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Three steps to customer centric strategy in the IoT era

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This article was first published by Honore’ Labourdette, VP Global Market Development, Telco Business Group on LinkedIn

MNOs have billions of opportunities for growth

The pressure is on for many Communications service providers. Their enterprise customers expect them to provide a more streamlined environment capable of delivering new services faster. Driving this demand are factors such as the changing workplace, mobile, cloud and – gathering significant momentum – the Internet of Things.

Complex solutions will be required to address the needs of customers seeking control over every aspect of their environment in order to exploit the potential of IoT. The evidence will be on show at MWC2017, set to be dominated by new technologies that lean heavily on the network. I’m excited about seeing its IoT pavilion in particular, which will be double the size of last year’s. IoT focused services and solutions offer a very specific opportunity to CSPs who are prepared to adapt their operational models and move away from a focus on network efficiency and cost reduction as overarching strategies towards delivering more of what customers want, in the way they want it.

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Orchestrate your business to put the customer first

Communications service providers of all sizes have a critical choice to make in response to this emerging market; maintain their current direction and position in the mobile network eco-system, or look to move up the food chain. If they are serious about expanding their services by becoming rich content, service and application providers the rewards in new revenue streams will justify the required investment across the organisation. However this leaves many CSPs with a big question:

How do we need to change our business approach to deliver innovative customer-centric services?

Understanding what needs to change and where your organisation needs to invest in order to become more customer-centric requires some big questions being answered with some equally big actions across the business.

I’ve been working with numerous customers who take the view that the only way to develop these services is by getting closer to customers than ever before. Based on my experience of current emerging strategies to meet the IoT era I’d like to offer three steps that are proving effective in formulating customer-centric strategies.

Take the holistic view

Revamping network architectures – the essential foundation for creating a segment of the network to address IoT business models – is only achievable when you accept the likelihood that some network team members will be working in unfamiliar territory when it comes to re-aligning your capabilities to service the app-driven enterprise and the IoT focus of tomorrow.

My colleague Gabriele Di Piazza has explored the role of DevOps teams in his blog: The three top habits of tomorrow’s successful service provider. He discusses how such teams will be important in taking the network from its today profile and limitations into the heady world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, picked up in another blog.

Cross-pollenate ideas and experiences by combining teams and holding regular workshops. Include representatives from the customer care and sales teams when planning and testing new services. It is an area many overlook; step outside of the technology comfort zone and sensitise what you do with a detailed evaluation of customer feedback – what does the enterprise want?

Apply the ultimate feasibility test

Look to involve loyal customers in the testing phases as early as possible to build use-case scenarios and ensure the experience delivers the right solution. Does what you’re doing make sense to them? Do they believe it to be invested with a business value? Do they feel it will contribute to their competitive advantage? Will it enable them to address the needs of their customers more efficiently, innovatively and cost-effectively?

Focus on the details

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Meeting your customers’ objectives depends on simplifying the way in which new capabilities are brought into the network, reducing provisioning time from months to days and, ideally, to hours. I really think that of the many benefits it offers, the agility factor of NFV stands out as a compelling reason to explore further. Enable the network and services teams to gently ease in to an NFV focused operation by adopting a modular approach to building the virtualized service platform and its various components; infrastructure/VIM, MANO, Network Functions. Understand the power of DevOps as an innovation engine and how to build DevOps into your go-to-market processes. By loosely coupling applications and services together, CSPs will be able to quickly adapt and innovate their overall propositions as they better understand the changing demands of their customers.

An irresistible customer proposition

Software can enable operators to adapt to new technology requirements while also becoming more customer centric by offering tailored SLAs and bespoke virtualised infrastructure and orchestration to permit custom integrations and services.

From the technology angle, virtualisation allows the ability to merge the IP part of the network with the core network and this strikes home in addressing rapid service provisioning. This is an essential response to how business customers want and need to tailor their network services and how they manage the relationship with their CSPs, breaking away from the traditional service architectures.

I’m finding more and more that visionary operators are placing greater value on customer input to validate their ideas around innovation. Coming up with fresh ideas that demonstrate a deep appreciation of the competitive pressure the enterprise faces is not a process you can undertake in isolation. Opening up your network to new services, and perhaps even new customers, is all about opening up your mind to new influences.

The key to successfully commercialising an NFV implementation – with the goal of offering tightly tailored, relevant services for the digital enterprise – will be in predicting what services and scenarios should be fully automated or orchestrated and how each customer will want to manage them.

Gartner currently estimates that 20.8 billion devices will come on line by 2020. Before then an array of serious make-overs needs to take place in the network infrastructure for carriers to exploit the opportunities. I’m all in favour of a shift in strategic thinking; away from the centre-stage positioning of up-time and availability (the old stalwarts for voice, messaging and video traffic) and giving greater prominence to rapid response and scalability as enablers of efficiency of operation and customer value for the untold millions of devices coming into the network equation. It may be a cliché, but fortune favours the brave. So even if you don’t live by that principle, simply focusing on outdated business goals of cost cutting and minimising investments to stay competitive surely cannot be sustainable?

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