Disability, accessibility and the emerging digital world – a personal and professional perspective

Throughout my career as a telecoms analyst I have been using assistive technology (AT) such as magnifiers, closed circuit TVs and screen readers to help me consume and create content.  I’ve doggedly insisted that I want to live in the real world and not in a ‘blind’ or ‘disabled’ one. But, joining the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Solutions Board and chairing the UK Vision 2020 Technology For Life group, has brought me into close proximity with the breadth of issues surrounding AT.

Furthermore, over the past year, working with Telefonica on accessibility across all disabilities, has opened my eyes (excuse the pun) to the many issues around developing specialist and mainstream technology to help all disabled groups as well as the education and training required for people at every stage from diagnosis of a condition through to adapting equipment and the environment to allow disabled people to benefit from technology and embrace the digital world. I never thought my two very distinct worlds would come together so easily.

The worlds of AT and mainstream technology are increasingly converging. The smartphone is becoming the device that everyone uses to anchor their personal and work lives. As these devices become increasingly accessible, and as apps embrace accessibility more and more, everyone has a chance to claim the digital bonus of interacting with the world the way they want – rather than being constrained by a disability or indeed by technology.

If we get it right – and I mean ‘we’ as a whole – what we call accessibility and AT today will become part of the personalisation of services that the mobile industry in particular has been talking about for years. The addition of wearables and the Internet of Things (IOT) to the smartphone begins to complete our digital persona. Add to this the development of smarter cities bringing public services together and you begin to have an environment where a disabled person, of whatever nature, can become a much more engaged citizen, worker and community member.

So, working with stakeholders from Service Providers (SPs), technology vendors such as device manufacturers, wearables, charities/NGOs, governmental bodies – local and central – as well as specialist AT organisations makes for a fascinating melting pot.

Someone said to me recently that it’s about everyone: it’s about the disabled and the not yet disabled, since we will all be disabled at some point, as we grow old and things stop working. And, indeed, before that we are often temporarily or situationally disabled  – e.g. Driving and not looking at the mobile but exchanging messages through speech input. And, most importantly, disabled people don’t want specialist devices, they want the latest, shiniest mobiles. If the apps on these devices are well designed and the buttons are correctly labelled to trigger accessible output, then everyone benefits as the apps will have been more inclusively designed.

At MWC in Barcelona, Telefonica is publishing the second report I’ve recently completed: Digitising the disabled billion – Accessibility Gets Personal 2015 which is now available to download . You can also read The Untapped Billion – the report I wrote with Telefonica last year.

Also at MWC on March 4th at 2pm CET I will be chairing a workshop on Accessibility where we will look at the broader issues with IBM, Google, Microsoft and tje Mobile Manufacturers Forum. Please join us there or follow #mwc15accs. Please get in touch if you’d like to receive a copy of the new report and the slides from the workshop.

With a billion people in the world having some form of disability, I know that it touches most people in some way. The good news is that the AT world is quickly allowing people like myself to fully participate in the digital world.

I’m always happy to discuss how your organisation should be looking at accessibility as an issue or to speak at workshops, internal meetings and events where the topic comes up.

What happened when a diverse group of analysts met Cisco’s EMEAR management?

January 13 and 14 saw the gathering of EMEAR-based analysts for their annual Cisco update. Many of us have been attending these for years, so are always looking for chinks in the armour alongside Cisco’s reading of, and reaction to, the key industry trends.

Chris Dedicoat set the scene for the two days of plenary and interactive group sessions with his accustomed grasp of both the economic reality of EMEAR and the emerging role of Cisco in its digitising future. Economically, things are complicated by the halving of the oil price, whichever conspiracy theory camp you are in. And, importantly, the many themes shaping EMEAR’s market only go to show that every country is different, every business is different, and that perhaps technology is one of the few unifying factors. However, the change was evident: “Don’t do it in Cisco speak” but through the customer lens, and every customer sees things differently depending on their position in the value chain and emerging ecosystem.

While the session covered the major changes of virtualisation, mobility, social and cloud, the shift of emphasis was clearly to embrace the overall business and social impact of digitisation. Business outcomes were front and centre, whether for a Rolls Royce or GE- provided jet engine, for Copenhagen’s ambitious smart city, for Dubai’s Du as a challenger Service Provider (SP), or for a connected collar around a Las Vegas puppy! Combining analytics with the exploding data flows from every device and sensor, across the increasingly virtual network and the better-connected Data Centres, will produce dramatic impacts on business performance. That is, as long as the right culture is in place to break down silos, legacy business practices and technology.

The Internet of Things (IOT) and Cisco’s extended market of Internet of Everything (IOE) added in the concept of driving business outcomes on a massive scale. Holistic analysis of activities at all points will also result in better process, as well as infrastructure automation and orchestration. Cisco’s figure of $19 Trillion of activity around IOE, whether that be in the private or public sector, needs some big wins to set the direction. Chris’s love of aviation provided an example by drilling us down into the fact that by linking together the processes supporting Europe’s airlines, air traffic control can literally save billions of dollars in aviation fuel. How? Well, simply by managing the time the aircraft spends taxiing to the runway and slowing down over the water surrounding Britain to avoid the nauseous circling above our beloved Heathrow.

Every business touched upon showed clear business returns, whether it was the engine manufacturers and their ‘power as a service’, financial organisations leveraging high-quality video to deliver expert input to the mortgage process remotely, or an SP connecting services to networks and networks to clouds and clouds to clouds. The granularity of data being gathered and analysed finally puts business in a situation where the customer experience can be measured, modified and finally built around the customer rather than around the technology sitting in the Data Centre or in the cloud.

A common theme emerged throughout all sessions: the power of cloud is providing the extended and virtualised infrastructure of the future, supported by mobility and social but, most importantly and with a stronger emphasis than previously seen, secured at every level. Security needs to be the rainbow of hope that encircles every aspect of the emerging digital landscape. Securing the trillions of devices individually is an impossible task, hence application-level security, network policy and monitoring become critical. In addition, domain-specific behavioural modelling will help identify issues through unusual activities from, say, a lightbulb, camera or pacemaker.

Nick Earl brushed aside his over 25 years of presenting to the analyst community and, together with his team and demos, brought Intercloud – and its goal of building the largest cloud platform in the world – to life. This also emphasised the issue of managing the transition of selling product through a channel to a managed services cloud and annuity-based model.

Importantly, it was emphasised that Cisco cannot do this alone. Cisco needs partners to build the layers on cloud services, as well as the increasingly important consultative and risk- sharing elements of developing the propositions and executing the plans with the end customer and their ultimate customers – you and me.

And, as ever, Cisco fronted up its senior executives from EMEAR to face the grilling from the massed ranks of analysts with their diverse perspectives and takes on the future of the industry. Keep in mind that this analyst audience now consists of people looking at the market from every networking, software, IT, services and consulting angle and you get a notion of the breadth of plenary, breakout and the inevitable side-bar discussions. No shortage of fuel to pour on the fire of debate.

Cisco is known for continually refining its strategy around new points of inflection. No doubt this is a massive coming together of many trends from the converging IT and networking industries. The major difference now is that IOE and consulting/advisory are part of the opening gambit, and business outcomes are the deal-maker. Cisco, its partners, channels and customers see the opportunity to leverage the technology trends to build more efficient and effective business processes, service offerings and tools to continually refine them as the demand side cranks up its thirst for everything digital.

It was a Great Telco Debate!

The idea for the Great Telco Debate www.telcodebate.com came from almost three decades of participating in and organising telecoms industry events all over the world. Presenting and discussing industry topics in real time, with a live audience, is always the best way to get to the root of an issue. However, there is nothing more frustrating than taking time out of a busy schedule to an event only to find that the content is of marginal interest, and worse still, a series of blatant sales pitches dressed up in marketing blurb.

On 7th November in London we assembled a healthy collection of opinionated independent industry analysts and some of the more innovative industry players to spend the day focused on the many aspects of the future of the telco. In many ways, we managed to squeeze a 2 day conference into a single day. A mark of the quality of the content was that the early Friday evening drift off was minimal. And, if the volume of discussion over lunch, coffee and speed networking was anything to go by, people certainly found plenty to absorb and challenge in relation to their future role in the telco industry. Requests for more time on the next event for more open debating and more speed networking (where all delegates met all analysts) suggests we hit the right note.

Feedback praised the punchy combination of industry content followed by well-informed analyst perspectives. Once again, the levels of audience participation also proved that the senior management in the room were comfortable to air their views as part of the debate.

It’s difficult to pick out a highlight from the day. The professionalism of speakers sticking to their unusually short 10-15 minute slots should be praised (perhaps encouraged by the threat of my bell and Graham’s whistle), as should their frankness. The idea was to allow these very varied opinions to be aired to help industry leaders shape their thinking as to their future strategies.

A vote on what role the telco should take in the future: wholesale, retail or a blend, saw a narrow margin in favour of the wholesale or new business model approach. The spread of voting just goes to underpin the potential that is out there, just a matter of aligning strategy and execution.

However, many of the so-called value-added areas of TV, business applications and IOT were seen more as broadband retention strategies and not as significant additional revenue lines. This was in the light of the total telecoms services market flattening and indeed declining in some markets. Connectivity, fixed and wireless, is part of almost everything now but it is just that – part and not the whole thing.

The financial analysis of the telcos shows a significant discrepancy when compared to the valuation of the new digital service providers. Competition and regulation , both from within and outside of the telco sector, combined with enormous traffic increases, all add up to a challenging question of how to fund the long term network infrastructure both fixed and mobile, needed for the industry and society as a whole. Broadband is doubtless becoming part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is increasingly part of every daily activity, business or personal. New business models, new attitudes to partners and channels will be needed, along with regulation and government blessing to drive investment and innovation. With all of these changes taking place, the clear message running throughout the day was, apart from getting closer to customers where possible, to work with the right set of partners and channels to allow the market to allow demand and supply to settle into a new sense of equilibrium. Still a lot to do for all telcos and a lot of opportunity for providers of service and technology into the telecoms sector.

For those not fortunate enough to have been there with us, a full record of the presentations and discussions are available. Visit the web site www.telcodebate.com.

The Great Telco Debate will be back in November 2015. If you have any thoughts about how this independent analyst based event can be improved or if you want to get involved, please drop me a note chris@lewisinsight.com

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Kroes Goes out Blazing … “Telcos are their own worst enemy”

No-one expected her to go quietly and Neelie Kroes, the out-going European Commission’s vice president for the Digital Agenda, did not disappoint. Speaking to the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), last week in Brussels, she let the major European telcos have it – with both barrels … Like John Wayne in a bar-room disagreement, Kroes waded straight in, stating her speech could be entitled “Adapt or die: What I would do if I ran a telecom company.” She went on to hit the assembled delegates hard stating “sometimes I think the telecoms sector is its own worst enemy”.

Warming to her theme, (and practically blowing on her knuckles), she told the telcos that they “have to change”. “What is the telecoms sector’s relationship to that digital future?” she asked. “Will you be leading us there? Or will you be dragged along behind, against your will, resisting until the last?”
In addition, , she urged operators to change their views of Over the Top players in the sector, and stressed that digital content providers are a key motivator behind consumer use of broadband services. How many European consumers would want ever faster broadband if there were no over the top services? She asked. “If there were no Facebook, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Spotify? OTT players are the ones driving digital demand, demand for your services! That is something you can work with, not against.”

Kroes, aware of her standing among the telcos, admitted to her audience that they are probably ““all looking forward to the very near future, when the Juncker Commission takes office, when you won’t have to put up with me anymore.”  She also noted that her role will be spread across three different men: Günther Oettinger, Andrus Ansip and Jyrki Katainen – an indication of the expanding importance of the digital agenda for Europe.

“This is a project that will continue under the next mandate; as Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear. It is a project that can ensure our digital future, where a strong telecoms sector supports every European. That is what I long for, and that is what all of you should long for too” she said, with a slight trace of menace in her voice …

I was lucky enough to MC Neelie at a 5G press conference earlier in the year. She may not be liked by the telecoms sector but she does command tremendous respect. Needless to say, these are all themes that will be picked up at The Great Telco Debate, now just over a month away, http://www.telcodebate.com, only this time the telcos will have the right of reply. One of the items on the table may well be whether Neelie has prepared Europe better for the digital future where other regions are still protecting their telecoms players and their old habits.

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Becoming more agile: What’s stopping you?

The recent webinar on becoming an agile business, run by Carl Piva, VP Strategic Programs, TM Forum and myself, revealed some interesting findings about what is holding organizations back the most when it comes to becoming more agile.

The key finding from the research for the report which the webinar was based on was that companies need to fundamentally reverse-engineer their organizations. Just putting good customer service on the front of the business and embracing the digital world won’t work. A root-and-branch reform — going back to the product portfolio (avoiding the temptation to cover everything), streamlining all processes, taking advantage of the commoditization and virtualization of the ICT infrastructure, and exploiting analytics to build clear customer insight — will all go to underpinning the customer experience that the customers expect and companies have generally failed to deliver.

And, being a digital business, all of this needs to be done through the ‘omnichannel’ that we all now expect: online, bricks and mortar shops, contact centers, partners and channels — basically, the channel the customer prefers and not the one dictated by the business.

Neil Ward from Skype said, “There isn’t a minute in the day when Skype isn’t connected to its customers asking questions about products, product features, and policies.”

The reverberations in the boardroom are major: All present around the virtual digital boardroom table need to learn enough of their peers’ activities to be able to offer value to the company. The CIO moves from being the Most Wanted (pariah) to the Most Wanted (in-demand) as IT becomes the enabler that every aspect of the business needs to build on the digital future.

And, on the subject of agility, the actual IT development, such as hackathons, needs to include stakeholders from the digital board in order to accelerate product and systems development to a matter of weeks rather than the laborious 18-24 months of the past.

Peter Sany of Swiss Life said, “In the agile approach, the outcome is more important than the structured proceedings” And, “A mega project is now 3-6 months these days. A sprint is a month maximum” .

Everyone needs to be involved, including HR, finance, IT, marketing, and doubtless others, depending on your industry and your position in that industry. And, messaging from the top, the CEO, internal and external messaging needs to support this cultural and business shift. Ilke Kuroz CIO at Turkcel said that his CEO takes every opportunity, internal and external, to promote the new strategy.

What’s holding organizations back?

The audience were polled during the webinar to reveal which aspect of this transformation is seen as being the most difficult. The results in the pie chart show that streamlining processes and operations is perceived as being the most troublesome. This is not surprising as so many processes have been evolved and not refined over many years of corporate activity. In our research with senior executives for the how-to guide which this webinar was based on, the issue of cultural issues came up on many occasions. The digital world requires that a lot of existing practices need to be ‘adjusted’, if not removed, in order for the businesses to become agile and find its place in the emerging ecosystem.

As Phil Jordan, CIO at Telefonica said “We need to take the Technology out of IT and replace it with III – Information, Integration & Innovation.”

Poll Result


Going back and re-engineering and simplifying everything needs another step in order to build a platform for growing in the digital world. This is where we link the steps together into the agility cycle. So, linking up customer insight and customer experience, we create an agility cycle that allows continuous improvement of each of the steps. And — perhaps the most important thing — the digital board members responsible for each step are now educated about how their piece relates to the others and to the business. Hence the agility cycle.


The Agility Cycle


What do you think? Do these findings resonate with your own experience of agile transformation?

Becoming agile: Have the right building blocks, hide the technology

We’ve talked about virtual businesses since Ralph Ungermann had his First Virtual Corporation in 1990s. Ralph was ahead of his time, but the building blocks – well virtual blocks – are finally emerging that will allow companies to focus on the business instead of technological complexity.

Looking at the different sorts of suppliers whose kit makes up businesses’ infrastructure, similarities emerge. Vendors talk about their particular cloud, their particular ‘X-as-a-Service’, and their more consultative sales and engagement process. Everyone has a spin on what cloud means and how many operations or service centers are needed globally to support customers. Yet in many ways the suppliers coming in from networking, hardware and software have similar characteristics and, from the customers’ perspective, differentiation become increasingly difficult.

Digitization benefits

The beauty of the digitization of all compute, network and software components is that they can be stitched together by any number of players in the emerging ecosystem. And, with more open application program interfaces, applications from the back office to the customers’ face can be integrated rapidly into any company’s business flows. All businesses need this new flexibility, along with the lower price points we expect from converged offerings and the commoditization of compute, networking and devices.

The mix of public, private and hybrid cloud offerings can be flexed around business needs, promising the ICT infrastructure we need for business rather than the over-specified, over-scaled iterations we deployed over the last 30 years. During that time, the ICT sectors hid behind the complexity of the technology, rather concentrating on the how the customer interacted with the business – and making that as simple and fast as possible.

Some brave decisions are needed. Legacy systems will drag us down by taking too much of our time and resources. The business case for introducing a simplified set of products, processes and systems is the way to get the budget needed to retire those typically heavily customized systems, rather than keep spending to retain the status quo.

The Customer is King: The inside-out model moves to outside-in

As we enter the digital, customer-centric era for business, a shift from the inside-out model to the outside-in is essential. Let me explain. Previously, businesses have typically done their own R&D, built products and eventually offered them to the outside world. Today and tomorrow’s ‘products’ (or should we say services or perhaps ‘apps’?) will come from a wide variety of sources. Businesses will not have, nor will want, the luxurious development cycles of the past.

The balance of power has swung from providers of communications and IT, through the hands of the device manufacturers, into the hands of the applications and content developers and owners, and sometimes further, into the hands of customers themselves. Isn’t this the way an economy should be, with equilibrium between demand and supply?

For a business striving to be customer centric, the flows of product and customer feedback need to reflect the new, mobile, social culture of the customer. That is not to say that retail outlets and call centers aren’t needed – they certainly are – but they must be an integrated part of each provider’s ‘omnichannel’ strategy. Every means of interaction with customers needs to look and feel the same, and customers must be able to move between the various channels seamlessly, at will. Put another way, all communications with customers need to be on their terms, not what suits the business.

Many so-called products sold in the past will become embedded in a broader product or bundle of services taken by an individual, household, business or government department. In some ways this is an expansion of channels to the customer. The good news is that if companies are smart about offering self-service and self-care, through greatly increased automation, then many customers will be only too happy to use them. This brings three big benefits to the company. First it saves the company money, effort and time. Second tracking customers across the omnichannel provides the business with an unprecedented amount of intelligence, through analytics, about customers, hence marketing and product design have gold to work with.

Third, the social explosion means that your customers can find solutions to their problems from peers – there are lots of people happy to help others. Embrace this source of problem solving, and even reward the people who offer their input free of charge, to make your customers happy.

TM Forum interview with JP Rangashwami June 2014


I was lucky enough to interview JP Rangaswami at TM Forum Live in Nice. JP now has the role of Chief Scientist at Salesforce having been at BT previously. So, who is better placed to comment on the massive transformation required by the telcos as they shift gears to address the digital reality of today and tomorrow. Take a look at the interview.


IOT: the disability angle – from air conditioning to the self-drive car

Disability is most easily defined as ‘a limitation in a basic core activity of daily living’.

As an analyst, hearing so much about the Internet of Things (IOT) gets you thinking about how life will change. And as a registered blind person, it also makes me wonder what frustrations will be smoothed out by this pervasive technology.

Walking into my hotel room in China last week, I thought of some of the potential improvements that IOT might bring me when entering an unfamiliar environment:

  • I could control the air conditioning from my smart phone. I wouldn’t have to wonder which of the many buttons (assuming I can find the control) increase or decrease the temperature without the need to call the front desk to send someone to come and adjust the settings
  • I could switch the lights off without spending time feeling my way around electrical appliances and walls to find the oft hidden switches (and the often multiple types of switches on different devices)
  • I could set the temperature for my shower without deciphering how the different knobs affect the temperature and direction of the water
  • I could use my smartphone to turn the TV on, avoiding the labyrinth of menus on an unfamiliar remote control; play my music through their sound system and watch a film – yes, blind people do watch films – in English with audio description
  • I could actually set the safe without needing to share my passcode with a member of hotel staff
  • I could pull up the room service menu on my smart phone or laptop and see what they had rather than trying to understand the room service call operator as they attempt to read the menu to me
  • I could find the restaurant, the meeting room, and even break out of my hotel prison to visit the local shopping mall to find a present for my wife’s birthday
  • And how about actually finding my way to the gym without falling down several poorly marked steps (let alone almost tumbling into the outdoor pool!)?
  • Oh, and when I get into the gym, setting the tread mill or cross-trainer to the programme my trainer says I need to stick to in order to maintain the highly tuned body I have nurtured over the last 50 years

Being away from familiar surroundings just amplifies the need for a more helpful environment. At home, where things are more familiar, there is still a massive upside to remotely controllable central heating, lighting, washing machines, security, media and many more banal daily tasks that disabled people struggle with. And, don’t forget the imminent advent of an army of robots ready and willing to act as an interface to many of these devices as well as brewing the tea and fetching the biscuits.

When out and about, IOT enabled bus stops, buses, trains, shops, supermarkets, airports (literally everything), can feed information to allow people to better navigate, shop and interact with the environment let alone be a more engaged citizen on every level.

Never having been able to drive, my ultimate IOT goal is the self-drive car. The automotive industry has to make it so good that a blind person literally can ‘drive’ the car. Think about it!

There is no reason why the above, and many more issues, can’t be addressed by the IOT revolution. It requires some clear initial thinking around how applications are designed, how interfaces to smart devices are constructed. This will allow the billions, if not trillions, of devices and sensors to pool information and interact openly with my preferred smart device, peripherals and wearables.

Furthermore, it’s not just about empowering the individual in the home. Public services, including local authorities and, of course, healthcare organisation, can leverage the IOT to provide services into the home for the individual. Monitoring conditions, remote diagnostics, as well as a video-based consulting, could all improve service and reduce the cost of supporting someone.

So, this is a call to arms to all web & apps designers and to businesses thinking about embedding IOT and communications into their business processes: please design for all and allow the billion disabled people in the world – yes, 1 in 7 – to benefit from this radical adjustment to the way we run our daily lives.

The future Telco CIO: Serving whom & delivering what?

Whenever discussing telco CIOs I set the following challenge: “Think of a chart with Stalin to the Dali Lama on the X axis; and a Server and a business suit on the Y axis. Where do you plot yourself or your CIO client?”


After the initial groans of recognition of the problem, the concensus tends to be that historically, the majority of CIOs have been in the lower left hand quadrant: These Stalinist Server Huggers have been trying to control the technology being used to build the network, as well as how the network is used and what is allowed onto it. This is an engineering and network-centric view of the world. Many factors are shifting the focus upwards and right towards the crossover point of the 2 axis, driven by:

  • The convergence between network and IT
  • A more software-centric view of the telco future
  • Virtualisation, Consumerisation and managed services
  • A new flexible business model

Moving to the top right (to a business laissez faire attitude) would lead to mayhem. There is no doubt that a degree of control is required in this shifting world, but it must not lead to a restricted offering internally or externally.

Shaping the network and the IT systems supporting it to reflect the changing world needs a fundamentally different approach from Management. No longer can the telco dictate the types of services or usage patterns that its ultimate customers adopt. Indeed, the necessity to allow for ever-shifting eco systems of partners and channels means that this new ICT infrastructure has got to be manageable to the nth degree on a cost efficient basis.

The knock-on effect on the role of the telco CIO is radical:

Firstly, is it a CTO or CIO issue? Telcos have traditionally held the CTO role as being above that of the CIO.  As we shift towards a software-oriented telco this cannot continue. The interrelationship between all of the IT systems, network operations and ultimate customer service have got to be viewed holistically, hence the CIO takes the upper hand. Or is that true? Given the changing nature of the telco itself and the different Lines Of Business (LOBs) and their relative power, perhaps the CIO ends up subservient to the LOBs and their need to get services more closely matched with their differing customer bases.

Secondly, the CIO has a changing set of relationships with suppliers. The all-IP network and the importance of the data centre mean sacrifices have to be made.  Fewer suppliers is a goal for most. Turning equipment and software into services to be purchased is a realistic target for the CIO. The emergence of cloud-based offerings mean that the CIO can source building blocks for the network and the IT infrastructure on a much more flexible and cost efficient basis.

So, what should the CIO concentrate on?

The fact of the matter is that everything is tending towards software and a virtual environment. Hence the telco CIO needs a very different set of skills. Should the network engineer-oriented  or IT services-oriented C-level be in charge? Probably neither, unless they can truly embrace the shifting demands coming from the business as a whole and the Lines of Business (LOBs).

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