Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at why the Dutch government believes that a new model is required to boost the IoT, reworking the relationship between enterprises and network operators.
Where Next? Edward Frederick Brewtnall
Lock-in in the IoT
For hundreds of years the Dutch have been renowned for their ability to create new habitable land by reclaiming it from the sea - to the extent that about 1/6th of the Netherlands is reclaimed land. Now it seems the Dutch have extended their reclamation techniques to the IoT.
This story begins a couple of years ago when the Dutch government recognised that the development of the IoT was being hampered by operator lock-in which reduced competition, choice and the ability to innovate. The crux of the problem lay with one of telecoms' greatest assets - the SIM.
In the consumer and business markets the SIM does not block competition - SIM swap is cheap and number portability means that customers can retain a SIM and swap operator.
A number of easily-overlooked problems surrounding SIMs began to rear their heads in the early days of IoT development though. Firstly, the cost of a SIM embedded in a smart object is proportionally much higher compared to the cost of the data traffic being carried than is the case in either the consumer or business market. For example, when ARPU is EUR20, 30 or even 50 (as with a consumer or business contract) then the cost of a new SIM at say EUR10 is modest; but when the average-revenue-per-object (ARPO) is EUR1 or EUR2 then the cost of a new SIM is proportionally far higher.
This is only part of the problem though. The biggest problem is that the total cost of swapping a SIM for a business or consumer customer involves opening the back of your phone and spending 30 seconds exchanging it. However, this is not true for smart objects: as for many a SIM swap is likely to involve someone having to go to the object and swap the SIM - with this site visit substantially raising the cost. And here another problem reveals itself: many smart objects are not built or located to facilitate easy SIM swap. The engineer may discover they are located in an inaccessible place, are soldered to the PCB, or are embedded inside an object that needs to be taken apart and put back together.
All of this raises the total cost of SIM swap for an IOT device and makes it considerably higher than for a mobile phone. Industry estimates put the average cost of a smart object SIM swap at EUR100 per SIM.
As if this were not enough, there is yet one more sting in the tail of IoT SIM swap and that's the sheer scale of it. An enterprise with hundreds of thousands or millions of connected objects (such as a utility) will face an enormous bill if it decides to change network.
This means that to open up the IoT market to competition and to put control into the hands of the Connected Enterprises that should be driving it, a mechanism is needed to change network provider without the necessity to swap the SIM.
The advent of a new operating and business model
A number of these mechanisms have been proposed, but a novel model has been adopted in the Netherlands that is now rolling out quietly, largely unheralded by the mobile industry.
What the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs did when they recognised the problem was to propose, and later cause to be mandated, that all enterprises should be given their own number range - gaining control of the SIM and avoiding the need for SIM swap. (Effectively making them virtual network operators.)
The problem in doing this was that the quantity of available number ranges is highly limited, and the potential number of Connected Enterprises is relatively high. The government therefore proposed to overcome this issue by using a shared code for Connected Enterprises seeking to connect large numbers of smart objects - giving each its own unique 'sub-code'.
Now while this might be logical, it simply created another headache: the networks wouldn't be able to recognise these sub-codes, and therefore wouldn't know how to route traffic. The Dutch solution was to create a central entity to mediate between Connected Enterprises and networks, and route traffic accordingly. To the networks this entity looks like a full MVNO. The entity does this by using what has been called an 'HLR Proxy', which differentiates between Connected Enterprises' sub-codes. All the signalling and data traffic goes through this central entity.
The Dutch thus created a new operating and business model - termed PVNOs (or private virtual network operators) which are enabled by a PVNE platform (private virtual network enabler). Now Connected Enterprises are free to change networks, choose the most appropriate network for their applications, 'best-cost' route their traffic and innovate faster (since launching new services becomes far easier).
Of course the devil is always in the detail, and the whole thing wouldn't work without the PVNE, which in the Netherlands was delivered by CGI and powered by some clever technology from Dutch vendor BroadForward. BroadForward's BFX Interface Gateway provides the proxy technology required to intelligently route the M2M traffic based on the sub-codes being used. BFX insulates the PVNOs from both the network operator and the network technology - meaning that upgrading to 4G, for example, becomes far easier.
Successful launch of first PVNO
What's more, this story is no longer a story, as not only has the PVNE platform been successfully launched in the Netherlands, but the first PVNO - a Dutch utility company - has begun operations. The sheer scale of this first implementation is staggering, as the company has launched support for 2.6 million smart meters making it a sizeable operation from day 1.
As the first PVNO launched, Janine Tjassens, VP Consulting Services at CGI commented: "The PVNO model is an important step in the evolution of M2M and Internet of Things. Its success will have a major impact beyond energy and utility companies. It saves costs, secures a faster time to market and stimulates innovation. BroadForward delivers the essential capability to make the PVNO model really work. BFX provides us with a unique and flexible proxy function that can connect multiple PVNOs and operator networks, and intelligently route and mediate between them."
Other European countries are now watching this model closely, with at least two other major economies carefully considering rolling out the same approach. It is rumoured that the EC is also analysing whether this model should be mandated on an EU-wide basis.
And what of the operators? Well some continue to drag their heels - only co-operating because they were forced to by regulation. Others seem more able to see the upside in this. While it does break the lock-in that was previously enjoyed by large network operators, the model could enable a rapid scaling of the IoT. For visionaries, pioneers and smaller operators this could be a great opportunity.
From a BSSOSS perspective there is also much to be excited about. With a new class of virtual operator in town, the market may just have opened up again. Currently, the PVNE platform does not provide BSS capabilities such as charging, business-focused policy control and so on. Large Connected Enterprises will either need to buy these features directly, or they could be provided by the PVNE platform. Either way this is just the start, as enterprises innovate to optimise the potential of the IoT.
PVNE - Private Virtual Network Enabler
PVNO - Private Virtual Network Operator
HLR Proxy - technology that routes the signalling and data traffic, and which is embedded in the PVNE
Telesperience Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at new approaches to systems transformation.
Whitewashing the old house by LA Ring, 1908
If like me you shudder at the word 'transformation' you're probably old enough to recall the downside of large IT transformation projects. While the goals were worthy enough, the focus on IT nirvana meant that most projects were doomed to failure from the start. And by failure I mean to go over budget, timescale or not deliver the outcomes that the business wanted or needed.
One reason for this was because IT Transformation focused on providing IT's interpretation of what the business required, at a time that what the business required was changing rapidly. These projects also began with sketching ideal processes and systems architectures which meant that a lot of time, money and effort needed to be burnt before those processes and architectures delivered any business benefit.
The outcome was sometimes disastrous - forcing the communications service provider to focus internally rather than on rivals or customers; or leading to horrible mistakes such as the inability to bill or the production of inaccurate bills; and sometimes it was merely boring. Years later and countless millions of pounds/dollars/euros spent, and many/most large CSPs still have complex, expensive and inflexible systems.
Whatever the outcome, the industry as a whole moved on from IT Transformations that could no longer be afforded - in terms of cash or impact on the business.
What we're now seeing is a new type of transformation (for lack of a better word), which has attached itself to the Digital Age. This type of transformation though is very different to what has gone before. It is business focused rather than IT focused; it is also far more pragmatic and begins at the outside and comes inwards rather than the other way around. This means that the emphasis tends to be on customer-facing issues or interfaces, rather than on deeper IT systems that contribute to sub-optimal performance. Typically, you will see a refresh of websites, and a focus on processes such as pricing, campaign management or CPQ in the B2B world.
This new type of transformation tends to be comprised of smaller projects, smaller budgets and more decision makers. This is partly a reaction to IT Transformation which often became unwieldy, out-of-control, and just too big to deliver good, timely results. However, there is a risk in this new approach too, as sometimes the tactical focus just shifts the problem to the left or right of the project without actually fixing it. And sometimes smaller projects deliver the agreed results but don't quite match up jigsaw-style to deliver overall progress for the organisation.
Another problem is that Digital Transformation can sometimes focus too much on outward appearances or immediate business outcomes without understanding deeper dependencies. There can be too much attention on individual systems or problems rather than on end-to-end processes.
Quite often we hear from CSPs that their focus is on automation of processes and creating reliable, single data sources, but these very important messages get lost beneath the cacophony of product vendors pushing new products, as well as analyst research focused on feature-based analysis of systems.
Digital Transformation, though, emphasises and delivers two core concepts that are pragmatic and business focused. My next post will look at what these are and why they are so important today.
Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at how Level 3 is positioning its business in the Connected World, and how the connectivity service business is evolving.
Charles Christian Nahl and August Wenderoth, Miners in the Sierras, 1851
I was recently invited to Level 3 Communication's European SOC launch. Coming from a BSSOSS background I had to gently point out the clash of acronyms here, because Level 3 was not launching an evolved NOC (ie a service operation centre) but a security operations centre.
What was most interesting to me though was the untapped potential that Level 3 was positioning against, as well as how it has evolved its security strategy from a purely operational necessity to differentiating service to revenue-generating service.
Let's just recap for those of you not familiar with Level 3, as it is undoubtedly one of the great stealth brands of our industry. Historically a carrier's carrier, its business has evolved as it has fairly quietly added scale (most recently by acquiring Time Warner Telecom for a cool $5.7 billion) and refocused around connected global enterprises. Its sweet spots include large enterprises that need multi-country and multi-regional connectivity, as well as content providers, digital enterprises and gaming companies which it serves via its CDN.
Its customer list is a cast of thousands with large numbers of instantly-recognisable regional and global names, which generated revenues of around $6.5 billion for the company in 2014.
Level 3 isn't complacent though but actually quietly ambitious, and has a straightforward - you could argue 'simple' - strategy that nevertheless could turn out to be a highly effective way of growing its business.
Perhaps this was inspired by the lessons of the California Goldrush: where history has taught us that merchants and those supplying the miners made far more money than the miners themselves.
In the same ilk, as everyone rushes off to flash their digital service provider credentials, Level 3 has recognised that there's good money to be made from doing the heavy lifting and supplying global connectivity to the Connected World.
To maximise this potential, connectivity service providers such as Level 3 need to sell more services wrapped around their smartpipe to provide complete connectivity solutions. These so-called network-plus services are value-added services that are closely related to the network itself and include security, differentiated quality of service, ID management and authentication, and more.
Thus Level 3's European SOC launch was part of its strategy to offer security as a component of its network solution. Keeping its pipes clean you will recall is partly a matter of self-interest; but it also acts to differentiate its offering from those of other carriers.
This is because enterprises are wising up to the fact that not all networks are equal and price is not the most important, or indeed only, buying criteria. Enterprises operating in the Connected World now recognise it's not just about being connected, but having reliable, fast and secure connectivity in order to do business. The network *is* your business platform so it had better work.
Thus most enterprises don't want least-cost connectivity but best-cost connectivity - competitively-priced, quality connectivity. And this is exactly how Level 3 is positioning itself.
The simplicity of Level 3's corporate vision means that it is not distracted by competing demands from consumer or enterprise divisions; neither is it struggling with how it is going to monetise digital services. Being a spade seller, a jeans maker or a wheelbarrow manufacturer might not have been as sexy as being a gold miner, but in the long run it was those providing pragmatic services and necessary products that saw some of the biggest uplifts in their fortunes.
Equally, security services might not be the sexiest services in the Digital World, but they point to how connectivity providers such as Level 3 can build considerable value by focusing on supplying the necessities of daily life for Connected Enterprises.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Guest blogger Dr Jay Perrett, CTO of Aria Networks looks at the route to NFV.
Columbus Sights The New World, Christian Ruben, pre-1875
Amongst the thousands of words that have been written about NFV there has been no shortage of visions of self-optimised networks that can react to different circumstances, rerouting the network to provide the optimal user experience.
It is a wonderful vision; one that is bound to become a reality due to the ever-growing demands from data-hungry users to have access to everything, everywhere. Yet for the service provider looking to deliver this utopia, the question is perhaps not so much whether the NFV nirvana is possible, but how do they get there?
Faced with a range of different technologies within the network, an incessant demand for increased spend on infrastructure, and decreasing margins on data, the operator faces significant challenges. Service providers now have to plan an effective journey to achieve virtualisation that embraces effective customer service along the way.
In our experience, the primary issue has proved to be not so much ‘where do we want to get to?’ as much as ‘where are we today?’ This is because networks are at vastly different levels of optimisation. Some are highly optimised – in some cases delivering optimisation not only in terms of cost and service level, but also including external factors such as time of day or cost of power differentials. Others though are effectively still being managed manually.
Therefore establishing a baseline of an operator’s network with an objective to understand the appropriate work that was necessary to move the service provider forward - and in some instances define what forward is – becomes a critical part of the planning phase.
In order to try to bring some structure to this process and enable service providers to more clearly understand the potential impact of NFV deployment on their networks, Aria Networks created the Operator Maturity Index. This aims to help service providers identify gaps in the management of physical and virtual resources, as well as opportunities to effectively improve the return of investment for their network assets.
Aria Networks’ Network Maturity Services enable service providers to identify the maturity level of their network through one of five pre-determined levels. This then enables service providers to plot a route to NFV through five levels of maturity – from Elemental to Software Controlled Networks via Inventory, Service and Multi-Domain/Layer.
Levels 1 and 2 (Elemental and Inventory) describe the conventional network approach of Port Management and Per Hop Routing, using element manager and network management function as the control plane. At this stage a network is not virtualised.
At Level 3 (Service) service providers can specify specific routing, based on quality of service, service-level agreements or cost, as part of a stateless Path Computation Element (PCE).
Upon reaching Level 4 (Multi-Domain/Layer) service providers can auto-route across multi-layers, allowing passive virtualisation to be established. Many networks are currently taking the path, via a passive, stateful PCE, to a more software-controlled environment.
At Level 5 service providers can implement network function virtualisation, managing auto-optimisation of the network and effectively enabling the network to heal itself. This establishes a software-controlled or self-optimised network – exactly the panacea that is often written about when the benefits of virtualisation are evangelised.
Along the way, service providers can address key issues such as planning network optimisation, responding to infrastructure failure, assessing the impact of new data services and providing an overview of how and where a network is generating revenue.
At each stage, the operator knows that certain functions can be virtualised without impacting on the service performance of the network, moving from physical to virtual network management, piece by piece, over time in a planned and effective way.
The result will be a more robust, better planned and more effective route to virtualisation, as well as the ability to benchmark performance against levels that have strong support from industry bodies.
Network providers have enough challenges today without having to plan how to take advantage of virtualisation. Our operator maturity index aims to support the route to virtualisation whatever the level of network optimisation.
Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at the telecoms industry buzz around Pay Now charging models.
The Old China Shop, Ralph Hedley, 1877
It's interesting to see renewed interest in pay-now strategies in the telecoms industry. But, make no mistake, pay-now has been talked about for years, though it never seemed to be a priority for most.
If you read the post by Matrixx's Nigel Back on Disruptive Views you might well have been impressed by his argument. But as much as Nigel tries to passionately persuade CSPs of the necessity for pay-now, I find myself somewhat unimpressed. Not by Nigel's argument I might add, but rather by the necessity for his argument.
Pay-now as I have said, is not new, revolutionary or in any way exciting. In fact failure to provide it is just another example of how idiosyncratic and backwards-looking our industry still is.
Go to retail and try and get them excited about pay-now and they will look at you as though you need mental health support. The fact is that just about everyone else does pay-now and has always supported it. You don't prepay for shopping at the grocery shop - or pay in a month - you pay as you buy.
Please don't bring up complex AAA requirements. For goodness sake how do you think everyone else manages? The issues are solvable. You only think this stuff is hard because you are trying to evolve from where you are to where they're asking you to go. If you came at service provision with completely fresh eyes then, of course, you'd support pay-now.
What's more, it's hard to believe that CSPs think they can transition to become DSPs unless they offer the full range of payment options already supported by other players. There is also really no excuse not to - the technology to support pay-now is readily available. And why would you not want to take money from customers whenever they want to give it to you?
This is actually part of a much bigger issue. CSPs have to decide are they irretrievably wedded to old notions of processes, business models and payment types, or do they want to be proper retailers and make it easier for customers to buy from them?
If you support using a prepaid balance to pay for content access - by time or episode - or for other digital goods (eg via the UK's PayForIt scheme), then you should be willing to enable customers and non-customers to buy a product ad hoc from you so long as they have the means to pay.
This issue really isn't about technology at all, but about mindset issues and business models. The problem being that the industry still behaves as though it's a provider of voice calls, and is sticking to legacy thinking around prepay and postpay.
That's fine, but don't go sprinkling "digital" randomly through your Powerpoint and trying to convince everyone you're now "down with the kids". Most CSPs' digital strategies just don't pass the duck test. (If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck.) A DSP is not a CSP with a fancy website and quad-play offering. Quad play is not digital service provision. CSPs better quickly figure out the differences.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Comments: 1 (Last: Paul Hollingsworth · 11/16/15 7:11 PM)
Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at the impact of the "selfie" generation and how this is affecting systems strategy for both CSPs and enterprises.
Bubbles, Sir John Everett Millais, 1886
It might be frustrating to watch your teen take endless "selfies", but have you considered the significance of this behaviour in terms of systems and process provision?
Firstly, let's think a little about what the selfie culture is and where it came from. To begin with we know it is new. But it didn't spring out of thin air - rather it is an evolution (albeit is disruptive one) of the photography industry.
Originally, cameras were expensive and therefore scarce. They required great skill to operate. People had to go to a professional photographer to get their photo taken and they had to sit still for a very long time. Portraits from this time are scarce, formal and look like variations on a theme.
Cameras then began to be mass produced. This meant they became more affordable and so more people had them and more photos were taken. But the constraints were the cost of buying and developing film; photos still needed some skill to take and making a mistake was relatively expensive.
The digital camera disrupted the market - now taking photos was cheap after the initial outlay and easy. Incrementally more photos were taken and if you made a mistake it really didn't matter - you just deleted and tried again. You also had greater visibility of your photos and could see immediately whether they were good or bad. This not only avoided the costly mistake of printing bad photos, but gave a feeling of instant satisfaction because you could view your efforts in realtime.
The selfie is a development of the digital camera. Now cameras are embedded in a range of devices - they're cheap, convenient and immediate. The number of photos being taken and shared has risen exponentially, as people take photos with more frequency, and because they now have the means to share them more widely than ever before.
The telecoms business has been through a similar evolution - where once phone calls were expensive and had to be placed by an operator they now can be made automatically and cheaply to anywhere in the world. Hypercommunication has become a way of life via texts, calls, blogs, social media, and a variety of apps, and is verbal, written, visual.
There are a few lessons for us to learn from this. Firstly, those companies in the photography market that failed to see the trajectory - who were excellent optical manufacturers but not such astute business people - were left behind. A mature market was disrupted by new technologies that not everyone saw coming.
But look at your smartphone camera and you'll see technology from familiar names such as Zeiss and Olympus. Those who predicted the change and acted by forming new partnerships benefitted enormously. Once they built, packaged and sold the entire product; now they sell a component of something that creates compelling experiences.
Another lesson is that people used to buy a camera once in their lifetime - eventually every 5 to 10 years. But they buy a smartphone every 1-2 years and sometimes more frequently. The business model changed from something that was technically very advanced and expensive that required a lot of thought before you bought it, to something that was affordable and was renewed far more frequently. The unit price had to be cheaper, but the volume was exponentially larger.
A final lesson is that the selfie culture, which is itself part of hypercommunication, has changed behaviours. People - and especially young people - have become used to doing more for themselves, when they want to do it and how they want to do it. This me-culture is already having an impact on CSPs and its influence will become ever-more apparent.
Whereas once people were happy for an operator to place a call for them, later on they expected to be able to do this for themselves. Now they want not just to be able to use the service but to build it, change it, order it, change it again and so on. That's why the selfie generation is already having an enormous impact on the way we sell, build and support telecoms services via self-configuration, self-bundling, self-care and so on.
Addressing the demand for "selfie-technology" is not just about saving money (as with IVR), but about addressing a new but fundamental need - the wish of the customer to be in total control of the experience, to build, create and innovate it to their own needs.
And none of this has obsoleted a core business: people still buy specialist, advanced cameras and they still pay for the skills of professional photographers.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Tracy Monday takes a look at TMF Live (Nice 1-4 June 2015) and asks whether CSPs really want a digital future.
Despair, Edvard Munch, 1894
This was my first year at TMF Live as an analyst, having previously worked for a large service provider. What was clear to me, is that whichever way I turned, people were talking about ‘change’, whether that was because of IoT, NFV or a myriad of other things. ‘Change’ and ‘transformation’ were de rigueur.
This is curious, since it seems obvious that both change and transformation should be an everyday part of thinking in telco-land. Everywhere you look, the lines between telecoms and traditional IT are blurring, and the threat from outside the traditional telecoms industry is very real. If you're not changing, transforming or, for want of a better word, ‘evolving’ then you're standing still at best. And standing still is no longer an option.
Along with enjoying the early summer sunshine, I met many organisations in my three days in Nice. A few really excited me. These were organisations that really understand the problems our industry faces and are trying to bring about change. A number of organisations scared me, because of their total inside-out view and the way they seemed content to fiddle while telco-land burns.
There is no inevitability to any of this unless we make it so. Telecoms is at the centre of an exciting evolution which sees business being truly globalised - the next step in industrialisation. However, rather than positioning itself to benefit from the new revenues that will be created, if risks continuing on its journey to becoming a functional basic utility service - losing the battle on the B2B side as surely as it has lost the battle on the B2C side and shedding value as it slides down the value chain.
In order to arrest this slide, investment is needed, but not necessarily where you might think. Investing in infrastructure is all very well, but there also needs to be investment in the systems that transform network capabilities into both services and cash. Importantly, investment in both people and processes are needed to go along with this.
The business market - which we quaintly term B2B - is the new battleground. But this is a specialist area. You can't simply repurpose a B2C approach and hope for the best. To be successful, you really need to understand other businesses, and this can be even more challenging than understanding consumers. After all, everyone is a consumer but few in telecoms have worked outside telecoms and have the perspective of what makes other industries tick.
To succeed in the B2B world, CSPs cannot just provide connectivity, they need to add margin by adding value. And that requires vertical expertise, along with price plans, products and services that enhance other businesses' performance. Most businesses no longer have either the time or the inclination to deploy, integrate and manage large numbers of systems or telecoms services. They just need them to work. And this is a huge opportunity, but one that few telcos are grabbing.
Basic connectivity needs to be like water or electricity. We do not expect businesses to set up their own power stations or water purification plants; we don't expect them to integrate different power or water sources. We provide a power or water service and they just have to consume it, and pay for what they use - nothing more.
Yet much of the telecoms industry continues to make both IT and connectivity hard to consume.
"Are you considering moving your IT to the Cloud?" we ask. The questions then start: "is it a private cloud? or a hybrid cloud, or a total utility outsourced cloud?" But this is only part of the conversation - what about security both from an infrastructure perspective and data. And what about QoS? Compliance? The choices and questions go on as we design a bespoke service rather than create something standardised, cheaper and easier to use.
You may want to ensure a perfect IT-Cloud-Connectivity fit, as well as high quality services now that your business is network-reliant, but at the same time both enterprises and the telco industry want to save money. How will it work?
Other key challenges on the horizon include IoT, M2M and new roles that are emerging in the digital value chain, along with increased workforce mobility. Opportunities abound: monetisable and profitable solutions do not.
It wasn't surprising that much of the focus at TMFLive was around BSSOSS, but while there was a lot of talk there seemed to be less fresh ideas and practical solutions that bridge from the legacy telecoms world to the future digital services world.
For example, Big Data was another buzz topic, along with data-as-a-product; but while there was a lot of excitement about the possibilities there wasn't much clarity around how big data will be monetised or how the security and regulatory changes will be addressed.
Some of the biggest industry names were at the show: Alcatel Lucent, Amdocs, Ericsson, Huawei, Netcracker, Nokia, Oracle, Sigma, ZTE and so on. And there was a good sprinkling of niche players such as Accanto Systems, IneoQuest, InfoVista,Monolith, Mycom-osi, Sigma Systems etc.
The challenge for these players - big and small - is to have a digital vision (which some of them do) which is powerful, practical and profitable. And that last 'p' is arguably the most important!
This vision does not depend on size and, we could argue that bigger players are less fleet footed partly because they have legacy businesses to defend. Since we're at a transformation point, there is a real chance of market entry and fast growth for disruptive players. But what remains to be seen is that even if vendors create a clear vision, and a practical path towards it, are operators and VNOs ready for the journey or content to remain where they are today? They too have legacy businesses to defend.
Certainly, we are now hearing that some CSPs are content to embrace a smart pipe future, having decided that full digital service provision is not for them.
The question is whether the two worlds are compatible? Is what we saw at TMFLive an industry reinventing itself? Or one wallowing in complacency? Is the pain sufficient to force change or has the industry accepted its fate? Are we seeing a digital dance of despair, as telcos try desperately to free themselves from legacy systems and legacy thinking; or witnessing a wake for an industry that doesn't yet recognise its own demise?
I got the impression at the show that there was collectively too much to lose, which is why progress to change is still dangerously slow. There is no risk-free path to change - it will always be a bit of a gamble. We can mitigate out some of that risk but not all of it. Change requires bravery not complacency, and I worry that bravery is not particularly common in the DNA of telco-land. Fear of failure though is strong, leading to denial and paralysis. Without real change though we could be witnessing the last tango in telco-land.
Teresa Cottam looks at an old but persistent form of customer gouging that undermines customer experience within communications and digital service providers.
Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior, Longing, 1899
The UK press recently focused on an old area of customer gouging - charging for mobile handsets beyond the contract period when the handset has been paid off. It seems that charging customers expensive credit for handsets is not enough for some CSPs, they will keep charging them when the customer is out of contract and the handset is paid off, rather than adjusting the bill.
Consumer group 'Which?' estimates that UK consumers are paying as much as £355 million per year that they shouldn't have to pay, because handsets are already paid off. This is both a billing and policy issue.
Some CSPs break out the bill into two element - the cost of the handset and the cost of the service elements (calls, data, SMS etc). O2, Virgin Media and Tesco Mobile are among the companies that do this. This means customers understand the handset cost element at the very least. O2 take this a step further. With O2 Refresh (£49 a month for iPhone 6 and 5Gb of data, unlimited minutes and texts) the company clearly states that £25 per month is the handset charge and £24 for the service package. Once the contract period is over, the handset charge is removed and the charge drops to £24 per month.
In contrast, 'Which?' highlighted that EE, Vodafone and Three not only fail to break out the two elements in the bill, but keep charging for the handset element after the handset is paid off (basically treating it as a form of rental rather than a recovery of the cost). They estimate that because many customers do not switch to a new contract immediately, the effect is an average £92 overpayment per customer to the operators involved.
This propensity to overcharge for handsets is not a new phenomenon, in earlier years it was usual for people to rent fixed handsets and end up spending vast sums over a long period of time for an old, outdated handset that had long been paid off. This stopped with the advent of being able to readily purchase a fixed handset, falling costs of corded and DECT phones and so on. Or did it?
The Telegraph has recently highlighted that this practice is not in fact dead. Elderly customers, in particular, have continued to rent fixed handsets for which they could pay hundreds of pounds when the equipment is worth as little as £10. The phone is not renewed unless faulty, but repeatedly billed month after month until the rental agreement is cancelled.
BT was highlighted by The Telegraph for indulging in this practice, and the company defended itself by pointing out that they included a bill line item that clearly notified customers what they were being charged.
Telesperience believes that these type of customer gouging practices are not a billing issue per se but a policy issue. However a billing issue does arise from the fact that bills often aren't sufficiently clear to ordinary people, are overly complex, and don't offer advice on options. There is a missed opportunity to engage customers simply by being honest and informing them they could get a new phone, or explaining to them you are now going to reduce their bills.
This practice on both the fixed and mobile side of the industry shows a willingness by the entire industry to put short-term revenue targets before long-term customer relationships and revenue growth. Fairness and trust - two core elements of a good customer relationship - are clearly seen to be less important to most service providers than short-term gain. Customer experience management is seen for what it really is - a silo, that is not joined up across the organisation and which is ignored when convenient to the CSP.
Those CSPs that have decided to do the decent thing should be congratulated; but not too much. It's a sad state of affairs when being honest with your customers has become a differentiator in any market.
Teresa Cottam is the Chief Strategist at Telesperience and an expert on customer experience in the communications and digital sectors. She is also a judge at the GSMA's Global Mobile Awards for customer experience. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at why the demand for 'experience' in the telecoms industry is one of the biggest risk factors holding it back.
Rembrandt, Portrait of an Old Man, 1652-54
"You can't be a serious player in this industry unless you've worked for a service provider".
"You can't manage/lead/advise until you've done it yourself."
"You need ABC amount of experience to credibly do XYZ."
All of these phrases drive me mad. Why? Because they're always uttered by a certain type of middle-aged person - usually a man - in the telecoms industry, who values years of 'experience' over talent, insight, empathy, and entrepreneurial get-up-and-go. The effect of an over-focus on "telecoms experience" is that we recycle the same people in our industry whether they're any good or not, prevent new ideas from taking hold, and stifle many forms of innovation - particularly customer-impacting but non-technical innovation.
There are so many drawbacks to overvaluing 'experience'. Firstly, experience doesn't measure performance or success, or make future performance or success significantly more likely. It can be useful to some extent in a market that's delivering incremental improvement, but no-one actually has experience of transformational innovation - by definition it's something entirely new so no-one has experience of it until it's done for the first time. And why value telecoms experience so highly when the industry is merging with others and becoming something else entirely?
Overfocusing on experience is also prejudicial - it discriminates against younger people, women, and people from non-telco backgrounds, since most of the talent in these sectors will not have the requisite telco experience. And also because their skills and experiences are not rated as valuable compared to the skills and experiences of telco folk.
I usually see the experience argument being used by middle aged men who feel threatened, out of their depth or disconcerted by something new - it is a frequently used, if unsubstantiated, argument used to belittle and undermine people who are younger, female or come with a different set of skills or ideas.
So let's focus on this experience thing - who says experience is so important and why?
Of course experience has its place in a good team which possesses a wide skillset. Experience is a natural human instinct because it should, when functioning correctly, stop us making mistakes, improve outcomes and speed up decision making. But overvaluing it is the problem: it is by no means the only skill or even necessarily the most important skill to possess.
Try telling the teenage millionaires they lack the experience to innovate - in fact try telling Silicon Valley they've got it all wrong and need to stop until they get more experience first. How dare Steve Jobs try to improve offerings in the phone industry - what did he know about telecoms?
Yes experience can be useful to stop teams going up blind alleys, but we've all been in the room with the whiney guy who tells you that in his experience "it won't work" because it was tried before 5, 10, 15 years ago, by him, and failed. He may have a point. But all too often that middle-aged voice repeats the experience mantra without considered analysis of whether circumstances have changed, or the new approach is subtlely different (increasing the likelihood of success). Or that the way he did it - shock, horror - just wasn't very good.
Experience without analysis leads to false correlations and blind alleys in itself. It's like the person who once went to London, decided they didn't like it, and will never go to the UK again as a result. Or the person who goes to the shop, finds they're all out of bread, and never goes back there for bread again, because they conclude that this shop doesn't sell bread.
Too often, rather than being a wise check on over-enthusiasm, experience becomes a negative force resulting in over-cautious behaviour, rejecting re-evaluation of ideas, and maintaining a hierarchical status quo in favour of the experienced. The experienced maintain their status as gurus, and neutralise any threats to their position - great for them, for not necessarily for everyone else or for the organisations they work for.
Isn't that why so much innovation comes from smaller organisations that reinvent things after being repeatedly told "it won't work" or "that isn't the way we do it" in their previous roles? Isn't that why young people want to build their own companies rather than be belittled by older people who don't listen, are dismissive, and value experience over everything else? The experienced people having achieved their status by dint of time, and not necessarily through worth.
That's not to say that experience doesn't have its place, but it needs to be in its place and not overpowering everything else. This industry doesn't need any more experienced telecoms people - it needs, more than anything, to broaden its experience base, to consider non-telco background as being as important as telecoms experience, and to balance experience with other skills. Experience, its middle-aged proponents will say, guards against failure. But, too often, it prevents failure by stopping things happening.
And anyway, what is so very wrong with failure? Haven't we learnt that the fail-fast, learn-from-your-mistakes, refinement and improvement model can be highly effective?
But other than my own experience, is there any evidence to back up what I'm saying? According to a study conducted by Monash university and the Wharton School, being a little bit experienced may in fact be the optimal state.
They found that experience could be overrated by testing predictions made by those with some, none or a lot of experience (in this case, of foreign policy). They found that the most experienced were right with their predictions 32% of the time, but that was not significantly higher than those with no experience who were right 29% of the time. Chance, they said, would have produced a score of 28% on the test. Ah, you say, but that means experience gives you a 3% lead and that's significant. Well, pull apart that 3% difference between the experienced and non-experienced and what you find is that those with some experience but not more than five years achieved a 36% accuracy rate, while the most experienced and senior were only 29% accurate - 1% above chance and the same as the inexperienced.
I'd argue that actually there's a lot to be said for inexperience, because the inexperienced don't perceive the barriers of the experienced and look at problems with fresh, questioning eyes. This can mean they make mistakes, of course it can. But you can't remove risk entirely without suffocating progress. Don't we, as parents, stand back and comment that our children need to make their own mistakes so that they can learn?
As I wrote about in Generation Thingies, it is this very lack of experience that will enable Generation Z to rethink the world. Refreshingly, with the optimism and boundless energy of the young, they don't care that some middle-aged telco exec doesn't think they're experienced enough - they're just going to go build the new world anyway.
And for those of you nursing a grudge now because you believe your experience is being undermined and not respected, let me tell you that it's the insight and skills you gained from the experience that's useful not just experience per se. Did you learn to be bolder or less hasty? Can you combine your experience with a child-like ability to see the world differently, while maintaining a willingness to keep trying, and keep reinventing yourself and your ideas? Do you seek out new experiences to broaden your experience base? Do you ask yourself if your experience is still relevant and valuable, and dispose of ideas that are not? If you can do this, my friend, then you are an extremely rare and valuable commodity. Now just get up off your chair and go do it.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam looks at the fate of non-geographic phone numbers in the UK and argues that they are the hallmark of failing businesses. She asks: are your business's communications strategies fit for the digital age or just an outdated legacy of 1990s thinking?
Grandma and grandson, Konrad Krzyzanowski, 1915
There can be little that is less customer-centric in the telecoms industry than the non-geographic phone number. Companies using these to deliver content as a way of paying for that content cause me less annoyance. In this case, the main problem is the lack of clarity about exactly what the cost will be. (Companies usually quote the BT charge, which is usually far lower than that charged from mobiles.) Far more insidious, are those companies that use non-geographic numbers for customer care, enquires and day-to-day operational issues,
It isn't news to anyone that customers don't want these numbers and that they lead to nasty billshock events. Companies persist in using them for customer care because they have convinced themselves that the cost of supporting customers should be deflected back onto the customer, and that customers should be discouraged from calling if at all possible. This reveals a far deeper problem in a company other than simple greed: an unhealthy attitude to customers and, effectively, a significant barrier - constructed by the business - between itself and its customers. Of course, I'm using the term 'business' but we are all aware that government departments and institutions have been some of the worst offenders in this area.
'But isn't that the point?' I hear you say. Effectively by putting a premium number in place you, as a business, are articulating that you don't won't customers to call you. Those hardy fools that try to call deserve to be charged for their temerity. Customer care costs a lot of money and customers should be discouraged from talking to us.
Such 1990s thinking doesn't resonate in the digital age: punishing your customers for reaching out to you is the hallmark of a non-social, non-customer-centric business. It marks you out as a dinosaur.
I don't believe any business that says it cares about its customers if a premium phone line is the only way for those customers to get in touch. In these cases, I am immediately suspicious of its future prospects, as it is turning its back on a wide range of business advantages and is cutting itself out of vast swathes of the market. Such a business is highly vulnerable to competitors who utilise more customer-centric and, frankly, more up-to-date ways of doing business.
In the UK, one of the reasons that non-geographic numbers cause so much misery amongst customers is that there are simply so many of them. Customers need to carry around a library of potential charges in their heads, and be aware that the headline price might not be that charged, in order to estimate how much the call will cost. Perversely, the less efficient a company is, the more the customer is punished for calling, as the longer their call is likely to take. Thus companies are effectively being rewarded - at least in the short term - for not investing in customer care.
.030, 033, 034, 03
Cost the same as 01 and 02 numbers, must be included in bundled minutes
Free from landline, charges vary for mobiles (10-20p per minute)
Varies. BT charges 5p per minute
Premium, varies, not included in call bundles
074, 075, 07624, 077, 078, 079
Varies, up to 20p per minute from landlines, included in call bundles (usually) of postpaid mobile phones
Free from landlines, generally 10-25p per minute from mobiles, some numbers may be free from mobiles
0842, 0843, 0845, 0870, 0871, 0872, 0873
Varies, can cost up to 45p per minute from mobiles, usually not included in bundles
090, 091, 098
Premium rate. Charges can be as high as £2 per minute or more
What the table shows is not just that there is a large range of numbers, but the huge distinction made between landline and mobile calls in an age where many people either no longer have a landline or rarely use it. This disadvantages the young, in particular, who may only use mobile telephony.
Most telling is that people - and younger people especially - are using strategies either to avoid these call charges or the businesses charging them. They want to talk to businesses in channels other than voice, and they are avoiding doing business with companies that are not in their preferred channels or who put blockers in the way of interaction.
In response to concern about this sector, the UK is overhauling its non-geographic number charges - albeit belatedly - in July 2015. This affects a staggering 175 million business numbers.
At this point the charges will be split into access charges (the proportion charged by the CSP) and service charges (the charge made by the business being called). While this will focus more scrutiny on what is a lucrative but decidedly un-customer-centric part of the communications market, it may end up just causing more confusion.
The hope is that by forcing providers to split out these charges, competition will force down prices. What the regulator has missed, is that non-geographic and premium numbers may effectively be 'monopolies', with the business being the only alternative for some customers, or one of only a few who all use the same approach. There may be downwards pressure on the telecoms proportion of the charge, but still none upon the service element.
What's more, customers can't pick and choose on a call-by-call basis which CSP to use, so variation in charges between networks is unlikely to be an effective force. And finally, the link between these numbers and customer decsion-making is very loose. Customers don't consider non-geographic and premium rate numbers when buying a mobile phone. They don't go to their mobile operator with a list of the numbers used by government departments, utilities and businesses they regularly have to deal with and demand to know what they'll be charged for these at the point of making a decision about their package.
By separating out two charges for the same call we present CSPs with a small billing challenge; but we create even more potential confusion depending upon how this information is presented. Is the information meaningful to customers? Will it change their behaviour? Will it drive up competition? Or will it just be another line item that confuses them?
In the digital age, the information contained within phone numbers has blurred and become less relevant. People recognise and contact names, not numbers. They want to IM not call. Businesses themselves are increasingly aware of the advantages of opening up to customer interaction rather than discouraging it and the need to communicate in a wide variety of channels (multichannel and omnichannel interaction).
And herein lies a crucial difference in the DNA of a legacy versus digital business; of a failing business versus survivor. In the 1990s businesses began making themselves unavailable to customers; in the 2010s they are opening up.
For all of these reasons I think the regulatory changes in the UK will have less impact than the changes in customer and business behaviour. I think the business of premium phone lines is a legacy artifact of another age. It reveals not just gaps in the thinking of businesses and the telecoms industry, but gaps in the thinking and a lack of bravery on the part of our regulators. It's sadly a little more tinkering and not enough boldness or vision.
That's why every business needs to consider whether its communications strategy works for its customers and not just for itself. Undoubtedly the zombie service of non-geographic numbers will stagger on until it finally succumbs, but don't wait for Ofcom and PhonePayPlus to deliver the final blows. Act now to ensure your communications strategy is fit for purpose in the digital age and meets the needs of both you and the customers you serve.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
Welcome to The Cage - a series of interviews where Telesperience questions key figures and thinkers from the telecoms industry. 10 minutes; no questions barred.
In this interview Telesperience Chief Strategist Teresa Cottam asks Matrixx's Jennifer Kyriakakis about Digital Innovation and how to unlock the benefits of more agile platforms while also lowering costs.
Teresa asks Jennifer:
Are CSPs doomed to be bitpipes, prisoners to their legacy systems?
While we like to criticise legacy, good legacy is robust, reliable, scalable, and does what it was designed to do. We’ve also spent a lot of money on it. Don't we have to live with legacy for a while?
So much budget is tied up feeding legacy that there’s little left for innovation, what can we do about that?
How do we reduce the cost of innovation, scale innovation, and experiment more?
We hear Matrixx talk a lot about realtime, but isn’t realtime very expensive?
Differentiated customer experiences also sounds expensive. Can we give customers a good experience while still keeping an eye on support costs? How does the business case stack up for that?
#BOSSfest15 The late sessions
Portrait of Jimi Hendrix, oil on canvas, by the Swedish artist Tommy Tallstig
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Birdstep's Lonnie Schilling argues that consistent QoS is the key to a successful and lucrative Hetnet strategy.
Renoir, Les Deux Soeurs, 1889
The use of Wi-Fi to augment cellular began in earnest earlier this decade with the emergence of mobile data offload as a cost effective solution to the capacity challenges on the MNOs’ RAN and backhaul networks caused by rising data traffic. By exploiting the economics of Wi-Fi infrastructures over cellular network expansion or spectrum, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) was reduced for MNOs, but often at the expense of both quality of service (QoS) and the user experience. More recently, the likes of Google, MSOs and MVNOs have joined the party by deploying 'Wi-Fi first' business models.
It has become clear that through tighter integration between Wi-Fi and cellular, far greater benefits in terms of RAN cost savings and significantly reduced churn can be achieved. This will come about partly through broader deployment of carrier-grade Wi-Fi hotspots, partly by enabling transparent handover between the two networks and partly through full integration of Wi-Fi with the operators' access networks and policy infrastructure. Lack of the latter has restricted the impact of Wi-Fi on key business measures for MNOs in particular.
This level of integration, allowing the operator to have far greater control of the user experience over Wi-Fi, promotes Wi-Fi from being just a tactical solution for solving temporary capacity issues via offload into a far more strategic technology for MNOs, MVNOs and MSOs alike. A key driver here is the growing challenge of making a profit from simple data access as profit margins are squeezed out by increasing competition and commoditisation (just as they were for voice and texting at an earlier stage).
Operators will be able to deploy HetNets enabling full roaming across cellular and Wi-Fi networks, with hand-offs supported by the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint. But essential though these are, such standards cannot on their own deliver a fully ubiquitous service spanning Wi-Fi and cellular that delivers a consistent user experience wherever the user is and whichever network they are attached to.
At Birdstep we call this Experience Continuity (ExO), which in addition to roaming between and within different networks through standards such as Passpoint, also ensures that calls, video streams and other activities are completely unbroken and that the user is totally unaware of all handovers without the slightest glitch. Under ExO the HetNet should be capable of automatically transferring users to the best available connection for their applications and devices, subject to the operator’s business rules. In other words, the operator is fully in control of the user experience.
Furthermore, ExO should allow automatic movement between different Wi-Fi networks with no new login required, using permissions already granted. It is important for users to experience the highest level of quality available by taking quality of service (QoS) levels into account on every network before roaming onto it. These factors have recently been identified by analyst group Rethink Technologies as the second most important factor in attracting and retaining subscribers, after pricing.
As a result, mobile operators in developed economies believe that unified QoS across multiple networks can shave annual churn by an average of 2.2% (according to a Rethink study conducted in 2014). Decreasing churn by two percentage points for an operator with monthly ARPUs of around $40 could yield an additional $40 million in revenue and $22 million in profit over three years, according to a recent study by Xerox technology consulting company WDS (see Understanding Wireless Churn).
An indication of where HetNets are going can be seen by considering deployments in Asia-Pacific, where a number of operators are at the cutting edge of this field.
The trend seems to be towards coupling Wi-Fi and the latest 4G/LTE infrastructures tightly to exploit synergies and achieve economies of scale. China Mobile, the world’s largest MNO, with 810 million subscribers, recently demonstrated the world’s first TD-LTE HetNet in Shanghai, combining LTE small cells with Wi-Fi hot spots in different, aggregated frequency bands. The key to this HetNet is the operator’s own architecture - dubbed 'Nanocell' - which integrates Wi-Fi and LTE with the same carrier-grade functionality across both.
China Mobile is also moving quickly towards a virtualized ‘Cloud-RAN’ in which most of the network functionality of both cellular and Wi-Fi base stations will be executed as software on a cloud server. This enables data capacity to be allocated on demand to both LTE and Wi-Fi cells.
While this may be a long way off for most operators, it highlights the direction for HetNets towards a future where the distinction between Wi-Fi and cellular will become increasingly blurred. Many are beginning to believe this to be the foundation to upcoming 5G networks. That is indeed the objective of the HetNet, with benefits including more efficient use of overall network resources, both wireless and fixed, as a foundation for cost savings, churn reduction and monetization through new models.
Lonnie Schilling is the CEO of Birdstep Technologies. You can follow Birdstep on Twitter @birdsteptech.
Telesperience's Teresa Cottam looks at data-as-a-product and explains why it's like Marmite.
You've probably heard data declared to be "the new oil" of the digital world. The analogy isn't a bad one - after all, data fuels everything we do in the future.
What this analogy lacks though is the fact that data-as-a-product is a by-product of something else. We're actually using or doing something else, and data is generated as a result. We've always produced this type of 'waste' data, but now it's the subject of considerable discussion, as both CSPs and other enterprises recognise the value in the data they've been discarding for years.
'Waste' data, as it turns out has incredible value. Now if only we could package it and create some means to sell it - legally, of course - we might be able to move from potential to profits.
I was struck at this point with how much data is like Marmite. Marmite is a quintessentially British product - in fact, a quintessentially Midlands product, since the entire world's supply is made in Burton-upon-Trent. I risk being hanged, drawn and quartered here by the Marmarati (I did not make this up: yes there is a secret-ish group of dedicated Marmite fans, recruited by social media who are called the Marmarati), but Marmite is similar to Vegemite, though many British people would passionately argue it's a superior product.
The point is that Marmite is manufactured as a by-product of the brewing industry - with Burton previously having 40 breweries in the vicinity and hence being the world centre for Marmite production. Marmite, you see, is made from waste yeast, and the output is a savoury spread which seems to divide people into lovers or haters - no-one "quite likes" Marmite.
The first quality of Marmite that makes it similar to data-as-a-product is that Marmite is manufactured from something that is left over from making something else, just as data-as-a-product is a byproduct from something a customer is doing while connected to a network.
Just like data-as-a-product, Marmite is not a single ingredient product. In fact, a mysterious Marmite mix is blended with the basic ingredients to add flavour, depth and so on. It's also "brewed", or whatever the correct term is, for different lengths of time.
Similarly, to turn data into a product, will require it to be collected and sifted, and lookups performed to understand what restrictions have been placed on its re-use or resale by the customer or by legislation. Let's take just one data-as-a-product scenario - using it to match products and make recommendations in context. To do this, contextual data will need to be mixed with other data such as preferences, previous history, creditworthiness, and so on. CSP as well as partner offers or products will then be matched to the insights gained.
Rules will be applied, because multiple and conflicting entities may want access to the customer or their data, and decisions will need to be made about not just who is permitted to have access, but who will be granted access to the data (using business rules). Finally, bills and settlements will have to be sent and made. Analytics will be run to see what the upside was for the CSP, its partners, and maybe even its customers (are they happy?).
Another feature that makes Marmite similar to data-as-a-product is that it divides people. Its recent successful advertising campaign has centred upon how you either hate it or love it. Data-as-a-product is similar. It's likely that some customers will love having more tailored offers, information or products; others will hate the feeling that a machine or a company is now controlling their experiences. You can't make people like Marmite, and you're unlikely to convince some people that a data-driven experience is as great as you think it is.
Next we get to benefits. Marmite is not only a tasty spread, it's also touted as having a lot of benefits, because the main ingredient is left-over yeast. Marmite has been claimed to dissuade mosquitoes from biting you, it prevents anemia and it helps the body kill staphylococcus. It can cure hangovers and apparently protects the heart. Even, so concerns have been raised about high salt levels and the Danes went so far as to declare it illegal for three years.
Data-as-a-product will have a similar profile. There are many benefits to the customer of better use of data - not least that it could be used to provide a more delightful connected experience by stopping annoying irrelevant advertising or offers from bothering customers, while giving them more of what they want. But using customer data as a product could also be made illegal in some countries, especially where their explicit permission to re-use insight about them has not been gained.
Here the issue of quantity is important. Too much Marmite is not nice - it is concentrated and needs to be used sparingly. Likewise too many useful insights, helpful offers or amazing data-driven deals will drive customers crazy.
However, one of the interesting things is that both the makers of Marmite, and its customers, have begun to innovate with it: top chefs swear by it as a secret ingredient in basic and signature dishes; while it's now spawned Marmite crisps, mini-cheddar bites and even Easter eggs.
In the same way data-as-a-product will become a secret ingredient to success for a lot of application and content companies, as well as those looking to innovate and differentiate in the digital world. This might take the form of realtime contextualised data or of data insights that can be built into new product offerings.
In short, there is both opportunity and risk in re-using data and transforming it from by-product to a packaged product in its own right. Marmite is made out of waste yeast; but it isn't waste yeast any longer. Just as it had to go through a process to be transformed into Marmite, so data will also need to go through an end-to-end process from collection, to blending, to packaging and delivery in order to be transformed into data-as-a-product.
As we have seen, data-as-a-product throws up a number of challenges for existing BSS processes and systems, not least how to charge for it within the digital supply chain. This is not just about establishing the right charging parameters - since different types and currencies of data will have different values - but also about managing data-as-a-product in a legally-appropriate manner, and one that customers understand and accept. Not all CSPs are agile or adept enough to make a business out of data-as-a-product, but for those CSPs that can get it right, data-as-a-product offers a lucrative new source of revenues.
Telesperience: operational efficiency, commercial agility and a better customer experience
By Annie Turner, Senior Director, Content, TM Forum
Rudolf Rabatin, 2007
All kinds of service providers need to rethink their business models – and fast. New approaches are disrupting long-established services everywhere you look, from Uber, to AirBnb, Alibaba and Facebook – which finally got its mobile act together.
New entrants appear seemingly out of nowhere and all the street protests by incumbents isn’t going to stop this trend. At the same time, consumers’ patience with stuff that doesn’t work well is growing shorter in at least direct proportion to their rising expectations, born out of the convenience, speed and customer service they enjoy from the best digital service providers.
Interestingly though, a disconnect has emerged between the essential component that underpins all digital services – ubiquitous, reliable connectivity, also referred to as the digital dial tone – and the providers of apps and smart devices. The Apple Watch is the most glaring example: basically the attraction of having an iconic, desirable device on your wrist is undermined when it turns out that to make full use of it, it has to be connected (by Bluetooth or NFV) to an iPhone, which in turn is connected to the public mobile network. So now you need to buy and wear/carry two devices?
For instance, Apple Watch offers an accelerometer that can be used to track a runner’s progress or measure how many flights of stairs they have run up this week, among dozens of other things. The accelerometer, on its own, is innovative, but in many instances, it relies on the iPhone’s inbuilt GPS. Put another way, it depends on the non-functional digital dial tone for some functions, undermining its value proposition.
The very best digital devices and services make the non-functional requirements disappear for the user – and this was something of a surprisingly lapse for Apple: A runner shouldn’t have to think about the Bluetooth connection between their iPhone and Apple Watch, or how Verizon, say, hands off the connection between cell towers as they run. But, when things go wrong and part of the run is improperly tracked, those requirements become obvious and annoying.
The ecosystems of device makers, app providers, and digital and communications service providers have some way to go to make all non-functional requirements invisible to users. That’s why virtualization and software-control of network assets and capacity are so critical – they will improve the quality and availability of network assets and the services they deliver, while keeping costs down for the owner of the assets by enabling better use of them.
Once that’s sorted – and it won’t be any time soon as this is no small undertaking, if an essential one – operators should find that they can focus on enabling amazing services for customers. They’ve got a golden opportunity to figure this out in the meantime.
For instance, a use case that’s cropping up frequently is the delivery of relevant, value-add services during high-traffic events. Microsoft demonstrated at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 that working with many broadcast partners, digital and communications service providers could create new revenue streams by selling content from well-known commentators and near-instant replays of key moments to spectators. When done well, this can provide a terrific customer experience – and one, in this instance, sports fans would be prepared to pay for.
Operators hold the key to delivering the non-functional requirements which support the functional needs of the next generation of market challengers. It’s very exciting to hypothesize about the future of connected devices like the Apple Watch and the slew of wearables that it will help spawn, but without connectivity to the network and between devices, their potential is stunted.
For more about how the industry can collaborate to pave the foundation for digital and communications services, check out TM Forum Inform or join us at TM Forum Live!, taking place June 1-4, 2015 in Nice, France.