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Moving to digital is an on-going journey

By November 2, 2016 No Comments

At telecoms conferences and in the press there is a lot of talk about digital transformation. This dramatic term tends to suggest instant change in one fell swoop. Which in reality is not going to happen. Yet we still read of the one big transformation project as the preferred route for some service providers. Perhaps the view is that when it’s completed the ugly communication service provider wakes up and is transformed into a beautiful digital swan. If only life was so simple. Yet we still see these digital fairy tales being pushed by the mega-vendors who want to do everything and supply every piece of kit. And some service providers are convinced that having ‘one backside to kick’ (aka single vendor strategy) will make life easier. It probably does for procurement – but that’s not really the point. The sales pitch of sign up a massive multi-year digital transformation project with a single vendor where after 5 years and several hundred million dollars the vendor will wave their magic wand, sprinkle some magic (digital) pixie dust and the service provider will be all……….well, digital, and ready to take on Google and Facebook at their own game. This is the stuff of fairy tales. If we’ve learned one thing in this industry is that beyond 18-24 months, no one really knows what is going to happen. Planning and system projects need to reflect this.

Communication service providers are going on a digital journey with lots of twists, turns and blind corners along the way. And they’re going along a fair old speed. They can’t afford to wait 3, 4, or even 5 years for a massive transformation project to be completed. Are the new competition going to stop innovating till the CSP is ‘ready’ to compete? Somehow I doubt it. Just look at the progress Google and Facebook are making in rolling out free to use wi-fi in the last year. Service providers need the systems, processes and tools to compete today – not in 3 to 5 years’ time. The way to do this is not to think in terms of digital transformation and big bang approaches but more in terms of a digital journey. By taking this approach service providers prioritise what needs fixed first and agree on a roadmap for the journey, with the knowledge that this roadmap will almost certainly change. They will have many smaller projects, with short implementation and go live timescales, running concurrently which builds upon existing assets and systems and isn’t a straight rip and replace.

Changes in technology are enabling the move towards much smaller, agile projects for digital services. SDN and NFV mean that services providers can spin new services up and down much quicker. In BSS, virtualisation means that the monetization and marketing systems can drive at the same speed as the virtualised networks. This means less hold up of getting new products out because ‘we need 6 months to deploy an upgrade to the billing system’. Those days are long gone. New processes like DevOps, the advancement in APIs and platforms with use of new tech like MicroServices mean that service providers have the solutions, systems and processes to start to go on a digital journey admitting that they don’t know what’s coming down the line 2 years’ time, never mind what’s going to happen in 2020. It’s ok to admit that we can’t all foresee the future. As service providers roll out new services, adopt new processes and move to place the customer at the centre of their ever changing business, the last thing they need is a five year transformation project because who knows what they’ll be or where they’ll be when the project is finished. A digital transformation suggests that you know the end goal and have a route to get there. A digital journey using many different vendors with open and interoperable systems gives service providers the flexibility to re-act to a fork in the road and change direction when needed.