Broadband Trends Driving Carrier Innovation - ETI

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January 29, 2020

Broadband Trends Driving Carrier Innovation

In this episode of The Broadband Bunch we speak with Guy Bevente, an industry veteran with 27 years of working at AT&T as well as in consultative services in the telecommunications and broadband industry. We dig into the telecommunication trends that are driving carriers today, ranging from the omni-channel experience to digital transformation and personalization.

He explains the technology capabilities that broadband providers need, such as design-driven thinking, modularity, and agile responsive systems, and provides insight into how carriers think about proactively investing in innovation and the rationale around technology investments.

Broadband Industry Veteran Leading Modernization in both OSS and BSS

Guy Bevente: I spent 21 years, primarily in the information technology realm, if you will. Various different roles all related to systems integration and modernization efforts across both the business support systems and operational support systems space.

I had the privilege of leading some great teams across the various functional areas, from billing to care, ordering, network support systems, and most recently, spent some time in the digital space looking at self-service capabilities for B2C and B@2B customers.  So, seen a few things, been around a bit. I’m excited to be here to talk through some of this with you.

Technology Transformation – Shifting to Customer-Centric Operational and Billing Systems

Guy Bevente: One key shift that’s really focused on moving from a billing-centric world to a customer-centric world. And let me explain that a little bit. We know, in telecom, we’ve seen, over decades, right, what I consider to be a very billing-centric model, which basically says, everything was built around billing and billing capabilities.

Of course, billing is super-important to bill on a timely basis, bill accurately, but I would say it’s not the dominant focus as it once was. Today, understanding your customer needs, ensuring that your customers have a great experience, that’s really moved to the forefront.

So, you sometimes hear putting the customer at the center and I like that, however, what I would add is, that’s not just a figurative phrase. It should not be. You really need to design your operational processes and the support systems around the customer. The customer information, the customer support systems. That’s the key shift.

Pete Pizzutillo: I think there’s a lot of industries where there’s a similar pattern where these functional silos are being redefined into more of a life cycle service, customer life cycle view. And I do think there’s a combination of a few things. We have technology today that we didn’t have before that helps us do a better job integrating systems and disparate data, as well as the consumer expectations.

So, I think a more savvy customer, in terms of technology-savvy, perhaps demands more personalization and more real-time feedback, so carriers and providers, not just in telecom, are being challenged to figure out, at the system level, organizationally, in the process level, how do they realign restructure, transform, if you will, to meet those expectations and leverage the technologies out there?

I guess the question I would have is, why now, in technology, in this space? Why do you think this is emerging now?

Key Trends –  Omni-Channel Experience, Digital Transformation, Personalization, Data Insights

Guy Bevente: There is an expectation that customers have that has not only grown, in terms of what they want you to know about them, but also, the flexibility that they demand when they do business with you.

So, there’s four key trends, and to your point, whether you’re a tier one or another tier company, I think the trends are very similar. The four of them, and I’ll just say something brief on each here, Pete, one would be omni-channel and the omni-channel experience specifically. The second one, you’ve alluded to it, is the digital transformation. The third is personalization, and then, the fourth, I think about data insights.

From an omni-channel perspective, you’ve heard omni-channel discussion, and I like to think about it in a very simple way, and that is, as a customer, know me and treat me the same way across all your channels. Whether I am making a call into a call center, visiting a store, going online over the web, regardless of the channel, there’s an expectation that there is a continuous experience. And not only is the expectation there, but it’s continuous. What I started online, I’m expecting you to know when I call you, vice versa too. But there is also an expectation in the omni-channel experience that it’s seamless. And I’ll build on that a little bit. So, that’s the first one.

Digital transformation, I really think this one comes down to choice and flexibility. Again, something customers want. Okay? There’s been a movement to shift more capabilities online and self-serve. Typically, people think about the business to consumer space, the Amazon model, or what have you, but the truth is, even in the business to business space there’s been a shift to more self-service capabilities. And again, it’s a choice, it provides that flexibility and, super-important, it’s always available, right? So, that’s the second important space.

I mentioned personalization as the third, you touched on it too. And, again, this is, understand what I want, understand how I use your products, what I already have, and really, what’s unique, if anything, about me as a customer and personalize that offer. Right?

Finally, data insights, there’s a lot of discussion in all industries on leveraging data as a competitive force, let’s face it. So, when we talk about data insights, this is not just about collecting data, but being able to synthesize that data and really draw some insights and eventually getting to some predictive analysis. I always like the models where some have reached a level where they can often predict what a customer will do next before maybe the customer even has thought about taking that action.

Efficiency, Effectiveness and Cost are Driving Automation Trends

Pete Pizzutillo: How much of these trends are being shaped by the competitive landscape? Right? You have a couple things happening, you have non-traditional providers coming in, you have tier one carriers also trying to compete into the home for delivering content and what’s traditionally cable providers services, as well as the commoditization of traditional wireless and plant, right? So, voice and data unlimited have been pushed cheaper, cheaper, cheaper by the challengers in tier two, right?

So, you have competitive pressures, you have financial pressures. I mean, is that an element that you see within these trends?

Guy Bevente: I think about it this way. If you think about the traditional reasons, right? The operational efficiency, the operational effectiveness, optimizing cost, right, to some of the points you raised. I still think those remain, and should remain, very important. Right? For example, think about ordering and provisioning a data circuit, right, with a complex flow. The more manual steps and handoffs, right, not only do you have an opportunity for error that’s greater than in an automated sense, but the turn-up cycles are longer, and the cost is definitely higher.

So, focusing on automation on the operational side, I think, continues to be super-important to bring your internal costs down and remain competitive from a pricing perspective.

But, I will tell you, when I think about competitive reasons, Pete, I just also have a point of view that you typically are going to automate either in a reactive mode, or really proactive mode. So, in a reactive mode you will automate to remain relevant, right, and stay in the game. More of the, what some people refer to as the me too approach. I think what we’re seeing at different tiers is the more proactive innovation for a competitive advantage, right? You lead with some technology and some differentiating capability, whether it’s operational, or whether it’s analytical, with your data insights.

Broadband Technology Ecosystem Key Elements – Data Model, Modularity, Adaptive-Responsive, Design Usability

Guy Bevente: Key elements of the technology ecosystem. And I really like to paint a simple picture for this, Pete, because you could get pretty into the weeds, if you will, with the technology architecture because there is sophistication and there should be with some advanced capabilities.

But regardless of what software, application software, systems software, or even advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, regardless of what capabilities one adopts, I think there’s four fundamental needs that need to be addressed. Four elements.

The data model itself, movement towards a modular architecture, adoption of what’s known as an adaptive and responsive architecture, and then, this emerging space of digital user experience. So, real quick, I started with the data model, okay?

From a database perspective, we’re really talking here about a collection of rich data, right, to support those experiences that we talked about early, but also, a data model that is integrated and leverageable across your value chain, across your application system, and ensuring that there is a consistent experience, right? And, of course, you want the data model to scale and be extensible as the business changes. So, in my mind, the data model itself is foundational and remains key.

Another important one, I talked about modularization. Now, in the industry, usually we’re not just talking telecom and technology shops, folks talk about services-oriented architectures. We’ve been talking about services-oriented architectures for a very long time.

Leveraging APIs, right, to access systems, front-end to back-end. Probably a more emerging area is the micro-services space. This is where you move into a loosely coupled and independent set of functions, right, that can be changed on the fly. An example of that would be a micro-service, say, for check eligibility, for a customer.

Nevertheless, regardless of those techniques and frameworks, right, you’re really, simply adopting a modular architecture approach to your technology stack. Kind of a build as you grow, right?

The third one I mentioned, really has to do with what some often refer to as mobile first, right? Being adaptive and responsive. From a technical perspective, here’s what we’re really talking about here, Pete, in this space. If you’re building an application for the desktop or a small screen, like a mobile device or a tablet, regardless of screen size, you really want to support your customers through that omni-channel experience in a way that’s cost-effective to you.

And adaptive and responsive, there’s technologies that you basically build the software once and you use it many times across those different devices and screen sizes where the code adapts, right, to the actual screen size, which then moves me into the fourth component that I laid out which is really more design-oriented than maybe technology stack itself, and that is the digital user experience.

This design-oriented thinking is really all about simple and elegant flows when your customer does business with you, right?

I like this concept that has emerged, people refer to it as design-based thinking. Right? And really, what design-based thinking suggests is that you don’t think about the customer experience, regardless of the channel, as an afterthought, you start with the customer and understanding the customer, customer empathy, right, from the get-go.

Those are the fundamental need and the component parts for an overall architecture to support these trends and shifts that we discussed.

Pete Pizzutillo: So data model, modularity, adaptive-responsive, and design, usability. I would add a couple things this, right? So, the data model, there are institutions, so the TM Forum and the Open Networking Foundation, and the Broadband Forum are three examples of, and there’s the MEF, there’s four. It’s really interesting. There’s four standards groups out there that are working on providing the language specific to the broadband community to try to solve that problem that you’re speaking of. Right?

So, we’ve had a couple of interviews there and they each have their place and I do believe they’re working in the same direction but there’s different flavors still, and we’ll see how that shakes out. But I think you’re right. It’s fundamentally, we’ve got to get the data, all this disparate data together, so that we can quickly and easily integrate it and work together to support the second point there around modularity.

Broadband Providers Moving Towards Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery

Pete Pizzutillo: I’d also say that there’s a deployment side to that as well, right? So, dev-ops is designed to be able to drop small pieces of functionality to end users quickly.

Containers and containerization are other deployment methodologies that has been able to encapsulate certain capability and have it living in a production environment so that you can easily update, migrate, control the chaos within that environment. So, that’s something that we see a lot of, the carriers and broadband technology organizations, moving towards. Does that make sense?

Guy Bevente: You’re spot on. This area is often referred to as continuous integration and continuous delivery.

Because, to your point, the small component parts, a micro-service, right? You want to be able to change it, independently deploy it, and continue your business, and not have to rebuild your entire code base. So, continuous integration, super-important.

Is Broadband Innovation Driven by Technology? Business? Or Both?

Pete Pizzutillo: And I had a question when you were speaking earlier about you see a trend, in terms of proactive innovation, right? And, what is it around those folks that the technologists are becoming more business savvy, or the business folks becoming more technology savvy? Oftentimes, those two, the CIO level has struggled based on, by industry, perhaps, with maturity organization, or where they are in the marketplace.

That’s a pretty critical function to be able to recognize that the technology, you go back to the trends that you mentioned, those all could have been operational efficiency technology back office-driven initiatives. But instead, what you’re pointing towards are things that are business-driven, customer-centric-driven, so what have you seen over the past 15 years, 10, 15 years, in the space that’s led to that maturity, or is it not mature?

I don’t think it’s just one thing, but I’ll mention a couple of things. You asked about, do we have technology, from a technology perspective, pushing the innovation, or do we have the business side maybe understanding the technology better. In organizations that I’ve experienced, you have both.

And what I would add though, regardless of where the thrust is coming from, and I do think it should come from both the business side and the technology side, those lines, Pete, are blurring, the operational folks and the technology folks. In fact, in various organizations, not just some of the ones that we talked about, some of the technology teams have moved into the business, if you will.

And those blurred lines are not a bad thing. In fact, from my experience, it really has helped with some of the more agile adoptions to make change and innovate faster. And whether an organization has embraced a formal agile framework or methodology, right, to develop solutions, or if they’ve just combined teams from a functional perspective to work together, right, from a cross-functional perspective and learnings, really what you have is common purpose, common ownership, and at the end, getting solutions out for the customers a lot faster than we have seen, you mentioned, 10, 15 years ago. Right?

It used to be, and this is part the challenge that most companies face, by the time you define, design, code, and deliver a solution, by the time it went out to market, the business had changed, right?

Broadband Services – Faster Time to Market with Agile Development

Guy Bevente: So, these more agile approaches, coupled with the benefits of integrating teams and blurring the lines, I think it made a difference in total cycle time to get some of your technologies out to market.

Pete Pizzutillo: It’s in parallel to how we started this conversation, talking about the functional toolsets like billing and those silos being broken down into more customer-centric and customer lifecycle. You’re seeing organizations do the same thing internally with departmentally bringing in the full complement of skills and capabilities they need to meet the customers rather than CIOs or the IT, in some organizations, seems to report under finance. that’s why IT was seen as a cost expense, right? Cost expense. IT was seen as an expense, and now, embedding the IT and the technology know-how within the business units really then coupled the thinking early on, so that you can get to designing with the end in mind, rather than the business coming up with the design, throwing it over the wall and letting the IT organization figure it out.

Technology/Operational/Cultural Change Processes

Guy Bevente: You talked about one of the graduate level classes that we offer. Most people from there with the organization development and change, and yeah, Pete, we actually look at use cases that deal with the change and the speed of change in today’s environment, whether you’re looking at mergers and acquisitions, right, or new product development, or various use cases, the technologists, the IT groups, if you will, are smack in the middle, at the center of it all.

So, it is something that we do address at the academic level, but we do bring in, also, many of the use cases and practices in business that actually influence change and move through the change process quickly, not only from an operational perspective, but also culturally, right?

As we know, often a cultural shift can be more difficult than an operational or technology shift. Wouldn’t you agree?

Pete Pizzutillo: I think it depends on the organization, right? So, a lot of the folks that we’re dealing with that are not tier one, right, they have different states of maturity. One is, they have the desire to learn how to extract the intelligence right? So, the know-how is there, the desire is there. But they’re burdened, right, with the day-to-day operations, right?

And so, how do they unburden themselves, unsaddle themselves from that type of stuff? How are big organizations thinking about the operational efficiencies to be able to shift from running the business to changing the business?

Shifting to Changing the Business for Medium to Small Broadband Service Providers

Guy Bevente: I’ve always been a big believer if large organizations can do it, definitely a mid-sized and smaller company can absolutely do it. So, shifting decision-making, removing the bureaucracy, empowerment that we talk about, not just as a term, but again, with real intentional changes in an organization, and how decisions get made, I think are all a key part of that shift, right?

But you bring you some interesting points there, Pete, in your question because we talked about a couple of things and I even touched on moving to more agile framework, in terms of software delivery, but as I reflect on it, culture, operational change, software modernization, innovation, these all move in unison and there’s component parts from each that, frankly, feed the other elements that are core. Right?

You can’t do one part of it and not address another. Does that make sense?

Pete Pizzutillo: It’s an ecosystem, an organism, right? And I think that some of the things that we’ve seen is that RPA, robotic process automation, right, there’s automation that is proliferating through organizations to take the weight out, to move people from repetitive tasks, or systems from repetitive tasks, to higher value tasks. How do the carriers think about automation, or automating processes or systems? What are some of the things that they’re using to help to drive the priority and decision points there?

The Real Cost to Broadband Service Providers is in NOT Automating

Guy Bevente: You can’t move faster and get leaner without, quite frankly, creating higher demands on the organization. And I’d like to think about investments in terms of, how to do we approach this?

Clearly, organizations have to prioritize, where do we invest, limited, sometimes constrained capital, right? How do you go about it? And we all know that smart people know that automation is better than manual, intuitively, right? You know that. You know intuitively that integrated systems and a common data model, some of these that we talked about, help me make sense and better than a bunch of one-offs, right? Separate systems that don’t talk to each other.

So, we intuitively know that but we need to build a business case, build a business case that shows a real return, a return on investment that shows, with data, that one opportunity is more affected and a greater return than another. And so, in different tiers, I think putting in place a lean but fast process where you don’t bypass the formalities of a business case is important.

When I think about return on investment, and think about the traditional, important measurements, right? The internal rate of return, the payback period, net present value, with today’s tools, you can calculate those fairly quickly, but that’s not the challenge.

The challenge is understanding the real cost to your business in not automating. The absence of automation has a cost. Let’s talk about telecom and I’ll mention just two real costs that I think are overlooked when priority decisions are made and business cases are built.

We’re familiar, in telecom, that there’s a concern with churn, right? Churn reduction. So, what is, basically, churn? It’s losing a customer. You worry about it in all industries, definitely something that we have seen carriers at different tiers watch closely. And here, there is a real cost to losing a customer and we know how expensive it is. There’s been studies done for many years for what it costs to win back a customer.

So, the absence of automation increases order entry error, right? And fall out through the provisioning flow. If you’re doing something manually, there’s a greater probability, right? That’s very commonly known. So, there’s a cost to churn, and that cost to the point, Pete, needs to be built into the business case. Most companies know what their churn rate is, and you can turn that into a real cost to the business, and the point there being, with automation, you will significantly reduce your churn rate that you have in a more manual operation. So, that’s the first cost.

The second one, the other one that I mentioned, it’s better labeled as an opportunity cost, right? What do I mean by that? Same dynamic. In a manual operation where you have greater fall out, we’ve all seen it, we’ve all been there, there’s a cost, there’s time and cost, of correcting fall out, of correcting errors. You’re double-handling the same customers. In a constrained, right, we talked about optimizing operations, you have the same staff, wouldn’t it be better, Pete, to have your staff focus on new sales or upselling rather than utilize that human resource capability in re-handling, correcting fall out of existing customers.

Key performance indicators, KPIs. And I will tell you, flow through provisioning, and usually that’s automated flow through provisioning, there’s different points of view on that, probably for a future discussion, but from start to finish, and that situation, where it starts and where it finishes, watching flow through provisioning and order fall out, those are two KPIs that leading carriers watch closely.

And they watch it closely because they know it’s directly connected to cost, and it’s directly connected to churn.

Pete Pizzutillo: What I hear you saying, is really the ability to connect operational process and technology thinking with the business and client-centered driven value, right?

So, looking at how to reduce truck rolls is one way from an operational perspective to look at it, right? But also, the other side of that is customer satisfaction, right? So, not needing to have somebody show up between eight and four, and having things fixed, self-service fixed online, those not only reduce costs, but it makes happier customers, right?

Having the savvy to sit there and connect the dots, and I think small companies actually have a benefit, right, because when you’re talking about tier one providers they have a lot of contractors, maybe third-party operators that they need to deal with, they don’t really have the opportunity to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with them, but when we’re talking about public utilities, or municipalities, or smaller telcos, typically, these are all in the same room.

So, let’s get together and let’s tell a cohesive story that’s driven by the business value, it’s driven by the customer value, and it’s connected to the technology choices that we all need to make, or the process changes that we need to make. And I think that’s what you’re suggesting, and we’ve seen some of our clients do that very successfully and do some really amazing projects that I think were, if they were couched from a pure financial or technology aperture, they wouldn’t have been approved, or have been so successful.

Smaller Providers Can Leverage Agile Methods to Deliver Innovations to Market Faster

Guy Bevente: I think it’s an advantage in today’s environment if you’re not burdened by the legacy and maybe even sums, right? So, I agree, from a municipality to a smaller carrier, I think there’s an advantage to leverage the size, to leverage cross-functional roles that we talked about earlier to actually bring product and solutions to market faster and do some of those things that we talked about from an integrated customer experience. I agree with you.

Pete Pizzutillo: Yeah, so we’ve been visiting with Guy Bevente from BevTech Consulting. Guy’s been able to tap into his long history with AT&T and some other carriers. He’s in his consulting business working with technology companies and providers. He’s done a great job of providing a view of some of the technology trends facing telecommunications and broadband industry, ranging from the omni-channel experience, to digital transformation and personalization, to data-driven insights.

Guy has helped us understand some of the technology drivers and capabilities from design-driven thinking, modularity, and database, as well as given us great insight into how carriers think about proactive innovation, and how they think about the insight into the investment rationale, in terms of both broadband technology, business process, and growing, protecting their customers, reducing operational costs, as well as driving revenue in a very competitive, ever-changing market.