Serving a world of continuous change

A Digital World – The TM Forum has been serving its 900+ members for 25 years and in that time tremendous changes have occurred in our primary member base, the communications sector. In that time we have seen the growth of communications, especially mobile, expand almost exponentially with most of the human race now connected.

That growth, along with advances in devices, computing and the internet have been the ingredients for the birth of the digital world which is now impacting every person and every company on the planet. And not just people, the ‘internet of things’ is rapidly growing to connect a myriad of devices from cars to heart monitors to energy efficient homes.

These phenomenal developments mean that change is now continuous and it’s accelerating. New types of company, new services, new markets and new ideas appear almost daily, disrupting business everywhere creating both threats and opportunities.

Paradoxically, the engines of the digital world, the communications, computing and device companies, are themselves being massively disrupted by the very world they have helped to create. Device manufacturers come from nowhere, become multi-billion dollar corporations then sink back into obscurity within a few short years. Communications providers have seen their golden era of insatiable growth mostly saturate and get picked off by nimble competitors as barriers to market entry have tumbled. Cloud computing and virtualization are rocking the traditional software world with radical change set to continue.

Many other industries have also seen the impact of the digital world. Publications, TV and radio have seen advertising revenues switch to digital service providers; the CD and DVD along with record stores have rapidly become obsolete and book stores are heading the same way. Every field from medicine to energy, financial services to education, transportation to retailing are all being impacted by new ideas made possible by the digital world. Even physical goods can be delivered in a digital format with the advances in 3D printing and this is only the start of the digital revolution.

Critical success factors in a digital business – Over the past few years the Forum has been concentrating on helping our members respond to pressures on their bottom line – helping them reduce their operating costs, improving their customer experience and getting new services to market faster. We’ve done that through orchestrating some of the smartest people around the world in our member companies to help develop a common set of best practices and frameworks to optimize business processes and IT plus a wealth of practical case studies and well researched information. All of those factors are still critically important and won’t ever go away but in the rapidly digitizing world, it’s not enough.

In the digital world, competitors are only a click away and customer opinions are shared with hundreds or thousands of others in a heartbeat. Customer loyalty and positive experiences are an essential competitive weapon along with speed and agility as competitors move with ever increasing rapidity. If your business structure, your people, processes or systems slow you down, lock you in or deliver a poor experience for your customers, you’ll fail.

If the physical world was one of thousands of companies serving millions of customers, the digital world is one where millions of companies serve thousands of customers as more and more niche and specialist players enter a truly global market. Even the most obscure products can find a big market amongst 7 billion people. But to reach them, companies need to constantly innovate and focus on where they can add value. That increasingly means working with partners to deliver services end-end – easy to say and hard to do, especially if the end result of the partners working together has to be guaranteed to the customer – ‘my bit works – blame those other guys’ isn’t a viable approach to customer experience.

The connected nature of the digital world, where the barriers to entry are very low because others provide the infrastructure, has unleashed the innovative talents of numerous entrepreneurs. Innovation is a major success factor and sounds easy but it’s not, especially in big, structured companies that are unaccustomed to taking risks and have a culture that routinely punishes failure causing everyone to play safe and keep their heads down. Changing that culture to mirror the innovative and risk taking nature of new start-ups is a major transformational challenge for large numbers of well-established customers – as former employees of Kodak can attest!

So the factors in play in a digital business are cultural as well as technological and are a mixture of art and science. But in a technological world, technology elements are very important and few players are properly equipped to compete. IT and network virtualization, agile and innovative software skills, big data analytics, policy management, security and privacy are all live issues. Many companies have taken a wrong move to try to cut their costs by outsourcing their IT functions but have ended up cutting themselves off from the very skills and capabilities that are critical to success.

A Changing Forum – Most of these factors are common to just about every company in every business sector. So although the Forum was founded principally serving the communications and computing worlds, our work is rapidly becoming universally applicable to any company wanting to transform to a digital business. Not only that, but the wider our membership, the more we can tap into the best practices and ideas of other industries that may be further ahead in some areas. So the membership of the Forum is broadening to embrace new types of service provider – cloud, applications and so on plus a growing number of enterprises in different industry sectors. Although they may differ radically in the products and services they provide, at the operational end – how they reach their customers, how they work with partners, how they understand their customers, how they are as agile and efficient as possible they are becoming remarkably similar. So while the Forum isn’t going be an expert in, say energy, or medicine, the core of what we do – automated, efficient and agile business operations that drive down cost and drive up customer satisfaction – is our area of expertise and we will continue to grow the breadth and depth of what we do for our ever expanding set of members.

Over the years we have developed an ever broader range of member services. Our core of collaborative development of best practices and standards hasn’t changed, although how we do that has. We need to continually improve the speed at which we develop solutions for our members because the speed of change in their business is ever increasing. Our members need help in understanding not just a vision of the future but how to get there too, so our range of supporting services is also being expanded. Our training services are going digital too – online courses and certification that people can undertake without leaving their desk. Our industry research and publications are also expanding in their coverage and accessibility with much more emphasis on digital consumption and linked more tightly to our online webinar series. Our website – the main portal though which tens of thousands of people regularly interact with the Forum is undergoing significant change, making it easier to find information and get to the right people that you need to interact with. All of our diverse information is being grouped around core business problems and linked in logical groups.

Our events too are evolving rapidly. With themes linked to the core concept of becoming a digital business, the work of our collaboration programs, our core frameworks, our training, our website, our publications and our webinars are all being synchronised into the planning of our events. Our events are the place where most people see the work of the Forum in person and ‘live’ so we are changing our major conferences. After 14 highly successful years, we‘re evolving our Management World event format into an exciting new approach called simply: TM Forum Live. TM Forum Live! is much more than a conference – its where the work of the Forum, cutting edge Catalyst technology accelerator programs, world leading experts, and decision makers from around the world come together. But because our events only last a few days, we’re investing heavily in video to make the sessions and catalyst projects available to our members who could not attend in person and build up a comprehensive library of leading edge content.

But even that isn’t enough. Our members increasingly want help to understand how to apply the Forum’s work in their particular context and to sit down and discuss their issues face-face. So we’re building up our member support capabilities and provide advice and guidance wherever possible. We’ll be helping those of our members whose business is consulting and helping drive projects with supporting services, training and accreditation, to complement our well established certification program for software products and services.

To do all of this, we’re also changing the Forum from the inside. As a not-for-profit member organization, we must never forget that our members come first. If we are not constantly relevant to the, then, just like yesterday’s newspapers, we’ll be tossed aside. To stay constantly relevant and delivering to our members, we have to be incredibly well connected to the markets we serve and pretty smart about making sense of what is happening. That industry leadership comes from having the best people and having them well trained and well-connected to our membership. It also means making sure that we leverage all aspects of the Forum’s work and produce more than the sum of the parts. To make all of that happen, we’re investing in our people more than we have ever done before and making sure that they focus on the right things – serving our members.

Change will always be with us – Transforming to a digital world isn’t something that is a one-time event. It’s a continuous evolution process and so the concept of continuous transformation is becoming very real. This is unsettling to many people who want stability and things to stay the same but it is a reality –and yet massive change has already taken place – just think back 5-10 years at how much the digital world has changed our lives and our organizations. Instant access to news, your friends, entertainment and pretty much the sum total of human knowledge is available to everyone, everywhere, anytime. Yet we are only now in the foothills of the digital world and changes is accelerating as innovations build on top of each other.

Just like someone walking in quicksand, if you go too slowly, you sink and are gone forever. That message has not been lost on the Forum – we are going to continually be at the center of change and helping our members understand it and profit from it in new and interesting ways. For that to happen we must be on the leading edge of constant change as the world around us changes.

I hope you’ll join us on that exciting ride!


    About The Author

    Founder & Director

    Keith Willetts has a lifetime of senior level business experience in the communications and IT sector and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on business management of digital services and networks. He founded TM Forum.

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