LEADER OF DISRUPTIVE BUSINESS CONNECTIVITY SOLUTIONS

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Exclusive interview with Mr. Veer Arjun Passi, CEO Kalaam Telecom

Kalaam Telecom has always been at the forefront of innovation & technology disruption. In May this year, the second-largest ISP for business in Bahrain announced its partnership with Versa Networks, USA – an industry leader in disruptive software-defined networking technology to launch Bahrain’s first Secured SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) infrastructure, an end-to-end solution which simplifies and secures the WAN/branch office networks.

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In today’s world, with enterprise challenges rapidly increasing with growing business and technology needs, such as an increase in demand of cloud applications, non-centralised manageability of multiple branches, increase in security threats and longer time to prepare branch for business, Kalaam‘s next generation feature-rich Secured SD-WAN solution mitigates these challenges.

Veer Passi, Chief Executive Officer of Kalaam Telecom said at the time, “Being one of the leading telecom providers for businesses in Bahrain, it is very essential for Kalaam to constantly understand the challenges of the enterprises and mitigate them with a latest disruptive solution.”

Despite the dynamic market changes in the local telecom industry, Kalaam has been successful in growing its market share over the past decade. Kalaam was founded by Mr. Nezar Al Saie in 2005 and later joined by investors from the well-known and respected Shoaibi and Qureshi families from KSA. Kalaam was uniquely positioned as an alternative telecom operator offering data, voice & managed solutions for corporate businesses in Bahrain.  Kalaam’s enterprise products and services covers the entire gamut of network & ICT requirements for business including Data, Internet, Voice, Cloud, ICT & Managed solutions.

Tell us about Kalaam Telecom and what is the story behind the name?

Kalaam is a brand whose essence can be defined by a single word – Liberation. It was born out of a need for more consumer-centric and cost-effective services. The aim was to meet that need and desire head on. Our essence is further enhanced through communication that is simple, positive, upbeat and real. “Kalaam” as a word itself means ‘to talk’ in Arabic which derives our original tagline – “Now you’re talking” which refers also to the first International calling that we started, which is a very cost-effective solution.

The company was born when the telecom regulator in Bahrain opened its doors to alternative operators. Since then there have been other operators offering mobile, fixed-line and value-added services, but Kalaam was the first alternate provider in the Kingdom of Bahrain to offer cost effective solutions such as the international calling card – hala.  Kalaam was in fact, the pioneer of international calls at a low cost. In 2008, in the competitive environment that we were operating in, it was necessary for us to move into a long-term sustainable Business Model, which was to become a one-stop solution provider for the enterprise segment. Gradually we shifted our focus to increase our value proposition in all industry segments. As our business focus evolved, our tagline has changed to “Connecting your Business is our Business”.

What kinds of strategic partnerships does Kalaam pursue on a domestic and international level?

As a part of the same evolution, when we started focusing on the enterprise segment, as a strategy we wanted to be a “one-stop solution provider” for all the needs of the enterprises across all industry segments.

Our strategic partnerships both domestically and internationally, allowed Kalaam to offer disruptive solutions that are unique in value and mitigates the current challenges of enterprises.

For the past 12 years, we have been constantly working on enhancing the portfolio of innovative customized managed solutions for all industry segments such as Banking & Financial Services, Hospitality, Education, Retail, Industrial and many others.  In addition, bundling such unique values along with Kalaam’s traditional telecom service such as Internet, Voice and Data, allowed us to be a one- stop shop operator of customer choice.

Kalaam always believes in partnering with the industry leaders in respective solution domains, just like the recent launch of SD-WAN with Versa Networks, a leader in SD-WAN as per Gartner. Some other notable partnerships include Microsoft for enabling companies to move to cloud and go Digital and with Splicecom – UK’s leading business-grade in unified communications and cloud contact center solutions.

Bahrain has traditionally been a hub for international companies such as BNP Paribas, American Express Bank, Ahli United Bank, Yokogowa , DHL , Aramex and many more,  which require connecting to their parent/branch company in other parts of the world. Hence, we decided to expand our network reach across the globe by deploying international POP’s (Point of Presence) to connect with global branches. Currently, Kalaam has presence in 5 countries including UAE, Kuwait, KSA, London, Frankfurt and growing.

What is the key driver for Kalaam’s success ?

Through innovation and understanding what our customers need, Kalaam’s singular purpose has been to follow a consultative approach – we listen, create, deliver, manage and monitor.

Since 2005, Kalaam has been providing superior services and value to our customers and has created long-standing relationships based on customer satisfaction. This is reflected in the company maintaining an industry leading customer retention rate of 98% over the past 12 years with a highly qualified and experienced team. Kalaam has continued to deliver future technologies at a very minimal cost and scalable solutions across all the industries.

Another key driver for success has been that Kalaam has been ambitious and has grown both organically and inorganically through acquisitions. Kalaam has been the only telecom operator in the Kingdom to undertake two acquisitions in Bahrain – Lightspeed Telecommunications and NGNS. The company’s comprehensive portfolio of telecom, ICT, VAS and Cloud solutions for business customers include: Business broadband, National Data Connectivity – DIA, P2P & MPLS; International Data Connectivity – GMPLS, IPLC, VSAT; Voice – Business International calling and Toll-free service, ICT solutions like Fiber to Home,  Data Center Hosting, AVPN, Bulk SMS messaging, On-premise managed infrastructure, IPTV and our latest branch connectivity solution – Secured SD-WAN. Kalaam intends to play a significant role in meeting Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030 by facilitating and supporting the growth of emerging industry segments in Bahrain including ICT & Outsourcing industry.

As a result, Kalaam has been able to provide potential and existing customers with the most comprehensive suite of best-in-class products to meet their telecom, ICT and cloud needs. Despite the dynamic market changes in the local telecom industry, Kalaam has been very successful in growing its market share constantly, over the past 12 years.

What is the strategy to achieve further growth in the sector?

In a Dynamic industry like telecom, where the pace of change is so fast, it is important for us to meet customers’ emerging requirements for enterprises. Based on results of a survey conducted by our team across various industry segments last year, one thing became clear, that businesses are looking for a one-stop-technology-partner that offers end-to-end managed solutions for their IT & communication requirements instead of dealing with multiple vendors.

Acting on this valuable feedback received from our customers, Kalaam has realigned and evolved in two noteworthy areas: One, we take a consultative approach to our customer’s requirements rather than do a “product-sell”; and two, we have moved beyond offering standard vanilla-packaged products and services to delivering ‘solutions eco-systems’ that are carefully selected and engineered from a bouquet of Data, Voice, ICT, Internet and cloud connectivity services. The customized ecosystem provides a convenient plug and play model for enterprises that consists of LAN, WAN-local and international, voice – international and local calling, hosting and other ICT services. Further Kalaam has been heavily investing in innovative technologies to be able to proactively meet the challenges posed to the enterprises from the current business environment like security, software defined network, Cloud, IPTV etc.

Kalaam’s industry segmented solution-ecosystems are backed by Kalaam’s key service benefits: a dedicated account manager, 24×7 customer care and network operations center, dual data center, defined and best-practices SLAs and proactive service monitoring tools.

Bahrain is probably the most competitive market for ICT, how do you compete?

The niche we have created is through clear focus, as the only telecom operator, which is focused on the enterprise business. Most of the other large telecom operators are primarily focused on consumer business, while we are extremely focused on enterprise business. Kalaam’s key differentiators are innovation, speed to market for new products, one-stop solutions, competitive offers, a dedicated team and above all great service.

Kalaam has also extended its reach to regional & International markets through expansion of its network. This has allowed us to create new revenue streams like wholesale business from regional & International telecom companies and diversify our portfolio.

What is the future for your business clientele and how do you plan to develop it for the future?

Our focus continuously will go towards managed solutions for the customers and we go industry by industry. We have a market research team, who talk to people in the different industry segments, understand them, and understand what are the typical challenges they are facing in their industry domain. Based on market feedback, our team designs solutions for those industry challenges.

We have been creating solutions which are very unique for every industry, such as the infotainment platform for the hospitality industry where a guest can check-in and check-out using his mobile app or from a television which can manage his entire hotel stay and experience. He can book a Taxi, order food, book events, watch on demand content, play games or browse the Internet.

Similarly, we have created solutions for the call-center industry where a startup company does not need to invest in expensive equipment. Our Cloud solutions hosted in our data center where a client only buys a small phone for each agent can bring down the cost dramatically and can manage their entire business effectively.

So, as a strategy we will continue to develop more and more niche solutions for each industry. We will be investing in a lot of latest technologies by partnering with International technology companies and enhance our product portfolio.  We have recently invested in a cloud platform and a new data center in Bahrain. We are also creating channel partners for our solutions in the GCC market to take our unique offerings regionally, to UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia.

How do you support the Bahrain Economic Vision 2030?

Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, launched in October 2008, gives us a direction that the Kingdom wants to take the ICT segment forward by supporting the small and
medium enterprises. The vision is to make Bahrain a regional ICT hub. Competitive technologies that are available here allow most of the services to have a very cost effective pricing as compared to the rest
of the region.

EDB and Tamkeen have been promoting Bahrain as a regional ICT hub and to support the vision, Kalaam has been working with various startups to provide very cost effective solutions for the outsourcing industry – typically call center industry and BPO’s (Business Process Outsourcing) and unique office-in-a-box solutions for the small and medium enterprises. Our objective is to provide end-to-end solutions to the SMB – Data, Internet, Voice, ICT, Cloud and startups at a very competitive cost, so that they can focus on their core business and leave the technology challenges to us.

Kalaam is supporting the go-to cloud & digitization strategy of SME & even large companies, through strategic partnerships with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, enabling companies to connect to the cloud seamlessly & effectively.

You are the second leading provider, so what will it take to get to become
the first?

We are next to the incumbent in the enterprise business, but this also gives us an opportunity to strive harder. As the saying goes, “When you are no 2, you keep trying harder.”

Kalaam is a very niche telecom service provider which does not cater to the consumer segment like the other operators in Bahrain, hence an apple-to-apple comparison would not be fair. We only started 12 years back and gained a market of share of 17% of the broadband market.

With the successful acquisition of Lightspeed, Kalaam became the 2nd largest operator for enterprises in the Kingdom of Bahrain with a cumulative client-base of more than 4,000+ across all segments.

The acquisition of Lightspeed Telecommunications – a subsidiary of Orange Telecom in 2014 and NGNS customer base in 2013 has brought together significant synergies, primarily, in network and infrastructure.

To ensure business, mission-critical digital assets remain protected and connected, now Kalaam with its combined infrastructure i.e. Dual highly redundant Data Centers and diversified backbone can provide near 100% service uptime and guaranteed service levels. Secondly, most enterprises are looking for a one-stop shop to meet all their communications needs and, now, with our managed services and whole boutique of industry-based solutions, we can meet those demands very confidently.

Being 2nd also allows us to serve our customers better and continuously grow our market share, not only in Bahrain but in other countries also. We are ambitious in growing organically and inorganically by way of acquisitions, partnerships, whether globally or regionally.

Can you tell us about your dream, your long-term strategy?

Our long-term vision is to be a significant managed solution provider in the region. We would like to extend our network from Bahrain to the MENA region offering diversified connectivity and solution options to customers in Bahrain and across the region.

I would also like to emphasize that our ultimate vision is to be the operator of choice for enterprise customers locally and regionally by ensuring innovative services and customer satisfaction in everything we do.

Having been with Kalaam for almost a decade now, how has the experience been?

It has been a great journey so far. We have visionary and respected shareholders who have always supported the company. One of the reasons that I have been here so long is that besides giving me the responsibility the Board has given me the autonomy to run the business in the manner deemed fit and the same is applicable at all the levels in the company.  At the same time, a company is only as good as it’s people. We are lucky to have a really dedicated, innovative and smart team here. We have grown to become almost a 100 people company today. At the end, success is all about people and we work as a small family where everyone is an equal partner in the success.

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