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Sharpening the Organisational Senses: Lessons From Telecoms Data Leaders

If the modern firm is an organism living through rapid and complex changes in its ecosystem, then data insight provides its sensory information. Using data to drive decision-making, as has long been the case for telecoms companies, holds the key to continual adaptation and improvement.

01 June 2021 • 4 min read

Data and intelligence has always been central to organisational agility; insight is the principal means by which organisations can feel how both the internal and external environment is changing.

As that environment becomes ever more volatile, the addition of predictive and prescriptive capabilities to complement traditional descriptive analytics becomes increasingly vital. Firms that don’t use structured data and knowledge to inform operational decision-making, drive customer service and create new business models, will be lucky to survive business turbulence.

Telecoms organisations have long been seen as exemplars in this area. They are awash with rich data and have been ready to adopt advanced data technologies, such as predictive modelling and cognitive techniques, to drive improved business outcomes. Despite this early advantage, the challenges of enterprise data infrastructures and data governance are no less complex than other sectors – those who have come later don’t possess the same legacy technology problem.

I spoke to a group of data influencers across leading telecoms organisations to get a view of reality on the ground. They’re a deliberately diverse panel with a range of expertise, some born digital and others who made a successful move into the domain.

Firms are now able to leverage technology with unprecedented velocity, allowing teams to make innovation decisions with confidence.

Here’s what they told me about the practicalities of working with data to fuel continuous improvement.

We need to sense – and seize – opportunities for existing business models

Data as a driver of new business models is nascent and unproven in terms of large revenues, although telecoms organisations have emerging opportunities to play host to new data ecosystems (e.g. in smart cities). For now, data is creating the greatest value in support of current business models.

Using data to enhance basic services is the prevailing priority, whilst tackling technology silos and landing data in the cloud for exploitation are ongoing activities. Nevertheless, organisations are able to compete in the fast-paced digital environment through advanced levels of personalisation, optimisation and integration that customers are coming to expect. Furthermore, firms are now able to leverage technology with unprecedented velocity, allowing teams to make innovation decisions with confidence.

Significant effort is also focused on building data literacy and a data culture that will ultimately power a company-wide transformation. That comes about when users across the business are able to make full use of the tools and capabilities now available. The different stakeholders I spoke to are trying varied approaches to achieve this, including pairing data analysts with business representatives and empowering citizen data science.

The C-Suite now fully on board

The big technology companies have accelerated the digitalisation and democratisation of information. The breadth and depth of their reach have profoundly changed the landscape of user experience, forcing telecoms leaders to reject any previous reservations about data.

Many individuals at the C-level did not begin their careers by being data-driven, but they’re now recognising the importance of using data to maintain a competitive advantage on the digital playing field. One leader explained that data is becoming a regular feature in C-level meetings and is regarded by leaders as a key enabler in the long-term plan.

Many individuals at the C-level did not begin their careers by being data-driven, but they’re now recognising the importance of using data to maintain a competitive advantage on the digital playing field.

Telecoms organisations have been money-making machines for the past few decades, but their revenues are plateauing and their cost bases rising to satisfy data-hungry customers. Most leaders in these organisations know by now they need to solve this problem by investing in data insights to drive continuous improvement and meet expectations – or they risk being left behind.

We are still in the early days of AI, but don’t underestimate its power

AI is in take-off mode. While colleagues can map other data initiatives back to what they know in Excel, AI remains a black box to some. Everyone we spoke to feels there is still a long way to go to harness the full potential of AI, so they’re undertaking long-term transformation while delivering incremental value to the business.

To be in a position to respond quickly is crucial in a volatile external environment. Many are making a start by automating the AI development lifecycle (Machine Learning Operations MLOps)  for internal efficiency and adopting a ‘data product factory’ approach. One practical outworking is harnessing the power of improved support bots that mimic human interaction more closely. All stakeholders agreed that AI holds unimaginable potential, and it’s going to be the key to an exciting future. But for now, most AI use cases are focused on the basics.

Regulatory changes offer opportunities to strengthen market position, and shape the industry

GDPR is now a fact of life rather than a particular burden and because consumer consent is now built into services, this hasn’t had a limiting effect on personalisation per se. Data monetisation from bulk data must be done in a privacy-preserving and ethical manner – getting this right is a harder task.

Beyond GDPR, the telecoms sector is used to operating under high regulatory scrutiny and data is playing a crucial role in helping these organisations prepare for incoming regulatory disruption from Ofcom.

Transforming to an agile, data-led organisation is vital to remain competitive

From the conversations I’ve had, it’s clear that data-led agile approaches are operating effectively on the ground for leaders in the telecommunications industry.

The sensory input from descriptive analytics is enabling continuous improvement of the business organism partly through predictive and prescriptive intelligence. Whilst everyone is accomplishing this with varying degrees of dexterity, all stakeholders strongly agreed that increased business agility equates to a more favourable future – for the business, for the employees and for the customers.

It is emerging that offices should no longer be considered as places to carry out work activities, but locations where knowledge is exchanged, ideas are shared and professional relationships are established.

A common theme was the extension of the Digital Revolution into a new era of data transformation. Learning from “customer-obsessed” industry leaders such as Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, telecoms firms are inspired to embrace the hyperfocus on the customer’s perspective. Without the data, they wouldn’t be where they are today and it drives them forward through every operational change.

Looking ahead, all industries will be dealing with the challenges of the widespread adoption of AI, and using data to create new business models. These will form a defence against a jungle inhabited by what one contributor called the “data collection monsters”.

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