It’s time to lay firm foundations for a flexible future

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Richard Britton, CEO of CloudSense, talks through some of the findings from his company’s recent enquiry into the new technologies that are expected to have the greatest impact on the telecoms sector this year.

There’s no denying that the telecommunications industry is at a crossroads. With revenues from core services at a standstill, most are facing a stark choice – move into new markets or accept a controlled decline into eventual oblivion. And yet, according to the analyst firm Ovum, the telecoms sector will be one of the top industries for IT spending over the next 12 to 18 months. So how will this money be invested?

There are no shortages of new innovations to investigate. Most businesses in the sector are relying on their new focus on digital and cloud services to deliver revenue and profits in 2015. But should they be looking further into the future and considering the potential of, for example, the Internet of Things, big data or even wearable technology?

We recently asked 330 decision makers across the global industry their views on which new technologies would have the most impact on the telecoms sector in 2015 or even further into the future. The fact that there was no one obvious answer was a far more interesting result than if one particular technology had leapt out as the clear winner.

In my view, this diversity of answers was indicative of the current state of flux – and how businesses may have to cope with all kinds of new trends and advances – and accompanying hype – over the next few years, instead of focusing on just one champion technology. It’s clear from this result, that instead of putting all their nest eggs in one basket, these businesses ought to invest in being ready for anything. In other words, they should focus on building strong foundations that enable them to be agile and prepared.

The question was part of survey designed to assess current industry thinking. Despite the lack of consensus on new technologies, there was one question that did produce a definite result. A surprising 79% of those polled were in some way dissatisfied with their current enterprise IT systems. It seems that their legacy systems such as ERP, installed during the growth years and adapted, patched and tailored to requirements since then, are now too cumbersome to keep pace with today’s demands and are holding many businesses back.

The problem here is that, in theory, these systems were a one-off investment and built to last. Any reluctance to make further changes is understandable – especially when voiced by non-technical decision-makers. Yet, it’s a direct result of these systems that the vast majority (82%) also said that they were unable to bundle across all products and services.

With so many different new technologies potentially impacting business next year, commercial success will be dependent upon how a company sells and delivers these to customers. When asked about key challenges for 2015, 47% of survey respondents said ‘winning new business’ with 46% citing ‘reducing operational overheads’. However, it is impossible to increase new business and reduce costs without a significant change in approach. Continuing to rely on ageing systems which undermine a smooth, order-to-cash journey will severely impact revenue, costs and customer experience.

The survey also showed that a vast range of issues continue to have a negative impact on customer service. For example, 35% were concerned that their customers were still having a different experience depending on their point of contact. The next two most significant concerns for business were the continuing use of manual processes (highlighted by 31%) and the fact that order capture and management systems are not fast enough to change, leading to increased time to market for new products or services (30%).

So what can telecoms businesses do, other than waste all their previous IT investments? The answer lies in new cloud-based solutions that provide a layer on top of existing architecture. These allow the much-needed agility for faster innovation cycles and a single way of selling all products in different combinations. New ideas that fail to take off can be quickly replaced with the next in line.

By centralising cross-channel customer information, new digital services are brought into the heart of the business; there’s no need to run them as a separate, standalone arm. Because there is a single source of information for each individual customer – regardless of whether that customer has contacted them online, via mobile phone, text or social media, for example – sales teams can be more proactive and go beyond pre-defined offers and quickly configure, price and quote (CPQ) bundles themselves.

But, it’s not just about making the sale. It’s about full order lifecycle management and a complete vision of the customer journey. Without this overall view, cross and up-selling are often hit and miss at best and using ‘next best action’ marketing techniques, based on the history of an individual customer, is almost impossible. Consequently, customers become impatient with their provider’s lack of knowledge and are likely to move on to where they think they may receive better attention.

Technological developments are coming into the industry at breath-taking speed and many businesses need to act quickly to avoid losing out entirely. Success lies with leaving the comfort zone and entering less well-defined and somewhat risky territories, often already populated by newer competitors, full of ideas and unhampered by legacy infrastructure and processes. Yet, established providers do have well-defined brands and strong customer networks in their favour. With the right moves now, they are more than able to compete and reap the benefits.

There is a certain reassurance that success does not necessarily rely on having the most compelling and shiny new products, but in establishing better processes and systems to ensure the flexibility and service needed. Getting this right will lay a firm foundation for the future evolution of the industry.

Richard BrittonAs CloudSense’s Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Britton oversees the company’s technical and business strategy. A key element of his role is advising companies on how to implement holistic IT systems that deliver a single view of the customer and manage the entire sales order lifecycle – from product design and order capture to fulfilment. Since 2009, under Britton’s leadership, CloudSense has grown into an award-winning, multi-million pound company with over 115 employees globally. Prior to CloudSense, Britton was CIO at Easynet, where he introduced cloud technologies that transformed business processes.

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