Digital transformation for telcos is surprisingly like being drunk

digital transformation
Image by HalfPoint | Bigstockphoto

Digital transformation has been a topic in the telco world for many years and – for obvious reasons – is now the top topic of discussion, planning and execution.

Yet progress has that feeling of one pace forward, two to the side and probably one backwards. Clinging to the street-light for support cannot be ruled out either.

Digital transformation moves forward with reports that 5G, particularly the now emerging standalone version, is driving telcos to think like, and become ‘techcos’ and deliver innovation through software rather than hardware. Several recent announcements about telcos teaming with cloud providers underpins this progress.

Then, just when you are getting your hopes up, the legacy issue rears its head and slams the brakes on that digital transformation that was looking so promising.

The latest report points to the old problem still being with us. That integrating new technology with legacy technology is still a big issue and ‘likely to disrupt the customer experience’. The problem is not that telcos are not prepared and eager to get on with their digital transformation efforts (the majority have budget to launch initiatives); the risks – both regulatory and security – are causing executives sleepless nights.

That, and the fact that most telcos still use physical sales channels. And the pandemic has added even more pressure for that to change.

One route to digital transformation that is often discussed is the greenfield concept. A ‘legacy’ telco can create a new brand, implement completely digital channels and support, reduce the legacy risks of integrating new technology to almost zero, since it is all new technology, and – lo and behold – a shiny new telco, which avoids all those pitfalls.

The problem is, though, with reality. The idea of a brand new telco, piggybacking on the back of the dusty old one, is compelling, and many telcos have tried. Some have even succeeded.

The problem here is not just the legacy thinking at the top (which is evaporating at last); it is the regulatory, ethical and security issues still there and in more than telco that we have been chatting to recently, the idea has not made it to fruition.

Digital transformation is not easy and no-one has ever said that it is. Analogies run from turning a Tiger Moth into a fighter jet while flying to, well, that one o’clock journey home. That said, it is becoming more likely that the journey home will happen and perhaps faster because of 5G and Covid.

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