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TFL’s CEO Goundar Leads Push For Service Delivery Culture

Telecom Fiji Limited’s (TFL) new chief executive officer Charles Goundar likes to keep his feet on the ground. But he will now take centre stage as the new head of
29 Sep 2018 16:08
TFL’s CEO Goundar Leads Push For Service Delivery Culture
Telecom Fiji Limited chief executive officer Charles Goundar.

Telecom Fiji Limited’s (TFL) new chief executive officer Charles Goundar likes to keep his feet on the ground.

But he will now take centre stage as the new head of one of Fiji’s largest telecom companies.

Mr Goundar’s, 41, appointment was officially confirmed in last month.

He had been acting as CEO since 2017 after the departure of Mothilal De Silva last December.

Mr Goundar’s takes charge at time when TFL is re-positioning itself in light of digital phones and the internet, and a declining voice business.

The decline led to a 1.6 per cent decrease in TFL’s revenue, which stood at $88.6 million for the financial year 2018.

However, its profit before income tax closed at $22.19m, an increase of 1.6 per cent from the previous year.

Mr Goundar has finalised TFL’s three-year strategic plan that has five key areas of focus. including sustainable revenue growth and upgrading its infrastructure.

The cost of the upgrade will be “substantial,” Mr Goundar said, refusing to reveal any numbers.

TFL also plans to roll out ultra-fast fibre broadband services throughout the country.

The service will be capable of hitting speeds of up to 150 megabits per second (Mbps), which can be upgraded in future to speeds of up to 1000 Mbps.

“Our aim is to really up the bar in responding to customers’ request,” Mr Goundar said.

“There is mixed feelings in the market about Telecom’s ability to meet the operational targets.”

“From an operational level, the aim is to focus on service delivery so that we continue to deliver exceptional value to all our customers.”

The next big thing on TFL’s agenda is its merger with Fiji International Telecommunications Limited (FINTEL).

FINTEL will be abosrbed into the company as TFL’s international division, and will come under Mr Goundar.

The company is also facing the challenge of developing and retaining technical staff and expertise.

The company is planning to send staff on 10-week training programmes in New Zealand  in an effort to address this problem.

In Fiji Sun’s series of interviews with leaders in the country’s telecom sector, Mr Goundar outlines some of his aims as the new TFL boss.

He also talks about competition in the sector and gives his view on Government’s move to penalise mobile carriers for drops in networks.


Excerpts from the Interview: 

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Firstly about my professional life, I started my career in Telecom Fiji as a graduate trainee in December 1999 in Lautoka.

I initially joined the corporate business solutions division of the company at that time, which was responsible for providing solutions and implementing all sorts of projects for enterprise customers.

In 2003, I was transferred to Suva, and since then, I have held various positions in the company in technical, commercial, and business development areas.

I am originally from Mullau, Rakiraki, come from a farming background, my father was a sugar cane farmer.

I attended Penang Sangam Primary School in Rakiraki, and later Natabua High School as a boarder.

After completing my tertiary studies, I joined Natabua High School as a teacher for one full academic year, that was 1999.

Later that same year, I got the opportunity to join the company.

Your key aims as the new appointment?

Telecom Fiji is one of the leading information technology and communications (ICT) solutions provider in Fiji and our key aim, staying true to our vision and mission, is to ensure we continue to provide cutting edge products and solutions to all our customers.

Early this year, we finalised the company’s three-year strategic plan, and one of the key focus areas is to continue investment in new technology.

The plan outlines the company’s strategic goals.

It covers five key areas, including: sustainable revenue growth, cost optimisation, delivering brilliant customer experience, maximising operational efficiency and technology refresh.

We then have detailed initiatives that supports each of these focus areas.

Technology changes every day, so it’s important for service providers like Telecom Fiji to ensure that the network infrastructure is capable of supporting the ever-growing demand from customers.

There are multiple projects already underway across the company to refresh our core network infrastructure and IT systems. We have some catching up to do in that area.

Apart from network technology, one of our other key objectives is to maximise operational efficiency.

As you know, Telecom has a large field-based operation Fiji-wide, which is no-doubt essential to support the business.

However, we realise that there are opportunities for improvement.

We are also benchmarking our operational performance ratios against other operators and industry standards.

People development will be a key focus area for me.

As an example, we are in the process of formalising arrangements with a New Zealand company, which also deals in fixed network infrastructure like Telecom Fiji, to implement a 8-10 weeks on the job training in NZ for our field technicians on a rotational basis.

How has TFL re-positioned itself in light of digital phones and the internet?

Telecom is generally known to be a landline wired phone provider.

But the interesting thing is that it generates only approximately 10 per cent of our revenues, whereas 90 per cent of our business is driven by other services such as data network connectivity, high speed dedicated internet access, international services, managed ICT services, datacentre hosted and collaboration tools, Wi-Fi, etc..

Based on the revenue profile, we have re-aligned ourselves to provide stable and high-speed data services to our customers.

The focus has shifted from being a voce-centric to a data-centric provider.

Earlier this year, we introduced some aggressive broadband plans in the market which have given us increasingly positive feedback and results.

We are also forging new partnerships with industry leaders, continue to place strong focus on new business development initiatives and explore emerging market trends.

What are some TFL’s challenges in Fiji’s market?

Apart from competition, one of the challenges we face is expertise – the people factor.

Getting people with the right expertise is probably one of our biggest challenges right now. We are working in collaboration with the universities to provide input in terms of industry requirements.

We provide feedback on what the requirements of the industry are and how the institutions can tailor-make their courses to better suit the industry.

This has just started.

Apart from that, the hands-on expertise itself is also important. In an industry like telecommunications, it takes a couple of years of training, especially in technical areas for staff to be able to work independently.

We are about to sign a contract with one company from New Zealand.

Once we do that, we will be sending 15 of our technicians to New Zealand for a period of eight to 10 weeks.

This company from New Zealand is also helping us setup a training lab in Fiji as part of the engagement.

While we can recruit people from university with degrees, we realise that we still need to provide hands-on training to staff within a reduced time frame.

We also keep the Ministry of Labour informed of our people development strategies and they’ve been very supportive.

In some cases, we have also recruited people from outside for some very specific projects.

What is the significance of TFL’s merger with FINTEL?

There are a lot of synergies between FINTEL and Telecom. FINTEL has got expertise in terms of the landing station and maintaining the international network infrastructure part.

One of the areas we can synergise on is the capacities that we both have on the submarine cable system that can be consolidated, leading to stronger price negotiation.

For consumers, over time, that would mean better pricing. In terms of the people as well, there are expertise within FINTEL that can greatly assist Telecom.

There won’t be any job losses. FINTEL’s role is very critical as the international gateway keeper of Fiji, and will require expertise that FINTEL already has, to manage it going forward.

Also there are new submarine cable projects that FINTEL is already working on.

From a structure perspective, it’s still being discussed but most likely FINTEL will form the international division of Telecom.

What are your best and innovative products?

In the enterprise space, we have multiple leading products, such IP/MPLS, datacentre, hosted and cloud-based platforms, satellite services, network security, managed Wi-Fi, etc. which are for business customers such as banking industry, the hotel sector, Government and others.

We have benchmarked some of these service against offshore providers.

In the residential space, we have fixed broadband and now rolling out Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) which we announced a couple of weeks ago.

We have already rolled it out in Denarau and Bayview Heights. Currently fiber is being deployed in Namadi heights.

We will soon be announcing phase two of project which will include the rest of the areas in Suva, Lautoka and eventually the other cities and towns.

We are also working on some cloud applications that we will be introducing in the market soon.

Most of the new ones that we have coming out are the enterprise solutions, especially in the area of infrastructure as a service, application as a service and more.

This is because most of the corporates are considering migrating their systems on to the cloud.

Are you satisfied with TFL’s profitability and revenue trend?

Well, the more the better.

But in terms of the profitability and financial ratios, we benchmark ourselves against other similar Telcos.

I am happy to say we are within the industry benchmark ratios.

How is TFL facing up to competition from Vodafone, Digicel and Inkk?

The general trend in the market over the past years has been the shift towards mobility.

People are not using landlines as much as they used to in the past.

That’s the market trend, not just here but globally and something that we really can’t change. We are focussing on data.

Our strategy is giving customers a good quality and reliable internet connection at home, so that our broadband internet service is used for heavy duty usage such as downloading, online gaming, watching high-definition Youtube videos, watching Netflix, etc..

We have tried to create that difference for ourselves instead of competing with other operators.

What is TFL’s current market position and what are you doing to improve on that?

In the corporate space we still have the majority market share with our enterprise solutions.

We have a good line-up of existing products and services and more will be introduced over the next three to six months.

Again, those are based on where the market is heading.

The residential market is challenging for us.

Voice is a declining a business, but data is the growing business for the company.

We want to be able to capitalise on the broadband wave.

It is also important to have a resilient infrastructure so we are building redundancy in the network whereas possible to eliminate single points of failure.

We have completed the fibre ring around Viti Levu, meaning we have a full transmission ring now on the main island.

Previously, we used to face network outages in the event of any fibre damages, but since the commissioning of this new fiber route between Rakiraki and Korovou, network, network has been stable despite a few hits on the fiber caused by road works.

What is the significance of the new Savusavu landing station?

All the operators between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu have microwave links, which is through the towers and radio links.

Whenever there is a tropical cyclone microwave links get affected and this leads to communication getting disrupted.

By having this fibre connection, that issue is eliminated entirely.

Secondly, the capacity itself is a factor.

On microwave links, there’s only so much capacity we can provide.

With fibre, it is almost endless. Telecom has enabled capacity between Suva and Savusavu.

All our traffic going from Suva to Savusavu goes through to that fibre.

We still have our microwave link that connects to Labasa.

Right now we are in the planning stages of trying to see whether we complete a section from Labasa to Savusavu.

Once that’s done that capacity, which currently lands in Savusavu, will run all the way to Labasa where most of the business community in the north is.

Is our Telecom market competitive enough, or do we need one or two more players?

If you look at it from a cost of telecommunications services perspective, compared to other Pacific islands, Fiji has some of the lowest costs for both voice and data.

Even compared to Australia and NZ both of which are significantly much greater in market size and affordability, our rates are also quite low.

It’s not for me to say yes we do, or no we don’t but we need to consider this in the context of the situation and what really the intention is at the end of the day.

What is your view on  Government’s move to penalise mobile telecom carriers for outages in their network?

In principle, I think the intention from Government’s side is to ensure that the operators do the right thing and ensure that have resiliency in the network so that services to the people are reliable.

In that way, we agree with the idea.

But in terms of applying a model, what we would really like to see is a something that is practical for the Fijian market.

Fiji is very challenging in terms of geography and the number of islands we are required to serve.

There are resorts on very remote islands that expect the same level of service as customers in the heart of Suva. Giving a service to a customer on a remote island presents a very different challenge to giving that same service to a customer in Suva.

Technically, operationally and economically – it is totally different. It comes down to what is practical to be deployed in a place like Fiji. Rotuma, for example, is 650 kilometres away from the mainland.

The only means of providing services to Rotuma is via satellite.

There are quite a lot of dependency in certain areas on other suppliers and partners that we need to be mindful of.

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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