Azerbaijan 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Vahid Mursaliyev, CEO of Azercell, on the new Express Office model, being involved in major events, and how the company plans to expand its penetration of high-speed mobile internet.

Vahid Mursaliyev
Vahid Mursaliyev was appointed CEO of Azercell Telecom by Azercell’s Board of Directors in December of 2015. Mursaliyev joined Azercell in 2005. For 10 years, he has worked in a number of top managerial positions, including General Counselor to the CEO and Director of Legal Affairs and General Administration. Since January 2015, he has been the acting as CEO of Azercell Telecom, in addition to his main duties as the Legal Affairs & Contract Management Director. Mursaliyev is a graduate of the Faculty of Law of Baku State University. In 2000-2001, he did research in the field of American Corporate Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and took certified courses on Business Administration. He is a member of the International Bar Association and a Doctor of International Eco Energy Academy.

Azercell demonstrated its Express Office at Bakutel 2015. What are some of the services offered through this Express Office model?

At the latest BakuTel event, Azercell surprised its customers and all the visitors of the international exhibition with an entirely new retail concept and approach that they will see in all company stores in the near future. The new concept of the stand allows for one to be comfortably acquainted with our products and projects, provides a handy testing environment of the innovative solutions, and offers services for digital lifestyles. At BakuTel 2015, our stand demonstrated how Azercell products can solve common customer problems. The main goal was to inspire the consumer by offering tailored solutions. Each separate space had its own style, mood, and content. Interactive displays and features were intended to make customers learn and engage in a communal experience. Interactive elements were also developed to create tools that focus on providing the best telco examples. Shortly after the pilot demonstration at BakuTel 2015, we successfully launched our first new concept Azercell Express office at the 28 May Street Baku city center. The comfortable environment and professional personnel help the customers in their choice of any products or mobile devices. Furthermore, according to our one-stop-shop concept, subscribers are able to make payments for their phone bills, use the full range of customer services, and buy a new phone or number. Azercell Telecom was the first mobile operator among CIS countries to introduce such services to its subscribers by launching the first Azercell Express office in Baku back in 2004. Constantly expanding its network and coverage, Azercell now has 15 Express Offices operating in Baku and 35 in the regions. We also have four customer service centers in Baku and six in the regions. In general, AzEx offices in Azerbaijan have reached 50 in number. In addition, Azercell provides customer centers at Asan-1, Asan-2, and Asan-3 service centers, as well as at the service centers for Taxpayers under the Ministry of Taxes. Azercell will continue to increase the number of its Express Offices in the new concept all over the country in order to provide our customers with prompt and top-quality services.

How is Azercell looking to get involved in the Formula One Grand Prix that is coming to Baku this summer and what are your expectations for the event?

With the utmost confidence in my company, when any local or international large-scale event is held in Azerbaijan, Azercell has provided the highest-quality mobile communication services in line with world standards. This was the case during the First European Games of 2015 held in Azerbaijan, and also during the 2012 Eurovision Song contest held in Baku. Thus, our successful experience will be expanded and strengthened during the Formula One Grand Prix as well. I believe that the Azercell network will perform the best across all areas of the Formula One event. Having a reliable and strong network is our priority and the core of our business. Azercell also continues to be the largest investor in the non-oil sector of the country. In 2015, the company invested about AZN68 million in the development of telecommunications in Azerbaijan. Azercell is also a leading company in the field of technical achievements. Currently, the company owns the first and the largest LTE (4G) network in both Azerbaijan and the region. Our internet, accessibility, and customer services will be as speedy as a Formula One car.

With the largest market share in mobile operations for Azerbaijan, how has Azercell evolved as e-commerce and mobile applications play a larger role in the lives of Azerbaijanis?

Today, 4.5 million people in Azerbaijan choose Azercell. We account for 48% of the local telecoms market, and we are persistent in sustaining our leadership position. According to official statistics, smartphone penetration in the country is now 30.7%. This figure is growing directly proportional to indicators such as the economic wellbeing and IT literacy among the population. Approximately 3 million people per month use mobile applications in Azerbaijan. In order to let e-commerce and mobile applications play a larger role in the lives of Azerbaijanis, everyone in the country needs easy access to mobile internet. Making high-speed mobile internet affordable for everyone is one of our major targets, as well as increasing smartphone penetration, especially in the regions. Thus, over the past year alone, Azercell has provided up to 55% discounts on internet tariffs and held a range of smartphone campaigns and bundles. Azercell already started moving from a SIM-card selling culture to a solutions providing culture, always anticipating customer needs. Azercell is the widest provider of M2M solutions among mobile operators in Azerbaijan. M2M services are popular among individual customer groups of the company. For example, tens of thousands of energy meters for the Baku Electricity Network Company use Azercell SIM cards. We provide similar services to more than 300 companies throughout the country, amounting to over 130,000 SIM-cards. I am proud to add that we will continue our innovations in this field. In addition, the Barama Innovation and Entrepreneurship center operating on the initiative of Azercell produces a number of local applications for smartphones and it is growing every day with the involvement of new developers. At Barama, we provide young specialists with all the opportunities to create and develop their technological ideas and even organize their own business. Currently, more than 200 start-ups have applied to our center, over 60 of them have been working at our office, and more than 30 have successfully launched businesses. In addition, the first locally developed M2M technologies have been produced at our Barama Center. This includes the Sumaks system, which enables the control of various daily household processes remotely, and the recently presented Avtomaks, the first local GPS navigation service based on M2M. We have always been at the forefront of M2M technologies. My favorite app, Bookmate, was presented by Azercell in 2015 and has already attained wide popularity. It allows for access to half a million titles of literary works at any time through a mobile phone or tablet. The Bookmate app hosts more than 100 titles of Azerbaijani authors and offers classical and contemporary literature in Azerbaijani, English, Russian, and Turkish languages.

What are some of Azercell's different social projects aimed at furthering the development of education in Azerbaijan?

It is important to support corporate citizenship and responsible business. Azercell has always followed a distinct corporate social responsibility direction. We know that one cannot lead a healthy business without contributing to a healthy climate around it. Over the years, the company has supported a range of projects in health, education, sports, culture, and environmental protection. Education has always been one of our prioritized fields in our corporate social responsibility efforts. In addition, Azercell partners with the country's leading educational institutions and provides instrumental support through technological innovations. Above all, by focusing on the continued improvement of social welfare projects in our country, our new social responsibility strategy is designed to stimulate technological progress, develop young entrepreneurs in this sector, and utilize mobile technologies in education and in the application of innovative services. In this regard, the efforts and projects of the Barama Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center are of great value. In cooperation with the British Council, we have realized professional training for technical colleges across the country. Every year we organize extensive English language and professional media training for journalists. We pay special attention to students from Baku and the various regions of Azerbaijan. Every year, dozens of students receive honorary scholarships and get internship opportunities at Azercell. Over 1,200 students from different universities in Baku, as well as in the regions, have applied to these programs so far. The Student Bursary Program aims to provide support to successful students in their development as future specialists. This project, held under the sustainability strategy of Azercell, will help to strengthen the company's corporate social responsibility activities and contribute to the welfare of our society.

The Parliament of Azerbaijan held successful elections in November 2015. How can this election help continue government support of innovation in the ICT sector of Azerbaijan?

Governmental support is important for SMEs and also necessary for the big businesses of the country. The State Fund for the Development of Information Technologies, operating under the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies, is an important body that stimulates the ICT field and provides financial support for the expansion of scientific research. We are glad that this foundation makes the necessary efforts to attract investments that provide for the production and technological cooperation between domestic and foreign companies operating in the ICT field. Also, the organization of conferences, seminars, exhibitions, and other international and local events is valuable.

What is your outlook for the year 2016, the 20th Anniversary of Azercell?

As the most preferred mobile operator in Azerbaijan for the last 19 years, Azercell will aim to provide superior-quality mobile communication services in the country, maintain a high level of professional customer care services, introduce the latest technologies, and ensure access to high-speed and affordable mobile internet for everyone. Experience shows that there is not a big difference in timing between the application of the newest technologies in developed countries and Azerbaijan. For example, the launch of 4G in Azerbaijan by Azercell in 2012 was far earlier than in many of developed countries. The future is in mobile internet. Thanks to this technology, a number of new solutions will emerge in everyday life that will change the way businesses are managed. Azercell will stay faithful to our strategy of bringing world-leading technologies to Azerbaijan and continue pleasing our customers in the most beneficial way in 2016.