Telcos to techCos: Harnessing data in a competitive space

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In today’s rapidly evolving telecommunications industry, traditional telcos are undergoing a significant transformation to become techcos. According to various industry pundits, this transition is a fundamental shift in mindset and business approach.

Fawad A. Qureshi

To shed light on this evolution, Disruptive.Asia spoke to UK-based Fawad A. Qureshi, global industry field CTO at Snowflake, who has more than two decades of experience in the data technology space.

He said the key lies in making more and better use of a company’s data assets. The shift involves business leaders embracing data-driven strategies and advanced technologies to stay competitive in the market.

“If you look at the code telecom services, they’re still pretty much the same. You have the Internet, you have SMS, you have calls, but now what you have is the over-the-top players,” he said, adding that telcos are expanding their horizons by providing value-added services and building robust ecosystems around their telecom infrastructure.

“They are using all the different kinds of Internet services and building many kinds of value-added and building an ecosystem around the telecom,” Fawad said.

Seizing new opportunities

Delivering data and insights to better serve industries and customers requires a different mindset and a different organisation structure. He said. “A telecom is now more than just telecom. It provides a whole set of connectivity across every single walk of life. This transformation has been triggered by the exponential growth of data and the need to leverage it effectively to cater to diverse industries.”

With their extensive network infrastructures generating valuable data, techcos aim to seize opportunities to harness this information to deliver advanced insights and innovative solutions.

“Speeds have improved, coupled with ubiquitous connectivity across the entire world,” he said. “Almost everything is getting a sensor, everything now has connectivity to each other. And that now means we need to build a model where we can leverage that data and capture those insights and build solutions on top of it.”

Techcos focus on improving…..

A techco transformation suggests a potential host of benefits to consumers. “Beyond introducing innovative services, Techcos focus on improving visibility, transparency, and tracking of services, leading to enhanced customer experiences. Sharing economy platforms like Uber and food delivery services owe their existence to the hyper-connectivity enabled by techcos. Moreover, Techcos are committed to facilitating open market access for consumers, driving competition and choice.”

Navigating the hurdles

Among the challenges on the path to becoming a techco, a significant concern is the technical debt accumulated from legacy systems and processes.

Transitioning to a new, data-centric model requires a fundamental shift in thinking and a greater embrace of automation to streamline processes. Overcoming resistance to change and ensuring a smooth cultural transition will be key to the successful execution of the transformation.

“To remain competitive in the fast-paced market, Techcos must prioritise productivity per employee and adopt lean and agile practices,” suggests Fawad.

Telcos become nimble elephants

He said that embracing new technologies, automating processes, and designing efficient systems will help telcos become ‘nimble elephants, capable of outpacing disruptors and driving innovation’. This adaptability will allow them to respond swiftly to emerging market trends and consumer demands.

Fawad said that some of the questions that need to be answered for a smooth transition include: “Are you learning from your own data products? Are you capturing that metadata through your process and then making sure when you are doing that, what are your A B testing and your control, you know frameworks and different kinds of mechanisms to make sure, eliminating bias from the process and making sure that you are doing it the right way. What are your privacy controls? What are your in testing frameworks and all of those things?”

Addressing the human element

Another major aspect of the techco transition is building scalable processes, which need automation. This brings into the spotlight the human element as a critical aspect for consideration.

“Striking the right balance between automation and retaining the existing workforce is crucial. It’s about uplifting productivity per employee. Investing in retraining and upskilling employees whose tasks have been automated ensures that they can take on higher-value roles. This approach helps foster a positive culture and ensures a smooth transition for the workforce.”

“In the dynamic technology-driven market, the way techcos handle their human capital becomes a pivotal differentiator,” he opines. “Organisations that invest in their employees and foster a data-driven culture will retain top talent, contributing significantly to their long-term success and brand reputation. Creating a work environment that encourages continuous learning and innovation will attract the best talent and fuel future growth.”

Transformation of techcos

In the article – The state of telco transformation, according to stakeholders – we note that nine telcos describe their experience of transformation as they remodel for the future.

In the summer of 2022, STL Partners held interviews to probe change-makers from different departments, including Strategy, HR, Transformation project management, Networks, Technology, as well as Research.

One standout example of a successful techco transformation is Spark in New Zealand. With over 50-55% of their revenue coming from B2B, Spark has leveraged Snowflake’s platform to develop “Brain,” a data-centric marketing engine that targets consumers and builds B2B revenue streams. Such data-driven applications are the way forward for techcos, enabling them to offer in-house and external unique solutions and potentially sell these apps to other businesses.

Telcos on the move

A local example of a telco on the move, Telekom Malaysia (TM) started out as a national telecommunications company for fixed line, radio, and television broadcasting services. TM has since evolved to become the country’s largest provider of broadband services, data, fixed line, pay television, and network services.

In recent years, industry observers have noted TM’s transformational moves into becoming a techco pioneer. This transformation is largely fuelled by the company’s human-centred focus on digital adoption by implementing internal cultural transformation, digitalisation and strengthening its commitment to providing innovative and customer-centric solutions.

In addition to developing its high-speed broadband ‘unifi’ brand in 2015, and the launch of its enterprise solutions arm TM One in 2016, TM has been investing in new technologies, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. These investments are helping TM to stay ahead of the curve and to provide its customers with the latest and greatest telecommunications services.

During the recent launch of its new HQ and TM Campus in Cyberjaya, TM management reiterated its commitment as a human-centred TechCo focused on a culture of innovation and collaboration.

As a result of its transformation, TM is now well-positioned to compete in the global telecommunications market. The company is already seeing success in overseas markets, such as Indonesia and Thailand.

Humanising transformation

Looking ahead, the transformation from telco to techco presents exciting opportunities for the telecommunications industry.

“How a company handles its human capital is this is going to be the fundamental differentiator moving forward,” said Fawad. “Given the current economic climate and all the different kind of news that we keep hearing from the different technology companies.”

“We need to think about how do we bring about change in the processes. And just because things were done in the old way differently in a certain way, we cannot continue doing it in the same way.”

Embracing a culture of innovation and placing a strong focus on human capital will be critical in ensuring the long-term success of techcos in the dynamic and evolving business landscape. As they navigate this transformation journey, Techcos must remember that constant innovation and disruption are key to thriving in today’s highly competitive telco industry.

Related article: Telco to techco in APAC – how operators are transitioning

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