Telecoms Must Adapt or Become Obsolete

The impact of digitization and the integration of the internet with the physical economy continues to have knock-on effects on every sector imaginable. From steel and oil to consumer goods and media, no area of the global economy can avoid a strategic realignment of some magnitude. Not small among these are telecoms. As an “internet-peripheral” sector, telecoms are uniquely vulnerable to threats originating in the digital economy.

But every threat is an opportunity: an opportunity to shore up one’s position vis-a-vis competitors, redefine and streamline processes, and improve consumer offerings. Let’s see how.

Step 1: Always start with the customer

With all the complexities of the telecom industry, it’s easy to forget that customers—enterprise and business customers or just regular ol’ consumers—are the entire picture. Without customers, you have nothing. So it’s absolutely imperative that telecoms retain and emphasize focus on the customer journey above all else. Really get in their head—what do they want? What do they absolutely not want? What does their journey look like, and how do they start it? How much do they know, what do they still have to learn?

When companies understand their customers’ journeys, they implicitly understand how to deliver a great experience. It’s not just about offering “digitalized” versions of traditional technologies and services, but rather identifying and eliminating customer pain points, enabling you to leverage the unique opportunities presented by the digital economy and give them to the customer.

Step 2: Restore and maintain infrastructure

Infrastructure: the never-ending challenge of technology. Nearly every technological sector depends on steady and reliable maintenance of costly infrastructure. Though it may be tempting to characterize your infrastructure as “good enough,” the truth is it is a constant battle against entropy. And it’s not just deterioration: as infrastructure is upgraded, it also gains redundancy, necessitating periodic “cleanups” to streamline processes and improve efficiency.

Step 3: Focus on security

Digitization is still in many ways an unknown frontier. And like the frontier of old, it’s populated with unknown threats just waiting to be encountered. Consumers expect security from their telecoms, and will continue to expect this. Due to the ever-changing and evolving nature of digital security threats, telecom security itself also needs to change and react, predict and evolve, in order to succeed.

Step 4: Everything mobile

In the future, the distinction between mobile and “home computing” (notice how antiquated and old-fashioned that already sounds?) will disappear. Even more importantly, in growth markets like Asia and Africa where consumers almost always lack landlines or other infrastructure, growth skews even more heavily mobile than in the rest of the world. The lesson? There is no mobile development, only development. All growth is mobile growth. Telecoms will do well to remove the distinction between mobile and landline wherever possible and plan for mobile in every case.

Step 5: Internet of (every)thing

Now that we’re all carrying phones in our pocket, what’s the next step? The next major trend is connecting every device in our lives to the internet, from our refrigerators to our cars to our smart home assistant devices to our televisions and thermostats. This is the internet of things. This trend will ultimately add billions more interconnected devices over the next decade. And it will increase demand for service like installation and configuration.  

Step 6: Devote yourself to data

Data is your everything. If there’s one overarching promise of digitization, it’s the predictive power able to be harnessed by the huge volumes of data that will be made available. Every telecom needs to put a renewed focus on its data analysis and hire additional data scientists, because the collection and analysis of the massive volumes of data being collected will be the chief determinant of future success. Companies that are able to make sense of and act upon the data they collect will have a huge advantage over the competition.

Opportunities and threats

Like many systemic changes, digitization represents both a threat and an opportunity. If companies can react quickly to changing environments and act in an agile, adaptive way, they can expect to reap huge rewards from digitization. If they fail to act, they risk failure.

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