LØRN case C0419 -

Ruza Sabanovic

Group CTO


Modernizing Telenor and society–technology as engine

Technology is globalizing now and in this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks to Group CTO at Telenor Group, Ruza Sabanovic, about how technology is changing the way we work and why culture begins with the customers. From a civil engineer's perspective, she believes that they are both the drivers and enablers of Telenor’s modernization journey. On 12 October 2015, Ruza was appointed Chief Technology Officer for Telenor Group. She described this job at the time as a great honor, but at the same time, she recognized the great weight of responsibility which rested on her shoulders. Subsequently, on 2 March 2016, Ruza was appointed Telenor Group’s EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Telenor Group.
LØRN case C0419 -

Ruza Sabanovic

Group CTO


Modernizing Telenor and society–technology as engine

Technology is globalizing now and in this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks to Group CTO at Telenor Group, Ruza Sabanovic, about how technology is changing the way we work and why culture begins with the customers. From a civil engineer's perspective, she believes that they are both the drivers and enablers of Telenor’s modernization journey. On 12 October 2015, Ruza was appointed Chief Technology Officer for Telenor Group. She described this job at the time as a great honor, but at the same time, she recognized the great weight of responsibility which rested on her shoulders. Subsequently, on 2 March 2016, Ruza was appointed Telenor Group’s EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Telenor Group.

28 min

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SS: Hello and welcome to learn. My name is Sylvia Seres and this is a podcast with Telenor. My guest today is Ruza Sabnovic wonderful lady from Montenegro who now acts as for a while has been active as the group's CTO or executive vice president for technologies and services in Telenor. Welcome Ruza.

RS: Thank you Sylvia.

SS: Ruza you have a huge international job in Telenor which I'm not quite sure what entails. You are kind of the top executive responsible for the technology and you'll have to explain to us what that means. Before we do that I'm hoping you can tell us a little bit about who Ruza is and what drives her.

RS: Georgia is Montenegrin with a strong DNA that has been living, working and studying in three continents and they've been around so living in Norway for seven years. I have actually a master of civil engineering construction engineering and I've been a teacher as well as the assistant professor at the University of Montenegro. And 23 years working with Telenor in telecommunication 22 years in the technology area I am a proud aunt of Vanya and Annika. So they're the most important person in my life. What drives me is I like challenges. I like dynamics. I don't like the status quo. I'd like to learn a lot and that supports being in technology. Actually you are exposed to every single second every single day. So that's why I'd been for quite a long time in Telenor in this area and every day every second I feel I'm doing something different.

SS: Yeah there is a huge opportunity and an immense amount of challenges. And I have to ask you what it was like to make the move to Norway to be a top executive in the very Norwegian company given your background. I don't think people realize how far a distance it is from a culturally brave move from Sigma Fredrick. I'm not even sure when you started here to get things from people from other parts of the world becoming a part of the central committee if you wish in this company. So tell us about how it happened and what it was like to get established in Norway.

RS: Yeah actually I've been in two rounds first 2008 directly from Montenegro after 12 years working in Montenegro for Telenor. And the main learning was I thought I understood and knew Norwegians in Telenor and then I was faced with quite a lot of challenges really not understanding Norwegian English the way I understood when I was in Montenegro. So just for example consider it. For me it was okay. I will consider it and give my opinions. But in Norwegian English it means you just need to do that. But that has been a great learning from me to understand the culture, the code of context of the behavior and really understand how it is to be part of big corporations. And that I spent actually three years. And after that I went to India and that was a fantastic learning for four years and then coming back. I felt I was much more established and stronger first of all understanding the different cultures and understanding how to integrate more into the different environments. And we are lucky that we are actually part of the Norwegian culture and society which is very inclusive and accepting and respecting all the nationalities of the cultures and giving the equal opportunities even if you come from Norway or Montenegro or if you are a male or female and that is something that you don't think about before you kind of get exposed to it and then reflect how it is to be Montenegrin and not in Norway. And I said I feel like I am Norwegian even though I'm not good at it. So it is actually a learning but of course it is something that we need to be mindful of and respect to the Norwegian culture, the Norwegian code of conduct. But as well appreciate their openness their let's say willingness to give everyone equal chance. And this in Telenor is very much integrated in everything that we do.

SS: I think I married a Norwegian and he's wonderful. But I've learned not to challenge his needs to be alone or introvert at regular periods and I think it's just a matter of you know different ways of maybe it's even chemistry personal chemistry I don't know. But so I've been here on and off for 30 years and more Norwegian than anything else. And it's a wonderful country that gives people lots of opportunities.

RS: That's for sure. And I think this Viking DNA of Norway is exploring and really daring the status quo. But at the same time looking for the solution to land it and listen to individual opinions. And to make some collective decision is something that is unique in Norway.

SS: Risk takers but also good sharers.

RS: Very much

SS: So what is a CTO Telenor Do.? What do you focus on?

RS: Yeah. We would like to see ourselves as the enabler of the foundation and everything what we do. So we enable all the network technology platforms from which we basically provide the services to our end users. And at the same time we are the engine of the change an engine for the growth. So we're enabling this continuous transformation and development board when it comes to the technology. But this well the way how we serve the customers.

SS: So if I translate this into a kind of Lego language so you're not building things and you're not the one who's defining the architecture for things to be built but you are the ones who defines the principles that then will be translated into architecture.

RS: Yeah. Basically we are defining and we are running the global architecture so you are putting the design principles we are working together with our colleagues at the business units in different countries to define what is the right solution. So we design the solution we saw and we work together with them to define the operating model and how we operate those solutions.

SS: So you make sure that things work globally and then you make sure that they are also adjusted locally.

RS: That's very important. Respecting all the local differences and the different requirements. And at the same time leveraging the commonalities that are across the different countries and at the same time making sure that the solutions are designed and done according to all the requirements. It's security by design in everything we do we do sourcing as well. So sourcing is a part of the technology

SS: sourcing means.

RS: It's basically how we source and interact with our partners. And the third party vendors

SS: so suppliers of technology

RS: complete suppliers are not only the technology but it's dealing both into marketing and indirect. So it's across the value chain. But when it comes to the technology itself it is from the design architecture defining the source and sourcing and putting in operation but it becomes the responsibility of the local CTOs.

SS: So you travel a lot

RS: more than 200 days a year.

SS: Right. And I mean I'm just trying to. I can't really formulate my question properly but it has to do with how do you globalize technology. Because I think very much you know a network in an efficient infrastructure for providing mobile solutions in Myanmar would have to be completely different from the one in Norway. How does one find commonalities and how does one implement differences?

RS: Yeah maybe to use your legal language you know the building blocks are the same. And particularly in that world there are a lot of standardized solutions that we can apply the way we build those blocks right varies from country to country and which blocks will be used in each country but there are a lot of global standards particular under network area. Now we're moving towards cloud infrastructure which can be replicated across. Then when it comes on the design principles when it comes to the architectural principle deployment principles when it comes to the way how do we source it created the global agreements and global price book across the Telenor so that for example it's the same price if you buy one or a million unit or it's the same price in Myanmar or in Norway. So there are a lot of synergies and a lot of things that we can do. And more importantly when you put the experts and talents together and then they work together the global way of working where we put them in the same experts team and they're working jointly for what is the best, most optimal and the most effective solution to solve the challenge that we have in the technology and deploy that. And we have invested quite a lot when it comes to developing the operating model. So we have been changing how we interact with the partners who are the right partners for us. What is the engagement model? What role do we play? What role do they play? So all of that we can replicate across and of course then adjust and accommodate to meet the local requirements and local different differentiators that we need to respect and the need to deliver.

SS: Do you get tired by the fact that it never stops. I mean this technology and the pace of change is exhausting. How do you work with that speed?

RS: Actually that's where I get the energy from. I like dynamics and in technology that's the place to be. The pace of the change and the needs of the change is just increasing and the continuous improvement needs continuous improvement and working on finding the solution every day because there are quite a lot of challenges that we need to work with and a lot of uncertainties. So how do we balance all of that business continuity and being daring to challenge the status quo at the same time deliver what matters the most to the customer is something that really excites me and it's enormous learning and I'm in my core professor and I like to learn and every second you learn. So it's not really about knowing everything but it's about learning everything. And that's the right place to be.

SS: I think that's a very good inspiration as well for a learning organization because you have to inspire that learning in all the people around you as well. And you do that well. I want to ask you about another thing. So which industry are you in. You know the positioning is challenged by customers and by other non-Telco actors that are kind of eating into your value chain you're being moved into their value chain. What do you think about strategy versus technology?

RS: Yeah actually that's the beauty of what we do now because those boundaries are getting removed and we can play the role as we wish to play from the technology point of view moving from the claws of the vertical system into the more open and horizontal opening up for that. And that's exactly the beauty we have been quite limited to in the telecommunication ICT part of the industry. But if you look at the oddity players, if you look at the whole digital industry beat up different verticals into financing in health in any transport or the production industry, we can play a significant role so it actually quite a lot opens the business opportunities of course that doesn't come on its own. It will require us to change the way how we serve them to change the way how we provide the services and how do we basically bought dare to enter into that area and how do we share the gains out of that. Because we now have true technology enablement not only to digitalize, transform the telecommunication and more from Telco to the digital operator but actually this is enabling us to digitize other industries and improve the quality of the services and life across.

SS: So as you say it's not that basically others are eating into your industry it's that everything is kind of melting and converging. And it's a huge opportunity for you

RS: and that's a big mind set change and this is a big cultural change for us coming from the telecom background because that's what is happening. We are now shifting from controlling the mind to creating a mind making us stronger to actually making the team and the whole ecosystem stronger. It's moving into a very strong collaboration and we cannot tap into the different industries. We are now going into the phase where both the private and public sector collaboration will be the key to succeed and that bridge back to the bridge which in my dream I actually dreamt that I will build the physical bridges now building the bridges between the people

SS: and industries

RS: and industries now becoming much stronger because we are now a true technology enabled to tap into that area.

SS: What are the most interesting controversies? I mean we talked a little bit about this convergence of technology and strategy and politics even but you know I don't know how you balance speed. How do you not load. How do you what would you think are what are the things that keep you awake at night.

RS: It is the pace it's the speed right. How fast how fast how relevant we are right to the customer because we need to put the customer at the center and build what we are here for it is do we have the right skills and competencies right. And how do we deploy because everything comes together and the ones who are able to do it fastest who are able to do it better and the most efficient will survive. So you cannot be mediocre in this game. You really need to be ahead and you need to perform well. So our ability to execute ability to dare to take a step but at the same time to pull back and say are we doing the right things at the right point of time is extremely important, the key to succeed.

SS: What are the coolest projects you've been working on last year?

RS: Now you can imagine cloud enablement and 5G preparing for the 5G. Everyone is talking about that but that will be the true game changer.

SS: How do you prepare for 5G and build capacity in terms of people or

RS: it is both on the capabilities and the competencies in the people front. It is in engaging with different partners to learn and to tap into their capabilities and their innovation. It is about simplifying interests forming our platforms and the systems and building networks and the platforms in shifting from the Telco to the digital architecture. And we have started actually 2016 when we embark on the shifting the whole network infrastructure into the cloud. And that journey has just started. And of course it's many years ahead of us.

SS: Do you think that being you know originally Norwegian company being based in Norway to a large extent with stakeholders gives you advantages in terms of this private public collaboration because I think for example the way that the Norwegian most educated regulators dream about 5G in Norwegian society is a huge advantage for a company like Telenor. I mean you have a willing buyer you have a willing Co-investor.

RS: I think it’s fair to say that we have the environment and the ecosystem that understands the value of being technology advanced and we know that Telenor is a hundred and sixty four years in this field and in Norway for that sake. So we do believe strongly that that is giving the advantage both when it comes to Telenor Norway but very important to mention Telenor globally that competencies engineering strong engineering conceptual thinking and not thinking today but thinking the future is actually what we capitalize when we go abroad and when we come into countries that I come from or when we go to Asia because those capabilities those competencies it's very actually rare to find them. And that's what Telenor has and we should continue to nurture for the future.

SS: You also say that you like to nurture Norwegians not just exploratory period but really almost impertinent spirit. No they don't. They're not afraid to ask why is it like this. And that's very irritating when it comes from your own children. But it's a super important thing when it comes from an organization.

RS: It's extremely important and that is one thing that your child learned from Norwegians and from Norwegian culture never to accept the answer as it is you need to understand you need to understand the rationale behind that and when you understand it then execution comes very fast. But if you are not able to explain that why nothing will move and that is actually quite important because we all are moved with our purpose right. Why am I in Telenor what do I believe in. And if I am not able to explain to myself then I will not put myself I will not be passionate about that right. And our job is challenging and it is not easy but at the same time if you really love it and if you are fully believing into it and if you are willing to dare and to try and you have the environment it is supporting that exploitative and daring culture then you just need a commitment I said to myself You need a strong discipline and hard work and results will come.

SS: Have things come.

RS: Yeah

SS: not always as you expect them but. But good things come in the end.

RS: Exactly

SS: Where do you go to learn how do you develop yourself.

RS: I am by nature curious and I am not the person that I accept no for the answer I like. It's not possible. Then I get more engaged and the biggest learning and this is I. As I said I'm construction engineer but 23 years ago I was given the opportunity to basically roll out the mobile network in Montenegro but I didn't know what the rollout was and I didn't know what mobile network was. I didn't study that at school but learning by doing by trying things and by really exposing yourself and then being mindful what competencies what skills do you need to feel from others and then in a way ability to collaborate with the other good colleagues and good expertise good partners and putting the things together and then just applying the logical physics right. Why is this not possible to happen? Why this has to be this way and continuously challenging that and trying the things and putting the let's say a different does together is something that I've been actually the main driver and the more challenging it is. I got more excited and more engaged.

SS: You mentioned the book called Who Moved My Cheese.

RS: Yes

SS: that's kind of a self-management, self-improvement book from long ago.

RS: Yes

SS: I was very charmed by it. I'm charmed that you’re charmed by it. Why do you mention it?

RS: Yeah. Because I believe it reflects at least when I think about myself internally within Telenor very well or what we are exposed every day. Right. It's a continuous change. And how do you need to embrace the change in order to survive. Right. How do you the gather kind of thing that comes its uncertainties. How do you live in the time of the uncertainties when you don't know all the answers but you still need to try different things in order to find the solution. And then how do you in those challenging and uncertain time you're still able to develop and grow and learn. So that book in my mind is like that and those three kind of attributes comes in and then I reflect how we in Telenor or in Telco industry in general our working. It fits very well. So I said either we embrace the change and continue to change and continuously work on that and continuously improve or the trees will be gone and then someone else will take that new position.

SS: Ruza, I have to ask a personal question. I am also very motivated and driven person and I get really exhausted every now and then I kind of push myself so hard that do you get exhausted

RS: Yeah

SS: and how do you deal with it. I guess may be that the real question

RS: I get exhausted. Then I get stuck. Then I don't see that I'm moving or that we are moving that if we are not able to kind of find the right solution forward but usually that lasts 24 hours. When I get into that kind of spin in the negativism and like Okay now this is it

SS: it is meaningless.

RS: But I walk a lot. So I use any opportunity to walk. And then I use that to kind of refresh my mind then I listen a lot to the music or some inspirational speeches. I'm quite religious actually and I believe in a force principle of life. And I try to follow that. The first one is whatever happened is the right thing to happen. There is a reason for it. Another one when it's over it's over don’t look back whenever we starts something is the right time to start again. Don't challenge that. And whomever we meet is the right person to meet. So when I get into deadspin

SS: you need to get into a constructive mode because then you work with the givens then you try to figure that out

RS: and then I say Okay now I can go into the defense as I call it and then see everything negative or I can go into the fight mode and I am a fighter and then I say Okay now I need to go back and what is good about this. How can I uplift myself but of course I need to be calm myself down I need to do 20 kilometres walk and I need to start thinking okay

SS: you're also human. It’s good to hear

RS: very much actually very emotional but then think OK why this has happened and what is good about it and how can we build on those small good things that I see and then suddenly you're not the horizon opposite. Oh actually this is not that bad.

SS: Maybe this was a good thing.

RS: It was a good thing you know it says that the good things has to go so the sort. The bad thing has to go so that the good things can come.

SS: Exactly.

RS: So but we don't know what good things. Yes.

SS: We don't know

RS: yes.

SS: Do you have a quote you would like to leave to our listeners as a little parting gift.

RS: I have many but maybe this one it's when you have a commitment and the discipline and hard work. The results are guaranteed.

SS: You gave me another one that I have to read because I love it. If your dreams don't scare you they're not big enough.

RS: Yes and I have a poster in my home so I carry that wherever I am and I've been moving quite a bit I can assure you of that. So I take that poster with me and it is if it is status quo I then remind myself of flat line it means you are that so that if there is no excitement then there is no life

SS: movement is what defines us. I think that comes with its own necessary risks I think

RS: that's for sure.

SS: Ruza we talked about so many things and we talked very briefly about technology from a kind of very abstract and strategic level but I think that's what we have to do. Given what you work with if people are to remember one thing from our conversation what would you like it to be?

RS: word Yeah I might be if it is one word. If you allow to

SS: you allow the whole something

RS: yes. It’s about embracing the challenge start embracing the change the charge embracing the change. Accept that that is everyday life and continuous learning and improvement is something that needs to be in a way accepted and acknowledged. But each and

SS: even enjoyed

RS: it's actually fun. If you take it as such

SS: I even think that embracing challenge is a good way of putting it because I really think that you know that's what life is. It's a series of challenges and it's about how we deal with them that really define us in the end

RS: it is

SS: Ruza Sabanovic, CTO group Telenor. Thank you so much for coming here and inspiring us about how to attack some of the biggest challenges ahead of us with a big heart and passion for learning.

RS: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

SS: And thank you for listening.

Who are you and how did you become interested in technology?

I am Montenegrin and have lived, worked and studied in countries all over the world. I’m a civil engineer and teacher and have been living in Norway for seven years now. I have always aspired to build bridges – connect people physically and now through wireless communication to wherever they are. Most importantly, I am the proud aunt of my sister’s two kids, Vanja and Anika.

What is your role at work?

Collaboration, setting the direction, engaging with people, and being hands on in the key initiatives. I need to be encouraging and motivating, get the right capabilities in place and remove obstacles.

What are the most important concepts in your technology/sub-branch?

We believe that we are both the driver and enabler of Telenor’s modernization journey. We work with partners to drive innovation and efficiency through joint projects, procurement and incorporating security in everything we do (security by design). Developing and implementing new operating models that foster global collaboration and accountability is key.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

Controversies are commonly related to ‘how fast’, ‘how relevant’, ‘how much’ and ‘how we do it’. How much effort should we plan for and how fast should we change?

What is your own favourite example of this technology?

We are currently modernizing our systems and deploying security by design and procurement. We own two strategic programmes – 5G readiness and technology enablers for digital technology – and we are contributing to others.

Can you name any other good examples, nationally or internationally?

We are also preparing for 5G, introducing cloud, staying true to our API first policy and providing partner interfaces and collaboration. Guided by our customers, we are changing the way people work and the culture they work in.

What do you think is the most relevant knowledge for the future?

For any engineer, it’s important to put the solution into a business context and to explain how it solves customers’ problems. We have to understand and drive value for our customers.

Is there anything unique about what we do in this field here in Norway?

Exploring is in the Norwegian DNA – a unique Viking trait. Norway has a long history of exploring, constantly challenging the status quo, asking “Why is it like this?”, and then testing the options and finding the solution.

What do you think is the most important takeaway from our conversation?

Follow the principles of life, keep exploring and learning, believe in dreams and yourself, and never give up. Dare to challenge and take risks. In difficult times, stay the course. Own the dream and work hard!

Ruza Sabanovic
Group CTO
CASE ID: C0419
DATE : 190614
DURATION : 28 min
’Who moved my cheese’’ by Spencer Johnson
Private and public sector collaboration
The power of understanding
"Everything starts and ends with technology. And the good thing is it never stops. It continues, and when you take actions, you immediately get feedback from that action, good or bad. This direct feedback leaves you always striving for more."
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