A leader in network performance

CMC Networks provides and enables connectivity and solutions across the entire African continent and Middle East region

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Marisa Trisolino, the CEO, shares how the company has established itself as a world-class telecommunications behemoth and managed to stay current in a very competitive industry.

What are the values that the company is built on and how do you ensure they are incorporated into every project?

Integrity. No matter the scale of the project—internal, external, customer-facing or not—it is dealt with the underlying thread of integrity. Once this value is baked into any organisation, it drives productivity, job satisfaction, collaboration amongst the internal business units and trust with our customers and shareholders. I am a strong advocate for delivering a high work ethic. If you can’t pass the red face test well then there is a fundamental issue. The CMC team probably has one of the highest work ethics I have encountered.

What does being a global telecommunications carrier entail?

CMC’s wholesale customers or VNOs are located in various locations globally. And, naturally, with each remote location comes a different operating culture, language(s), mannerisms, and political nuances—thus, we, like every other telco, need to ensure we deliver a global solution with local know-how and understanding of the respective market at hand, and quickly. When our customer asks for a solution in Mali vs one in the United Kingdom, for example, CMC needs to ensure ease of doing business and speed to market. The complexity of any solution needs to be removed, regardless of the location, and CMC does this remarkably well.

A key and unique selling proposition is that CMC Networks is a carrier-neutral vendor, which does not participate in the enterprise telecommunications space. Why is this important?

CMC is not here to challenge the top tier virtual network operators. On the contrary, we are here to provide a winning solution to support our VNOs.

By removing ourselves from the enterprise space, we are also removing any form of channel conflict. CMC is one of a handful of operators that holds this operating model and probably the only one in Africa, if I am not mistaken. As a result, CMC is seen as a “go-to partner” instead of a competitor in the market space.

Since its establishment in 1989, what has CMC’s evolutionary journey been over the years? How has the company changed/improved?

CMC Networks has grown from strength to strength. Consider that almost 30 years ago, this was a one-man show, and now look at the scale and network capabilities we hold today. CMC has the largest Pan-African network with 78 POPS alone across 50 countries—keep in mind, there are only 54 countries in Africa.

We have a further 14 POPS in the Middle East, so in total, an excess of 100 POPS across the various continents. CMC continues to grow and continue our journey in unleashing our full potential.

February 2017 ushered in one of the company’s most important milestones to date. Can you tell us about it?

This was a considerable milestone indeed. Almost two years ago, the Carlyle Group became a majority shareholder. With the backing of one the largest and most reputable equity investors globally, it compounded CMC’s standing in the marketplace.

How do you ensure that CMC stays current and competitive in a very dynamic industry?

It’s very simple: CMC listens to what our customers need and we move fast. In parallel, we stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape. The increasing requirements of the various flavours of IP and SDN/SD-WAN solutions have been the hype in North America, Europe and AsiaPac for a good two years now. In Africa and the Middle East, you feel the ripple effects of these trends creating a shift in the customer requirement from a secure and predictable Layer 2 and MPLS service to a variation of IP solutions along with SDN.

And as I said, CMC is a very agile company and as a result, we can be boastful today, with an impressive basket of Internet offers, MPLS and Layer 2 products. Our customer has the choice and flexibility to create their own SD-WAN service along with the best-in-class supporting SLAs.

What industry insights can you give us regarding the local and global telecommunications sphere?

One can be a local or global player—at the end of the day, all telcos are all faced with the same challenges.

No matter if you are a top tier 1 operator or a local player in the Cote d’Ivoire, we all need to work around wayleaves, cost concerns, competition, political landscapes and keeping the customer happy.

What impact has the Fourth Industrial Revolution had on CMC and the industry as a whole?

Tech companies have grand ambitions of leapfrogging, which is skipping past older technologies that were never implemented, straight to the newest. Artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, M2M and blockchain are all part of this revolution. The African continent has embraced this and, naturally, so has CMC. We have assisted private cloud developers and local ISPs to deploy cloud services in the countries they operate in, resulting in uplifting economies and connecting the unconnected. CMC is at the forefront of the latest technology deployments across Africa and we will continue to challenge ourselves to maintain this position.

The vision of CMC is to be the underlying one-stop connectivity partner of choice. Can you elaborate?

Historically, the carrier customers CMC supports have, by their own admission, made two fundamental mistakes in supporting their end-customers’ (MNCs) connectivity needs. Going to multiple vendors to guarantee diversity and monitoring each link independently, simply do not achieve the end customers SLA requirements.

At CMC, we focus on site (not link) availability; we are able to offer 99.99% site availability across Africa by being vendor agnostic and having access to multiple vendors, mediums and technologies, notably our SD-WAN enabled core enabled by 128 Technology and Kontron’s Symkloud platform. We do not believe there is another provider that can offer this value and hence “Our Vision. Your Future” will be aligned with this desire to be the one-stop partner of choice.

How do you keep up with innovation as it progresses and incorporate it into already outlined products to meet customer demands?

Any and every customer demands the best quality, lowest latency and cost, and rightfully so. In hand with the data usage skyrocketing globally comes high bandwidth costs. CMC had to revamp our strategy to accommodate this change. As a result, we established a unique SD-WAN solution that addresses the unique challenges of the MEA market. For this purpose, CMC partnered with 128 Technology and Redvine. Together, we have developed a unique solution that makes use of any tunnelling, resulting in a bandwidth saving of 30% to 40%, compared to other SD-WAN products. This, together with the unique features 128 Technology developed to improve the reliability and quality of choppy Internet links, allows CMC to address the challenges of the MEA market, with lower cost and better quality.

The technology we deployed in our network, together with the wide coverage of CMC’s network is unmatchable in terms of quality, price and speed of deployment. CMC has a vast number of products and solutions that we keep redefining to ensure we deliver on the most recent technologies. Take a look at the CMC website: www.cmcnetworks.net

What are the main challenges you face as a telecommunications provider?

Allow me to address this question specifically to the African and Middle Eastern market. Many major coastal cities are connected via undersea cables. Remote cities, factories and other facilities etc., require Internet connectivity and these suffer from high-cost and low-quality lines. Multiple factors are to blame here; regulated markets in many countries continue to keep IPLC costs high or monopolised and secondly, distances remain huge between locations in MEA. This drives the extensive use of high-latency and low-bandwidth links like satellite and 3G networks. These unique challenges, due to latency or the lack of regional hubs or routes, are inhibiting cloud adoption. But, in the same breath, CMC tackled these unique challenges in MEA with the rollout of our SD-WAN.

What separates CMC Networks from other companies in the industry?

I can confidently say there is no remote site, hard-to-reach location or complex solution that CMC cannot develop, implement or deliver. And, as you know, we are speaking of the most complex geographies globally. Just the mere size of the African continent alone poses a challenge. Not many operators can say they provide network coverage across 50 out of the 54 countries. In fact, no single operator in Africa can, apart from CMC.

On top of an amazing network that we manage, we have an amazing team here at CMC. We have a strong overriding can-do attitude that delights our wholesale customers daily and, secondly, we deliver on speed to market. We have phenomenal cycle time deliveries on new installs—and, yes, there are the anomalies where we are faced with force majeure, natural disasters, but this is partly why CMC is successful—we have long-standing relationships with our 200 plus vendors alone in Africa. So, within a very short time, we have a solution at hand no matter what the issue entails.

Please could you provide us with your educational and career background? What inspired you to get into this line of work?

This coming July, it will be one year since I joined CMC Networks. The wholesale telecom industry is one which I am quite familiar with. Prior to CMC, I held and enjoyed a variety of roles at AT&T over a period of 21 years, which, in hindsight, was preparation for the role I am in today. AT&T is a great company to have worked for, and I am equally fortunate now—CMC Networks is a fantastic fast-paced company, energised by a dynamic team of employees—I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of this.

As the CEO, naturally, you are involved in every aspect of the company—what fuels your passion for what you do, and what is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I am passionate about seeing people succeed. The success of CMC’s customers and CMC employees is important to me.

There is nothing more magical than seeing it all come together, ensuring our customer has the ability to win a large tender, increase market share, or see talent within CMC develop, grow and succeed.

How does your leadership style help to motivate your staff and what have been your secrets for driving the growth of the company?

There are a few things that come to mind, apart from a high work ethic. Transparent communication, accountability and equipping the teams are all equally important.

To keep up with the market trends and the needs of the customer, change is required, which goes without saying. The sooner the teams come to understand the “why” behind the required change, the sooner they will understand how to embrace and accelerate the actions. Clear communication, in this case, is more than essential, and ensuring each employee understands their value, and how their specific role fits in and contributes to the bigger picture.

This drives accountability. And when the team feels the energy and where we as a company need to get to, that’s when the magic happens.

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