Proof of concept

Beyond the buzzwords: Transforming to digital operations

Nik Willetts, Deputy CEO, TM Forum explores the six key areas involved in adopting and adapting digital operations in this new video.

Let’s talk about digital business operations and the first thing to say is just evolving the way your business operates just won’t cut it. We’ve got to think differently – look at digital native businesses, the way they structure and organize their businesses right through to HR [human resources]and how they look after their people. These companies set out intentionally to rewrite the rule book. They’ve made mistakes along the way, but they’ve found some radically different ways of doing things.

In this climate, incremental improvements of a few percentage points aren’t enough. We can’t just copy what [the digital natives have]done, we’ve got our own businesses to run, that have heavy technology needs and are structured fundamentally differently for good reason.

Still, if we look at the pace of developments in digital native companies, it’s clear we can learn a lot about the benefits of different ways of operating. It might well be perceived as unfair to look at how fast Amazon can stand up new services or how quickly WhatsApp can onboard new users, but that’s the reality today.

Success stories prove the theory

When we do see telecom companies taking radically new approaches – such as GiffGaff, which operates out of the UK and crowdsources good customer experience, rather than going down the call center route – they do work and make a massive difference.

Many previous attempts to automate our businesses haven’t been successful, which is underlined by EY’s annual global survey. This is for several reasons, such as the efforts are in silos or they aren’t well communicated or not accompanied by other necessary transformations. This is why at TM Forum we are so focused on the holistic transformation of business as well as radically different thinking: That’s not easy, but TM Forum exists to bring together the best minds in the industry to generate thought leadership, and the tools and practical knowledge to make this transformation work.

Six core changes

If we think about the work that needs to be done to achieve it, six core changes are necessary, identified by our members from around the world and senior executives:

  • Software is not about virtualization for its own sake, but about agility, automation and being able to move at internet speed.
  • Agility is about more than just having a software team that runs on an agile basis. We need to adopt the principles from the Agile Manifesto into the business itself – that means adopting and adapting things like DevOps and ensuring our decisions are based on facts and reality, using data and analytics to understand how we can continuously improve, and embracing things like artificial intelligence and machine learning to do that.
  • Stronger governance is important to balance the relaxing of the way we operate to gain a more creative environment. You’ve got to have stronger rules – I like to think of this as principles-based management, giving people a framework to work within rather than the classic waterfall style of gates and checkpoints, which is how we’ve managed our businesses in the past.
  • We must be prepared to embrace failure if we are to experiment and try new things – and to empower staff to do so, knowing they can thrive on the back of those learnings. The focus needs to be on learning and driving cultural change, and to know they can take a level of risk within the principles set out for them. Many internet-based companies celebrate and reward failure because they understand we advance by pushing boundaries and we don’t always get it right first time.
  • We need to stop seeing innovation as something that happens behind closed doors; in this era of ecosystems, it’s something that happens with our partners. This is why TM Forum is so heavily embracing our Catalyst program, to drive that open innovation that can produce results outside the normal corporate environment four to five times faster, and much cheaper.
  • We need the people teams to make this work – game changers – to drive the agility and create the culture.

Nik concludes “Anyone who’s focusing on strategy but not on fixing these problems is doomed to fail because culture and agility are more important than strategy alone if you are going to succeed”.



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    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.

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