Turkcell’s mobile payment system reaches 1m customers, says CIO Ilker Kuruöz

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With the initial success of Turkcell’s mobile wallet, the company is talking about international alliances, says CIO Ilker Kuruöz. It already sells its software to other operators, he tells Alan Burkitt-Gray


                      
Ilker Kuruöz, Turkcell: Company is trying out a real-time charging
system for both postpaid and prepaid customers 
              
The time to get innovations to market is one of the big headaches for chief information officers like Ilker Kuruöz of Turkcell. “We have a lot of issues around time to market— and the whole industry is struggling with the challenge of coming up with new services in order to generate new revenues.”
Turkcell is taking on the challenge — and doing more, by selling some of its products to other telecoms operators.
The whole industry, says Kuruöz, who has been chief information and communication officer at Turkcell since September 2009, is looking for new services to generate revenue as traditional sources — voice and text messages — go into long-term decline. “We are losing ground in voice and SMS.”
“We’re looking at areas such as mobile finance, and entertainment services such as IPTV and mobile TV, which provide valuable content to our customers on multiple screens.”
Turkcell already has an active mobile payment system, a project called Turkcell Cüzdan, Turkish for “wallet”, in October 2012 with the aid of Garanti Bank and MasterCard. Cenk Bayrakdar, the CTO of Turkcell who introduced the service, has now left the group and is starting a venture capital company, says Kuruöz.
“The project has been successful,” he adds. “It has been one of the most advanced mobile payment solutions. So far we have reached almost a million customers and 400,000 credit cards are linked to people’s mobile wallets.”
Those figures indicate that the project appears to be running ahead of expectations. When Bayrakdar spoke to Global Telecoms Business in late 2012 he said: “We hope to activate 500,000 users by the end of the year and we hope to have two million active users by the end of 2013.” Now, Kuruöz says of Turkcell Cüzdan: “We are pushing hard for penetration and increasing transactions.” 
              
              
Credit card link 
              
The company is promoting two separate solutions, he adds. “We have payment from the bill, which is a micro-payment solution, or if you attach your credit card to your mobile wallet, the limit is your credit card limit. If you have the limit, you can go to as much as you like.” And the system is being accepted, he says. “It’s getting more and more traction.”
The idea of offering Turkcell Cüzdan as a managed service for other operators — suggested in the GTB interview by Bayrakdar — is still being considered, says Kuruöz. “We are still in discussions with other operators on the opportunities. And we are is talks with a couple of global players about extending the partnership to other countries.”
What does the term “global players” mean? Credit card companies? Kuruöz smiles and says: “This is something we can’t say.”
But the experience in Turkey has been good so far, with penetration increasing and the number of transactions increasing. “We have a couple of new features coming in that will increase the volume of transactions.” Again, he’s unwilling to share details at the moment. “It will be a surprise,” says Kuruöz.
The wallet at the moment supports transactions based on NFC — near-field communications — which allows users to make a payment by tapping a terminal at the check-out. “Many cafés and small restaurants already support NFC transactions,” he explains. 
              
              
Web transactions 
              
“But the biggest potential is in e-commerce,” says Kuruöz. By this he means web-based transactions where — in most parts of the world — people type in their credit card numbers to complete payment and buy books, tickets for travel or events, music, groceries or other goods and services. “You can type in your telephone number without giving your credit card number,” says Kuruöz.
“It’s much more secure than using your credit card. Would you prefer giving your phone number to the e-commerce merchant or your credit card — and you give your phone number anyway, because they ask for your shipping address and phone number.”
The website has to be enabled to accept a transaction via Turkcell phone number, he confirms. Amazon does not yet have a Turkish service, but the system is being used by local online shopping sites, he says. “Many of the leading e-commerce sites in Turkey support our payment solution.”
Kuruöz takes a wide technical responsibility for the systems at Turkcell, including the OSS and BSS that are linked to e-payment services. His responsibilities at the company are “much wider than OSS”, he says. “I’m CIO and my responsibilities cover BSS, OSS, plus value added services, ERP and all IT.” And that includes services to the consumer such as the mobile wallet service.
Turkcell — which operates in eight countries and territories in addition to Turkey — has its own billing solution, says Kuruöz, who used to be a divisional manager at Garanti Technology, part of Garanti bank, and a senior manager at Accenture.
The mobile wallet is integrated with the charging system and the billing system, says Kuruöz. “Turkcell is one of the leading operators. We have 35 million subscribers in Turkey and 68 million in total. Around 38% are postpaid.”
The company is “heavily investing in charging capabilities” and the focus at the moment is real-time charging. Most operators have separate charging systems, one of prepay customers and one for postpaid customers, “but we in the process of merging them into a single solution to do real-time charging”. 
              
              
Parallel running 
              
When Global Telecoms Business was interviewing Kuruöz at Mobile World Congress the company was running the old systems and the new merged system in parallel. “We have completed the project and we are doing the quality verification at the moment. To provide a superior customer experience we believe that giving real-time charging to our postpaid customers is critical — for them to get real-time notification of when their packages expire.”
Other features that the system will provide will reduce the incident of bill shock when Turkcell’s customers are roaming, he adds. “If you don’t have real-time charging it is impossible to do this.”
This is all becoming more and more important as the number of devices proliferates, he adds.
“We all have phones and tablets and dongles, and it’s critical to share your package and keep control on spending,” he says.
Turkcell is working with Ericsson on the charging solution, using its internal technology division.
The parallel running is scheduled to run a few more months before Kuruöz is happy that it is operating satisfactorily and is confident enough in the system. “We are planning to cut over in the third quarter,” he says. “This will be a big transformation.”
It’s a challenge, he admitted at MWC. “We’ve been doing the parallel running for about a month.” So far there have been few problems, but the company has to migrate “more than 3,000” service options from the old systems to the new one. “We are having to re-test all scenarios.” The parallel running will highlight inconsistencies and there will, no doubt, have to be a few fixes to the software. “We are working hard.”
It’s a first, says Kuruöz. “Ericsson doesn’t have any such previous example” of a combined real-time charging system for prepaid and postpaid customers. “We are the first.”
However, Turkcell has already started using some of the functions that the new system provides — such as notifications to customers. 
              
              
Integrated CRM 
              
It’s not the only advanced software development going on in Turkcell, adds Kuruöz. The team is also working on an advanced customer relationship management system to integrate fixed and mobile services.
“We are trying to build a solution to integrate mobile and fixed customers, from lead generation to order fulfilment.” It’s already being tested by using Turkcell’s own staff. “We are creating mobility for our teams in the field,” says Kuruöz. “We are giving tablets to our sales executives and to our corporate sales team. This is a good example of how to use mobile technology.”
Having completed this first step, “we are getting feedback from the field”, says Kuruöz. This is an internal project, he adds, using Turkcell Technology’s 750 engineers, developing OSS/BSS solutions as well as services and products.
But Turkcell does sell its technology to other operators, he adds — naming Zain and TeliaSonera as customers for some of its products. 
              
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