Fibre-Optic Futures: Tony Geheran on TELUS’ Role in Smart Cities

Small Business Canada

In an interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Tony Geheran, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer at TELUS, shares insights into his leadership journey and the company’s strategic initiatives. Tony’s diverse experience within TELUS, including overseeing the Customer Technology Excellence team, has been instrumental in driving the company’s digital transformation, focusing on delivering seamless customer experiences and ensuring a responsible approach to innovation. Under his guidance, TELUS has made significant strides in integrating technological innovation with environmental sustainability, notably through its commitment to net carbon neutrality and the transformative PureFibre deployment. Tony also highlights the impact of these initiatives on smart cities and real estate, emphasizing TELUS’ role in enhancing customer trust through advancements in cybersecurity, AI, and privacy. Looking ahead, Tony foresees continuous evolution in the telecommunications industry, with TELUS maintaining its leadership through differentiation, diversification, and a relentless focus on customer needs.

As TELUS’ Chief Operations Officer, Tony Geheran leads Customer Technology Excellence (CTE), a team dedicated to enriching people’s lives through the power of technology. Together, they steward TELUS’ digital transformation and manage every aspect of our network infrastructure, elevating customer trust through resilient services and seamless experiences. CTE also drives TELUS’ leadership in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and privacy, ensuring a responsible and human-centered approach to innovation that helps make the future friendlier for all.

Tony has held several leadership roles since joining TELUS in 2001. Most recently, he was Executive Vice-President and Chief Customer Officer of Customer Service Excellence, responsible for elevating our Mobility and Home Solutions customer experience. Tony has a wealth of experience in the telecommunications industry, having previously led several teams in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Tony is a graduate of the Cranfield School of Management with a Diploma in Professional Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He holds a Professional Certificate in Business Administration from Open University and received his Professional Qualifications in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering while serving in the Royal Navy. He proudly supports the Vancouver General Hospital and University of British Columbia hospital foundations.

Can you share how your various roles at TELUS have shaped your approach to leading the Customer Technology Excellence team?

A common thread throughout my various roles over the past two decades has been never losing sight of why we’re here. We’re a technology business, yes, but it’s the experiences and outcomes we enable for our customers that matter most. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that the best ideas don’t always come from the top, and that it’s important to be approachable, listen to people and give their ideas a chance. I’ve grown immensely as a leader by surrounding myself with good people and being open to different perspectives.

I’ve also instilled a culture of challenging the status quo and not falling into “business as usual” thinking. For example, in 2013, I led a program to find an innovative way to connect fibre-optic internet (TELUS PureFibre) direct to people’s homes. It wasn’t something we’d done before at scale, and we knew that what got us to that point wouldn’t get us to where we needed to go. Embracing experimentation, fast failure and continuous improvement, the team went on to connect over three million homes and businesses to TELUS PureFibre, transforming the way Canadians live, work and connect. Many aspects of how our team operates today can be traced back to this program.

How does TELUS balance technological innovation with environmental sustainability in its operations?

Sustainability is embedded in everything we do at TELUS – it’s just good business. We’ve committed to being net carbon neutral by 2030 and we are walking the talk as the first company in Canada to issue a sustainability-linked bond tied to achieving our GHG reduction targets. 

TELUS overall emissions are down more than 40 per cent since 2010, helped by our investments in expanding TELUS PureFibre, which is up to 85 per cent more energy efficient than our legacy copper network. It’s also enabling us to recycle millions of pounds of copper, contributing to the circular economy by transforming retired cables into a sellable raw material product through urban mining.

I believe sustainability and innovation can go hand-in-hand, particularly when you think about the possibilities enabled by GenAI. For example, using intelligent techniques we’re now able to reduce or completely shut down radio frequencies in our wireless networks when they’re not in use, reducing energy consumption with no impact to the customer experience. Similarly, by training the HVAC systems at our data centres, we’re enabling energy-efficient temperature control, reducing cooling energy consumption by as much as 20 per cent. 

What impact has the PureFibre deployment had on TELUS’ vision for smart cities and real estate?

Our PureFibre expansion is opening up really exciting opportunities in real estate. With the decreasing reliance on copper, which requires a lot of space, many central offices in the heart of every town and city that we operate in will become redundant, enabling us to redevelop these sites with partners into affordable rental housing. In parallel, these offices will be transformed into data hubs close to our customers, providing access to super low latency Edge connectivity, which will be key to the reliability and resiliency of smart city applications like  traffic and energy management. 

TELUS invests significantly in 5G and Edge computing facilities at post-secondary institutions across Canada, accelerating innovation in growth areas such as autonomous vehicles and healthcare. We’re also exploring how IoT and compute capabilities in greenhouses can make food production more scalable, while reducing cost and footprint. This is all a by-product of our generational investments in PureFibre.

In what ways is TELUS enhancing customer trust through advancements in cybersecurity, AI, and privacy?

Our journey with AI, which began over five years ago, is rooted in our social purpose and guided by a principle of doing good, ensuring we remain grounded in our responsibility to the communities we serve and are a part of.  We strive for a humanized AI experience, considering the impact on people at all times. This includes maintaining transparency about how our technology works and ensuring there’s always a human element in our oversight processes. 

Realizing the true potential of AI lies in its responsible use, and TELUS is leading the way in this regard. In September 2023, we became the first and only telecom company in Canada to sign a voluntary AI code of conduct introduced by the federal government. We were also the first company globally to secure the ISO 31700-1 Privacy by Design certification for our Data for Good program – an initiative offering high-quality, strongly de-identified data to researchers focusing on public good. Then there’s the TELUS Wise program, through which we offer free digital literacy resources, including a responsible AI workshop for youth developed in partnership with CIFAR/Destination AI. 

Based on your experience, how do you foresee the telecommunications industry evolving, and what is TELUS’ strategy for maintaining its leadership position?

In our highly competitive and rapidly changing industry, differentiation and diversification, combined with a relentless focus on the customer, are the keys to staying relevant in the long term. At TELUS we’re continually looking for ways to deliver value to customers beyond traditional telecommunications services like mobility, internet and TV. Enabled by TELUS PureFibre, we now offer next-generation technologies like smart home security, automation and energy management, which improves customer experiences and stickiness.

This natural evolution of our products and services is also helping fuel growth elsewhere in the business. Over the past 15 years, we’ve applied our core strengths in data management and customer experience to new areas like Health and Agriculture & Consumer Goods, which offer significant potential for digital solutions to help solve some of the most pressing challenges facing society.

We’re always thinking about what our customers will need in the future and how we can best serve them – as I see it, the sky’s the limit. 

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