The telecommunications industry led the charge on technology adoption decades ago. Now the industry is facing a severe technology debt. As customers demand faster and better products, companies must somehow update or adapt legacy infrastructure to deliver cutting-edge services.
To keep up, executives are making bold choices: investing billions in infrastructure to keep up with demands for digital services and building workflows to eliminate silos between departments. But these moves are easier said than done.
Telecom companies are under tremendous pressure to deliver digital services on demand. That’s not as simple as shipping new products. Most telecom companies’ customers have already experienced a digital transformation, which has elevated their expectations for their telecom service providers, according to Ben Bendre, an associate partner with the Global Center of Competency for Telecommunications, Media, and Entertainment at IBM.
“The best service experience from a company like Amazon or Starbucks depends on the quality of the experience their telecom service providers can deliver,” he says. Yesterday’s services aren’t good enough for today’s businesses.
To deliver premium experiences, companies must somehow blend decades of legacy infrastructure with the new hybrid world of cloud infrastructure. Telecom companies use hybrid networks, which combine legacy, terrestrial, and cloud-based IT networks. This approach increases both the cost and complexity of their operations—and hurts their agility.
The unnecessary complexity runs deep. “All service providers have the same issue,” Bendre says. “Every time a new product came along, they built a new application to manage it.” Now, organizations have a multitude of order management stacks to handle each of these applications. But the technologies aren’t integrated. “These silos limit visibility into what you’re providing,” he adds.
Fragmented application stacks make it difficult to track metrics around service provision. Companies can’t improve what they can’t track. As a result, teams are wasting a lot of time on manual work that could be automated. This negatively affects client delivery quality.
A technical aptitude issue is at play here too. Reskilling a highly knowledgeable workforce given the advancement of technology is no easy task.
Vicki Harris, director of business development at Thirdera, says departments such as business development, product design, finance, order management, and procurement really feel the technology lag. But companies often draw a hard line between these departments and IT, and the two don’t communicate. “A lot of my approach is making sure businesses understand new technology and what it can do for them,” she says.
Improving decades-old technologies and processes is doable but not easy. To start, executives must build a data-driven organization, says Jinu Koshy, vice president of domain consulting at Infosys. If they don’t, improvement won’t be difficult—it will be impossible.
Koshy says companies are leaving a lot of rich data on the table. Every time a customer calls to request a repair, make a complaint, or change their service location, it involves data. All of that data can be leveraged to improve the business.
“Start by asking, ‘Do we have a culture of data?’” Koshy recommends. “That doesn’t mean [you need to] build a 10-story apartment building and then try to fit your data in it. It means you should think about how to build data into your architecture.”
When companies fail to collect data, they lack insight into what technologies they need to update and in what order to provide the best service. This leads to communication issues, Harris says, because teams can’t adequately prioritize projects and establish metrics for success.
“You need to have the analytics to understand whether your customers and teams are actually using the things you’re putting in front of them,” she adds. This provides a better way to rationalize what your customers are using, with open transparency in sharing the metrics for agreed-upon success.
Once a telecom company has metrics about its services, that data must be synthesized and used. “This is a huge opportunity for industrial automation,” Bendre says. By integrating software and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and internet of things (IoT) devices, companies can monitor customer activities and solve problems before they arise.
To show why automation and integration are so important, Bendre explains two key pillars of the telecom industry that have traditionally operated independently:
Service delivery, in which the organization takes an order and delivers it
Service assurance stack, which ensures a service keeps running
“But companies have started to think about this as a single, end-to-end platform,” he says. When everything is integrated into the same platform, it’s easier to gain visibility into issues, automate manual processes, and remove roadblocks. “This opens up new revenue possibilities,” he says.
That single, end-to-end, integrated platform is what ServiceNow provides. Integrated dashboards and data insights can save companies money. Instead of always building a new product or investing in a new tool to solve a problem, companies can make the most of what they already have.
“They can take advantage of existing technologies with an end-to-end workflow that allows them to realize their potential,” Harris says.
Telecom companies are using “workflows of workflows,” as Bendre puts it, to take multidomain service orchestration to the next level. “Before, we bandaged solutions to make processes work together,” he says. “Now, we can orchestrate processes across multiple product lines, but also across multiple third-party partners like security vendors.”
Automation and integration are fundamentals. To truly get ahead, organizations must innovate. But innovation requires democratization, Koshy says. It’s not enough to invest in advanced technologies such as AI and ML—they must be made available to everyone in the organization.
Koshy stresses that what works for the IT department might not necessarily work for business or finance. If each department is empowered to use technology to solve its own problems, then everyone can make substantial progress toward their goals.
“It’s not about a big-bang approach,” he says. “It’s about managing change through incremental effort.” And incremental effort is where the alchemy of innovation is brewed.
Get more tips on reimagining the telecom experience in our ebook: Accelerate revenue growth in telecommunications.
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