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NTT Ltd's journey to digital transformation

NTT Ltd., the global leader in technology and communications, is going through an exciting digital transformation, as John Lombard, CEO of Asia Pacific, explains

Leila Hawkins
|Jul 1|magazine20 min read

In July 2019, NTT formed a new company following the merger of 31 brands, including hybrid IT consultants Dimension Data, NTT Security and NTT Communications. The merger took place with the long-term goal of, among other things, streamlining operations for their clients to move applications to the cloud; little did they know how crucial this would become for workplaces all around the world. 

"Globally we've brought together 31 different companies under the NTT Ltd. brand, and here in Asia Pacific we've brought together six companies to create this new organisation," says John Lombard, CEO of NTT Ltd. in Asia Pacific. "My strategy is to make sure that we're effectively operating across all of those organisations as a single unified team, ensuring that as we do that we're bringing in the services that our clients are looking for."

Lombard has more than 30 years’ experience of working in the IT industry, and was CEO of Dimension Data Asia Pacific for four years before moving into his current role. He describes how the company has adapted to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. "There's an immediate digital requirement that we need to implement on behalf of our clients to support this short-term pain that everyone's going through. The short-term goal is to make sure everyone's safe and healthy, and working effectively from home. But the long-term goal doesn't change, and we're making sure that we bring all of our services together in a unified fashion to our clients."

To do this the company is deploying Robotic Process Automation (RPA) across back end systems to streamline areas like finance, HR and procurement. It is also consolidating its back-office ERP with the SAP HANA database, and is making sure systems across the organisation are streamlined. "Our call centres and help centres are fully integrated, so if you're contacting NTT anywhere in the world, we're using the same system to capture all of the clients' requests, and all of that connectivity comes through a single portal." 

NTT Ltd's robust R&D department invests over US$3bn a year in computing, connectivity, cyber security, AI, and ML, as well as investing in startups through their NTT Ventures branch. "NTT Ventures is a special purpose vehicle that allows us to take strategic stakes in organisations and startups, giving us early access to some of that content. It's really important that we're constantly looking at new ideas." 

The organisation uses the concept of "inner sourcing", a term created in 2000 to describe the practice of using open source techniques to arrive at new solutions internally. "We've got lots of teams around the world building these new solutions, and inner sourcing is a way of making sure that we tap into the collective brain power of our company and our organisation," Lombard explains. "A good example of where we've done this really effectively is the Tour de France. We're the competition’s technology partner and we also have a cycling team – NTT Pro Cycling."

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Inner sourcing is a way of making sure that we tap into the collective brain power of our company and our organisation

John Lombard | CEO of Asia Pacific, NTT Ltd.

In partnership with Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), the company behind some of the world's most prestigious sporting events, NTT Ltd. built a live-tracking system connecting tracking devices on each bike to the cloud, providing real time data to broadcasters. In 2017, it began using AI and ML to make predictions on who would win each stage of the race. By capturing live data such as temperature and weather conditions and combining this with historical data from previous races such as past winners, it has been able to build algorithms that have achieved 71% accuracy in its top five predictions each day. "We can also predict the likelihood of the peloton catching the breakaway team during each stage of the tour. Compared to professional pundits we've been more accurate."

More recently NTT Ltd. announced the construction of a subsea cable that will run between Singapore, Myanmar and India. This will have the largest cable capacity in the region, at 240Tbps. 

These innovations are possible partly because of how efficient operations are now they're digitised. "We want to ensure that all the products and services we're taking to our clients are built on a standard framework so we're not giving them different solutions," says Lombard. "It allows us to have a seamless relationship with our clients. It just brings a lot more efficiency to the way that we take our services to market. It provides a more consistent client experience, and makes sure they get access to all of the best practice that we have within our organisation."

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In March 2020, NTT was in the highest ranking of the Gartner Critical Capabilities for Network Services report, and named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Network Services. "I believe this is a direct result of us coming together as a single organisation,” explains Lombard. “We're recognised as having one of the world's leading managed securities services capability.” 

This is not an insignificant feat. He explains that communication, starting from the top is key. "The Asia Pacific leadership team is very visible. We've got to make sure we're communicating to our employees, but also to our clients and to our partners, to make it really clear what we're about as an organisation. That communication has to be confident and frequent. It's also about bringing teams of people together to work on specific problems." 

Before launching the newly merged organisation, they set up "joint pursuit teams" to do just that, completing a "dry run of the new organisation before we launched it, so we could get our new culture working”.

Another important factor is ensuring cybersecurity measures are consistent both internally and for their clients. This is achieved by creating services that are secure by design, and having company policies and procedures that ensure their infrastructure is secure. "All the services we take to market, whether that's networking capability, our global data centres, hybrid infrastructure, applications, collaboration, customer experience, everything that we have is secured by design. Internally, it's one thing to have the right anti-virus and all the other technology mechanisms, but you also need to make sure that people are trained to understand their role in securing an organisation, having the right culture around security, and also having the right technology."

NTT has numerous partnerships that have been integral to its digital transformation. Lombard cites Cisco, Google Cloud, Microsoft and SAP as being very important, as well as Genesys, which is a leader in call centre technology, both in the cloud and on premise. "They provide an omnichannel experience for their client base, and that's something we very much believe in. We work well together because we're both recognised as global market leaders." 

Another long-term partner is NetApp, a hybrid cloud data services and data management company. "They're all about allowing organisations to really unleash the full potential of data across a multi-cloud environment," says Lombard. "NetApp also has a consulting-led approach to making data and applications portable and scalable, and that's important for us as well."

Additionally, NTT and Dell EMC partner to serve clients through leading technology supporting outcome-based solutions and disruptive innovation. Together they offer clients a robust set of integrated capabilities, leveraging NTT’s global service breadth and Dell EMC’s technology solutions.

Lombard is a co-founder of the #HeForShe campaign for LeanIn Asia, a network derived from the non-profit organisation of the same name founded by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg in 2013. "We're a group of executives across Asia who want to help women achieve their ambitions," he explains. "We're trying to remove both the unconscious and the conscious bias that unfortunately exist in the workplace." This sees the group hosting workshops that bring together men and women to discuss different workplace scenarios and how to deal with them, with the aim of creating a more equal playing field for women in the workplace.” 

He's also involved with Very Special Arts, a Singapore-based charity that supports people with disabilities to develop a career in visual or performing arts. "It's something I'm really proud and excited to be involved in, and something that NTT Ltd. plays an important sponsorship role in as well."

Lombard sees a bright future for NTT Ltd. "I've got some really bold ambitions here in Asia Pacific to make sure we remain the leading systems Integration company across this region, and we're well placed to be able to achieve that goal. For us leading is not just about being number one in terms of size and scale, it's operating across all of the different markets and being the geographical market leader."

On a personal note, he says he feels "blessed" to be in his role. "There's only a handful of times in your career when you get the opportunity to be involved in a large integration project, being able to lead such a fantastic organisation. To bring together all these different organisations with these incredible client relationships is one of the greatest opportunities. Here in Asia Pacific we've got such great diversity in our teams, with people representing the business across all parts of the region, getting exposed to the different cultures. Being able to drive this digital journey with those clients is so exciting." 

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