud service provider. We have already begun selling services in our public clouds, and we will be further investing in cloud so we can provide more IT services to our customers.
Finally, social media is a growing trend and brings opportunities for us. We want to do more analysis of the data coming out of social media so that we can better understand our customers, and supply them with additional services.
Profit: How is Turkcell already responding to consumers’ changing needs?
Kuruoz: We believe in customer-driven innovation, and we listen to them in every single opportunity. That enables us to come up with new solutions.
Let me give you an example. In one of our CIO advisory board meetings, terminal management and consumerization of IT was raised as a big concern. To address this, we launched a cell phone in August 2012 with built-in virtualization. With this phone, users can have two profiles: one for their personal life, and the other for their business life.
On the personal profile, customers can install all the applications they want, such as their Facebook and Twitter accounts. On the other hand, the corporate profile in the phone is limited to work life, where all the files are encrypted and data transfer is limited.
Profit: What do you find exciting about the telecommunications industry and your role within it?
Kuruoz: What I see is that we are at a point where technologies—like cloud and virtualization—have matured, and they’re really ready to use, both internally and externally. And the telecommunications industry played an important role in enabling these technologies for everyone’s use. Ten years ago, if you were servicing the cloud, your connection to that service was extremely costly, and the connectivity was unreliable. Now broadband is widely available, and it’s really affordable. That made the cloud a reality.
I see the same opportunity in big data. Now our industry—and Turkcell—will play a similar role in enabling customers to benefit from big data.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.