Transformation: thinking about a partner ecosystem? We have bad news

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There is a lot of transformation about. This is not surprising given it is the time of the annual TM Forum get-together in Nice. They have been talking transformation for years now, and still are. The daily newsletter has the usual headlines from the day’s sessions and they read like a set of chapter headings for a transformation book:

  • “Is transformation a purposeful virus?”
  • “Telcos must shed 20th Century culture”
  • “Realizing the 2020 digital operator”
  • And the favorite: “CIOs make you an offer you can’t refuse”.

This is good. It is, after all, a show called ‘Digital Transformation World’ (which sounds frightening and slightly chaotic).

The point of the show is to bring reality to the ongoing issue of transformation, which is also good.

Yet, while the sun shines on the sessions in Nice, shadows are forming elsewhere in the Transformation World.

A new survey from Bearingpoint pours some cold water on the whole transformation thing, particularly the ‘partner ecosystem’ piece. The partner ecosystem seems to be part silver bullet and part poisoned chalice. You can quite see that hooking into an ecosystem and taking advantage of all the third-party products services and experience would be very appealing.

You can also see that for telcos trying to “shed 20th Century culture” it is going to be very hard to do that. And this is in fact what the Bearingpoint survey shows us.

Half of the telcos surveyed anticipate a revenue bump of 16% in two years as a result of a partner ecosystem, and over half expect this strategy will improve the customer experience to boot.

Yet, guess what? A third of them are still analyzing their options and 14% of them have done nothing. And generally telcos are behind other industries in executing their partner ecosystem strategies.

What will surprise no one is that the stumbling blocks are technical ones. Over half feel they don’t have the right technology in place to manage the monetization of the partner ecosystem, or their IT environment is too complex to support a try-fast, fail-fast approach to product lifecycles.

As we know, this is not easy stuff. We also know that creating a partner ecosystem makes total sense as a way of differentiating and diversifying. And we also know that the legacy bits (people, politics and processes) will continue to get in the way of any kind of smooth transformation.

So, unless you have a cool, digitally transformed, and utterly ruthless (yet likeable) CEO who is on the case, the other thing that is worth trying is to start again.

Some telcos are starting greenfield operations, sending out ‘digital savvy’ teams to set up a new telco, complete with the best partner ecosystem, customer experience and a great brand.

Let’s hope the greenfield, second brand approach is one that the 30% are analyzing. It is the only one that seems to be producing success stories at the moment.


  1. Hi Alex, Thanks. Very well put.

    A lot of companies are looking into this trend for good reasons. We’ve done some work on this and the problem is that even in a greenfield environment, there are many kinds of partners who need to share/access different slices of the BSS environment which makes a true generic eco-system that supports a one-solution one-size fits all partners virtually impossible.

    On the one hand, partner management systems must be designed, built and maintained like operating systems to support an API with a powerful yet simple interface that can support various applications.

    On the business side, The only way to implement a fast time-to-market approach is by narrowing down the definition and sticking to it, which is hard for business units that can’t say ‘no’ and start tailoring the partner offering and functionalities that are required to support such partnerships.

    Also, in the end it all boils down to having a focussed business strategy and implementation, something that some traditional telcos find challenging.

    • Thank you Michah. I didn’t even want to go there! The balancing act of opening up BSS is scary stuff indeed. Hope all well with you. Alex

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