The future is built together

While technology is crucial to Proximus' work, Geert Standaert, Chief Technology Officer, believes that the key to progress in the current business context lies elsewhere: the power of partnerships.

A few years ago, Proximus made the commitment to get everyone in the country connected to high-speed fiber internet. In an increasingly digitized society, this is essential to make sure everyone has access to equal opportunities – a fact we saw underscored during the pandemic. But that same pandemic, along with the rising cost of money, made people doubt our commitments. 'It was a nice idea, but surely, it's no longer possible in these times', I heard over and over again.

To some extent, those remarks were understandable: the context in which we were doing business had changed drastically, so no one would be surprised if the goalpost had to be moved back a bit. But that's not how we work at Proximus. In fact, we never questioned our initial connectivity goal at all. We simply knew we would have to find different ways of achieving it within this new context.

When disruption becomes real

Disruption has long served as a buzzword in the tech community: plenty of tech start-ups liked to tout that they were 'disrupting the market'. Yet when the market is disrupted, all those great claims tend to disappear. Businesses become engrossed in the short-term perspective and retreat into a protective mode – everything to keep the investors on board.

I believe that this short-sightedness is detrimental. If you have a story that you believe in, a goal that you are convinced will make the world better, then that goal should not change when the going gets tough. We at Proximus believe that greater connectivity will have a positive effect on job creation, the Belgian business landscape, the future of our children, and so much more.

None of these societal impacts have become any less important – but they have become more expensive to achieve. That means we need to be smarter about how we work to achieve that goal.

Leaving old formulas behind

So how do we keep striving for our goals in this new business context? One thing is certain: we can't do it alone. We need solid partnerships with organizations that believe in the story just as strongly as we do. It means we no longer own every part of the process, nor every achievement made. But it's better to be a stakeholder in something big than the owner of something small. With our partners, we can achieve levels of investment and progress that we could never achieve alone.

Of course, this comes with its own set of challenges. More players involved means more complexity. Plus, we're all educated on conflict models in business: seeing others as competition rather than as viable partners.

It takes time, effort, investment, and charismatic leadership to change these old attitudes. But ultimately, I believe it's essential that we make partnerships and working together part of our DNA. That way we keep each other accountable, and we can work together to make society a better place for everyone.