Telco Accelerator: Pulling Back the Curtain - ETI
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May 21, 2021

Telco Accelerator: Pulling Back the Curtain

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband BunchThe Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software.

Martin Wahl, Microsoft, Principal Program Manager, Industry Accelerators for the Media & Telecommunications Sector, joins The Broadband Bunch to discuss how Microsoft and ETI have partnered to simplify telecommunication operations. Topics discussed include:

  • Telco Accelerator Microsoft Dynamics 365 Platform
  • Telco Accelerator: Partnering and Delivering with Microsoft
  • Telco Accelerator: A Modern Path Moving Forward
  • Microsoft Telco Accelerator: Embracing the Latest Technologies
  • Telco Accelerator: TM Forum and Set of Industry Standards
  • Telco Accelerator: The Customer at the Center of the Process

Pete Pizzutillo:

Welcome to The Broadband Bunch, a podcast about broadband and how it impacts all of us. Join us to learn about the state of the industry and the latest innovations and trends. Connect with the thought leaders, pioneers, and policymakers helping to shape your future through broadband.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Broadband Bunch. This is Pete Pizzutillo and I am joined by Martin Wall from Microsoft. Martin, thanks for joining us today.

Martin Wall:

Oh, I’m so honored to be here, Pete, thanks for inviting me.

Pete Pizzutillo:

We’ve been working with you on the ETI side, as well as some other folks within our community on a really interesting project, that made an announcement about two, three weeks ago around this Microsoft telco accelerator. And I do want to dig into kind of the origins of that. What does that mean for the industry and the overall vision and impact that we see on the industry? But before we do that, it would be really helpful to kind of dig into who you are, how you ended up working with Microsoft and leading this team.

Telco Accelerator Microsoft Dynamics 365 Platform

Martin Wall:

I have been at Microsoft now for 13 years, which is a crazy number. I work in the part of Microsoft that produces our Dynamics 365 and Power platform, which is our business applications group. I am a Principal Program Manager, which means that I’m responsible for setting product strategy as well as executing a series of product portfolio elements as part of our engineering organization.

Martin Wall:

I am aligned with a group called the industry solutions team. We look across all of Microsoft’s products and focus on how to build them better for specific industries.  I am the head of our media and communications industry group. That means I get to work with all of the folks across the media and entertainment spectrum as well as the telecommunications area.

Martin Wall:

I have done a whole variety of things at Microsoft. Prior to my current role. I’ve been in the artificial intelligence product group, working on all kinds of machine learning and cognitive services capabilities. I’ve worked in our Azure Cloud Storage compute and media services areas. I have worked in our Office 365 group, I’ve even spent some time with our Xbox product team for a while, which was always a lot of fun and entertaining.

Telco Accelerator: Partnering and Delivering with Microsoft

Martin Wall:

Prior to Microsoft, I’ve been with a variety of technology companies, both software, hardware, and service providers, including past names, such as Nortel Networks, General Instrument Corporation, and Motorola. I spent some time at IBM, and then a whole lot of different startup companies, all in the tech sector. So I’ve been about 28 years in some parts of the technology industry. But always with a personal focus on multimedia, or telecom or cable and satellite delivery services, or things like that. That’s my personal interest.

Martin Wall:

I got my degree all the way back at the University of Southern California in broadcast journalism. I had a sort of a taste for this space, from a very young age and have kept with it as the technology has progressed and moved forward. So super excited to have progressed to this point. And getting to work with awesome partner companies like ETI is just the thrill. So thanks for having me here.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, wow, that’s great. So you’re new, you’re all new to this whole thing.

Martin Wall:

Oh, yeah.

Microsoft Telco Accelerator Understanding the Path to Success

Pete Pizzutillo:

Now you can tell that the context that you bring is great. So you’ve gone on this journey. And now you’re leading the Microsoft accelerator team. And it’s not just isolated to telecommunications, you’ve launched a couple of different accelerators. Maybe you can kind of unpack that and just explain what the mission is for your team. And then we could talk about how we got into why focusing on telecommunications at this point in time.

Martin Wall:

Well, it goes without saying that Microsoft has really had its success do just entirely to our partner ecosystem throughout all of the years that Microsoft has been around. And we succeed when our partners succeed. So, when we built out products like Dynamics 365 CRM, or Power BI, for example. These products do very well for certain sectors. Because they have generic capabilities of customer management and data analytics, and tracking and that kind of thing. But what tends to happen is when you try to bring it into a specific industry like healthcare or financial services, or telecom there’s a lot of nuances there’s a lot of specific needs that come into play.

 Martin Wall:

What we discovered a couple of years ago is that if we can spend some time in advance, trying to customize these products, trying to build sort of a… If you’re building a 10-story building if you could build the first five stories for our partners, and for our customers, that are very specific to their industry, that gets them going much faster. So hence the name accelerator. We use that to mean where we take all of the Microsoft technologies, the Azure, the Cloud, the Dynamics 365, products even our M365 products, like Teams and Office and sort of customize them around specific needs and use cases of an industry.

Martin Wall:

We do that by first and always focusing on a common data model. Having sort of common languages and ways to describe the environment first, that’s very specific to the industry. Most of the time that can come from industry standards, any sort of standard data format that might exist in the industry. And then we publish that, and we make it freely available to our partners to be able to build on and build applications.

Martin Wall:

We did about six different industry accelerators, prior to releasing the newest one, the telecommunications accelerator, in nonprofit and education and financial services and healthcare, manufacturing, automotive. But now we have brought this newest one, the eighth. And this is totally exciting to have a focus in building this data model for the telecom sector.

Martin Wall:

This is not to say, of course, that telecommunications have not always been an important part of Microsoft’s focus. As you know Pete, I mean, ETI and our partners wouldn’t be here, if not for the telecom sector. Its growth and amazing endurance and building your services. But this is the first time we’ve really taken a look at how we can customize our business products specifically for the telecom industry.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, that’s great thank you for unpacking all that. The reaction that we’re getting, as we’ve been rolling this out for the last year or so, conceptually and now the product announcement is, exactly it resonates, that points resonate exactly. Is taking kind of a horizontal platform, and you guys have done an amazing job building this really scalable, secure platform that supports all businesses.

Pete Pizzutillo:

In the past, there’s been a lot of perception from clients in the marketplace. There’s a lot of work to tailor it to understand my business. And I think, now people are finally… Thank you, it now understands kind of fundamentally what telecommunication services mean, and products in this different… And we could dig into a little bit more of how we tailor that.

Pete Pizzutillo:

But the decision to lead with an acceleration program has really been well placed in helping a specific pain from adoption and attention to the marketplace. So I think it’s a great mission that you guys have. I do want to dig into the question, why now in telecommunications? Because, as you say, there are a lot of clients that Microsoft has, ETI has been around for 27 years. We’ve been active in this industry. The industry has had a lot of attention directed towards it over the last two years, not just from the pandemic, and kind of the obvious shortcomings of our global or national digital infrastructure.

Pete Pizzutillo:

But there was a lot of transformation happening prior to that.  I’d love to kind of get your view on what you see is exciting and interesting happening there.

Microsoft Telco Accelerator Value Added Services

Martin Wall:

This space just exploded. I mean, some people sort of point to the birth of the smartphone as the Renaissance for the telecom industry. I’m not sure if I would give Steve Jobs all the credit. But I do think that what has happened here is that telecom used to be sort of more of a utility player, at least it was seen by many consumers that way. You need a phone so you can call your mom, you need internet service for dial-up and email later. And it really wasn’t anything that could provide you any sort of value add services for your life or for your business.

Martin Wall:

That is completely 180 degrees different today than it was even 10, 15 years ago. Today telecom providers provide a multitude of services, both for consumers and for businesses. Not just providing internet connectivity, but security services and monitoring services and health care services, and financial transaction services. Entertainment services, geez, how can we forget that one. Now, this isn’t all about just providing the utility sort of capability. This is about really bringing value to add capabilities and offerings.

Martin Wall:

What we at Microsoft were watching is, here, we have all these great products and technologies that are sort of servicing the general business community. Collaboration tools, cloud-based tools for both storage and running processes in the cloud, great ways to use different devices to the interface, and all of that. And yet, what we were noticing is that the telecom industry as a whole was sort of still mired in, for lack of a better term, legacy infrastructure. User interface products, tooling, back in support services, and business services that were maybe built in the 80s, and the 90s. Maybe even by vendors that even aren’t around anymore, that can modernize them, and bring them up to date.

Telco Accelerator A Modern Path Moving Forward

Martin Wall:

We really wanted to try to offer a path for telecom operators, and all of the vendor partners and companies that support them to say, “Look, it is true that you want to move forward into a sort of a modern age, but you’re nervous about sort of throwing away what you’ve invested in heavily. Let’s give you a path to get there where you can sort of stick your toe in the water, one app at a time.” Self-care provisioning, automated Customer Care Services, billing and packaging, bundling services to combine voice, video, and data together and price them more nuanced. Ways to manage your truck fleet and your network tooling and your infrastructure and your wiring and your bandwidth using modern-day analytic tools and ways to combine all of the messaging and the data and the signals that you get all into one dashboard.

Microsoft Telco Accelerator: Embracing the Latest Technologies

Martin Wall:

Both your marketing executives can see where they’re reaching and not reaching customers, and your network operating executives can see where the holes and the gaps in the network and where they need to fill in where they took to construct and complete. There’s no reason why telecom providers today can’t be both nimble and react to this highly competitive space with brand new services but also use the latest and greatest technologies that are available to them.

Martin Wall:

Just because you’re a 30-year-old, 40-year-old company, does not mean that you can’t use the latest artificial intelligence, user interface, self-care provisioning, bot services that are available. That’s really what we hoped to achieve by coming out with this. And this is just the beginning, as you well know.

Pete Pizzutillo:

I think you touched on a lot of great points there. I mean without indicting the entire industry, but the industry is a bit of a laggard. Listening to some of the other industry accelerators that you guys have led with, I think there’s a lot of more progressive mentalities in terms of the digital transformation, or at least the risk towards moving to transform their infrastructure.

Telco Accelerator: TM Forum and Set of Industry Standards

Pete Pizzutillo:

Having a lot of legacy networks and some pretty solid revenue leads to some pretty significant inertia in the marketplace. I think things like you mentioned the consumer expectations. I would also say, the formation of standards, like the TM forum, I would give them credit to finally start and codify some of this stuff.

Martin Wall:

Absolutely, if not for industry bodies like that, which kind of get these somewhat stalwarts of proprietary data, get them together, get them to agree on what’s important. I think one of the most valuable things that TM Forum and bodies like them can do is to kind of re-articulate the importance of data, like the value of data. And how if you can put it all together, equally, sort of democratically, in all parts of your operation, both in and out. Your partners that you interface with can get access to it so that you’re no one sort of is blocked by a Data Silo. I think that’s kind of the lessons that we’re beginning to uncover into this to learn and then offer solutions against.

Telco Accelerator: The Customer at the Center of the Process

Pete Pizzutillo:

The data silos are internal to a service provider as well as external. I think a lot of the systems that have been developed, kind of originate out of the billing mentality and really just understanding, we’re able to charge people. I think the consumer expectations and a lot of the models are happening successfully in other industries, where the customer is at the center of how you design your business processes. And then the infrastructure and operations that support those processes.

Pete Pizzutillo:

I think that’s really what’s kind of speaking from a decision of why we decided to partner with Microsoft is the Dynamics 365 suite is constructed in that way.

Martin Wall:

That’s right.

Pete Pizzutillo:

That was money for us. We said, “Hey…” And I think that’s what we’re hearing resonates. And that doesn’t just affect… Because we’ll talk a little bit about some of the folks that are currently using the accelerator in an open-access business model where it’s B2B and B2C digital service providing capabilities and one system to manage that stuff. So like you said, being able to have your partners participate in an open, interoperable, transparent, and accurate way, are really massive drivers that are being… We’re seeing this kind of reconfiguration of these ecosystems to provide new digital services, which is really exciting, I think.

Martin Wall:

Absolutely and, we too, Microsoft, we sort of learned the hard way that you can build very specific and bespoke systems to do a specific task. Customer relationship management put all of your tickets, your calls, the data that you know about your customers all in one place, and you build around it. And then the problem with that is, it becomes a sort of this monolith mountain of its own.

Martin Wall:

Because all of a sudden, you realize that, oh, my goodness the customer’s experience with the installation, or the outage that we suffered from over here, or a competitor enters a market, and I need to sort of cross-reference who has those services, so I can know what to do to market and compete against them. The monolithic mountain I’ve created of customer data is no longer able to be reached by the other parts.

Martin Wall:

Even within the Dynamics when we first launched, we had all these individualized systems that do one thing. Sales do this, and marketing does that, human resources and finances, and operations. We started to realize that, wait a minute, wait a minute, we need to allow for sort of this cross-contamination of data to share and to flow from one to the other. Just because I’m in sales, doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in finding out a little bit more about the customer’s operational experience.

Martin Wall:

And yet, we didn’t have that as part of our portfolio. So enter what we now referred to as the Power platform. A way to build an application, which is custom, takes a piece from here and a piece from there, and it combines it onto the screen that I can deploy. So that it doesn’t matter what my function is, I get access to data and can perform tasks appropriately, and give me sort of a 360 view.

Telco Accelerator: Partner Solutions

Martin Wall:

When we begin to do that our partners who are coming along for the ride said we have good ideas, too. And in fact, most of our partners have better ideas than we do about how to innovate, how to put a map on the screen in this corner or a graph on the screen in this corner. And they said, Look, if we take your sort of recipe book here, and combine them ourselves if you would just give us the easiest way to do that, let us solve the problems. You just give us the technology underneath. And that’s exactly what we were hoping to do.

Martin Wall:

That’s kind of what at the heart these accelerators are. They are the ingredients you can stick in your kitchen. And then we look to you are really awesome and creative partners to say, “Assemble them in the best way for your customers.” Even if the next customer that comes along is getting something slightly different. You don’t have to spend and spin up your wheels trying to solve the underlying stuff, you just assemble the pieces the right way for your customers. And that’s really what is driving the success of these industry accelerators.

Telco Accelerator: Digital Service Providers

Pete Pizzutillo:

It’s an interesting point. I mean, part of what we struggle with is the word telecommunications because a lot of the innovation and redefinition or redefining services, it has nothing to do with the phone. That’s why the term digital service providers is kind of becoming a common nomenclature for this industry. Because of what we’re seeing with disruptors coming into the marketplace, a lot of it has to do with stuff on the edge and the Internet of Things. Just look at the pandemic with telehealth and distance learning, or distance teaching.

Martin Wall:

It’s so funny that you mentioned that because I was talking about how we’ve done this for other industries. Telecom is old, but it’s certainly not the oldest industry in the industrial revolution. Look at healthcare, healthcare is an old stalwart, hospitals, mostly paper-based. Definitely, one hospital never shares data with another hospital despite the fact that patients move from place to place and doctor to doctor.

Martin Wall:

The healthcare industry is probably the most exciting leader in showcasing how you can bring in technology, you can innovate around the patient and make them the center of the data world. And use, as you said, telehealth, telemedicine, remote management, data sharing, all still using standards, privacy, security, all of that still relevant and critically important. The telecom industry as it sees 5G growth is as being exponentially changing the game, where arenas that you might attend to watch a football match are giving you such bandwidth that they could provide a virtual reality experience right at your seat if they wanted to.

Martin Wall:

Where the sports arena becomes the provider of services to you. There’s just so much opportunity. All of these businesses are becoming these service providers and not just the players that we name that we subscribe to for our cell phones.

Telco Accelerator: The Target Audience

Pete Pizzutillo:

We should talk a little bit about who we design who is this accelerator targeting. Because up and down the food chain, people think of a lot of the national and global wireless carriers as kind of the predominant telecommunication folks, players. There’s a massive outcrop and if you look at what’s happening with the Biden administration, with the flooding of rural America, closing the digital divide. It’s pulling in private equity, from different industries, utilities, municipalities. I think a lot of people don’t realize that the accelerator while interesting and helpful for somebody like Comcast, to kind of jump into the game. The power that we see and some of the early adopters that we’re seeing is really at the municipality level.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Where these are public utilities or just private utilities that are trying to offer broadband to their communities. And they don’t have the budgets, the R&D budgets to be able to go and recreate this from scratch. So being able to borrow the R&D, that you have invested in, Dynamics 365, as well as our joint R&D in the accelerator has a massive acceleration, to overuse that term, for these folks to take on deploying new operational models and systems to go and service people that were underserved or never served.

Martin Wall:

I think you said that just great. I mean, there’s no reason for anyone to have to really recreate the wheel and a small player can compete on equal footing, with a large player if they desire to. Not everyone wants to be as large as a Comcast or an AT&T. If I’m a community, and I want to offer… Or even if I’m not a municipality, if I’m a private community, I’m a condominium complex or a university campus or a healthcare campus, I’m private, I still want to run a telecom network for my constituents, multitude of services.

Martin Wall:

I just don’t, as you say, have the wherewithal to build every system from the ground up, I just want a way to tie it together and sort of be self-managing, if possible. I mean, there’s just really no need for them to have to do that anymore. Nor do they have to invest billions of dollars in a huge legacy infrastructure system, there are ways to do this. And I say this, with all respect to my competitors that are literally across the lake from me at Amazon. What they have done to sort of democratizing retail sellers. And make anyone able to be a seller, we should be able to do the same to say, “If you’re looking to do the same to run a digital network or become a digital service provider, you too, should be able to do that with very limited effort on your part. Because we have built as much of it as we can to make you successful.”

Pete Pizzutillo:

That’s exciting, actually. And we are going to talk about where to go from here. But that’s a really interesting way to kind of phrase it in terms of that accessibility. All right, so we’ve talked a lot about the accelerator and kind of the motivation to get here. For those that are listening, what kind of resources, how do they learn more about the accelerator, and how do they get their hands on the components that we’ve delivered?

Telco Accelerator: Learning about the Microsoft Accelerator

Martin Wall:

Great question. So we have, in our business applications group at Microsoft, we have several different published points. If you are a partner, and so ETI is obviously our premier partner for this telecommunications accelerator. We were lucky enough to work together to design it, we published the output of the accelerators onto our app source website. It’s appsourced.Microsoft.com.

Martin Wall:

That is where both our Microsoft accelerators as well as our partners are publishing in increasing numbers, sort of the output of their technology. And so if you go there and you search for even the word accelerator, you will see all the industry accelerators published there. And the goal, again, of the accelerator is not to say that we are competing with any of our partners, we are rather trying to give everybody a leg up.

Martin Wall:

If you are an independent developer, and you just kind of want to see how to build a solution, the piece parts are there for you and published as part of our accelerator. However, if you’re a network operator, or as we were talking about any future or current digital service provider, and you want to see all the partners output, like ETI, you can also go to the website and search for your space and get to see what the partners have done.

Martin Wall:

We also use it as part of the support for our developer community GitHub. So we also publish the accelerator output on GitHub, and you can search for each of them by their industry name. So that’s there. And if you’re more of a developer type, and you kind of want to get the data model, and you want to see the managed solutions, and you want to install them yourselves, you can do that from GitHub as well.

Martin Wall:

And then, of course working with any of our partners, who have publicly come out and said we are going to partner with Microsoft as ETI did, they probably are your best source of getting access to the technology that we’re doing, because I think my experience in working with your team, Pete, is that you guys took the output of what we did, and you made it better. You put a layer on top of it and said, “Look, we know what you need. And we know what works. We know how to put this all together.” I would honestly say the best source of the accelerator output is through partners like yourself.

Telco Accelerator: An Explanation

Pete Pizzutillo:

No, I appreciate that. And just for some context in our listeners is there’s a handful of, I don’t know if I’d call them early adopters, but early deployments of the accelerator, across utilities, municipalities, and open-access networks. It really was the driver for us to finish the thought. I mean, so we’re totally 100% on board and working with getting the accelerator delivered. But what’s available is kind of scratching the surface, and there were a lot of different use cases and deeper models that we had to get into.

Martin Wall:

I don’t want to overcomplicate it as someone on our podcast is listening to this going, all right, they keep saying get the accelerator. What exactly do they mean by getting the accelerator? What is that? It’s very specific. I mentioned this concept that Microsoft started called the common data model. It is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a data model that contains tables and elements within those tables, what we call attributes, that allow you to build an application from the ground up.

Martin Wall:

We tried very hard to produce this data model in a way that you as a developer can get going way faster. So if I want to build, for example, a customer care app that, I don’t know, lets me go to a website and check my bill and pay my bill and perhaps ask for more services. That’s a very common use case. I should be able to build that app and design that app with no coding whatsoever, by using a data model, and perhaps some user interface elements that are just available to me from some sort of gallery.

Martin Wall:

That’s what these accelerators are. Think of them as sort of a gallery of things that you pull in to build an app that’s specific to whatever your use case is. So an accelerator and the telecommunications one specific has a data model element, an application set of elements, that include a user interface, controls, specific business logic, even a way to navigate from one place to the other. We then continued to innovate every so often. One of the cool innovations that we did, this is specifically with ETI, and totally thrilled is, we worked together to build a mapping control.

Martin Wall:

Maps are a very huge part of the telecom operator, sort of business, and the ability to place things on a map, to know where things are in relation to other things, to be able to see things geographically to be able to put coordinates down and to draw a five-mile radius around a cell tower. These are all common things you might want to do, you might want that in an app, depends on what your app is. We work together with your team to build that control, you can now pick that control up and plop it into an app that you build and use. And off, you go and you didn’t have to do any coding at all.

Martin Wall:

Another piece of technology that we innovated within the accelerator was the use of Power BI. Power BI is the world’s leading data visualization and analytics tool. And it’s super popular in every industry I can think of. But what’s so funny about it is it’s one of those things where people want it but are scared to use it because they don’t really know how to make it work for them.

Martin Wall:

So what we did is we customized the Power BI with a set of dashboards that are sort of telco-oriented. One that shows all of the customers’ addresses that you pass, and then you can color-code them based on whether you’re a customer or not. Where are all my network drop points are my fiber Connect points, show that on an app? So these are modern interfaces that you as a developer, or you as a partner, or you as the end-user customer can use to build and that’s the output.

Martin Wall:

When we say go get the accelerator. That’s what we mean, it gives you the ability to be in the driver’s seat of designing a solution that works best for you.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, no, that was really helpful clarification. And I think the BI piece is really interesting because a lot of the industry talks about AI and analytics, and AR as a kind of the higher-order desired capabilities. But there’s so much digital transformation, foundational from the data to the system integration to get to the ability to realize those things. And so I think, having… That’s one of the things that we see our customers getting excited about is okay, if I adopt this platform, I kind of have now a foundation.

Pete Pizzutillo:

And Microsoft comes with you guys are always delivering crazy AI stuff. AI for my call center, advanced analytics to understand about churn or about where I have potential subscriber growth. Even AR.

Martin Wall:

Oh yeah. That’s right. As I said earlier in the call we are not the smartest people in the room, by far. You are and your customers are. And so you guys probably have in the back of some whiteboard, when we used to use whiteboards, a list of things that you’d like to be able to do, but goodness knows how you’d be able to deliver them. A churn chart that shows where your customers are turning over, moving to the competition. Or a heat map that says, “I have customers here, but I don’t have any customers here, I need to go after that.”

Martin Wall:

So I mean, there’s all this probably wish list of items. None of that requires you to have to develop the underlying artificial intelligence or analytic tools. We can give you that you just have to sort of put it to use. And so that’s kind of how the partnership works. It’s a give and take you tell us kind of what your use case is, and then we give back to you the technology that enables you to do it. And that’s probably what I love most about the job that I have, which is I get to hear from my colleagues across the industry, who are partners, and they say, “I am working with a customer, and they really want the ability to do like a live transcription of customer calls immediately.”

Martin Wall:

So that the words trigger things that happened to the agent on the screen or that allows you to have some sort of instantaneous experience when you’re doing customer self-care. But I don’t want to have to build that. I don’t even know how to build that, how would I build a natural language model.

Martin Wall:

So what I can say back to them is, “That’s awesome. We’ve got a natural language model, we’ve got live transcription, I just have never put that together in a telco Customer Care scenario. Let’s do that together. And then let’s deploy that as an accelerator output.” And guess what, just make it run with it. You don’t even have to give us any credit. We don’t want any praise or any glory, I want you the partner to have said, look at this awesome new feature that you announce at your next user’s group.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. And it’s interesting, because then just to talk about Microsoft for a second because I think there’s a lot of questions around how do you work with Microsoft. But you guys are, I feel the way I describe it is you’re in the business of putting people in business. And I think there’s a lot of intellectual property that we had these conversations around that you and we and our partners are all in a previous world, maybe 15 years ago, when there’s less cooperation going on it would be hard to have that conversation. Because we were just worried about intellectual property protection.

Pete Pizzutillo:

But I think having the approach that you are taking in terms of just the enablement and being able to… Let’s just give people the ability to do the things that they’ve always wanted to do. And that’s been my experience working with you guys is being able to say, “Okay, we’ve got all this work, and we can combine it with this TM Forum, or some of the other partners that we’re dealing with.” A kind of one plus one equals three impacts. And that’s been refreshing for us to see.

Martin Wall:

Well, I appreciate you saying that. And I think that’s been an absolute intentional effort on our part to sort of be more of an enabler for our partners than Microsoft ever had been in the past. And I think that we don’t want our partners to feel that we are keeping them down and we are not competing with them. It’s why a lot of people are sort of wondering “Why don’t I see Microsoft as a brand more often in the business world?”

Martin Wall:

And the reality is because we just believe very strongly in the importance of enabling our partners, and not competing and really letting them run with the ball. And I think that that’s why you see these investments, these accelerator investments, these partner investments, these publish point investments, we really believe it, we truly put our money where our mouth is when it comes to supporting our partners.

Pete Pizzutillo:

And the net effect, the downstream effect of that, enables us to do the same with our customers. And I think a lot of what you’ve talked about is Microsoft seems like the 900-pound gorilla, but the way it is constructed is you can take one bite at a time. And that’s what we talk about is solve the first pain first. And there’s the modularity and componentry that comes with what both Dynamics 365 and the telco accelerator, enables people to do that.

Pete Pizzutillo:

We have small startups that are Greenfield utility folks that are trying to do some smart metering. And they just want a little piece to be able to connect an electric meter to an LTE device. And so the platform, let them do that. We have a mature, open-access network partner that has been built for 30 years devoted to providing broadband. And they have 15, 16 retail service providers, and they want to transform that and enable both the retail service providers and their end customers, a ton more autonomy and zero-touch capability. And the accelerators help them be able to do that without transforming 30 years of infrastructure and systems to do that.

Pete Pizzutillo:

So that’s what’s been really helpful for us is being able to pick and choose the ability to start. Because going back to the kind of the DNA of the industry, there’s a lot of risk aversion and some legacy, and there’s a lot of money tied to it. So how do you start uncoupling that and having the freedom and the technical capability to be able to take bite-sized chunks out of incremental monetization, it’s really been exciting and well-received in the market.

Martin Wall:

I really love that description that you just gave, and it is a very much crawl, walk, run kind of approach. There is absolutely no need to take a 25-year legacy system that you rely on for everything and just have to swallow your gut and throw it away. That’s not what this is about. This is a piecemeal approach of saying, what can I do to modernize, to innovate in a very small way, but a very meaningful way?

Martin Wall:

And sometimes that’s driven by competitive pressure, sometimes that’s driven by, “Geez, the vendor that’s been providing me the services no longer exists.” Sometimes its workforce changes. But sometimes it’s just a desire to take on a small sort of gamble, in the hopes that it’s going to land you with some awesome new efficiencies. And that’s ladder one is what I see works so well. Some IT operational manager somewhere says, “This data that’s sitting in some sort of on-premises hard drive. If I could just figure out a way to get that data exposed to other systems and embedded so I can perform some sort of automation or analytics, or who knows what on it, how do I just do this one thing.”

Martin Wall:

And then that one thing works, and they move to the next one thing, and before you know it they have a very new solution that they’ve built. And they didn’t have to do really any heavy lifting or coding. That’s really the hope it should not be painful and it should not be costly.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, it’s funny. The low code, no code concept’s been around for a while and I think people have yet to see it kind of really come to fruition, but we’re starting to see it now.

Martin Wall:

Yeah, I know there’s a lot of people who don’t believe that exists any more than the Loch Ness Monster does. But I work in an organization of 10,000 people who are all supporting the low code, no code platform, and trust me, it exists, it’s really there. It’s not a mythical thing. The thing that makes it work, the thing that sort of defines it as not being mythical, being real, is that I can apply it to solving real problems. And seeing that. And that’s why I harped a little bit about, start with the data, get the data in a centralized place, get it out of your silo, put it in a public… And when I mean public, I mean accessible, to your organization place where other parts of your org are able to use it, and then build an application layer on top of it.

Martin Wall:

And all the rules around security, privacy, compliance, that is all still true. But I think we’ve all come to get over our hesitation that clouds can be dangerous. It’s quite the opposite now. It’s like not having it in the cloud is the dangerous part. So I think we’re past that, I think we’re now moving to the, what can I do with it once I put my data in the cloud? What apps can I offer? Can I get my truck drivers the same access via a mobile tablet app, or maybe even an AR/VR app to that data that I give my people who work in a call center? And the answer is yes, you absolutely can.

Martin Wall:

You can have different apps, you can have five, you can have one, you can have 25. And this is what I have seen happen. And again, it’s not a very complicated thing. It’s just a matter of having the vision to do it.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Well, that’s… as exciting the industry is, it is frustrating as well. Because to your point, it’s like if you’re not thinking about this, there’s some competitor that you’re not seeing that’s moving in and going to do it for you, or before you. And so that’s part of what I’m eager to talk about with our clients in the marketplaces. The time of “If” is past. It’s really now “How.” right and I think there’s a lot of tools now that are proven and accessible and affordable, that can help you on that journey. And I’m just waiting for that kind of kick it into high gear mode.

Martin Wall:

Oh, yeah. Yeah and the other thing, I think, is it only takes a few sorts of leading, bold visionaries to sort of kick everyone into an “Aha, why didn’t I think of that moment.” And that’s quickly happening very fast. I mean we mentioned these other industries, not as sort of a threat to, or as a challenge, it’s more to say, look at what retail has done with the use of modern tools, and bringing all these capabilities to look at their businesses in different ways.

Martin Wall:

Look at how the educational market, the government sector, how manufacturing is done from planning from farm to table, literally. I know what my consumer demand is going to be so I’m going to pre-plan and pre-buy and pre-allocate and manage my supply chain in a very new, modern way. There’s no need to be reliant on old systems and old counting and old tools, when everything can be instant, digital feedback.

Martin Wall:

And I think the telecom industry, which has so much growth yet to happen. I mean, again, I look at 5G technology, and I’m just like agog at what the potential for this could be for all of us. And we, as a telecom industry need to be ready to go. Because if you don’t do it, someone’s going to do it. And then you’ll be slapping your head about why didn’t I think of that. But we can help? We can help. We don’t have to… It’s not like a prove me wrong kind of thing. It’s more like let’s do something together.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. And I’m excited. Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about we released the accelerator this past month. I know, we have a couple of opportunities to continue educating the market. What’s your hope to see how it evolves over the next day, six to 12 months?

Martin Wall:

Yeah. So I think my first hope is, I’d love to see the use of the technologies that we did build-out. So as you know we focused in on really some core applications in the telecom space of network planning and network management and customer addressing and how all that plays together and then relationships between where my customers are, where my network resources are, how I can serve them better, how I can manage them better, and all of that. These are solving some long-standing problems.

Martin Wall:

But I really am hoping, if nothing more, to get a bunch of new players at the table to say, “Oh my gosh, I represent ways to make the customer provisioning experience better, or the customer self-care experience better?” Or “How do I make the bundling of products work better or more nimbly, or more competitively?”

Martin Wall:

I think there are lots of places that we can go to. I mean, we’re already thinking, the next release. Version two is already on the planning table. And even though we just put out version one. You’re only as good as your next release, your current release, kind of as the motto goes. So but I’m hoping that in the next six months, what we’re doing is we’re garnering the next set of solutions and use cases for the next release so that we can keep building on this. This is kind of how success works.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, and I would echo that. My hope is, it’s like a beacon. And to your point, we just don’t know what questions… We’re asking our questions, but what are other questions people are asking and thinking about and dragging that innovation out into the sunlight, or at least finding an aggregation point, I think would be really exciting to see what people come up with. So if you’re a software provider, or you’re in the space, and you’re interested in participating, we’d love to kind of get as much input and feedback back in perspective as possible. So, please let us know.

Martin Wall:

I mean, I read a lot of what goes on just generally in the industry in terms of innovation, and so obviously, everybody’s all excited about feeds and speeds. We’ve always been excited about how much faster we can push light through a fiber cable or through the air. But I also see a lot of great innovations coming in things like these VR goggle sort of glasses that a technician can wear when they’re out on a repair site, and they’re looking at half a screen, and that data that they see with their eyes is being fed back. And then it’s reacting to that, and it’s giving pointers as to, “Oh, the reason why this outage is happening is that the cable’s plugged into the wrong port.”

Martin Wall:

I mean, there is no reason why those use cases can’t be built because the technology already exists to do it. It’s just not specifically for our space. But it’s like, as I mentioned, I used to work in Microsoft’s artificial intelligence product team. And that was my job right before joining this team. And I was out in grocery stores and convenience stores. And we had worked together with robotic technology to combine it to say, given a camera from a little robot rolling around the floor, taking pictures of what’s on the shelves, it can automatically not just recognize what products need to be restocked, but rather even know whether that product is in inventory. So it can order it from factories to bring it in so that it gets there sooner.

Martin Wall:

That combination is basically just taking existing technology and putting it in place for that specific industry use case. In that case retail and grocery. So I challenge the telecom sector, your customers, say, “You might be solving problems, you might be solving really hard problems with human elements and other things. Is there a better way we can use existing technology, but we just haven’t put it together for you? Because your use case is unique.”

Martin Wall:

And that’s what I’m hoping to sort of spurn is these great new ideas based on modern technology that already exists. You mentioned the Internet of Things, VR and AR, natural voice, language capabilities. Why not put that to use for the telecom space?

Pete Pizzutillo:

Hey, do those glasses come for my kids? So when they open the fridge, they can figure out where stuff is or order more soda?

Martin Wall:

The one that says don’t drink this, drink this because it’s better and healthy for you.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah.

Martin Wall:

I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen for us parents, but…

Pete Pizzutillo:

Sounds like a new business model. Let’s go.

Martin Wall:

There you go.

Pete Pizzutillo:

So, hey, Martin I really appreciate it, I could talk to you all day. And I know we have a couple of other events coming up this… We’re speaking at the Mobile World Congress in June and a couple of other things on tap. But a pleasure. Thank you for walking us through the accelerator and the great vision that you all have there. Thank you.

Martin Wall:

Oh my gosh, it’s been awesome to talk to you, Pete. I really appreciate the work that your team has brought to the table and I look forward to many, many months and years of working together with you and all of your customers. So thanks for inviting me.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah, for sure. I look forward to version two. And for the listeners, we’re going to include the links to the websites, the app source, and the accelerator so you can dig down a little bit the stuff that Mark mentioned earlier, so thanks for listening. This is The Broadband Bunch.

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