Every year that starts in the telecoms industry seems to begin with a large dose of what will be the “next great thing”: virtual reality, IoT, 5G or whatever. This year as we head towards end of 2017 and into 2018 it feels like 2017 was indeed a bit different. Of course there has been continued pressure on Operators coming from OTT providers, that has been well acknowledged, but perhaps more significantly we have reached a tipping point in terms of unwillingness of consumers to spend more on services that have had limited perceived improvements. Services that barely existed 2 years ago like Snapchat are now vast owner of consumers’ collective mindshare. Sales of the iPhone 8 are, well, thus far underwhelming. No more, it seems, are consumers willing to take hope and expectations as a saleable service from operators. Their patience has run dry. That gap has closed further in 2017 and it’s a door that may close firmly for some operators in 2018. 2017 has already been a pivotal year alright – just not in the way some Operators or vendors would have liked.
Some operators have continued to promise a much brighter future for their customers. Vodafone UK recently admitted it “slightly lost its mojo” (Vodafone UK CEO, Nick Jeffery, October 2017), after it lost almost 700,000 customers since January 2016. Vodafone has launched a bunch of variously priced content service passes and promised an IoT play some time later this year. It all feels a bit like catch up.
In the background however many operators have realised in 2017 if they had not before that they need to actually act as well as think more like digital / web companies (the Amazons, Ubers and industry revolutionaries like Tesla). This is way more than promising to do better with customer service. It is an actual DNA shift that cuts to the core of their business and technology stacks and changes expectations internally as well as externally. That said, it doesn’t have to be overly complex or disruptive of existing business either and that’s the critical piece really: the ability to make more change, more often and at lower risk to the business than full stack maintenance or swop-outs traditionally incurred. So how does this play out in the BSS space? In the past we’ve seen the usual agility and flexibility messages backed up with no change whatsoever in systems, deployments or commercial models. But now we’re seeing new tech and new processes actually starting to deliver on the over-used marketing promises of agility and speed. DevOps and Microservices are ways of crushing risk and better enabling more flexibility, fresh business models with an ecosystem of ever-evolving partners. So for example, the ability to enable and charge subscribers for a set of services this month and a different set next month. Sounds intuitive, but is still a huge challenge for many providers. There is however fresh aspiration and realistic ability to ignite services in days or hours instead of months or years and allow those services to auto-scale if necessary. DevOps and Microservices in operator environments have been proven so risk is, in fact, minimal.
Will it work? Will it change the game for Operators? Well it hasn’t done the webscale companies any harm. None of the aspirations of operators around virtual reality, 5G and IoT are wrong. It’s just that their market has changed and how they deliver (and change) these new services needs to change. Expectations in relation to actual delivery on the consumer side are higher now. Operators can’t sit back and expect the latest version of the iPhone to drive sales. The market is changing. Customers are changing and even Apple is feeling the effects. 2017 has indeed been a different year. Expect further shifts in DNA in 2018.