Synonymous with bold ambitions since its inception, Gulf Bridge International (GBI) is on its path to position itself as the pioneer to bring in smart networks that can be easily accessed and manipulated by suppliers and customers alike conveniently with the click of a finger on their mobile devices. Originally incepted as a submarine cable operator, GBI is on its way to a complete transformation under the leadership of Amr Eid, the new chief executive officer.
Eid was appointed as the CEO in early 2017 after being in the role of acting CEO since March 2016. Prior to that, he was the chief commercial officer at GBI. Looking ahead, Eid wishes to position GBI as the smart network operator and the chosen connectivity partner of all major cloud service providers. “We will announce very soon that we have transformed the whole network to a managed service and that too a smart one, which will enable our customers, and suppliers to access the network readily and activate services themselves. And that would be something different,” Eid says.
GBI has had to face the consequences of the economic uncertainties and dynamic nature of capacity demand. 2015 witnessed the departure of the incumbent CEO, who built the organisation, along with his complete management team. The company centred its attention on rationalising its expenditure, restoring the shareholders’ confidence, and enhancing the perception of the brand and the network. The successful turnaround of the organisation is the biggest achievement for 2015-2016, Eid says. He adds that today, the company is not just seven times bigger than what it used to be in 2014, but also it is amongst the top five IP providers in the Gulf. He stresses on the fact that in spite of being a young entrant into the market, GBI’s revenues equate to incumbents who have been in the market for tens of years.
Adapting to change
Eid says that though consumer demand still continues to drive connectivity growth, the decrease in per-unit-pricing has been a challenge for organisations like GBI. He attributes a major share of GBI’s revenues over the past twelve months to new services.
GBI engaged in various focus group discussions with a diverse range of people including students and other young people, to understand their needs and preferences in terms of digital behaviour. “Out of the inspiration they gave us, we revamped our offerings and became the first operator to connect to the gaming cloud, “Eid says. Now, GBI provides connectivity to most of the favourite applications of the youth, be it Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram. The key is to listen to the key customer, explains Eid. He shares how he began listening to his kids, and discovered the importance of Snapchat in the lives of young people. There’s no substitute to listen, adapt and transform if an organisation wishes to retain its relevance in spite of changing market dynamics.
How did the organisation cope with the uncertain economy in the meanwhile? “It affected our conventional business that’s why we migrated from that”, Eid says. He points at the company’s 60% growth in revenues, and the successful capture of 25% of internet market share from the rest of the operators in the Gulf. Given that the growth has happened just over a period of two years, he emphasises that it’s not because the markets grew in size massively, rather, GBI captured market share from other existing players on the scene. By resorting to unconventional streams, and providing new services, the company managed to not just grow its revenues but also expanded its positioning in the value chain.
The CEO reiterates that GBI is a partner-led organisation and works closely with ‘literally all the licensed telcos in the region’. It caters to the demands of the operators. And additionally, being a neutral operator that is connected to markets not just in the Middle East but also in Europe, Asia and Americas, GBI is at a privileged position to play the role of a comprehensive consultant for the regional telcos, Eid says.
“We see the telco market everywhere, be it in the developed world or the underdeveloped countries. So, we can share our experiences relating to the various projects completed by telcos in other markets, and advise on several aspects like the mistakes they can avoid, opportunities they can capitalise on, and pricing models they should adopt for higher profitability,” Eid says.
He adds that GBI is now also looking at the small and medium enterprise market in collaboration with the incumbent operators, and hints that it might be acquiring new licences soon.
Considering the interesting positioning of GBI and its overview of the telecom market at large, CommsMEA asked Eid his opinion the current state of the telecom market in the region. Is there a solution at hand for declining profits? What are the main shortcomings of the market? The answer might lie in more liberal thinking, according to Eid. “The regulators have been working on improving their exposure and knowledge, and are trying to do things differently. However, when it comes to the operators, there are several issues. In some instances, they don’t have the right skillsets to change their obsolete business models; some of the other operators are being held behind with the baggage of the big investments they have made previously and aren’t in a state to go for something new again,” he says.
Talking about GBI’s transformation, Eid tells CommsMEA that being a relatively small and young organisation, it has had the advantage of being leaner and more agile, hence quick to adapt to changes and tough challenges. “Pressure makes you break out of your shell. That’s what we did. We broke out of our shell. We realised that the revenues were diminishing in the kind of business we had started off with. And we could also see other operators not being able to cope up. We changed our mode of working, revamped our market research, and incepted new functions like the transformation officer,” he says.
Eid further adds how GBI might have started a positive trend, considering that months after GBI hired its transformation officer, big companies like MTN did the same. “So, I think we must be doing something right,” Eid says. Further elaborating on the role of the transformation officer, he says that the role comes with qualitative KPIs and no quantitative KPIs to bother with. “He isn’t linked to the hustle bustle of daily revenue drills of the company and rather focusses on the networks.”
Thinking one step ahead
Looking at the year ahead, GBI plans further investments to make the network more hybrid. “We are acquiring more assets in different cable systems and making sure our network is mission critical. We are also investing in network management- both in terms of hardware and software. And we are investing in few licences as well. Most importantly, we are investing more in people, the biggest asset we have,” Eid says.
In terms of expansion, horizontally, GBI is looking at a few new landings depending on the agreements with its partners. And vertically, it is working to make the network smart and connect to more cloud services and more media and content providers. “One out of the every three times you access any of the media content service available as an OTT application, you actually use GBI network,” Eid says.
Coming from an ICT background, Eid is a strong advocate of transformation. He further hopes to see a collaborative spirit in the way of working of the Middle East market. In spite of having ample assets and investments to bank upon, the region is not being successful in ample utilisation of the same. He thinks it’s primarily because of the predatorily tendencies of most players in the market. “Instead of just focussing on short-term competition, it’s essential to look at the bigger picture in view. We must collaborate in a creative work to squeeze the maximum value out of our investments. The large content providers are already giving us a clear message by building their own networks. We can either unite and shape up or fade out.”