Changing digital usage drives need for radical transformation in mobile operators

dtac’s Head of Transformation shares how fast-changing consumers are pushing organizations to adapt

  • Due to the pandemic, consumer behaviors are changing more rapidly than ever
  • Organizations must accelerate their digital transformation to meet customer expectations for better services, more flexibility and greater personalization.


Driven by new ways to shop and work online that bloomed during lockdowns, mobile data usage in Thailand nearly doubled in 2020, reaching 20GB per person per month. To keep up, mobile operators must invest heavily in their networks. And they must do so while maintaining affordability. In this context, the sustainability of network operators will depend on their ability to transform and deliver services beyond basic connectivity.

To understand how dtac is navigating this dilemma, dtacblog spoke to David Uhlenbrock, dtac’s new Head of Transformation and Business Development.

Digital First

“Digital transformation has been a hot topic for years. But there’s this misconception that you do it once and then you’re done.  In fact, we will always need to transform ourselves,” said Mr. Uhlenbrock. “As usage of digital channels grows, dtac’s ways of work must be simpler and more automated to deliver on the speed and experience customers expect. This isn’t new. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, that trend was reinforced and greatly accelerated.”

However, just as mobile users doubled their digital usage, their spending remained flat and even lower for some due to the economic impact from the pandemic. Hence, telecom operators must reduce costs while seeking new growth opportunities beyond voice and data services.

“There is a lot of potential for greater efficiency in technology modernization, from saving energy to reducing equipment rental costs. On the customer side, increasing the use of digital channels can also help reduce our costs,” Mr. Uhlenbrock explained.

When it comes to revenue growth, he predicts the emergence of entirely new business models to deliver a wider range of digital services and content to consumers and businesses. “The old model is to invest capital in infrastructure and sell connectivity. But in the future, there will be a growing need for operators to offer adjacent services to customers,” he said.

Customer-Centric Challenger

The dtac app’s monthly active users grew by 40 percent in 2020. Although driven by increased use of digital channels during lockdowns, data users also benefited from dtac’s more inclusive digital ecosystem. dtac Coins introduced new benefits for every baht spent, and loyalty programs were made equally rewarding for postpaid and prepaid users. As a result, the number of prepaid unique users and transactions doubled.

“dtac is positioning itself as a customer-centric challenger with a digital-first mindset. We want to be the operator closest to the real needs of our customers. And the one with the most personalized services,” said Mr. Uhlenbrock.

When asked the meaning of ‘customer-centric challenger,’ Mr. Uhlenbrock explained that dtac works hard to find customer needs that are not sufficiently fulfilled. The next step is to disrupt the market and delight customers with unexpected solutions to their pain points.

 “It’s not enough to say dtac has Thailand’s highest download speeds [according to Opensignal]. What do the customers really want? Speed? Coverage? dtac is becoming much more granular in our network rollouts than in the past. We now use data to analyze and predict customer behaviors site by site.”

Beyond the network, dtac’s transformation team must identify the market trends, position dtac to capture them, and find the synergies that can deliver the most value to our customers.

 “This is particularly important for 5G, where we are developing use cases to make Thai businesses more resilient,” Mr. Uhlenbrock said.

dtac is also simplifying structures created across three decades of operation, some of which are obsolete. But Mr. Uhlenbrock stresses that restructuring alone cannot achieve dtac’s customer-centric ambition. Organizations must also develop their talent pipeline, reskill employees, and foster a culture that lives and breathes for the customer.

“It’s nice to put a strategy on paper but if we don’t have the right culture and people to implement it, it’s meaningless,” he said. “It’s not only about defining values; it’s about living these values and having leaders who act accordingly. dtac is very clear on where we are headed and very clear on our values. But we allow teams to find out how they can best execute on them. Or as Jeff Bezos put it, ‘Stubborn on vision. Flexible on details.’”