APPLIED Information Management Services Sdn Bhd (AIMS) chief executive officer Afzal Abdul Rahim had been aiming for the company to be the leading telecommunications hub in South-East Asia and his wish is expected to come true this month.
The company had been rated in South-East Asia as the number two hub for the last year but some analysts believed that it could secure the top spot soon.
“Malaysia lost out because Singapore deregulated much earlier than us. When Singapore liberalised early, a lot of the international telecommunication companies decided to choose Singapore as a transit point, thus bypassing Malaysia.
“We tried to build our own critical mass because of our larger population. This is our role in helping Malaysia gain its position as a potential telecommunications hub in the region,” Afzal told StarBiz.
AIMS is a tele-housing or carrier hotel, hosting various telecommunication service providers. “We are to the telecommunications industry what airports are to the airline industry,” Afzal said.
AIMS enables local domestic carriers such as TM, Maxis, Time, Digi, Fibercomm, Fiberail and Celcom to provide services to the next level of service players such as NasionCom, REDtone, Nextel and KeyWest by interconnecting each other in a neutral facility.
At the same time, it also hosts international telecommunication companies that can tap on the local telecommunication companies' infrastructure for better connectivity.
“When we started the carrier hotel business in 2000, we had one carrier with us; and now we have 91 carriers, more than 10 times that of our competitor.
“AIMS is home to more than 85% of service providers, making it the largest aggregation point of the telecommunications network in the country. Therefore, we are the number one carrier in Malaysia, and this month, we are officially recognised as number one in South-East Asia,” Afzal said.
However, the road to the top has not been smooth.
Afzal joined AIMS in September 2000 when the company was suffering from losses. At the age of 21, he came on board together with Gan Te-Shen, who is now the business development director. AIMS, a subsidiary of My-Infotech Bhd, was established in 1990 and was one of Malaysia's first private Internet service providers (ISPs).
He said the losses started after AIMS lost a contract with General Electric to manage electronic data interchange in 1994. Its venture as an ISP did not work out as well, because it was not properly managed.
“After that, the company lost focus in its operation. It was difficult times then, and when I came on board, I plotted a path for the company but no one believed in the business plan,” Afzal said.
Afzal realigned the business structure and its operations. He helped transform the company into a more focused, fast moving and growing business.
“One of the challenges faced was identifying dead business versus potential business. We focused on what we can do best. We also downsized the staff,” he said.
AIMS took on a new core business in data centre that was introduced by Afzal and Gan. AIMS became an infrastructure provider to telecommunication companies.
AIMS' core services are co-location (providing access to major domestic and global carriers), Internet protocol (IP) transit (providing high quality connections to regional and global Internet backbones) and engineering support (providing value-added services and project deployment and management for new co-location tenants).
Within nine months after Afzal joined the company, the finances were back in the black. The company's revenue has also grown by 4.5 times since then.
Afzal does not take all the credit. He attributed the success of AIMS to his employees who worked as a team.
His management style is inclusive and there is not much formality in the working environment. He listens to his workers, especially those who are passionate about their work, and ensures that the people and company stay on course.
Afzal hopes AIMS will be the dominant Layer 3 player in the region within the next five years. The company recently launched the IP transit service, and the big players are moving into Layer 3 (wholesale of Internet connectivity and transmission).
In addition, the company will be doubling the size of its data centre from 5,000 sq ft currently.
A graduate from University of Sussex in Mechatronics Engineering, Afzal previously worked with Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd, managing its research and development division. He has also worked with Lotus Group PLC and his contribution included strategies for new product development, technology transfer and synergies as well as business development in South Asia.