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CNBC Transcript: Vegard Aas, Head Of Innovation, Telenor Group


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Vegard Aas, Head Of Innovation of Telenor Group. The interview was broadcast on CNBC on 27 April 2017 at 09:40AM SG/HK Time, during CNBC's "Hong Kong versus Singapore" theme week.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Dan Murphy, Correspondent, CNBC.

Dan Murphy: so let's bring him in now. Vegard, great to get you in on Squawk Box, welcome.

Vegard Aas: Thank you.

Dan: Now, you have been in Singapore. The business has been in Singapore and in the Asian region for some time. I think you first came here in the 90s, to be exact. But up until recently, and more recently, I should say, you've made a push into Singapore. Why the pivot into Singapore, and why now?

Vegard: Yeah, so Telenor is one of the world's major mobile operators, we have two hundred and 14 million customers worldwide and 90 percent of them here in Asia. And this is where we see much of the growth going forward, and while we have done innovation locally in different markets up until now with accelerators, working with start-ups, we see Singapore as a great place to help them push and help them scale across the region.

Dan: And what makes this ecosystem more compelling over rivals like Hong Kong?

Vegard: Think Singapore has three major advantages. First, there's digital talent. Singapore was recently named a top place to be for digital talent worldwide, which is one of the things we want to tap into. Secondly, the ecosystem areas is strong. Like you mentioned, with the Block 71, a lot of government initiatives. It's very easy to set up shop here. Just today, there was launched a new governmental fund, one billion fund, to help start-ups scale. And then also the kind of venture capital coming into the region, very strong capital, so it's easy for companies to get familiar, and to scale from Singapore.

Dan: And when it comes to your work in the region, more broadly. Like most telcos you're under way with this journey of transition, if you will, into new drivers of growth. Away from traditional voice and data services so to speak. So what work are you doing with some of the start-ups here in Singapore, and what can they offer the business?

Vegard: So I think for Telenor, innovation is becoming kind of core at everything we do. We're transforming from being just a mobile operator into being a full digital service provider, providing digital opportunities for all in Asia. And I think we need to, we see an increase in competition from the internet giants right. And the share of consumers' minds, you need to stay relevant on a daily basis which means we have to offer much more relevant products to our customers.

Dan: Is it getting harder to stay relevant?

Vegard: It is. The competition is getting much, much harder. So that means we need to both work with innovation internally with our internal program called ignite, where we basically have employees tap into their great ideas and insights, to come up with new products. And also work with start-ups and partners in the region to help build those projects together.

Dan: So when it comes to promoting innovation within the company, how do you actually do that? Is it programs like ignite, for example, where you know you're working with a number of stakeholders there, or do external forces also come into play? How do you promote innovation within a business like Telenor?

Vegard: So I think it's many factors to it. But I think one of the key things for Telenor is a great push from the top, from the CEO and the top management team, that they really believe in this. I think that it's at our core, everything we do. So that push from the top. And then it's more of a cultural issue right, being able to build that innovation culture. Taking the old telco mindset, we feel it's a bit, kind of conservative industry, we usually have two-year projects way back and long timelines and so on. We really need to learn more of the start-up mentality. Test out a lot of things, listen to the customers, test out cheaply, and scale if it works, kill it if it doesn't.

Dan: Norwegian business at heart, but 90 percent of your customers are actually here in Asia, which really reflects the new growth drivers for the business. What role does innovation play when it comes to tapping into those new markets where telcos are all expanding now?

Vegard: I think it's key, because as I said, the competition is increasing, we need to stay relevant for our customers. And meaning, we need to do much more product stuff that they interact with on a daily basis. But we also need to use innovation into our core process system, how we deliver the main service, to be more efficient. And so I think innovation is at the very core of everything we do.

Dan: Then Singapore is the right place to be.

Vegard: Absolutely.

Dan: Thank you Vegard, appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us on Squawk Box. Thank you.