Stuck in the silo and unable to pool: why telcos need an enterprise-wide analytics approach

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I got an email from my telecom provider the other day about their television services, which I watch regularly. I also got one from Netflix, which I also use often. So far, so much as usual. Just your regular spam, you would think. Well, no, not completely. The email from my telco started with “Dear Mr/Mrs Joosten”. Clearly, after 30 (!) years of being a client, they still don’t know who I am. Before you think this was out of current political correctness (‘gender neutral’), think again: they’ve been doing this since the last century. The email from Netflix started ‘Dear Matthieu’, which was much more welcome. But what really got me is that the email from my telco was filled with information about movies and series I just would not watch. Nothing to do with getting me out of my ‘bubble’ or comfort zone. Just irrelevant. Netflix, however, offered me an enticing mix of appealing movies and series. So it’s ‘nul points’ for my telco, and ten out of ten for Netflix.

A question of history?

Of course, telcos have been around for more than a century and have built up a breathtaking amount of legacy systems and databases. It is a herculean job to bring all those different silos together. Data are often stuck in product-oriented provisioning and assurance systems, or various systems supporting different channels, or even the network systems or set-top boxes. We know it’s a problem.

Bringing together these massive amounts of data, which keep flowing in, is hard. Cleaning, managing and controlling them are not for the faint-hearted. (I won’t even mention GDPR, with its treacherous ‘right to be forgotten’ – try managing that when you don’t even know what personal data you are holding). And then there is the challenge of getting real value out of that data, and making it relevant each time you interact with a customer. For instance, when you send an email suggesting that they might watch a particular movie or series ….. Life’s not easy for a telco.

At the same time, however, telcos have to go through this digital transformation. They have no alternative if they wish to survive. And in many ways, they are making progress. Data lakes have been set up, data scientists recruited, CDOs appointed and new feats of data management and governance performed. But many European telcos still have isolated islands, pools and initiatives, scattered around the organization. Good people are dispersed around the company, with different ways of working, different data sets, and using different tools and different languages. Too often, they are re-inventing wheels with lack of automation and repeatability and suffering from Babylonian confusion of languages used. This is happening in every department, in isolation. They lack any kind of common denominator practice, language, moreover lack scalability and industrialization. In that sort of environment, it remains difficult to join the dots between the silos, to exchange best practices, optimize analytics and ultimately obtain real value from data.

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Finding a solution to silos

A logical next step for telcos would be to set up an enterprise-wide analytics platform so that data, data models, ways of working, and best practice can be easily shared and leveraged across the silos of marketing, sales, operations, networks and even finance. This platform has to be open, connecting the different languages, and have open APIs. It must also encompass the whole analytics lifecycle: from data discovery and innovation through model development, to model deployment. It must also be scalable, automated and repeatable, and allow for real-time and event-based analytics if needed.

Analytics playtime is over. Telcos have to gear up now. And this is possible, but only by thinking enterprise-wide for analytics. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next communication from my telecom provider. 🙂

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Matthieu Joosten

After finishing my PhD in comms sciences at City University London I worked as a strategy consultant, wholesale director and later as an IT director at a European telecom operator. Advised operators in the US, Middle East and Europe on their B2B, wholesale and digital strategies before joining SAS being responsible for the telecom market in South West Europe.

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