Thuraya: New Innovation Exec Talks Product Development Post SatSleeve
[Via Satellite 11-07-13] In September, MSS operator Thuraya appointed Randy Roberts as its new vice president of innovation. In the newly created role, Roberts will oversee product development, product management and solutions engineering. Thuraya has brought interesting products to the market such as SatSleeve, a product that turns an iPhone into a satellite smartphone. In a detailed interview with Via Satellite, Roberts talks about what innovation Thuraya will look to bring to market next.
VIA SATELLITE: What would you say are the unique challenges of this role?
Roberts: It is unique that in the mobility sector, there is a lot of pressure on technology companies to come up with new innovative, game changing products all the time. Apple has been a good and bad thing in this way, as they have set expectations so high. I think there is an opportunity to bring some of that innovation which has become commonplace in the carrier world and in applications, to bring some of that to the satellite industry by Thuraya. Particularly if you look at time to market in the satellite industry, it takes a long time to bring new devices to market. It takes years. In other parts of the mobile market, it takes months or weeks. We have to get the pace of innovation going much faster. I think this is going to be one of the main challenges. But, the good news is that Thuraya has already shown the capability of getting to market much faster with innovative products like the SatSleeve, which launched in March. The mentality is for Thuraya to get things out faster, and this is a good place to start. Hopefully, as we go forward, we will leverage and maybe even improve on that to get things to market faster. We want to start to think about things we could bring to the table. People on the terrestrial side already have an expectation around applications and things they want to use on their devices in a GSM world. Why would a consumer not want to do similar things with a satellite device? This will be a challenge but I think there is a huge opportunity for us.
VIA SATELLITE: Thuraya has been pretty innovative with the SatSleeve. Why do they actually need a Vice President of Innovation?
Roberts: I think it is because there is such an opportunity to be a game changer in the satellite space, whether it is in terms of networks, devices or applications. SatSleeve is the first example of us being able to do that. But, we will have other examples also. It really comes from the top of the company.
VIA SATELLITE: What are the initial projects you will be working on?
Roberts: We have got a couple of things we are working on. We are building on the success of the SatSleeve and evolving that concept is one thing we will continue to work on. Secondly, we have a very strong voice business with Thuraya, but we are looking to target verticals like maritime and aero, and bring some new products to market, either with Thuraya or with partners. There are certainly some things we will be able to do on our own, but we will continue to look for potential partners and bring new solutions to market. New verticals are one place where you will see us do that more. Lastly, I mentioned the parallels with the terrestrial mobile space. I think another focus area will be consumer behavior, not just satellite consumer behavior, but consumers in general, and looking at what they are doing with an iPhone, a Windows phone, and how can we take advantage of that and offer them solutions. For example, they want to continue to use messaging applications on their handset. We need to enable that. We need to focus on overall consumer behavior and how we help them get the things they want done.
VIA SATELLITE: As a new role, what are the key metrics/expectations? What do you hope to achieve in the first 12 months?
Roberts: We hope to build on our sales in recent quarters. We are showing revenue growth in areas where our competition is showing a decrease. We already have the momentum in the right direction. You will see us supporting the sales growth we have already seen. You will see us evolving the portfolio we have bought to market. I can’t be real specific in terms of timelines, but in the first 12 months you will see more value first solutions coming to the marketplace. We are engaging our service partners in unique ways now. Another area of innovation you are going to see over the next 12 months, is engaging MNO’s. We are already working with Smart Communications in the Philippines and Optus in Australia to actually distribute the SatSleeve, for example.
VIA SATELLITE: You mentioned that part of the culture of the satellite industry is taking a long time to bring products to market. How can you change something that is so embedded in the industry’s DNA?
Roberts: We are looking to get to market faster. We want to engage software developers, i.e., the solution providers. The company has a culture that has changed. On the product side, and going from my background in terms of the terrestrial mobile side, there are a lot of ways to introduce new solutions to the marketplace for our customers. Handsets are one way of doing that. But, schedules are what they are. Still, we want to offer software and applications in a much faster way. For example, we could offer accessories with some of our products that could make things easier or add value. When I talk of going to market faster, I am not solely talking about handsets, I am talking about developing an entire eco-system for the end user, so for example we could bring out some new hardware one month, and then some new software the following month, and an application the following month, etc. We will develop a roadmap that is constantly delivering pieces of value.
If you look at Apple, they may only launch a new handset every six months, but they are constantly adding applications, accessories etc. We need to think that way and deliver those kinds of things. That way we can add a lot of value.