Technology, mind maps and people! A blind man’s guide to MWC

The question I most often get asked at MWC is not what’s hot and what’s not. It’s always, how the hell do you cope with Barcelona and the FIRA as a blind person?  The answer is a combination of planning, people and technology.

Planning

  • The annual MWC Lewis spreadsheet is legendary. It’s a masterpiece in how to cluster meetings in the same or adjacent halls (and trying to avoid anything north of Hall 5)!
  • Taxis (the subway is a non starter for me). The GSMA put me in touch with a specialist disability taxi firm who sent the same driver each day and even negotiated with the police to drop me off in front of the FIRA South entrance (didn’t always work). NB: The white cane comes in useful in getting to the front of taxi queues – stick with me next year!

Technology

  • Mobile Apps: having all of my appointments in the iPhone and the diary announcing everything through Voiceover, meant that I was continually getting audible input whether I wanted it or not
  • Be My Eyes: an accessibility app with over a 100,000 volunteers around the world helping 400,000 visually impaired people. Simply point your smart phone camera at something, click and it polls for a volunteer who comes online via a Web RTC link to tell you what you’re looking at.
  • Tap Tap See: similar to the above, does what it says in the name. Tap when pointing the camera and the system tells you it sees.
  • Orcam:  this new self-contained device provides character, people and product recognition from its mounting on the arm of a pair of normal glasses. Tap the side and it reads any text in front of it. It recognizes people so that it tells you tChris Lewis 1heir names when they stand in front of you. You can even store products like cereal packets, wine labels etc and it will tell you what they are!

 

 

 

Navigation around the FIRA

  • A member of the GSMA customer team kindly arranged met me each morning outside and got me to my first meeting
  • The venue benefits from a grid system and the upper walkway spine: as long as I knew where I was relatively, I could vaguely find my way back to the Press Centre where I made my base
  • Collision avoidance: My low centre of gravity helps. I was bumped into so many times by people looking down at their phones or up at stands but never looking where they were going – despite vigorously waving my white cane. I was even rammed by a catering trolley but the person behind couldn’t see me and, not surprisingly, had expected people to get out of their way!

And, finally, just asking the hoards of people around me. Most are shocked that a man with a white stick is there at all but, as in life in general, the vast majority are phenomenally helpful. Most companies I saw actually walked me to my next meeting – a great excuse for them to get off the stand!

Just like living in London, I don’t allow myself be overwhelmed by the thought of over 100,000 delegates,  8 Halls,  an Upper Walk Way,  a Press Centre and even the new South Village. Just like commuting, you occupy a small island of the MWC at any time. What exists elsewhere is irrelevant, and optimising the route between islands is the goal. Shame Uber can’t operate in the aisles of the FIRA, or perhaps they, in a ground-based vehicle or a drone up near the ceiling, might well do so in the future. Or maybe I’ll give in to family pressure for a guide dog.

In terms of next year, my shopping list is pretty simple: HD Maps and iBeacons.  Despite the hype around autonomous vehicles, the GSMA and the mapping companies still haven’t come up with a walking navigation step-by-step tool to tell me exactly where I am.  For the premier telecoms industry event of the year, surely an app can be built based on all of that lovely tech to guide me? And, as with most accessibility technology today, everyone able-bodied I talk to say they would also love that for themselves!

Finally, my special thanks to all analysts, companies and GSMA employees who made this one of the best MWCs for me. Special mention to John Delaney from IDC who walked me back to my hotel when my taxi couldn’t get past the police barricades around the Catalonian independence demonstrators!

Tagged , , , , ,

A ‘brand’ view of the telecoms industry

Tim Pritchard, Kantar TNS at the Great Telco Debate

In the spirit of getting outside perspectives on the evolving telecoms market, Tim Pritchard from Kantar TNS, the WPP company which is the largest custom research business in the world, joined the Great Telco Debate on the role of telecoms in the digital economy. The brand perspective raised some very interesting and contradicting themes:

GTD17_027

  • The customer is changing. Traditional segmentation is no longer valid. ‘Generation CX’ (young, old, educated, working class – a slice of everyone) is the new reality and brands either listen and respond to customer feedback or risk becoming irrelevant.
  • It is widely accepted that customer loyalty drives profitable revenue growth. As such, customer experience (CX) is non-negotiable. But how does it fit in with today’s telecoms ‘product’ given the world of apps and over-the-top content consumption?
  • Corporate mission statements and brand values tend not to include the customer – you’ll be amazed how few companies, even those spending tens of millions each year on CX, have an agreed customer strategy. Get it written down and socialised across the business so that everyone from the janitor to the CEO knows it, and uses it to frame their work, their thinking, and their daily behaviour.
  • WPP’s 2017 Global BrandZ  shows that 8 of the world’s most valuable 50 brands are telcos. A further 15 are technology companies. You’ve had the power for a long time, but have you leveraged that power? I would say not.
  • Most Telcos have adopted NPS (Net Promoter System) yet their NPS scores are among the lowest of any industry. Virtual network providers often enter markets and quickly start to outperform the network owners, sometimes by as much as 20-30 NPS points. It shouldn’t be that easy – there is something clearly amiss among incumbent telcos to afford disruptor brands that opportunity to create true CX differentiation.
  • A focus on self-serve business models may help to save telcos money but, aside from the customer groups who actively prefer to self-serve, tend to harm rather than enhance brand building efforts.
  • The customer voice is vital, and capturing customer feedback on specific interactions (preferably in real-time) provides critical input for both tactical response and strategy development, as well as brand building

There are 3 basic rules:

  • Don’t let customer down, especially at critical times (i.e. the moments that really matter)
  • Deliver emotional and functional experiences that stimulate long-lasting feelings for the brand
  • Do things that reinforce brand choice and deliver services to customers in a personal, relevant, and needs-satisfying manner

In short, the role of brand is changing with the digital market. Telcos and tech companies benefit hugely from high brand valuations yet typically suffer from poor customer service, reflected in low NPS scores. Part of the challenge is identifying what role the telco plays in the lives of ‘Generation CX’. Identifying, enunciating and promoting a clear customer strategy is vital to re-positioning the telco for the coming generations.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learn to read the digital wind: A group CIO’s perspective of the state of the telecoms nation

Phil and ChrisOne of my highlights from the last Great Telco Debate was my informal interview with Phil Jordan, former Group CIO from Telefonica, about his 20 years in the telecoms industry. We talked about the highs and lows of the role, the relative role of the CIO, telco transformation and the state of the market. Here are some of the key topics and themes:

Highs and lows of a telco CIO

  • Phil believes the industry should be proud of being at the heart of building the digital economy and helping people run their digital lives
  • Almost every day for Phil had 4 highs and 5 lows: One of the lows is that telecoms is a much-maligned industry and ‘we’ do a great job of kicking the proverbial out of each other when we gather for an industry forum such as the Great Telco Debate. ‘We’ continually complain about how difficult it is and how poor ‘we’ are at servicing customer needs.
  • A low, especially recently, is how frustrating it can be getting the industry to shift gear. We are running out of time to remain relevant and at the centre of driving the digital revolution
  • The vast majority of time has been spent fighting internally with colleagues over the digital transformation of the organisation rather than fighting with competitors, dealing with regulators or building relationships with suppliers

The relative role of the CIO

  • Telcos were traditionally run by network people and IT was very much an afterthought, resulting in overly complex systems. According to Phil, very little architectural integrity exists in telcos. IT was a system of record but is now moving to be the differentiating factor with the network becoming the underlying product. The network is, of course, the biggest asset but it is not a source of differentiation. Phil suggest that the real differentiator is the leveraging of customer data. This is a huge transition for telcos to move from an engineering mentality to actually serving the customer. All this places huge technical, skills and leadership demands on the organisation.
  • It is still difficult to operate at a pace within the telcos but they are gradually realising the new innovation paradigm. From the CIO perspective, running the network with a handful of suppliers, looks easy. The IT side, on the other hand, has literally thousands of suppliers. And, the CTO is the one person in the telco who understands the network.  Everyone thinks they understand how IT works or should work!
  • The shift to ‘X as a service’, along with changing suppliers relationships, is indicative of the shift in balance between CTO and CIO.
  • There has been a degree of complacency with the telcos and their suppliers. There seems to have been a ‘hand break’ on virtualisation because it represents the end of an era for so many parties both in inside and outside of the telcos. “Virtualisation is turkeys voting for Christmas. Having said that, it isn’t a straight route. In sailing terms, it needs a bit of tacking and jibing across the direction of travel in order to get to the end destination – and we need to learn to read the wind!”
  • Telcos have been guilty of not understanding the innovation agenda and where it has been coming from.

Transforming the telco into a digital business

  • Transformation is difficult because it was easy running a telco when profits were high, competition low and everyone knew their place! The commercial and technical leadership used to “rock up and run the business”. All of a sudden there are new competitors, margins are shrinking and innovation is coming from other places. This requires a different kind of leadership.
  • It is noticeable how many telco executives come from management consultancy, finance or law whilst the hyper scale companies are led by tech entrepreneurs
  • According to Phil, the role of the CIO is very much one of being a story-teller and explaining how things work to the different LOBs, OPCOS and levels of management. The CIO, in many ways, has a better end-to-end understanding of the way the business runs. This is because the CIO can’t get away from everyone asking him how everything worked. So, in short, a major problem exists at the top of telcos not understanding the way the business runs and not really understanding the art of the possible when it comes to technology
  • Phil believes that transforming a major telco is 3-4-year job and “anyone who tells you it is less is lying or have never done it before”.

The state of the market

  • On the consumer side, the risk of being marginalised is real. The motion for the debate was that we will buy our broadband from Google and Amazon in the future. We probably won’t even buy broadband directly, but included in services from a variety of companies, including the OTTs.
  • On the business side, there are enormous possibilities as business models emerge that require connectivity. One of the problems is that telcos think they should be running Facebook. The problem is that the money is in B2B, IoT and AI.
  • We need to build offerings into the emerging digital business models. Wholesale was the poor relation because its margins were considerably lower that the highly profitable retail and business service. As those margins ‘head south’, wholesale may well look more attractive!
  • Telcos run the risk being relegated to mere utility bandwidth. Does this mean we will be part of a much smaller industry in the future? Phil believes there will be a consolidation around the connectivity market with the leveraging of data providing the new impetus, innovation, and support for the customer experience. If the telco can give control back to the customer regarding their data, there is potentially a different relationship. Having said that, there is still a major role for the telcos to play in the digital world, society, and lifestyle whatever the ecosystem and relative roles.

Phil is now launching his retail career at Sainsbury’s. He suspects that the wafer thin margins of the high street will have the focus most definitely on the usage of data and building a clearer understanding of the customer and their behaviour. Perhaps he will bring these lessons back into telco in the future!

You can watch the full interview  from the Great Telco Debate here

Thank you Phil for your insight, openness and humour. The industry will miss you.

Tagged , , , ,

An Economist’s perspective on the future of telecoms

Getting external perspectives always adds to the richness of the Great Telco Debate.  Mark Gregory, Chief Economist at EY in London and I discussed the economic realities of telecoms and the digital economy going forward. Here are the key themes that emerged:

  • Measuring productivity in traditional economic terms has been challenged by the Gig economy and its processes: ubiquitous connectivity is destroying traditional value such as in the taxi, hotel or retail markets but is creating new value as different parties are brought together on the exploding number of platforms for consumer and business use
  • ‘Digital’ was formerly about hidden components such as semi-conductors, servers and 3D printing. It’s now all pervasive and, from an economist’s perspective, it’s about how all industries work, the potential impact of technology and where value is created
  • The potential ubiquity of ultra broadband diminishes the relative value of connectivity since scarcity tends to create value
  • Telecoms is in the group of General Purpose Technologies (GPT) as described by Robert Gordon in his assessment of the impact of IT on productivity. It may be a disproportionately important enabler in a more digital world, but it is nonetheless an enabler
  • Telecoms (broadband) should have a relatively bigger role going forward but that depends on how it evolves and how it allows other industries to evolve
  • Telecoms first of all has to deliver its role into the digital economy as an enabler. Moves into content delivery and other services have been only variously successful
  • Telecoms must think about how it can enable other value chains rather than dominate them by underpinning new processes and allowing new apps to flourish.
  • Politics is becoming extremely important for the future of telecoms. Regulators have to get out of the mindset of capping prices if they are going to allow the telecoms industry to evolve into its new digital economy support role. The telcos have to be able to benefit in terms of value capture if they are going to be incentivised to invest for the future.
  • 5G is what some of the financial community are most worried about in terms of another big chunk of investment being required.
  • Digital skills are important as automation shifts the focus for human roles in the digital economy
  • As we look at Brexit some sectors are clearly going to be impacted:
    • Financial services and Life Sciences because of the regulatory environment.
    • Automotive could be impacted but this is still not clear
    • Telecoms does not appear to be in the high impact category.
    • Data protection will be a major focus given European regulation.
    • The labour force is the one to keep an eye on – digital skills and a more flexible work force capable of coping with the the dynamics of a digital market will be vital.

Here is the full interview:

Keep November 29th 2018 free for the next Great Telco Debate. If you have topics you think are shaping the future of the industry and would like to contribute as an ‘expert witness’ please drop me a line.

Tagged , , , , , ,

A Great Telco Debate 2017: an industry in transition from introspection to altruism?

The reason d’être of the Great Telco Debate is to air the broadest set of perspectives to help people challenge and shape their thinking around future strategies. It is increasingly evident that the telecoms industry has some major shifts in strategy to adopt in order to find its place in the digital economy. Drivers for the industry are no longer the internal technical and regulatory ones but are now the wider economic drivers shaping each country’s economy. Also Economists are struggling to identify exactly how these will play out but telecoms, now as a General Purpose Technology (GPT), must adapt to the environment around it and not expect the rest of the economy to dance to the telecoms tune. Brand is a tool that telcos can build upon, but excellence in customer service and keeping promises has to be part of the brand value, product and service delivery.

It is fascinating to hear the debates and how critical we all are of the telecoms industry.  However the results of the debate voting seem to suggest that telecoms will do well. Is this perhaps the echo chamber of an industry discussing itself and should we get more outside input for future debates? On the other hand, over the last four years we have seen increasingly pragmatic views on the future of our telcos. The premium waves of mobile telephony, fixed and mobile broadband have now given way to a more utility-like role helping partners and customers join in the digital marketplace.

My high level take aways from the debates:

  • Digital economy: Telecoms must work hard to evolve into Digital Service Providers (DSPs) to lubricate the digital engine and wholesale amongst the B2B2C business models
  • Softwarisation: this is not an either or question, but a need to accelerate the move to a more open environment and drive IT along with the network agenda in order to build the agile offerings for the future
  • Platforms: infrastructure consolidation is not sufficient to be a true platform economy player. Value creation is through bringing different variables together and allowing business activity, not stifling it
  • IOT and Healthcare. Understanding the fragmented nature of industries and their business processes is key. Telcos can help streamline these industries but will most likely do it in a few verticals and more often in conjunction with third parties
  • Analytics/AI: the abundance of data and analysis possibilities are the hidden treasure of the telecoms industry. Identifying the problem to be solved is as critical as the AI and analytics tools themselves. In terms of customer experience, the industry must think about how this benefits the customers and partners in the value chain and not just the telcos
  • 5G: is not the silver bullet to ‘save’ the industry, but a framework for telcos, suppliers, regulators, governments to rethink how telecoms should evolve in order to underpin the digital drive in every country.

Some consistent themes throughout the day include:

  • Telcos now exist in an extended value chain, and may not attract the high margins they enjoyed in the past
  • Telcos are in charge of a general purpose technology, but what a technology!
  • The issue is the lack of consistent quality of broadband, rather than the scarcity of provision.

 

Summary of the Great Telco Debates and Expert Witnesses 2018

1. The role of the telco in the emerging digital economy
Mark Gregory, Chief Economist UK & Ireland – EY
Tim Pritchard, Managing Director Customer Experience – Kantar TNS
Dr Steffen Roehn, Senior Advisor –  Reliance Jio

Debate Motion: In the future, we will get our broadband from Amazon and Google
DEFEATED

2. Progress in Softwarization of the Telco
Mirko Voltolini, Head of Network on Demand – Colt
Jason Hoffman, CTO Digital Services – Ericsson
Darrell Jordan-Smith, Vice President Global ICT Sales – Red Hat

Debate Motion: Virtualization is allowing Telcos to transform into agile businesses
PASSED

3. Identifying the real business value in the plethora of platforms
Ronan Kelly, CTO – ADTRAN
Sreevathsa Prabhakar, Founder & CEO – Servify
Pratick Thakrar, CEO – Inspired Mobile
Sylvain Thevenot, Managing Director – Netgem

Debate Motion:  The network is only a support function in the platform economy
PASSED

4. IoT and the impact on healthcare:
Laurent Vandebrouck, Managing Director Europe – Qualcomm Life
Phil Skipper, Head of IoT Business Development – Vodafone

Debate Motion: Telcos with IoT will be at the heart of healthcare
DEFEATED

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Analytics driving customer experience
Stephan Gatien, General Manager Telecommunications Business –  SAP
Daniel Heer, CEO – zeotap
Orla Power, Head of Marketing – Brite:Bill, an Amdocs Company

Debate Motion: AI and Analytics will finally give customers the service they deserve
DEFEATED

6. 5G as a framework for all future telecoms investment
Clive Carter, Director of Strategy – Ofcom
Hossein Moiin, Technology Adviser – Nokia
Rahim Tafazolli, Founder and Director 5G Innovation Centre – University of Surrey

Debate Motion: The market can’t afford 5G
DEFEATED

Video highlights of the day can be seen at www.telcodebate.com

If you would like the summary document please email  chris@lewisinsight.com

My thanks all the speakers for their insights, the organizers for their efforts and participants for their invaluable contributions.

Save 29th November 2018 for this year’s Great Telco Debate.   Ideas for debate topics, motions and expert witnesses from inside and outside of the industry are, of course, most welcomed.

You’ll never think the same about telecoms again!

 

Autonomous vehicles and their unexpected consequences: an accessibility Mexican stand-off

I recently joined an Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET) workshop looking into some of the unexpected consequences of autonomous vehicles. The IET will be producing a report shortly but I’m here to promote the accessibility design agenda.

The technical capabilities of the vehicle, the compute power on board for navigation, vehicle management and entertainment are mind-boggling. To be totally autonomous they need to be independent from any external inputs but they will also benefit from the explosion of external data sources. The impact on city planning, traffic, parking and overall public services will be life-changing for everyone.

Doubtless the vehicles themselves, becoming more sentient, will be very grateful for the increased levels of communications, new information sources and peer-to-peer information flowing between fellow road users as well as input from the streets and other city constituents. Making sure these information flows are bi-directional, linking the on-board vehicle systems to city information sources such as traffic and buildings information is also essential to bring the passengers to the right door for a wheelchair user, to have the robot or drone deliver the package or to find the right assistance for a vision-impaired person trying to find their way into the mall.

However, what really needs careful consideration is the user interface for these vehicles and their associated services. The most important issue is to get the wide variety of different users with different levels of IT skills and accessibility to initiate the autonomous vehicle and assisted travel through their preferred means. And, of course, if someone else orders or initiates the service, for the person to be communicated with in their preferred manner.

Designing the interface from scratch with inclusivity in mind will save the painful and often fated fall-back position of add-on development needed for different disabilities.

The good news is that the work being done around omni-channel customer experience with its multiple options for communicating with people and machines, addresses many of the issues. Add to this upfront design that embraces the accessibility features of smart phones, tablets, personal assistants and home automation systems and we have the beginnings of an inclusive design.

The justification for this is not necessarily just around including all disabled people in the digital economy. No, inclusive design actually makes it easy for everyone to use a service. Some people like talking to their app, some like interacting via a touch screen, some might even prefer the old QWERTY keyboard approach.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will also contribute to the smooth incorporation of all users into the emerging scenarios. For example, once an individual with particular needs is identified as having ordered an autonomous vehicle service, the system can route a specific vehicle, possibly specially adapted, to the desired location.

Autonomous vehicles can then contribute further in terms of local authorities streamlining their service to people requiring home visits, social care and, of course, linking them into the healthcare systems. Ambulances will be redefined with autonomous driving and the paramedics able to concentrate on looking after the patient.

So, we should also be excited about the impact of autonomous cars on groups previously precluded from driving. New ways of spending time while transferring from one place to another, entertainment, work, rest, will appeal to all customers but we must allow for the human machine interface and offer that interface in a variety of ways that suit all users under all circumstances.

One final thought: what happens when the autonomous vehicle senses a person with a guide dog and the guide dog senses an approaching vehicle? A Mexican stand-off – go find the algorithm for that one!

Keep an eye out for the full IET report coming soon.

Tagged ,

From Pipes to a Digital Platform Economy – TM Forum Live Nice 2017

The telecoms industry and its entourage descended on Nice for its annual brushing shoulders with the Cannes film festival in May. Apart from meeting with many senior telecoms and supplier contacts, it is a good barometer for what is happening in the industry. I chaired the Digital Platform Economy & API track on the opening day. Here are my reflections:

  • Platform is used almost as often as the word digital these days. Everyone claims to have a platform and to be building new business on top of one
  • Is the telecoms infrastructure a platform or, just what it says on the tin, infrastructure?
  • The extended telecoms and IT industries talk about their chips, set top boxes, mobile devices, networks and clouds being platforms – so is it a question of the platform of platforms similar to the cloud of clouds?
  • The virtualisation of network, storage and compute mean that the building blocks for these platforms are interchangeable from different players whatever their background as long as the appropriate north and south-bound APIs are available. And, as Microsoft and Ericsson pointed out, the TM Forum is working on building on this and the edge compute services under MEC to adapt the infrastructure to the digital platforms.
  • Given the lack of innovation coming out of the telcos in business terms, does Opensource and the API angle open the industry to the oft-mentioned 80% of innovation coming from outside the telecoms sector? Smart Pipe Solutions and Rocketspace certainly seemed to think so.
  • Industry-side presentations from GE Digital, American Express, Qualcomm, Accenture, FINTECH Circle and IBM all suggest that telecoms is more of a horizontal platform enabler and should make itself available on the terms of the different industries rather than vice versa as has been the case in the past. Furthermore, linking all of the business and financial transaction pieces needs to be seamless, if not invisible to the customer.

Nik Willetts was right in his keynote as the new CEO of the TM Forum when he said we are at a point of inflection. The digitally ambitious telco players need to radically adjust their offerings, culture and attitude to other industries to underpin the broader move to a digital platform economy. Other industries ‘assume’ that the connectivity will be there and there’s no guarantee of additional revenue for the telecoms sector. The somewhat curmudgeonly nature of telcos might just play into the future role of being a trusted, secure provider of additional services built around the Artificial Intelligence, analytics and machine learning that this brings to the digital table. Learning to partner at a range of levels and leveraging open APIs and all available tools to make the whole ecosystem work will be vital. 5G should not divert the telecoms industry from the need to continue to build out connectivity to extend people, homes, buildings and ‘Things’ as they all contribute to the network effect. The most important thing is to expose the connectivity and compute power at the right place, hence adapting the platform around the business as it follows its digital path. As Rocketspace said, a platform is where two variables come together, it is a meeting place where business is done. Facilitating, monitoring and helping this meeting in every way possible is a vital support role for the telecoms industry to undertake.

One final thought: Is the platform defined by the vendor and its technology or by the business or consumer using it? We must not fall into the traditional trap of defining things by technology. It is time to turn the technology into business.

Platforms will doubtless have their debut on November 30th at the Great Telco Debate 2017 in London. Watch this space for the agenda as debates and expert witnesses emerge. We will work with Nik and the Forum’s Digital Maturity Model to help calibrate the industry against these lofty goals.

You can also see the Tweets I posted whilst chairing the session @chr1slew1s #TMFlive.

%d bloggers like this: