Over the past year there seems to have been a refreshing change going on at TelBru. From the advertisement on the newspapers and billboards to the new building in town. What’s going on?
One word: Transformation.
What you see on the outside, on our buildings and billboards with the nice bright colours and design is simply a reflection of the new identity we have. However, it goes deeper than that. It is a reflection of what changes are going on inside: the way in which we are operating, the way in which we are rolling out high-speed broadband, the way in which we are treating our staff – everything is being upgraded and modernised.
We are trying to transform the company from old traditional processes and activities into a modern telecoms company, in every aspect from the customer through to the products and services, through to how we deal with the back office.
One of the key things that we are doing to reflect what’s going on, is where we have identified our core values. And the customer is right up there amongst them. It goes from the way we interact with our customers in terms of when we say something, we deliver.
We want to make this a company that Brunei can be very proud of.
And change doesn’t happen overnight.
This company has been around a long time in various forms. And the longer it’s been, the harder it is to change.
So, you have inherited a very difficult job; and making changes is never popular.
We are all uncomfortable with change. Whether it’s in our business life or personal life, change is disruptive. It feels very uncomfortable. Nobody likes it. We don’t like change, but we know we have to do it. Otherwise if you don’t change, you’re out of it. In business, if you don’t change, you’re dead.
What do these changes mean for your customers?
What we’re trying to do is to offer good products and services at reasonable value. So we are upgrading the network in a huge way. You don’t know how big our network is but it is more convoluted than the road network. So if you can imagine rebuilding all the roads in Brunei, times a factor of ten or even a hundred – that’s the telecommunications network. All this started a few years ago, and now it’s continuing and will be going on for a number of years to come.
We come from a situation where we have improved from say, a 30 step to 7 step process with a better focus on efficiency and quality management. We came from a situation a few years ago when the network was in the state of disrepair where we had to deal with many angry customers. Today, we are committed to repairing a significant problem in three days. We are not there yet but we are trying. We are repairing more in one day than we ever did before, and that’s how it should be.
So essentially you are making life easier, faster for your customers.
We’re giving our customers a better product, which will give them faster speed and meet their demands. People don’t want to wait – they want it now. They’re not prepared to wait as they were ten years ago.
Because for a lot of people, the benchmark is Singapore?
That’s another factor. A lot of people got that experience from outside of the country, as a result, they demand the best. And why shouldn’t they have it?
So, what is the message?
We are currently on our phase 2 of the High Speed Broadband (HSBB) project and we will be rolling out to a number of areas this year, the next year and the year after that. We are looking to cover 75% of the population, which is 45,000 households by 2017. We are currently over the halfway mark.
What can we expect from TelBru in the next few years?
We are changing all our retail outlets now. We have already changed Citis Square and have just rented a new premise at Yayasan to reflect the current image. We’ve got around 10 or 12 other outlets spread out, which we are going to either redecorate or close down and move into another area because a lot of them are in technical or equipment buildings. They are not ‘Kedai’s’. We want to move them out into the more commercial areas and get them revamped with the new logo.
In today’s world more and more people are paying for goods and services online but you are putting emphasis on retail space. That’s interesting.
I think you have to do both at the end of the day. I don’t think there are any new technologies that have come along but you end up doing a bit of each. The day will come when everybody pays online and receives their bills online. TelBru customers can check their bills and pay online today and more and more people are using this. But still the majority still want to pay their bill at the shop, to the person, in cash. This happens everywhere, but the move towards online is inevitable.
Almost everybody today has a mobile phone but not necessarily a land line. Such a pattern is not limited just in Brunei but globally. How do you see this evolution affecting your business?
There has been a lot of talk about customers throwing out the fixed (line) and going on to the wireless. However, our customer-base, is actually increasing because of broadband.
Broadband is the key because if you want it, you need to have a fixed telephone line as well. While mobile phones provide internet access, it is not sufficient to replace the service, speed and capacity that a fixed-lined broadband can provide. Mobile technology is good and complimentary, but it will never really be a substitute for the fixed line. You will never see significant businesses trying to run their main communications via the mobile.
We are looking to cover 75% of the population with High Speed Broadband, which is 45,000 households by 2017.
Where can we expect new coverage of broadband this year?
Jerudong and Sengkurong are currently being connected now and Kuala Belait, Mumong, Seria and Rimba will be ready by Quarter 2 this year. The works will continue in phases with Madewa and Salar scheduled to be completed by Quarter 3 in 2015 and will be progressively available in Sg Taring and Sg Liang areas by Quarter 4 in 2015.
What are the areas that currently enjoy the benefit of high-speed broadband?
It’s currently available in all the central areas like Madang, Gadong and BSB Central. Those areas are well covered. There’s a full plan for next year that runs into the year after.
What do you say to the people who complain about the slow internet speed in Brunei? How do you convince people that change is coming?
There are so many different components that contribute to the speed of the internet. If one of the factors don’t perform, it will affect the rest. We can have fibre optic cables to everybody’s home, and we can promise a thousand megabytes per second, but it doesn’t matter if the site that you’re going into overseas is not working very well because of the links to the site. (Internet) speed problems can be caused by a number of things. What we’re doing is trying to educate the public by a series of cartoons but keeping it simple and straightforward, to tell people what is going on in the Internet.
So what would David Kay’s advice be for a more speedy internet at home?
All you can do is deal with what is within your control. You can’t ask the site to speed up, not with international links. Pay for a higher package. If you expect a one megabyte package to be good for games and downloading films for a family of six or eight, forget it. We get complaints about that. So that’s part of the education process. People need to ensure they’ve got sufficient bandwidth coming into their home.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
I’d hope to be at the stage where people can at least say that TelBru has improved dramatically over the last few years and that this is one of the best companies in Brunei. I also hope that customers will be able to say ‘what a great telecoms company’; and that employees will say ‘what a great company to work for. That’s the company to work for.