While the corporate university concept has become perfectly integrated into the landscape of telecommunications operators in Western countries, it is still not widespread among incumbent operators in Africa. The creation of a corporate university accelerates innovation for operators and information technology players. Experiments carried out in this area confirm the benefits of the approach in fostering a successful digital transformation.

The corporate university is a response to the indispensable transformation of telecom operators
The business models that operators, and in particular incumbent operators, have based their existence on are being challenged by the explosion of OTT (over-the-top) players and data at the expense of voice. Adaptation and transformation are inevitable. This is often difficult for the incumbent operator who is faced - in developing countries more than elsewhere - with additional constraints such as:

  • Lack of skills
  • Lack of customer culture
  • Lack of attractiveness
  • Delay in innovation

A corporate university is much more than a training institute; it accelerates transformation and innovation. In contexts where change is often seen as a threat, the corporate university enables operators to turn threat into opportunity to grow and improve. Managers are trained to better anticipate transformation and become key players.

Distant relatives to traditional universities, corporate universities implement original teaching methods based on games, creativity and collaboration. These methods reflect company values, and help explain issues at stake amidst proposed changes.

The creation of a corporate university at an incumbent operator in East Africa helped bring out a common managerial culture
Eight-thirty A.M., somewhere in the East African highlands, at premises freshly painted "Telecoms Academy" colors, all the rooms are occupied. In one, a group is making a spaghetti tower; in another, people are clustered together around a paper board; in yet another, small groups are engaged in vivid discussion. All participants are executives from the operator's organization and have come to take part in leadership and management training.

Games as a replenishing detour and spontaneous discussion form integral parts of the educational system. Feedback has been distinctly positive: a satisfaction rate exceeding 90% and a management culture based on solid foundations. The main objective is to emerge fully able to take initiative at one's organization, which is often known as hierarchical.

In-house trainers and the supervising standing team come from the operator's ranks. They are all extremely enthusiastic and proud, confident as pioneers in their country and as part of an adventure that will transform their company for many years.

Training the operator's managers to help them take ownership for company strategies resulted in increased company transformation and the emergence of a new management culture focused on human development, empowerment and collaboration. The programs defined for managers, as well as the educational mechanisms implemented - which encourage pride while interacting, collaborating and creating – create a managerial foundation of leadership and management practices which are in line with the operator's strategy.

Contrary to what is commonly seen in Europe, the management school is supplemented by two trade schools: one dedicated to technical jobs and the other to commercial jobs. The purpose is to close participant's skills gap in these areas which will help the operator make a real leap forward. There is a clear desire to train employees in technologies and methodologies, and to develop their skills to meet market and technology requirements of the future. Forward-thinking teaching principles are applied in these schools.

The corporate university becomes a place of exchange, innovation and co-construction
Infused with a special identity, the corporate university is designed as a place where skills and profiles cross-fertilize, with spaces that encourage informal interaction and trigger spontaneous encounters in a context very different from a professional environment. The structure is particularly important and must reflect the university's strategy and philosophy. For this historic African operator, the corporate university's premise symbolizes future and innovation, and stands apart from the operator's premises.

Initially a place of training, it is also a place for reflection and innovation. It is a place where teaching does not always head down the same beaten track, and where the emergence of ideas and innovative practices are encouraged through interaction with the outside world: external speakers, startups and more.

Initial results of this experience are encouraging: all managers have taken part in at least one training course per year. The catalogue has been considerably enriched and the trainers are all certified. The objective of the first phase has been achieved, and employees view training at the corporate university as motivating and a reward. In the medium-term, this is attractive and will strengthen employer brand.

It benefits the entire digital ecosystem across the country
By gradually transforming the operator's culture and working methods, a corporate university could also apply to the public environment. An example is the development of the public sector, where it could become an important tool to digitizing practices. By promoting digital uses (teaching methods based on digital channels, training in digital tools, etc.) and by capillarity, it enables development within the organization and beyond. Corporate universities are unique in the country, and could become a benchmark to develop state-owned enterprises.

This project, which Sofrecom has supported over the past two years, has enabled us to measure the impact of such a system not only on the operator but also on the entire ICT ecosystem. By developing employee's skills, a corporate university can improve ICT. In the long term, it can offer training to the rest of the world, not only to other players in the field but also to government institutions in order to support the country's digital transformation.

An entire sector is modernizing at an accelerated pace and encouraging new and collaborative management practices which magnify the appeal of operators, the sector and the country.

By Sylvie Pierrot Allain, Consulting Management & Capacity Building, Sofrecom

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