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Alan Turnley-Jones has been CEO of Dimension Data since June 2022. He joined the company in 1999 and specialized in managed cloud and infrastructure services in various roles, including serving as a member of the Dimension Data Middle East and Africa executive team from 2016. In this interview, he discusses the heritage and future of Dimension Data and the business’s broader international relationship with NTT.
Dimension Data is part of the NTT Group. The difference is just in the branding. Dimension Data was founded in South Africa 38 years ago. When NTT Ltd. was created in 2019, the Dimension Data brand was retired elsewhere in the world but retained in the Middle East and Africa. We deliver all the services that come from NTT and we’re a proud member of the NTT family.
Dimension Data had a long history of success even before the global acquisition by NTT, which stacked up your 40 years of local South African experience against 120 years of global expertise. How is your African heritage benefiting the relationship?
Since 2010, when NTT acquired us, Dimension Data – and our Middle East and Africa operations in particular – has benefited from NTT’s significant focus on research and development. Exciting new products and capabilities come to us regularly, the most recent being private 5G. Our ability to leverage the backing of a global organization with deep pockets for research and development is helping us accelerate the depth and breadth of the solutions we offer our customers in Africa.
NTT has also chosen Africa, specifically South Africa, as a talent hub for the organization. The global relationship, paired with the local skills we have on offer, is helping us with our continued growth on the continent and our investment in people and the communities we serve.
Since the acquisition, Dimension Data has brought valuable assets to the table and so has NTT. You mentioned private 5G, but what are some of the other main solutions and services entering the market?
When NTT acquired us, we were operating directly in multiple countries. We had a phenomenal ability for global and multinational clients not only to consume the same services in all their regions but also to be serviced in the same way.
NTT’s biggest footprint outside Japan at the time was through NTT Communications, which was predominantly Europe-based. Adding a brand like Dimension Data to their stable allowed growth across the Middle East and Africa, expanding their service offerings with systems integration capabilities and a Cisco partnership with global reach.
When I think about Dimension Data in the Middle East and Africa, what we've drawn from NTT is really their rich heritage and expertise in networking, and their global experience in being arguably the world's premier networking company.
We're also doing exciting work, developed in Africa, on Amazon Web Services (AWS Connect) contact center solutions. We remain committed to working with regional partners and industry leaders, but we also can't ignore what the hyperscalers are beginning to provide outside their core areas of capability. And that’s a sign that we're not afraid to disrupt ourselves.
More recently, NTT has invested in accelerating in the global data center arena, and that's becoming evident with the pending launch of Johannesburg One, their first global data center in Africa, later this year. There are also opportunities to expand this strategy elsewhere in Africa.
What we've been able to offer NTT is our rich heritage in managed services. As Dimension Data, we’re passionate about delivering to our clients, many of whom were early adopters of managed services – probably called outsourcing in that era. Those services are now being elevated to global services. For example, our SAP functional services will now become a global offering.
So, the relationship between Dimension Data and NTT has been bilateral in nature, and both sides have benefited.
The theme of “interconnected” is often mentioned in the context of NTT and Dimension Data. What does it mean?
It can mean many things. If I think about the Dimension Data business, being interconnected to NTT means that we have access to so much more in terms of research, innovation and expertise. NTT really push the boundaries at their R&D Forum events in Tokyo. We’re now an interconnected company and our clients benefit from that.
For our clients, it means the products and services we provide are becoming more and more seamless. Our organization used to be quite siloed, with multiple brands and multiple offers, so the way we dealt with our clients wasn't always standard. Now, they get a single, interconnected experience.
For our staff, interconnected means they are part of a much bigger organization. They're not just providing services in South Africa, the Middle East and Africa; they're connected across the globe through NTT.
Then there's the sense of interconnectedness that applies to the industries that we work in and the experiences we provide to our clients. As an interconnected organization, we understand retail, financial services and other industries, so we can make those connections between ourselves and our clients and give them fit-for-purpose solutions.
You have previously spoken about NTT “doubling down” on the Dimension Data business in the Middle East and Africa. What does that mean?
It means that Dimension Data is a key part of the broader NTT organization. Africa is an untapped market. NTT is investing here as part of its global data center strategy. Building a data center is a significant capital investment, and NTT’s confidence in Africa is clear from the investments they are making and the expansions they are considering.
The focus on Africa as a talent hub and destination for investment in global delivery centers is something new. Typically, such resourcing has come from places like India. Recently, in Port Elizabeth, we created 50 jobs to service North American clients, and that's an investment both in Dimension Data and in our broader society.
Then there are NTT’s products and services that we can bring into Africa. They have a significant R&D budget, and they’re quick to market with products and offers. We can’t do that ourselves; it would take us a long time and we might not get the same results. So, our clients can look forward to seeing us as a true disruptor. We could even end up disrupting ourselves! That’s a good thing, and many of our clients are looking to us for such a disruptive play.
The Johannesburg One data center is exciting from NTT’s perspective because it's their first in Africa. But it's not Dimension Data's first, so how is it different from what you've done before?
We have made other data center investments in the region, previously as Internet Solutions. As the world shifts to the cloud and the hyperscalers like AWS, Microsoft and Google localize many of their capabilities, proximity to those environments becomes important.
It's a significant infrastructure investment to run a Tier 3 data center. In the future, our clients will be in a Dimension Data suite as part of an NTT data center, with hyperscalers in the same facility and our network and others terminating there, too. That’s something we weren’t able to do before.
There's still a market for our existing data centers, but all our investment will now be in support of NTT’s global data center strategy. We will be a tenant of those facilities for our clients and work closely with NTT to fill them up quickly.
As CEO, you have to manage both Dimension Data and the broader relationship with NTT. What are the challenges and opportunities for you in this relatively new role?
The challenges facing Dimension Data are probably no different from those facing the industry. Clients are expecting us to listen with a different ear because they're now talking a different language. We've seen a shift away from talking tech-speak to the CIO and toward business-speak closer to the business. We have to change the way we listen – and quickly – so that we’ll understand what our clients really need from us.
I’ve had many client engagements since I've been in the role, and I believe we’re missing out on many opportunities, even though the market is there. So, that's one of my first priorities.
There is now an opportunity for us to truly disrupt.
As an organization, we have sometimes rested on our laurels. Again, after talking to our clients and our people, I believe we have to disrupt ourselves a little bit. We've become too complacent. If we’ve won a contract for three or five years, why wait for it to be renewed? But in this market, organizations need a managed service provider that doesn’t just serve their current needs but can also prepare them for continual digital transformation. What we should be doing is going to the client to say, “The world has changed, this has changed, we think we should do things differently with you.”
For me, that's an opportunity. We want our clients to know they are safe in Dimension Data's hands because we're not just looking at the present but also at the future. We have to be bold, agile and innovative in everything we do with our partners, our employees and our customers.
What about safeguarding the talent inside Dimension Data?
Access to talent is less of an issue because we've got great programs that continue to build the skills and expertise needed for our business and for our industry. However, retaining talent is a global challenge. That’s especially true in Africa, as much of our talent goes to other markets.
We have always been known for having the best technical workforce on the continent, and we want that to continue. But, in addition to our people in service delivery, we have a high caliber of people in our solutioning teams, our sales teams and the many teams that support them.
We’ve been thinking differently about how to remain attractive and retain our people. We’ll be announcing our refreshed employee value proposition soon and believe it will be very attractive for current and new talent. We’re excited about the people who will soon be knocking at our door!
You're going to see more investment in our programs that ensure we have the best of the best.
Is it a big job to carry forward the Dimension Data heritage?
We have to continue to embrace and celebrate our heritage while understanding where we've come from as an organization – not just as Dimension Data, but also keeping in mind the other brands that we've built along the way. We also have to keep an eye on the future and remember that change is inevitable. Marrying those two things is always a challenge.
We need to work with our entire organization, with all our people and our alumni, to do that. What Dimension Data has achieved as a globalized South African brand is incredibly powerful. We should never lose sight of that. We might change and adapt as the market requires, and we might even be called something else before our new fiscal starts, but our heritage remains important.
We’ll embrace the future because that's who we are. We are resilient. We drive relevance wherever possible.
What will be Dimension Data's biggest growth areas in the next few years?
Our growth areas will continue to be in services as the industry shifts from products to services, and we are well positioned to embrace that trend. The shift from pure infrastructure and hardware to software is also already a growth area for us. Cloud is something that will continue to grow. We and many of our competitors have had false starts in that area, but we can't ignore it and we'll see growth there.
Then there will be a host of other things that haven’t even been thought about yet. We have to be agile enough to spot and embrace those things. We must be prepared to do things and to fail at times. We don't want to be an organization that's following – we want to lead. So, we'll take what we've got today and embrace the things that haven’t been invented yet.