Digital transformation starts with digitizing operations: carrier survey

digital transformation operations
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A recent survey conducted by IDC and sponsored by Huawei asked 225 carriers in APAC, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe about their transformation and operations. While every region has its own particular issues, several common themes emerged, starting with the fact that most carriers are focused on digitizing their operations and reducing their expenses.

Globally, 73% of operators named digitizing operations as their top goal, followed closely by improving the customer experience, expand consumer offerings and reduce capex. The focus naturally varies by region – for example, APAC operators tend to skew toward the consumer segment, where they traditionally have more success than carriers in other regions. Also, operators in APAC and MEA are prioritizing cutting capex over cutting opex, possibly because they’re anticipating a spike in capex from 5G.

That said, the key takeaway, says IDC, is how many priorities there are. Operators aren’t tackling these one at a time – they have several priorities that have to be addressed immediately, which means operations departments must support multiple transformation initiatives.

In terms of top product or market area priorities, mobile voice/data is by far top choice in three of four regions (whether in the next 1-2 years or the next 3-5 years), indicating that network reach and performance remain at the heart of operator strategies. Apart from that, IoT is another key market priority for many operators, not least because it will drastically expand the number of use cases to support, many of them taking place at the network edge. Indeed, the survey reveals that use cases are multiplying considerably, particularly for enterprise connectivity/IT in the next couple of years, and security services in the the next three to five years.

Infrastructure priorities for transformation are of course focused on improving existing mobile broadband networks and preparing for 5G. But a key finding is that video and entertainment is playing a bigger role in transformation, which creates specific demands on network operations and the customer experience.

Unsurprisingly, challenges abound in executing these transformation plans regardless of focus, and if there’s a common theme in the survey findings, it’s that the distribution of challenges is pretty even. In other words, carriers have a wide variety of things that they are struggling with, from skills shortages to clunky, siloed backends.

Indeed, the top challenges reported by many operators, particularly in APAC and Europe, are internal, not external – redesigning processes, redesigning internal organization, skills shortages, and so on.

Asked to name the top 3 priorities that they need to address with their operations transformation, service-level operations and assurance made the top of just about everyone’s list in every region. IDC reckons that’s a reflection not only of current service operations goals, but also the dawning realization that customization, dynamic service composition and the growing (and complex) ecosystem of partners will make service assurance increasingly difficult over the next few years.

That also means an increased focus on outsourcing and automation of processes, which is the only cost-effective way of managing all that complexity and improving operational efficiency.

One of the perennial issues with digital transformation is that they take time to execute – a lot of time. And that’s assuming everything goes well and as planned, which it typically doesn’t. When IDC put the timescale question to operators, most responded that they will complete their operations transformations in the next four years. (Carriers in Latin America are thinking more in terms of five to six years.)

However, IDC qualified these responses, noting that operators likely answered the question in relation to their current roadmaps, rather than their long-term strategy. The reason is simple: the reality is that transformation is an ongoing and technically infinite process – complete one project, and that unlocks new projects to be undertaken. (Think of this way – there’s a reason we don’t use the same telephone networks that were installed in the early 20th century.)

So there will always be transformational work to be done. That’s not a bad thing – it means new frontiers to explore and new challenges to tackle. The trick to transformation then is making sure you’re flexible and fast enough to not only respond to those new opportunities, but anticipate them. And as the IDC survey indicates, operations transformation is the baseline for successful digital transformation. Get that right, and everything else will fall into place.

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