What does the future hold for telco? Can it inform long-term OSS/BSS supplier strategies?

Do you ever look into the past to determine whether commonalities / discrepancies could be used to inform how you might act into the future? When it comes to OSS/BSS and telco, I certainly do. I hark back into the days when CSPs were the world’s leading tech companies and innovators. They also had incredibly profitable business models throughout the 1900s.

That world of telco has changed irrevocably. So, the question I often ask myself is what fundamentals have changed and how might that enlighten how we evolve OSS/BSS and telco from here.

One thing certainly hasn’t changed – the importance of communications services. They’re in fact more important than they ever were. Our modern e-lifestyles are heavily dependent upon them.

I already knew this, but felt it with a cracking thud recently. I had a major issue with data roaming whilst attending MWC a couple of weeks ago and it was a major impediment, causing me to miss two events that I was incredibly excited to attend. The reason for the roaming outage was ridiculous as it turned out, and partly related to this article, but I digress and will tell that story another time (perhaps).

On the flipside, one thing has drastically changed since the golden era of telco – the flip from scarcity to abundance.

The traditional communications service provider (CSP) business models were built on the principle of scarcity, where CSPs controlled the distribution and pricing of communications services that were in limited supply. In many cases, they were government owned and had monopolistic tendencies. However, with the advent of de-regulation, the digital age and the rise of new technologies, we now have an abundance of communications services, which has drastically disrupted the traditional CSP business models.

What can we learn from this? How can we project forward from here?

A few potential strategies could include:

  1. Embrace digital transformation, especially at the periphery (note the use of the word periphery rather than edge due to the commandeered use of the word edge by the telco industry these days): CSPs, with the help of OSS / BSS, were one of the first industries to undergo digital transformation, so I’m not talking about that (although a massive opportunity for digital efficiency transformation improvement still awaits – but that’s selling to the bottom line rather than the top line). The reason I discuss the periphery is because CSP must find a way to make it easy for all their clients to fully embrace digital transformation. This customer technology leadership has largely been ceded to other parties such as the hyperscalers over the last couple of decades. A new opportunity exists to help clients with the next wave of digital transformation – to intelligently leverage new technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the internet of things to deliver innovative and personalized services to their customers
  2. Switch from an inward-facing to outward-facing approach. To be customer’s customer-centric: CSPs have spent recent decades looking inwards, perhaps with an occasional outward glance. But how much time do they take to consider the next ring out – to understand how they can help clients to deliver services to their customer with modern e-business technology? This requires a shift of focus from being service providers to building offerings that make them customer’s customer experience providers. This includes invest in creating what clients actually need most to become (and deliver) advanced e-businesses. This includes seamless, reliable and consistent customer experience across all channels and touchpoints, including social media, chatbots, and mobile apps. It probably also includes all the OSS/BSS services that are currently inward-facing (eg CRM, order management, fault management, billing, invoicing, asset / inventory management, etc, etc) and create equivalent e-business offerings that are outward-facing
  3. Offer bundled services through collaboration and partnerships (again, by looking outside, not inside): For a start, a CSP’s community of OSS/BSS are quite capable of building e-business offerings for CSPs to take to a burgeoning e-business sector. But who’s ever made that connection (yet)?? But this isn’t all about OSS/BSS. CSPs can also consider bundling their services with other offerings such as video streaming, gaming, immersive tech, or home security services to provide a more comprehensive solution to their customers or customer’s customers
  4. The long-tail is beyond CSP reach, so emphasise value-added services: CSPs can’t offer every electronic experience. However, they certainly can differentiate themselves by offering value-added services such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and other specialised services to help their customers better manage their digital lives. But perhaps even more important is to be able to offer the marketplace (and associated OSS/BSS to manage it) where apps, data and content can be offered to give access to a long-tail of digital flexibility once more
  5. Focus on partnerships: Have you noticed the emphasis on partnerships above? CSPs should consider partnering with other companies, such as content providers or device manufacturers (did I mention OSS/BSS vendors?), to create new revenue streams and enhance their value proposition. Again, we’re looking at not just customers, but bringing the customer’s customers into partnerships and supply-chain discussions here. CSPs have an amazing client pool, from titans of industry to the smallest of startups. If CSPs can find a way to partner, connect and collaborate (but more importantly, add value) to their subscriber-base of paying customers, then they hold an almost unassailable competitive advantage. Large companies tend to only deal with large companies, but it’s smaller more innovative companies that arguably have more to gain (and more gain to deliver) through partnering with CSPs
  6. Look to the East for the next wave of leadership: For the last few decades, Western telcos have been outsourcing their technology “apprenticeship” roles to countries in the East like India, Indonesia, Philippines, and others. This shift of where “hands-on” work is done has hollowed out a lot of the technical experiences and expertise within Western telcos. Network maintenance, solution development, operational responsibility and more have been outsourced. This hands-on involvement with and understanding of delivery has occurred within the context of modern technology (eg cloud, modern application development pipelines, etc), not an understanding of older technologies. When modern tech awareness is combined with the need to do more with less (eg compare Eastern telco ARPU with Western telco ARPU) and the deep-seated ambition harboured by many in developing countries, comes a likely wellspring of innovation, leadership and even novel telco business models (eg Rakuten Symphony, Reliance Jio, etc). Telcos and OSS/BSS vendors alike certainly could seek out, promote and even invest in the next wave rather than bemoan the skills shortage (in their Western network of contacts) and simply await disruption

How does this impact OSS/BSS development strategies?

  • Flexibility and scalability to cope with an abundance of services, including the ability to bridge the telco edge of the network and offer services inside private networks / e-businesses
  • Cloud-native solutions that are easily integrated (with CSPs, third-party products, immersive tech, etc), modular and scalable
  • Improved intuitivity, self-service and automation to give greater power and acceptance among customers (CSPs), their customers (enterprise) and their customer’s customers (end-users). There’s no skills-shortage if we make products that are so intuitive that almost anyone can use them (unlike most OSS/BSS user interfaces today)
  • Seek differentiated partnerships and relationships that go beyond the traditional channels, looking at how CSPs might on-sell e-business solutions, how immersive tech could drastically improve current ways-of-working (within telcos and beyond), how AI can be made accessible to the long-tail of telco subscribers, outside your regional network of contacts. There’s a saying that success comes from doing things differently and it’s through partnerships that profound differentiation can be achieved

What do you think? What else can we learn from the past to project into the future?

How can these projections (and others) help form your next strategy? Are your strategies simply a refinement of what’s come before, changing almost imperceptibly, or are they considering more drastic shifts such as the ones described above? Are you looking outside traditional channels?

Please leave us a comment below to share your thoughts on the path to a better future world of telco and OSS/BSS.

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