Diversity in Telco Transformation: Vendors Must Aid in Many Journeys

Principal Analyst, Global Telecom Technology and Software

Summary Bullets:

• Common telco transformation goals of efficiency, agility, and customer experience obscure a variety of interim approaches and roadmaps.

• Vendors must be prepared to support each telco’s diverse product, operations, and procurement strategies.

Telecommunications vendors talk a lot about digital transformation, mostly in similar terms: Customer experience must improve; OpEx must fall; cloudified 5G networks must be planned, built, and automated; services must get to market more rapidly; and organizational culture must become more agile. Worthy goals all, but after 20 or so meetings at Mobile World Congress or similar industry gatherings, they can seem like a catechism instead of a roadmap. Every telco is in a different position, and needs to set its own plan for transformation.

Often network and IT vendors rely on their global services departments to help customers transform, so services events are good places to see the actual work that telcos are doing. One recent example was Huawei’s Operations Transformation Summit, held the day before MWC. Four operators presented to the vendor’s Open ROADS community: Axiata Group, China Mobile Pakistan (doing business under the Zong brand), Sunrise Switzerland, and Viva Kuwait. All have made progress toward automated, efficient, and agile operations and great customer experience, but each is taking a different path. Each operator also exemplifies one or more real results that telcos can achieve today:

Agility enabled: Digital transformation must slash any new offering’s time to market and opportunity cost. Doing so requires a combination of technology and process work: in Sunrise’s case, process automation and resource modularization combine with a new abstraction layer between back-end systems and customer channels to enable scrum-based service development. Like cloud-native OTT players, Sunrise now provides frequent feature updates rather than aggregating changes into infrequent point releases.

APIs and ecosystems: For a few years now, it’s been an article of faith that telcos will someday use a platform ecosystem to bring more services to market a la Salesforce.com or Google. Axiata started in 2012. It began with the long tail, publishing simple APIs and using crowdsourcing to introduce 3,000 apps between 2012 and 2014. It then industrialized its APIs into a single hub and cloud-native architecture to accommodate larger partners, other telcos, and more complicated services, resulting in 11,000 ecosystem developers, 200+ service partners, and 17,000 apps developed. Just as important as the technological components is Axiata’s governance model, which requires code reuse, microservices, documentation, and APIs that can be exposed externally.

AI-assisted investment: Artificial intelligence is aiding improvements in both traditional capacity planning – where it can forecast cell-level traffic and performance three months in advance – and in prioritizing investment. Zong is one of the operators that uses AI to help it prioritize upgrades in a very low-ARPU market by analyzing which cells will be most used by high-value customers.

Procurement efficiency. Although rarely mentioned in industry discussions, procurement is the subject of renewed focus as traditional cost management procedures and per-component RFPs run up against software-style licensing models and the need for transformation partnerships. The improved planning we mention in the previous bullet combines with standardized equipment definitions to enable efficient capital use via just-in-time procurement: Viva noted that purchase order processing has gone from 15 to five days, while Zong has seen its contract approval time drop by 59% and its implementation time drop by 53%.

These are just four examples from one event, but they underscore the diversity of operator approaches: even if their goals are similar, a full-service vendor must be able to aid each operator on its unique journey. A comprehensive services approach is essential to handle this diversity.