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How should the information and communications technology industry move forward in a pandemic? 

That’s one of the major questions that global telecommunications companies and digital leaders tried to make sense of during the PTC ’21: New Realities conference, spearheaded by the Pacific Telecommunications Council, in cooperation with the PLDT Global Corporation (PGC)-backed Asian Carriers Conference. PGC is the international arm of the Philippines’ largest integrated telco PLDT. 

Key discussions focused on the importance of collaboration and strategic actions in order to deliver better services to customers, led by keynote speaker co-founder of Netflix and Redbox Mitch Lowe. In a moderated panel conversation with PLDT FVP and Group Head for Corporate Communications Cathy Yap-Yang, Lowe emphasized the need for leadership, teams and resources allocation during the pandemic. 

Lowe’s co-panelists, among them top telco and digital industry executives, agree the new normal has spawned a heightened sense of collaboration and partnership to serve customers better. Co-panelists include Eric Cevis, Group President at Verizon Partner Solutions for Verizon Communication Services Inc.; Ravi Mahalingam, Senior Vice President at HGC International Business; Emmanuel Rochas, Chief Executive Officer at Orange International Carriers; and Elisabetta Romano, Chief Executive Officer at Telecom Italia Sparkle. 

In his keynote speech, Lowe emphasized how leadership should embrace and support changes meted by the pandemic, and look for people who care for the company. 

On the other hand, Rochas considered Orange’s partnership with the PLDT Group a “powerful example of what a partnership can bring.” The collaboration between these two companies began pre-pandemic, which circled around international voice management to provide better quality and value to clients. 

In 2020, The Orange wholesale arm, International Carriers, has signed a partnership deal with PLDT for international voice aggregation services to deliver better quality of service to millions of customers globally. As the preferred aggregator for voice traffic, Orange handles all global inbound traffic terminating on the PLDT and Smart network. 

For Cevis, collaboration has become more important than it has ever been, in order to scale their business. He also mentioned how they leverage on digital platforms so that cooperation among employees and partners could still take place. 

Meanwhile, Mahalingam said that at the infrastructure level, partnerships and collaboration are now facing a deeper integration from the international side with the domestic side, highlighting fiberization and network-enablement. 

Mahalingam also mentioned that companies should start prioritizing investing in software to empower the services that telco and tech companies are offering, stating that “end-to-end has gone deeper.” 

Best practices 

These experts also agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has broken down the walls of competition and shifted the gear towards a coopetition among vendors and service providers. 

Sparkle’s Romano candidly stated that openness has always been a challenge for providers, and that, now, the changing landscape has introduced a new keyword in this space: coopetition -- where telcos learned how to cooperate with each other, despite being competitors. 

“We’re collaborators more than competitors,” PLDT’s Yang noted. “We collaborate first and foremost, and then we become coopetitors, helping keep that laser focus on our customers and our employees because we got to steer together as an industry to get to a better normal.” 

The panelists also shared their experiences in caring for their employees during the crisis. Cevis shared that for their company, ‘humanability’ or being able to provide the ability for their employees to be productive and safe during this period of time, has become their priority. 

Mahalingam also said that aside from providing a safe environment for their employees who opted to report to the office, they also made us of collaborative tools and platforms to ensure smoother operations. 

For Rochas, they transitioned to the work-from-home setup almost seamlessly since they already have systems in place even before the pandemic hit. Aside from physical safety, they are also looking at practices that protect the mental health of employees. 

Digital transformation 

The panelists also recognized that the pandemic contributed to the swift digital transformation of transactions – from the way people work and live. If before it was Bring-Your-Own-Device, now, it has become Bring-Your-Own-Office, and it is the work of telcos to provide tools and services to provide accessibility and connectivity. 

The accelerating trends in streaming services for entertainment and content has also challenged the process of discovery, in a world where people are staying more at home. 

While the health crisis has forced people to be socially distant, telcos and technology have empowered and connected individuals and businesses to each other. And for Lowe, the industry has just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. But at the end of the day, it is all about building meaningful connections.