Q & A with Vaughn Brown — APUA TELECOMS BUSINESS UNIT MANAGER

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Telecommunications and new technology has been rapidly expanding and impacting all sectors of the island’s economy. APUA is the primary provider of an all-encompassing suite of Telecommunications and Technology services across the island and has positioned itself to be the leader in the integration and introduction of new and enhanced cutting edge technology across all sectors.

Vaughn Brown – is the recently appointed Manager of APUA’s Telecommunications Business Unit charged with the mandate to position APUA to take advantage of the new opportunities, grow its business and increase the delivery of services to the wider community.

Business Focus had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Mr. Brown where he shared his thoughts on addressing some of the many issues and challenges as he leads his team to make APUA the preferred telecommunications services provider in Antigua & Barbuda:

BF: Congratulations on your recent appointment as Manager of APUA’s Telecommunications Business Unit. Share with us your experience and passion for technology leading to your growth and current role at APUA?

VB: “I’ve had some twenty plus years experience in the industry. I started at APUA back in the 90’s. I actually started as a summer intern. I don’t think the programme back then is as developed as it is now. Needless to say, I was an intern. I started back then doing PABX’s for APUA telecoms and that was when I was doing my first degree. I actually thought I was going to be doing power systems when I was in school, but turns out I ended up in telecoms and twenty plus years later, I’m still here. The good thing about that, in working with PABX’s back then, it got me excited as to what it is that technology can do and it kind of piqued my interest, so I stayed there.

When I eventually got out of school I was fortunate to get employed by APUA. I did some more work at that point in PABX’s and so on, and then I eventually moved on from that area into something called ISDN, which was the predecessor to the Internet service we have now. That is basically what we used to use back then to provide some of the data services required for the then developing gaming sector.

After that, I got involved into data services, computers and networking, that lead to the formation of the data services department. When the data services department was created back then we were primarily providing data service for the gaming sector and one or two other agencies that needed data services.

Subsequent to that, we developed the INET platform, which I was very much involved in: the design of it, the deployment of it, and so on. It was, if I can say, one of my babies. Subsequent to that as well, we also did some work on mobile.

Through my several years here at APUA I’ve been through pretty much all the different areas that telecommunications covers and its an exciting arena. It’s a really interesting field, and one that continues to interest me as it is also in keeping with my interest in engineering. It’s been a fun journey. I’ve benefited from working alongside some really smart and interesting people and I’m hoping that I can provide a similar experience for some of the employees within the telecoms department right now.”

BF: In this new position, what is your mandate from the Board and Management of APUA in growing and developing the Telecommunications Business Unit  and what is the proposed approach to realizing these goals?

VB: “With my position at APUA right now, I report to the General Manager who, of course, then reports to the board and so basically, the direction I’d receive would be coming through his office. The focus on APUA telecoms is to, again, become the premiere telecoms provider in Antigua. It’s a position that we enjoyed previously, probably can’t say definitively, at the moment, that we are the leading telecommunications industry, but that’s definitely the position we want to regain. And it’s not from the point of view of looking at it through the APUA lens per se, its from the point of view of the customers; we want to get back to that position where customers view us as the premiere telecommunications company. Getting there would mean that we have to provide the customers with the products and services that they desire, at a price of course, that they can afford. That’s looking at it from the customer side of things, but in terms of APUA as well, we do have a mandate, to ensure that the employees who are working here, can be employed somewhere that they can enjoy and have some kind of reward and satisfactory  professional life. Finally, and not least important, is to improve the financial position of the organization. We’ve struggled in the past couple of years and we definitely need to improve in terms of our finances as well.”

BF: What is the proposed investment and expansion strategy to move ahead with this process and position APUA as the market leader in relation to the company’s domestic competition?

VB: “APUA is investing significantly in our market. We have investments planned to the tune of several million dollars to improve the products and services provided, and also to improve our operational capabilities as well. So we’re building up and we’re also trying to strengthen the organization.”

BF: How is the APUA Telecommunications Business Unit being structured and reorganized to ensure the efficient delivery of current and proposed new and expanded services?

VB: “APUA has been in operation for several decades. It has provided us a rich bed of experience for the authority and over the years, we’ve been adapting to market conditions. What was required of us then is the same that is required now. We see other operations in the jurisdictions and they’ve transformed their businesses from an engineering focused entity to one that that is more market driven. That kind of impetus is required here at APUA as well. Just from the ability to be able to compete effectively, marketing has to play a much stronger role than it has played previously. We need to improve in terms of the marketing area and to that extent; we have already started some restructuring exercises in the products and marketing division.

As of June, it was the first time we’d actually have product officers in place. They’re currently being trained now and we expect to see some improvements in terms of our sales capabilities – we’re strengthening that. Our strong point has always been engineering and even that is undergoing some “tweaking”, if you want to call it that. It’s quite a bit of restructuring, reorganizing, that we are undertaking at the moment.”

BF: Technically skilled people are at the center of the delivery of new technology and services.  What programmes have been developed and implemented to ensure the relevant skilled personnel are available to support your efforts?

VB: “APUA has been, traditionally, pretty strong in terms of training internally. We actually have a training officer whose obvious mandate is to look into training. Training continues all the time inside the organization, and we bring in external help in terms of trainers from time to time. Right now we actually have a system in place with ABIIT where we have a number of employees who are currently enrolled in programmes there. Primarily, it is from a technical standpoint, but we also do a lot of training in the other aspects of the business as well.

BF: The Government of Antigua & Barbuda has confirmed that the new Telecommunications Act will be coming into force resulting in liberalization of the Telecommunications Industry. How is APUA preparing for Liberalization and what are some of the changes we can expect?

VB: “My argument would be that we are already somewhat liberalized right now. We do have open competition pretty much in all aspects of telecommunication: voice services, mobile services, data services, and television services. So I guess what the Telecommunications Act will probably bring is some more rules to govern the market place. From an APUA standpoint we are already competing with the others and we definitely can continue to compete once the rules are put in place with Telecommunications Act. What I will say though, is that over the years the telecommunications division of APUA has provided funding for the other two entities – our brothers, electricity and water, and whatever these rules are that are put in place, it just needs to consider these responsibilities as well that are placed under the telecommunication unit of APUA.”

BF: Customer Service is a critical component of the Telecommunications Business Unit and its interface with current and potential customers. What are some of the new initiatives you intend to or would like to see introduced to reinforce and enhance the company’s relationship with its customers?

VB: “From our standpoint, we think that customer service is key to us being able to compete effectively in the market place so we think that that’s one of the pillars we need to build pretty strongly in our portfolio. We are putting measures in place to empower our consumers even more, some of which I alluded to earlier. We have a call center which we operate providing that “human touch” as opposed to the automated systems that are out there. Even though the technical side is there, allowing for the consumer to do their own management of themselves, we definitely think the human side of it is also important. We are continuing to train our Customer Service Representatives, and other staff to work along with our customers and its not just from a CSR standpoint, we’re also trying to build that into every aspect of our business inclusive of our technicians who go out into the field to work with our customers.”

BF: With the rapid expansion and introduction of technology across all sectors, many of your customers and the wider citizenry are being disadvantaged by not being able to relate to and use technology. This is particularly applicable to the elderly and less tech savvy persons. How is APUA Telecommunications proposing to address such issues as it can clearly strengthen the relations and loyalty with this sector of your customer base?

VB: “From an APUA standpoint that’s where our processes that we have in place can assist; there are other initiatives that we have in place internally and as we roll out more new products, what will happen is that we will have educational programmes that go along with these.”

BF: What is your vision for the APUA Telecommunications Business Unit over the next decade?

VB: “We have quite a few ambitious short term goals, there are a number of things we want to accomplish – the reorganizations, products and services that we want to bring to the market and assuming we get those things in place, I’m expecting that over the long haul the organization will become a bit more dynamic and efficient going forward where we’ll be able to meet and surpass the needs of our consumers. I expect at that time that we will be able to achieve our goals of enjoying the predominant mindset of our customers, becoming that premiere technology company in Antigua. You never know, we might even become a regional outfit by that time.”

BF: Any final comments you would wish to make?

VB: “I’d like to just thank all the customers who have supported APUA over its entire journey. Without customers we would not be anywhere. For those of you who have remained loyal to us, thank you for your support. And we look forward to converting those who are not our customers as yet, in having them join our APUA family. To our employees, I just want to say thank you. We’ve started quite a bit of work over the not too distant past and the support of our employees and management in that journey has been tremendous. I have to say thank you and well done to all of the employees within our organization.

To the Antiguan public, we will continue to relentlessly and tirelessly pursue that pinnacle of satisfaction that we aim to achieve.”

The Business Focus Team offers our best wishes to Vaughn Brown and his talented and capable Team at APUA Telecommunications Business Unit every success in their efforts at bringing modern telecommunications and technology to Antigua & Barbuda and its citizens.  •

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