How telcos are turning data into a true business asset

The good news – we have more data than ever. The bad news – we have more data than ever.

Data, and more importantly, how you harness it to create real business value, is a topic that crops up time and again in my conversations with the telecoms companies I work with. The challenge they’re facing is how to master and govern their escalating data volumes: how do they ensure they have a data driven business, but that the insights they drive action from are based on the right information. How can they be confident that their data is clean, up to date and accurate, and given the sheer volumes in question, how do they master and control their data going forward so that investments to establish the right data environment have longevity?

In the digital economy, the power of data is there for all to see. To many companies created over the last 15 years, data is not just in their DNA, it often forms their currency. Whilst we may view Amazon as a digital pioneer in the retail and logistics market, and Uber as similar in transport, the fact is that they are data driven through every part of their business. They offer a digital customer experience that sets the standard to which other organisations now aspire, and they form their entire business around the use of data.

The challenge within the telco environment is primarily that data; such as customer data, product data, etc, is in so many different systems, and often in multiple formats. A customer entity may exist multiple times, and without structured data hierarchies or unique identifiers, it’s hard to deduce what is the ‘truth’ and how should it be mastered. Even if you can get all you data in one place, which is difficult enough, you then have to make it usable and ultimately valuable. And often the value in unstructured data is simply overlooked.

Getting this data issue solved is not just an ambition, but a necessity. It forms the bedrock of digital transformations in customer experience and process automation. In my previous blog I focussed on intelligent automation, but this will only materially occur when there is high confidence in the data. Enabling robotic process automation on questionable data is not where you want to be. Data, drives Insight, drives Action – but you have to trust the data if you are to make the right decision and get the right outcome.

Seeing the bigger B2B picture

Telcos really have made great strides in transforming their businesses over the last few years, and I’ve witnessed this especially in B2B. Cloud computing and increased IT agility has underpinned the move towards a more data driven approach. Suddenly, better quality data is starting to emerge as a result of system migrations and associated data cleansing activities, and a continued focus on data stewardship and resulting data quality. The next stage in this evolution though is to establish a scalable and lasting solution, and this is where a focus on Master Data Management (MDM) is key. Whether a data registry model or a data hub approach has been opted for, there are still issues around achieving a single version of truth, whilst avoiding repeated manual data cleansing processes.

Because telcos and other large enterprises capture, store, share, secure and analyse millions of data records day in, day out, in too many cases, projects introducing or upgrading MDM capabilities to solve ongoing data challenges, or to meet new regulatory requirements, have, and continue to fail. It’s time to look to a different way to turn enterprise data assets into competitive advantage and make those projects deliver on their promise.

A new approach

MarkLogic (a Sopra Steria partner) advocates a new approach (its heliocentric solution) to getting on top of disconnected data silos. What it refers to as its ‘schema-agnostic platform’ allows data to be stored in its original form and enriched as necessary. Instead of a big-bang approach required by traditional MDM – which demands all data be mapped before the system is useful, a schema-agnostic approach is more flexible and responsive. Iterative transformation of data after ingest allows businesses to focus on high value tasks first, testing each change for correctness, and being able to respond to business changes quickly.

That’s just one aspect of this heliocentric approach. At the same time, semantics, a new database technology, provides a new approach to modelling data that focuses on relationships and context, making it easier for data to be understood, searched, and shared. Using semantics, it becomes possible to integrate disparate data faster and easier, and to build smarter applications with richer analytic capabilities.

In-line with Telcos digital strategies, and the underlying need for increased agility, the opportunity to address the “data challenge” in an agile way, tackling high value areas and accelerating business value is now a reality. Several years, and many millions of investment that struggles to solve the issue, could now be a thing of the past.<

Get in touch

To find out more about seizing control of your data with a new approach to MDM, contact Jason Butcher on jason.butcher@soprasteria.com

Read the MarkLogic blog ‘A new way to master MDM

Why telcos are getting smart with their process automation

If you’re a telecoms operator providing services into consumer and business markets, you will know how important customer experience is to your business. Whether you’re providing connectivity (fixed, mobile, converged), unified communications and IT services into Enterprises, or quad-play offerings to consumers, you will know the importance of an increasingly digital experience and efficient and effective processes.

It is often the case though, that the experience for the customer when trying to work with you is less than they have become accustomed to with organisations who have been born in the digital era. These companies have changed the paradigm for customer experience and set a new bar height to which organisations now aspire. But these organisations do not have to carry the weight of process complexity, and challenges that the myriad of systems within a multi-decade year old IT estate create.

So against this backdrop, how do you make the complex simple? How do you take what your customer expects to be easy and make it so? How do you achieve significant operational cost savings, especially in back-office functions, whilst the work of your customers continues to exist? Moreover, how do you deliver all this, stay true to a digital strategy that makes you fit for the future, AND improve today’s customer experience in the process?

Turning to process automation

Can you afford the cost? In today’s increasingly commoditised telecoms industry, where every opportunity to reduce operating costs is being pursued, it’s no wonder that telcos have been investing in process automation for some time now. For heavily process-driven businesses, process automation brings significant benefits, from improved efficiency and heightened productivity levels, to reduced operational costs and assurance of compliance – not forgetting greater customer satisfaction.

Now this automation is becoming smarter, more intelligent. Self-learning, self-healing, intelligent process automation that leaves only genuine business reasons for exceptions to require expert human intervention. It has the potential to deliver significant savings and productivity increases. To quantify this, let’s say that you took 80% of your standard customer transactions and fully automated them, using Robotic Process Automation. But with Intelligent Automation, your ‘robotic process engine’ uses Artificial Intelligence in order to analyse data and apply continuous learning to optimise processes. So, in other words, it becomes increasingly smarter.

Adding up the gains

What you’re left with is the 20% of more complex customer requirements better handled by human agents, with these ‘exceptions’ reducing as the intelligent automation is applied. This not only cuts costs through enabling significant people savings in back-office functions (you get the work done, but with a fraction of the resources), but it also has a positive impact on customer experience. How? Expert human decisions remain integral to the end-to-end process for personal contact where required, but customers can quickly and easily carry-out those standard transactions in a digital and frictionless way. With the option of presenting the customer choices of interface, including voice integration into the same intelligent automation engine, your customer experience is improved, whilst your operational processing costs are reduced.

Using intelligent automation to reduce manual processing also increases accuracy levels by removing errors and issues with data quality. The less human interference, the less human error. Customers are now achieving more than 5 x processing speed benefits with 99.5% accuracy from customer service processes using intelligent automation. All this with the ability for the robotic engine to be accessible 24 x 7 within vastly reduced operating costs.

The other benefit is that of systems integration. The intelligent automation platform becomes the means by which different systems are accessed and data transferred between them in real-time, and with quality assurance occurring on the fly.

A platform for rapid adoption

At Sopra Steria, our Intelligent Automation Platform (IAP) offers a way for clients to fast-track their adoption of intelligent automation. IAP learns ‘on the job’, fine-tuning people-less processes to continuously improve the level of straight-through processing available, and reducing the requirement for human intervention. For organisations with global entities, such as telcos, it is fully scalable and geographically independent. This means businesses can link up processes from previously disparate parts of their organisation.

Intelligent automation really is a game changer. It enables automated and intelligent decision making, using real-time business insight. Whether the process is to on-board new customers or suppliers, transact for services or enable change management, or deal with in-life operational support, the ability for intelligent automation to underpin a digital customer experience and transform front and back-office processes is incredible. It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but organisations, especially those heavily dependent on systems and processes such as telcos, will be increasingly looking at intelligent automation as part of their digital strategy.

Get in touch

To find out more about our Intelligent Automation Platform, please contact me via jason.butcher@soprasteria.com

3 tips for accelerating digital transformation in telecoms

The telecoms industry is no stranger to change. After all, the leading players in this sector have delivered network connectivity and devices that sit behind many of the world’s game-changing digital innovations. Take digital pioneer Uber as an example; it simply wouldn’t exist without the proliferation of smartphones and underpinning mobile network engines. But there’s a problem for the telecoms companies providing the networks and devices enabling these new business models. These telco giants need to accelerate their own digital transformations but, unlike digital start-ups, they have made massive investments in legacy IT over the past few decades and can’t simply ‘switch on digital’.

Nonetheless, business leaders recognise that, as consumers increasingly demand a digital customer experience, one that offers instant gratification, they must embrace the digital economy. Failure to become a truly digital company, is not an option. You only have to look at the number of big name companies that have gone out of business in recent years because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, transform.

So, how can traditional telecoms companies survive in today’s fast-changing digital economy? Not known for their agility, how do they forge ahead quickly with digital transformation programmes that ensure their business models and operations are fit for the future? There are many recommendations for accelerating transformation, embracing technical, operational and process change, but I’m going to focus on just three in this blog.

Tip 1 – Modernise legacy applications, rather than dispose of them

At Sopra Steria, we encourage those clients with a heavy investment in legacy assets to modernise what they’ve invested in over the years, while ensuring they also keep pace with modern, cloud-based developments. It’s clearly not feasible to replace decades-old systems and applications in their entirety. That’s especially so in an industry experiencing significant pressure on revenues and margins (e.g. decreased roaming revenues, commoditisation and price erosion) and needing to continue investing in their networks (SDN/NFV & 5G, etc). So, my recommendation is to adopt an evolutionary approach. Ask what you need to do to extract more value from existing IT assets in line with a digital strategy. Then look at the real business triggers for legacy applications to become redundant or the option to replace with new, cloud-native ones. Be selective in your investments and opt for projects that give a rapid ROI. Modernisation offers a quick win as you accelerate your digital transformation.

Top 2 – Use Agile coaches to turn DevOps from theory into reality

We all know that speed to market with new services and products that give customers the digital experience they’re looking for is vital. To achieve this, organisations recognise that they need to transform their software development processes. Traditional lengthy waterfall-style development must be replaced with a DevOps culture that enables rapid, frequent releases through Agile sprints. This is typically a strategic top-down decision that sounds good in theory. The message is clear: we need to release fast, often and with assured quality; and we need to be agile so that we can respond quickly as the market changes. Yet that message becomes lost as it filters down through the management layers and those people expected to put theory into practice struggle to make it happen. I’ve seen enterprises overcome this by embedding Agile coaches at different layers of the organisation. These are people with practical experience of DevOps and Agile, able to lead and demonstrate this new way of working. This is a case of ‘don’t just tell us how to do it, show us as well’.

Tip 3 – Address adoption challenges with a defined vision and value position

Even with Agile coaches embedded in the end-to-end DevOps cycle, we still see instances where an organisation has implemented a new system or launched an innovative app that fails to gain traction with users. Let’s say, for example, you want to launch a mobile-front end on your Oracle DB system, enabling your employees to access what they need, where and when they need it. Or you might have invested millions in a new cloud platform for better visibility and control. If you want to avoid this being money down the drain, you must encourage user adoption. This requires communication of the ‘vision for’ and ‘value of’ your investment. So, it’s not just a case of communicating what the new capability is for (the vision), but clearly articulating the benefit it will bring both to the business and the users themselves (the value). If it’s a sales application, why would your salespeople use it if they perceive that’s it’s just a management tool for tracking what they do? How much more enthusiastic would they be if they understood how it will help them to sell more, faster? It sounds a simple tip for ensuring successful adoption of new digital tools, but the lack of a defined vision and value proposition can so easily stand in the way of you achieving your desired business outcomes.

Get in touch

The above three tips are just a flavour of the new thinking and approaches that telcos must take on board to survive in today’s digital economy by accelerating their digital transformations.

To find out more please contact me – jason.butcher@soprasteria.com