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

Confronting the M&S challenge – why data is the solution

The impact of digital on the retail sector hit home at the end of May when M&S announced that it was accelerating its digital transformation following plunging profits. That one of the UK’s best-known retail brands had clearly failed to keep up with digital consumer trends may have come as a shock to many. I wasn’t surprised, however. I’ve recently written a paper on this very topic. In ‘Why data is the new retail battleground’ I look at one of the key reasons why traditional retailers are struggling to compete with their digital competitors – data.

For me, the challenge is not that these retailers have failed to invest in online commerce channels. Indeed, many are doing well in this respect. What’s holding them back is that they’re still using decades-old back office systems and processes governing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Information (PIM) and Product Master Data Management (MDM). These retailers, and especially those with a catalogue heritage, retain a large legacy of systems, processes and cultural norms that are not aligned to the expectations of today’s customer. They’ve typically expanded into digital channels to meet the consumer appetite, but they’re being hindered by operating models that remain wedded in their legacy data management principles.

The Amazon effect

To compete with the likes of Amazon and other digital retailers, traditional companies must transform – and they need to do this fast. The ability to capture the right product information quickly and accurately, then push it out to the relevant operational (Finance, Warehouse, Transport, Order Management, etc.) and commercial (Merchandising, Marketing, Pricing, etc.) systems will be critical for this. However, these processes are typically not well managed, or even automated, by many traditional retailer organisations today. Everything from data input, data cleansing and data matching, data enrichment and data profiling, through to data syndication and data analytics, is still dependent on disconnected and largely manual operations.

It’s clearly time to automate those areas of data management that are tying up valuable human resources in manual repetitive tasks. Trying to do what they do now without automation will not work for traditional retailers. In my paper, I describe a set of automation best practice that all retailers should be considering in this respect.

A strategic choice

I also point out that this isn’t just an IT challenge. It is a strategic choice to build a single source of data truth on which product decisions can be made. This is built on an understanding that to remain competitive with responsive and agile operations, every day, organisations need to bring about both technology and cultural change.

Like many traditional retailers, M&S clearly has a number of digital challenges to confront, such as those described above. After announcing its 62% drop in pre-tax profits, the retailer declared it would be modernising its business through ‘accelerated change’ to cater for an increasingly online customer base. I hope it puts data at the heart of this transformation.

Read my paper for more on how to move to a new data-led operating model in today’s fast-moving retail environment.

Regulation and compliance: the new certainties in life

by Miles Elliott, Director of Credit Risk

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’. But in these more modern times, especially for financial services organisations – we should perhaps add ‘regulation and compliance’ to the list. In 2018, a wave of new regulation is being introduced – and one of the most far reaching is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

GDPR: are you ready…?

From 25 May 2018, organisations across Europe will have to strengthen controls associated with collecting, managing and using personal data. Resulting activity will see significant changes to IT systems as well as the way organisations engage with their customers.

There’s less than a year to go until GDPR becomes a way of life, but a survey in May 2017 suggested that only 10% of organisations have mature GDPR plans in place – with a further 40% at an intermediate phase.

That leaves half of organisations at the beginning of their compliance journey – and the clock is ticking!

GDPR: the cost of non-compliance…

Becoming fully GDPR compliant will be challenging and will require a holistic approach to data management and governance. Organisations run the risk of failing to respond to the scope of activity involved and the amount of time needed to ensure compliance. Another common issue is the lack of skills and experience to deliver such a comprehensive change to governance controls across a business. To put this into context, in 2016 alone there were 1.4 billion data breaches across the industry.

Fines for failing to comply with GDPR are expected to be highly penal as well as leading to material reputational damage.

Don’t go it alone – work with an expert in assured compliance

So what should today’s hard-pressed organisations do, especially if they don’t understand the full extent of GDPR?  The answer is to work with an organisation like Sopra Steria that’s got a track record in complex data management AND offers a ‘comprehensive’ approach to GDPR compliance. Our pragmatic ‘think, build and run’ approach empowers organisations to pick and choose the path to GDPR compliance that is right for them. As experts in Data, Analytics and Technology, we can help you quickly identify data gaps and risks, work with you to develop remediation solutions and support you moving forward with on-going compliance monitoring.

The clock is ticking…

So don’t get caught out! Make sure you aren’t one of the 50% of companies still asking “What is this GDPR”?  Take your first steps today to GDPR compliance and get fully prepared for the 2018 deadline. Remember, 2018 is the year of new regulation – make sure it’s a happy one!

See more information about how we can help you get compliant.

Get in touch to discuss how to meet your GDPR challenge and support your journey to assured compliance.