Digital Transformation & Maturity

DTW 2018: Telcos need to ‘shed their 20th century culture’

“The next wavelength of the digital revolution is now upon us,” asserted TM Forum CEO Nik Willetts in his keynote speech on Tuesday at Digital Transformation World 2018. Looking firmly ahead (to the future and to the audience) he continued: “And it’s not going to take three decades to have the same movement. It’s going to move much faster and is touching every industry in every aspect of society, going deep into the fabric of our society.”

Digital transformation is accelerating rapidly because companies everywhere want to reduce costs and deliver the digital, omnichannel customer experience their customers are demanding. Indeed, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are making processes faster as well as more efficient and resourceful.

“We’re moving from an environment where everything is like a production line in a factory, churning out the product in greater and greater quantities, to an environment which is about mass customization, the ability to meet the needs of so many different industries and enterprises who are themselves going through a transformation journey.

“Success in the next decade, success in 5g, will be about how to embrace the needs of our enterprise customer and seize those opportunities.”

“But how do you get there?” posed Willetts. The challenges are abundant and thread similarly through many organizations:

Transformation tribulations

Willetts, who engages with leaders and their teams all around the world, says he sees frustration among them:

  • Leaders are frustrated at the pace of change in their business. They’re transforming the technology, but business processes and the way their business counterparts work is not changing fast enough to seize the digital opportunity
  • They do not believe their teams are transforming and see them as resistant to change
  • At the same time, teams are frustrated that they’re being asked to do everything differently and have to deal with an onslaught of new buzzwords and new ways of working

“But the truth is,” Willetts said, “you cannot succeed in digital with a 20th century culture if you are scared of failure. How can you possibly push the boundaries and start to innovate? How can you succeed at the pace of the digital market if you’re hanging onto 20th century ways of procuring, and working together and delivering technology and working with business partners.”

Staying in the game – a change in mindset

Willetts outlined several ways operators can set their companies up for digital transformation success.

Worthwhile woes

“The questions I ask these teams is: ‘Are you transforming yourself because someone’s told you to or because you really believe that you need to transform? Are you evolving to survive or are you transforming to thrive in this market?’

“The question I get back is: ‘Is it really worth it? It’s so difficult; we have to change so many aspects of how we work. Can we really do it?”

His answer to them is that is worth the effort.

“Absolutely it’s worth it. It will help the way we work, and there’s over a trillion dollars to be unlocked for this industry over the next decade.”

Egosystems to ecosystems

Willetts explained the Forum’s vision for an open digital world that’s not just about being the first to dominate the market and the environment, but rather features telecoms as a digital partner to enterprises, governments and, well, every aspect of society.

“We have so much more to offer than connectivity alone,” Willetts said. “Connectivity will remain the backbone of the digital world, but like a backbone, you need a nervous system too that helps that ecosystem to work.

“It all comes down to leadership in the industry and the people at the conference this week who can help to provide that digital leadership.”

Looking ahead

Willetts envisions a future where:

  • The friction between enterprises is gone, and the industry has driven new levels of interoperability
  • Enterprise customers are liberated from their IT frustrations (where it is not their core competency in many cases)
  • There is a new wave of experimentation and innovation
  • The industry is in a position where it’s attractive enough to collaborate with startups rather than them being passed by as too difficult to work with

“Doing that requires a huge change in mindset, one from siloed ‘egosystems’ where it’s ‘all about us’, to one where we understand the greater value of being part of a collaborative ecosystem.”

Less conflab, more collab

An open digital world ultimately comes down to one thing, Willetts said: “Collaboration,  collaboration, collaboration.” It’s necessary for bringing together expertise, opening up new possibilities and growth and, of course, competing with hyperscale internet providers.

“Competing, [while]at the same time being able to collaborate where it makes sense in some cases with those same hyperscale internet companies,” he explained.

Looking to the future with the Forum

TM Forum has been facilitating collaboration for more than 25 years and Willetts highlighted new initiatives aimed at helping companies transform digitally into ecosystem enablers and participants.

DMM worldwide

Following this year’s success of the TM Forum Digital Maturity Model (DMM), TM Forum announced the next step in that journey, its first two certified partners: Deloitte and Detecon. The companies, which have worked with the Forum since the DMM’s inception, will be partners in rolling out the model globally. The companies have also made a commitment to making sure the model remains open and continually draws on best practices and helps the Forum move toward industry benchmarking.

API evolution

TM Forum is taking the next step with its suite of more than 50 Open APIs to create API ‘bundles’, known as component suites, in areas including network as a service, IoT and customer self-care. The intention is to make them available as microservices on the Open Digital Lab hosted in IBM Cloud.

Partnership with Bristol

TM Forum also announced a partnership with the University of Bristol that will help the university develop its Institute of Digital Futures. The university provides the UK’s largest communications PhD program and has attracted research-funding of £55 million ($74 million) for its work on future digital communications. As the school develops the program, it will adopt and co-develop TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) and Open APIs as an architectural foundation to its emerging laboratory.

“Working with the University of Bristol, we can open up a new range of physical capabilities and impact virtual capabilities,” Willetts said.

Let’s make music

The Forum also announced collaboration with IBC, an influential media, entertainment & technology show. The partnership will include a focus on developing multi-company, rapid proof-of-concept Catalyst projects to be showcased at each other’s flagship events and a range of joint marketing and content sharing activities.

Now in its 51st year, IBC brings together over 57,000 attendees from 170 countries who come together in Amsterdam every September. The collaboration with TM Forum provides an opportunity for the co-creation of value for the senior members of each other’s communities, as the two industries grow closer together.

The Catalysts “will look at how we can combine telco capability with the needs of the media and entertainment market, harmonizing innovation to unlock new sources of growth and opportunity,” Willetts explained.



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    Arti has been writing and editing for seven years in the fields of technology, business and finance. She is particularly interested in how firms are innovating to bring us into the next digital age.

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