Ghana undergoes a Vodafone Transformation
Vodafone Ghana has only been operational for six years but is already making an impact as it continues to innovate, expand and advance the telecoms industry within the country
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Vodafone is replicating its globally-renowned, industry leading telecommunication services in Ghana as it looks to capitalise on a nationwide market ready to embrace the latest technological advancements.
After acquiring a 70 percent stake six years ago in Ghana Telecom, the previous fixed and mobile incumbent in the country, Vodafone Ghana put into motion a long term strategy to revolutionise the infrastructure of both telecom facets; a development plan which is now seeing the fruits of the company’s hard work and investments.
“Since the acquisition, Vodafone Ghana has invested around $1 billion in improving the infrastructure in the country,” says the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Haris Broumidis. “This takes our total investments up to $1.9 billion, including the $900 million acquisition price of Ghana Telecom.”
Back in 2008, at the time of Vodafone Ghana’s inception, there were only 400 sites across the country, a figure which needed dramatically increasing if the business was to implement its acclaimed array of network services.
Six years on and that increase has culminated in more than 2,000 sites being developed – and counting – signifying the success of a transformation period which has already dramatically improved the levels of coverage and quality within the country.
Four pillars of expansion
The target of Vodafone Ghana’s investments have not just been on mobile adoption, but also on more traditional fixed networks, which the company has modernised and transformed just as effectively.
“We have invested in modernising the infrastructure as well as developing a backbone of fibre across the entire country. This is not only serving the needs of the company, but also the wider industry and other players in the market who want access to that connectivity,” explains Broumidis. “The process has been a journey of transformation, and still remains an ongoing agenda It is our responsibility to ensure that every corner of Ghana reaps the benefits of the Vodafone offering in their lives.”
To complement Vodafone’s fixed and mobile network penetration, the company has a structure in place to ensure its internal IT systems and processes are advanced enough to embrace the rapid competitive Ghanaian telecommunication landscape.
“Last but not least we’ve had to invest in people, skills and capabilities through extensive capacity development programmes,” Broumidis continues. “At the inception of Vodafone Ghana’s operations here, there were a number of expatriates in the business. Today, as we speak, Vodafone Ghana is almost fully managed by Ghanaians. I am the only expatriate within the management structure and that has been a result of the transformational capabilities in the company.”
Global company acting locally
Vodafone Ghana’s people and skills strategy maintains a very local focus, despite the international lure associated with a brand as strong and pervasive as Vodafone.
The ability to operate as an international company while successfully acting locally is one that the business prides itself on and Broumidis believes that this ethos has had a direct influence on the first six years of growth.
“We have an organisation that people believe they can grow within, and we make sure that we have as many Ghanaians on board as possible, because no one can understand the market and culture of the country better than them, and they can also help to better engage with customers, partners, suppliers and even policy makers,” he says.
“In addition to our local focus, we also aim for diversity within our workforce, and especially when it comes to gender. If you take my executive team for example, of the 10 executives, six are female and this is something we drive in terms of balance and diversity. It’s a real success story for Vodafone and within Ghana.”
The business’s philosophy regarding employee satisfaction is especially significant given the challenging conditions in the region where demand for skills is high and the talent pools often limited. However, being able to monitor and adapt to regional and industry trends has long been a trademark of the general Vodafone Group success story, and this subsequently filters through to all operating regions.
Broumidis continues: “Vodafone has a global strategy in terms of how we operate across different countries and we need to work within that framework. But when it comes to execution, it’s pretty much a local issue that takes into account competitive dynamics, market maturity, and our market positioning.”
Voice and data
This market positioning is directly influenced not only by the company’s continuously increasing presence in the country as a result of its network investments, but it also goes back to the basic dynamics of competitiveness with regard to the physical products and services being offered by Vodafone Ghana.
Not a stranger to the technological battleground, the company is confident that it can conquer this market place in time too, and is subsequently working on differentiating itself within the sector.
“We have expanded both in terms of geographical growth and capacity. Every year we have had to accommodate the increasing traffic for both voice and data usage,” explains Broumidis. “We have progressively developed our 3G network this year; not only with regard to our radio network but on our core network as well to make our infrastructure more resilient. As we speak, in terms of our core network and the quality of our major data and voice KPIs, we are the best in Ghana, based on independent external audits.”
Additionally, the company is also ensuring that it distributes these market leading services to as wide a population as possible, as Broumidis adds: “We’re not just covering the main cities, but semi-urban and rural areas too. It’s about covering the entire territory and today, for instance, we have launched 3G in all district capitals of Ghana. We had to expand the network; the customers are there and want access to mobile telecommunications, so we have had to increase our capacity in line with voice and data demands.”
Given Vodafone’s comparatively late entry into Ghana’s telecoms space in 2008, the company has not necessarily been the first to the punch with all of its offerings, making it even more vital that the business establishes differentiators in other ways.
A large part of this development can be attributed to building strong partnerships with established IT service companies already operating within the country. GDS Africa is one example of this, using its ability to combine the best of products and technologies, with local market industry knowledge, to develop a world-leading OEM like Vodafone’s infrastructure within a new country.
These mutually beneficial relationships successfully work hand-in-hand with the leveraging of Vodafone’s own reputable brand and capabilities to optimise the marketing of its products.
“If you take mobile money for example, we are launching this platform in 2015 following other operators that have already done so in the market,” notes the CEO. “We are, however, confident that ours will be a game changer in the country. We have a track record as a global company with this service, having introduced the concept to great success in countries like Kenya and Tanzania with M-Pesa.
“By launching mobile money in 2015, we believe we can differentiate our service from existing ones; not because it’s a different concept but because the Vodafone mobile money product offers a different experience for the customer.”
From a marketing perspective, Vodafone equally realises that it is imperative to make a connection between provider and consumer, incorporating areas of advertising, promotion, and also education. In delivering any product, Vodafone painstakingly monitors market trends, then conducts comprehensive research to ensure the design fits in with demand before eventually introducing and marketing the product.
“For us, customer research is key in how we proceed,” Broumidis emphasises. “So we ask our customers about how we should modify our products and services to fulfil their emerging needs.
“For example, with a service that hasn’t existed before, we will design it internally, and carry out a series of studies with customers to fine tune it ahead of the launch. We make sure, through communication, that people understand what the service is about and why they should adopt it. This makes our propositions widely adopted and loved by our customers.”
The focus on customer satisfaction has arguably been Broumidis’ most sustained development strategy since he joined the company in July, 2013, identifying this early on as an opportunity to be differentiated from market competitors.
“When it comes to customers it is a journey of providing more value,” he says. “Since 2008, Vodafone has brought a lot of innovation and value by providing different value propositions to different segments, including both consumers and enterprises.
“These value bundles have resulted in an acceleration of both voice and data usage with an exponential increase in the adoption of these propositions. This is observable over the past five years, during which we have pioneered many innovations in the market place.”
Across both the country and industry, if there is one area of vast improvement that Broumidis acknowledges as being most critical, it has been the provision of a good customer experience, leading to the introduction of a three-pronged “journey” embarked upon 18 months ago to meet these needs.
Firstly, this involved redefining the internal work culture of the people and the organisation as a whole, to ensure that the feel-good factor was being spread from the inside out. The second facet comprised the simplification of processes, making the adoption of new technologies easier for customers. Finally, Vodafone Ghana transformed its IT systems in order to deliver this new level of customer experience as efficiently as possible.
“We have embarked on this journey since 2013 and will work on these three areas in order to be able to deliver the customer experience we aspire to, and for it to be a sustainable and differentiating pillar for the company in the future,” Broumidis explains. “Ghanaians love our brand, and we have been awarded many times for the perception of our brand strength and valuation. We now need to make sure we keep a step ahead and provide the kind of customer experience that will make the whole admiration of our brand even stronger.”
This admiration is further strengthened by another strategy all too familiar with the Vodafone brand. Corporate social responsibility within Africa has long been a trademark of the Group’s activities on the continent, and this is no different in Ghana where the Vodafone Foundation is as influential as ever.
Launching the Vodafone Ghana Foundation in 2009, the principle was simple; to make an impact in the environment and society where the company’s people, customers, partners and suppliers live and work.
Focusing primarily on areas of health and education, Vodafone Ghana is proud of what it has achieved over the past five years, as Broumidis notes: “We have launched a number of initiatives, including Healthline, which is the very first medical call centre in Africa to which people can call to receive accurate medical advice.
“This medical centre has been very helpful recently in fighting the Ebola scare for instance, where we have had more and more people calling every day, asking health-related questions and receiving expert advice. We are very proud of this.”
Complementing this is an array of programmes profiling free quality healthcare across numerous communities, while the company has also encouraged further collaborative social input through its Mobile for Good campaign.
“The concept was for NGOs and other organisations to come to us with ideas on how our technology can make a social impact in the communities. We have since funded eight of the applications with high potential and are currently working with them to use the initiatives to change lives” Broumidis concludes: “We do this because our fundamental belief is that while we are a profit making organisation, we cannot have a sustainable business future if we don’t make a real social impact on the world around us.
“The more the economy progresses and the better prospects Ghanaian companies and people have, the better the conditions will be for Vodafone to grow its operations within Ghana.”