How Proximus Is Helping Its Workforce & Country Stay Connected

Proximus CIO Geert Goethals has seen the company through this continuous digital evolution as well as the recent challenges presented by COVID-19. Data Company Magazine caught up with Goethals to hear how the telecom business was able to lean into the crisis for its business—customers and employees alike.

Proximus is the largest Belgian telecom operator, playing a central role in the digital lives of many Belgians. The company has been undergoing a major transformation over the last decade.

In 2014, the company charted a path to become a fully digital service provider, modernizing operations, cutting costs, and reskilling employees. But it’s an ongoing, iterative process as the digital landscape evolves and the telecom market shifts. In 2019, for example, new regulations and market changes spurred Proximus to further simplify, automate, and digitize its business across its networks, product portfolio, platforms, buildings, and IT systems.

Proximus CIO Geert Goethals has seen the company through this continuous digital evolution as well as the recent challenges presented by COVID-19, which caused the entire Belgian workforce, including a vast majority of Proximus’ employees, to connect remotely. At the same time, Proximus’ goals remain unchanged: Provide exceptional customer service and outpace competitors.

Data Company Magazine caught up with Goethals to hear how the telecom business was able to lean into the crisis for its business—customers and employees alike.

1. COVID-19 has impacted every single industry. Tell us about the impact it’s had on Proximus as well as the global telecom market.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining moment for the telecommunications sector, underlining the essential role of high-quality networks in today’s society. As a responsible telecom company, we knew it was crucial to keep families connected, facilitate work from home, make remote learning seamless for children, and support businesses to get through this challenging period. That’s why our investments in next-generation networks are so important: To ensure the quality of our fixed and mobile network, and anticipate changing customer behaviors in the long run.

The most visible impact has been on our internal organization, with the majority of our 11,000-person workforce working from home since March.

2. What was the impact on those employees? How did you make the transition to remote work at scale—particularly for your IT team?

First, the digital workplace is not new at Proximus. Our investments from the past have helped us with adapting to the new ways of working. Next to that, software distribution was optimized at short notice to increase network capacity. There had been a doubling of the number of Skype calls since the start of the lockdown, and changes on the infrastructure side were made to support this.

We have also accelerated the development of our digital workplace by making tools such as Microsoft Teams available to all colleagues from mid-September. But it’s not only about tools; across the company, people have shown an incredible sense of teamwork, agility, and a can-do mentality to cope with this exceptional situation.

3. With shelter-in-place orders, there must have been a huge spike in demand for Internet and mobile services. What kinds of pressures did that create?

In the first weeks of lockdown, our network teams saw volume increase by 50-60% for voice and Internet usage. Thanks to our investment in building a strong, high-performing, and stable network, we were able to guarantee connectivity despite the extraordinary boost in traffic. Further efforts are being made to ensure the continuity of networks and services in the face of these exceptional circumstances.

Proximus was the first operator to implement upgrades to our commercial offering. IT systems were adapted at record speed. IT operations teams developed and rolled out new products and services remotely through a series of successful software releases.

4. What kinds of new features or tools have you rolled out for customers and employees as a result of COVID-19?

We were able to support large enterprises in providing remote working solutions and installed the necessary video conference systems. Free Wi-Fi connectivity was provided at emergency hospitals. Our company also helped new hospitals be up and running quickly; fiber rollout was accelerated in several cities.

Proximus also introduced a brand-new communication channel—video chat—in a very short period of time, making it possible for customers to virtually meet with agents and make virtual visits to Proximus stores. 

For our employees, we developed SafeTogether, a dedicated app to guarantee the safe return of colleagues willing to work in one of the Proximus buildings. In mid-August, we saw 20,000 reservations.

5. Can you talk about the roles that data and digital infrastructure play in delivering these new products and services to bring value to customers and employees?

IT has played a crucial role in guaranteeing business continuity and improving user experience. Data helps us to better know and understand our customers and their habits, so that we can anticipate their needs. AI-based chatbots and virtual assistants are already transforming the way businesses handle customer service. Predictive analytics is one of the most promising capabilities of AI technology. When we say that we want to become a data-driven company, we want to organize ourselves in such a way that all the available data is used in an effective way to create value for the company.

6. How is Proximus positioned to be a leader in digital transformation in 2021 and beyond?

In the future, networks will become ever more important. The network is no longer business critical; it is mission critical. Therefore, our ambition is to build the best gigabit network for Belgium and become the reference operator in Europe. 5G will bring greater speed to move more data, decrease latency for shorter load times, and enhance the ability to connect more devices at once. We are also accelerating the rollout of fiber. Together, 5G and fiber will boost the development of IoT and smart cities.

Read more stories about data-driven innovation in the 2020 issue of Data Company Magazine

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