opinion


COVID-19: What’s next for the communications industry?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Jacopo Sebastiani, UK lead for Accenture’s Communications, Media & Technology industries, looks at the challenges and opportunities presented to the telecoms sector by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As lockdowns were imposed across the globe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers turned in huge numbers to digital channels for entertainment, information, education, and to stay in touch with family and friends. In combination with the rapid move for many to work from home, it’s led to a whole new emphasis on the importance of the offerings that communications service providers (CSPs) deliver.

In their response to the early days of the pandemic, CSPs’ mobilised to adapt to changes in demand and demonstrated agility through accelerated channel shifts and enhanced digital capabilities – for instance, EE’s Virtual Support app which has enabled customers to self-serve, reducing the need for home-visits; developed creative customer propositions and deals to ensure accessibility to mobile, connectivity and entertainment services – such as Virgin Media’s unlimited minutes and data boost offering to Pay Monthly customers, extra TV offerings and Fibre Broadband speed upgrades and Sky’s 10GB of free data to Sky Mobile customers; and launched propositions to support society – such as Vodafone’s five-point plan to work more closely with governments across Europe to support their response to the crisis.

CSPs will continue to play a critical role in supporting governments, consumers, and businesses during the uncertain times ahead as they navigate three waves of impact, the Now, the Next, the Never Normal. The Now includes an emphasis on supporting people, customers, and suppliers. The Next will feature refocusing the business to withstand new threats and seize new opportunities in a slowing economy. And the Never Normal will require navigating rapid shifts in cultural norms, values and behaviours.

Challenges driven across both supply and demand will continue to increase operational pressures including customer demand for robust omnichannel support, service and sales; criticality of network and IT maintenance stability; the need to continue investment in Fibre and 5G and most critically the wide-spread impact on the workforce.

CSPs have a unique opportunity to fundamentally reinvent and change their relationship and intimacy with their customers through a focus on the human-impact of COVID-19, helping them to find new secure and sustainable ways of working through reliable, intuitive and innovative products and services which enable them to establish human resilience within their workforce.

Accenture’s COVID-19 Response Center Framework includes specific market actions, differentiated assets and capabilities, and innovative technology enablers to support our CSP clients, their people and businesses. At its core is Elastic Digital Workplace which provides the mechanisms to reimagine the workforce, optimise security and resilience, and to fundamentally protect people and productivity.

CSPs are already taking action to consider the future of work, some putting steps in place to move to a fully virtual operation, such as one Australian telco that has said that working from home will be a permanent feature for its Call Centre operations; others are redesigning their retail function to introduce fewer out of city “experience centres” or virtual retail experiences, and many are driving a greater focus on how to create a safe and secure working environment. Understanding customer needs to inform longer-term strategies will be key, for instance, according to our research, 71% of consumers in the UK would feel no / small sense of loss if physical retail locations were not available once the COVID crisis ends.

Enabling new workplace practices will require the availability of the right technology, mobility and collaboration tools across the organisation alongside robust business continuity and adaptive security capability. These steps will be fundamental to achieve the cultural change required to establish new sustainable ways of working. For example, BT set a mission statement around their COVID purpose in “Keeping our customers connected and our colleagues safe”.

With increasing trust our research suggests that consumers will be interested in new services and willing to pay for them as their needs change to reflect their lives, increasing demand for solutions across entertainment, connected home+, gaming, social and health.

CSPs must also get on the front foot of their growth strategy to successfully navigate continued market disruption from the platform players. The joint venture of O2 and Virgin Media, for instance, has seen the creation of a converged player overnight and created a new competitor in the market. Extending the ecosystem will no longer be optional for CSPs to succeed.

In summary, CSPs have played an integral role in supporting customer wellbeing through their ability to keep in touch with family and friends and stay productive in their work. However, balancing immediate needs with longer-term opportunities will require the reinvention of CSP business models, which embed agility and resilience enabling them to continue to prosper and optimise their value in a new societal landscape. The time to shape a mindset of bold business transformation underpinned by trust through people-centric secure services and enhanced ways of working, powered by new approaches to technology and responsible leadership is underway.

 

Jacopo is currently the UK lead for Accenture’s Communications, Media & Technology industries. His background is in Business and IT transformations and Client Account Leadership within the Telco and Media industry, with the ability to understand the business drivers and relate it to what is required from the technology perspective. He has worked with many large telecommunication and media companies over the past 20+ years including H3G, Orange, Telefonica, Virgin Media, Telecom Italia and Vodafone. Prior to his current role, Jacopo was Director of Operations for the Communications, Media & Technology industry in Europe, responsible for Finance, HR, Enterprise Risk Management and Operations.


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