The mobile communications revolution is driving the world’s major technology breakthroughs. This year’s Mobile World Congress was titled “Creating a Better Future” which focused on a variety of areas including IoT, 5G, Future Services Provision, The Network, The Digital Consumer, Tech in Society, Content & Media, Applied AI and Innovation. From wearable devices to connected cars and homes, mobile technology is at the heart of worldwide innovation. As an industry, it is connecting billions of people to the transformative power of the Internet and mobilizing every device that is used in our daily lives.

But all of this technology and transformation requires stable foundations on which to build, and CSPs are in a race against time to ensure their architecture can support their digital evolution, giving their customers the smoothest cross-platform, multi-channel experience possible. Most are struggling to get their B/OSS to help them deliver the right create-sell-deliver experience that ultimately drives the monetization of new digital services.

Traditional full stack B/OSS vendors have failed the industry by creating closed and disconnected products suites, which have been focused on the back end, not the upfront customer interface. Over the last decade, customer experience has finally become the focal point, along with customer journeys and the brand experience. While clearly those elements are important, what has been forgotten is the key driver of customer experience – namely, how customers interact and experience a CSPs products and services throughout the create-sell-deliver process.

This Digital Age is necessitating a step change. There is no “make do” option anymore. “Digitally native” companies are not hampered by legacy infrastructure – they are fanatically focused on the products they sell. For them their business IS THE PRODUCT. Their ability to make the process of creating new offerings, selling them dynamically into the channels that suit the preference of the buyer in a seamless and consistent manner is greater than a CSP’s current ability to match that model. It is time for CSPs to “do or die” in terms of adapting, evolving and changing the way they do business.

Technology vendors have a responsibility to ready their CSP customers and help them to stabilize their business architecture in preparation for the digital onslaught that is galloping toward them. Sigma knows that today’s digital service environment necessitates a catalog-driven approach. Being catalog-driven represents a change in focus, and requires a fundamental redesign of how an organization mobilizes and operates around defining, launching, operationalizing, selling, delivering and supporting products to better meet customer expectations. It encompasses every element of the commercial, functional, technical, and physical aspects of a product or service.

By using a catalog-driven architecture, Sigma is helping to support a better future for its customers, so that they in turn can create a better future for their end users. Without it, all the effort in creating agile networks, and launching new services will never be fully realized.


Tim Spencer, President & CEO, Sigma Systems speaks with Mike Barrell, CEO & Founder, Juliet Media

We’re at interesting time in the development of B/OSS for CSPs. Just recently, the TM Forum released a whitepaper on Open Digital Architecture (ODA), which will be the blueprint for the industry to develop architectures that will capture revenue from future digital services. It’s great, not only because Sigma has been involved in the effort from the start, but because the industry is thinking deeply about architecture in a collaborative way, something which it did not do 25 years ago.

And that’s how I think about microservices – something that requires deep thought and pragmatic consideration before jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve seen many things that have been hyped and hailed as saviours for the industry over the years because many people didn’t truly understand what they were. Similarly, there’s a danger that’s happened to microservices.

In effect, microservices are the next iteration of service-oriented architectures (SOA), which in turn grew out of the development of application programming interface (APIs), which stemmed from the use of enterprise service bus (ESB) for integration and so on.

Microservices architecture allows software to be decomposed and containerised, the result being that a large application can be written as a series of modules. As each module is written to support a specific task using a well-defined interface to communicate to other modules, there is an opportunity to re-use some modules for other services in a portfolio, which can standardise and speed up new product development. In short, microservices enables you to scale, are easier to use for new business models, and provide developers the choice of frameworks for developing applications and its business functionality.

When applying a microservices approach to legacy B/OSS, you can see that it’s a very good idea – let old legacy billing, mediation, and CRM systems remain where they are and overlay them with applications that expose services at a granular level so that other systems – legacy or otherwise – can readily use their capability. The benefit to CSPs: data will be managed and processed more efficiently, and you’ll get more out of your legacy investment while avoiding costly change requests for new functionality of old systems.

For its part, Sigma has always had a service-oriented and agile overlay approach at the core of its vision for B/OSS architecture. (And good news: this concept is part of the ODA). Our solutions, having been architected using a microservices approach, currently offer small modules of services to other Sigma products and other non-Sigma constituent applications. So, when it comes to microservices, we say, “bring it on” and we’d advise any CSP that they should make sure all systems implemented from now on have a microservices approach.

However, choosing to pursue microservices has its risks as well as potential benefits – what’s needed is a common-sense approach. In our view, not all applications need to be broken down into small services. It takes time, effort and resources to pursue a microservices framework so one should consider the likelihood of a CSP business actually needing and gaining benefit from smaller service capabilities of a given application to be exposed. Having done this for Sigma Catalog, our advice is to think deeply about whether an application will need to expose their capabilities.

Microservices are not the saviour of legacy B/OSS, but they are definitely the right thing to consider as CSPs develop their architectures for the provision of digital services. Don’t microservice an application just because you can – microservice an application with an idea of a valuable business application in mind.

Last month, Sigma had the pleasure of participating at TM Forum Live! Asia in Singapore with over 500 attendees, 90 industry-leading speakers and conference tracks including Transformation & Agility, NFV/SDN, AI, IoT and Customer Centricity.

On the whole, Asia still has lower internet usage than the world average, but the growth rate has been much higher. In 2010, the Asia Pacific region had 23% internet usage; in 2016 this had risen to 42%. In 2010, 33% of the global population used the internet; by June this year, it was 51%.1 That is around 3.75 billion people worldwide. If there is any debate as to whether CSPs need to move to digital, then these usage levels and growth rates should leave no one in any doubt.

To survive as the digital age progresses, service providers already know they need to put their customers first and give them the best possible digital experience. Precisely how best to make that happen is still being explored by many companies, but one thing we can all agree on is the need to get the data right before progressing with Digital Transformation. For most, this means consolidating multiple siloed catalogs, centralizing this data, and using it to create the foundation for a seamless user experience.

Many CSPs, however, struggle with the best way to achieve this. That is to say; to replace your systems entirely comes with the financial burden and high-risk disruption that service providers have a diminishing appetite for. Whether you rip-and-replace or take a less invasive overlay on existing legacy systems approach – in Sigma’s experience – building a catalog-driven model is essential to effective data management and the orchestration of the user experience.

With this many people using the internet through smart phones, tablets and computers, CSPs need to build a catalog-driven model to improve the “shop window” and the selling experience of the products and services they offer and automate the rest of the procurement process behind the scenes.

At TMF Asia, there was much interest and discussion with Sigma around digital transformation and the challenges of data veracity as a key pillar in this strategy. With the growing internet usage in Asia, we are confident that an agile, catalog-driven overlay approach will enable service providers to deliver an excellent customer experience while at the same time minimizing the operational disruption characteristic of many transformational efforts.

3 Questions to Ask at Your Next Meeting

Does your organization have a single blueprint for its digital business strategy?

Does that strategy both align with and support the overarching business goals of your company?

In the modern context of providing digital services, it’s not particularly useful to think of your “digital business strategy” as autonomous or separate from your actual business strategy. When you start to think of the two as a part of the same process — as mutually informative elements of one initiative — you can start to rethink everything about how to reach your customers.

That, of course, is easier said than done. There are conceptual questions at hand.  Having a digitally mature workplace means reversing or replacing cumbersome business practices with the new breed of digital best practices.  But what are those new best practices? That’s a question we’ve spent a lot of time answering. To make it simple, here are 3 key questions your organization should ask at its next meeting to determine its digital maturity.

1. “Are we taking advantage of our data?”

It’s likely that your organization has data in abundance. Most organizations, though, aren’t aware of how best to harness the true potential of that data. Does your organization use both internal and external data to inform analytics that can predict what consumers are more likely to purchase? If not, it certainly should.

As we’ve noted before, regular systems simply gather data. Digital business systems recommend ways to execute on that data with customization.

If used properly, predictive analytics can help your business lower operating costs and improve performance. Generating new business insights in a CSP is an intricate enterprise; that’s why making your data work for you is so critical to success.

Customer data doesn’t have to be scary. When properly orchestrated, it becomes a remarkably powerful way to expedite and simplify the consumer’s journey – all while gathering more data on it for future improvements.

2. “Are we providing real-time customer service?”

Providing “excellent customer service” seems to be a default claim of any modern CSP.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a single on that doesn’t claim to “pride itself” or be “defined by a commitment” to giving their customers the best-in-class services. But the prevalence of the claim is such that it should raise some suspicion. Every CSP claims to offer a streamlined customer journey, but that’s far from the case.

Can every single organization making that claim actually be said to be making use of all the correct processes and tools to simplify the customer experience and to streamline its efficiency?

Probably not.

What are the right questions to ask with regard to an organization’s efficiency in terms of its provision of service?

If you use laborious, legacy processes that heavily rely on manual tasks, your organization isn’t providing “excellent customer service”.

The truly digital service provider has exceptionally automated customer service capabilities that draw upon a highly-orchestrated resource of quality information with an ability to analyze customer interactions in real-time.

It’s also something we know a thing or two about. Business agility means knowing how to sell seamlessly through every sales channel so you can reach customers at precisely the time and place they want.

3. “Are we agile?”

Being agile doesn’t just mean delivering products or services quickly.

In its modern definition – and especially in the context of providing digital services – being agile is about much more than the tempo of your work. Broadly speaking, agility includes a set of practices that branch towards the interrelated goals of lowering operational costs, cutting down time to market, and improving the customer journey.

The “digital natives” are the latest cohort of consumers, and as their title implies, they demand digital service.  Forcing your customers to call your 1-800 number before transferring them from department to department isn’t just unpleasant for the customer, it’s pretty obsolete.

Because digital natives expect goods and services that are sold within a simple and completely upfront process, it’s up to you to improve that process.   Many employees of CSPs spend their workdays so focused on their business performance or processes that they forget to ask what should be a fundamental question: Do our customers understand what we sell and are we making it easy for our customers to buy from us?

If so much as a hint of confusion emerges as you try to answer these questions, it’s time to think about how embracing an agile approach to providing service can change the way your organization approaches everything.

Start looking into defined processes that will help you foster innovation and agile development.  When innovation in agile digital services is well-defined and measurable, you’re already ahead of half the companies in your field.

If you work for a Communications Service Provider (CSP), it’s likely that you’re acutely aware of two things.

First, that everything you’ve learned up until this point is prone to rapid change and reevaluation. New discoveries, products, and services can arrive out of the blue, fundamentally altering critical elements of your area of expertise.

Secondly, you know that an ability to react to such change is critical to success – and even to financial survival – in the modern landscape of digital communications.

But what defines the ability to react? That capacity, of course, comes from the heart and soul of what makes CSPs tick: people. An obvious corollary is this: a CSP’s success isn’t just supported by high gender diversity among its workforce. It’s propelled by it.

Notably, most people in the industry share this contention: more than 80% of people in CSPs say that gender diversity is important in their organization.  While the statistics on the current representation of women in CSPs around the world aren’t always encouraging, there’s reason to be optimistic for change.

Why? Because diversity isn’t just a purely moralistic improvement to a company’s constitution, but an incredibly powerful professional improvement as well.

The GSMA’s recent findings show that an organization’s gender diversity is positively linked to a range of financial advantages. Moreover, a study last year by Intel found that the closing of the global tech industry’s female leadership gap could generate a boost of productivity valued at an incredible $430 to $530 billion.

A company’s ability to effectively employ female talent gives it a greater capacity to:

 

1) Capture new markets

According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations with higher levels of gender diversity are 70% more likely to report successfully capturing new markets. In more sense than one, it shouldn’t come as a shock that women have important understandings and insights when it comes to catering to female clients and customers.

These demographics are often underserved in comparison to their male counterparts; employing women to cater to new markets is an incredibly simple and remarkably powerful way to enhance business results.

 

2) Receive higher returns on investments

A company’s ability to effectively employ female talent is positively correlated with higher returns on invested capital, equity, and sales.

A healthy, gender-diverse workforce boosts B2C and B2B performance; female talent, when leveraged properly by companies, allows them to achieve a greater and more rounded understanding of what end users want and need.

And, as is well-known in the world of communications – the end user’s happiness is paramount.

 

3) Boost the success of new products

Companies with greater gender diversity can improve the likelihood of success when rolling out new products and services by up to 144%.

Teams with even just one woman dramatically enhance their ability to address gaps that have previously been missed when applying full service to female consumers, perceiving these opportunities and capitalizing on them.

 

What’s Sigma’s take?

As CSPs continue to experience more change than ever, women are set to play more important roles and exert greater influence than at any stage in the history of the industry.

Sigma Systems is delighted to be a part of that change. Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Catherine Michel, has been named one of the top 50 Women to Watch by Global Telecoms Business (GTB) this year.

Responsible for the company’s entire product portfolio and strategy, Michel is part of what she hopes is a demographic of female executives who are reversing the trend of male domination of senior roles in CSPs.

But Sigma doesn’t only enjoy its use of female talent in senior positions; It takes pride in its partnerships with other organizations that exemplify the strength of gender diversity by allowing female talent to succeed in positions of leadership. Female professionals holding important positions in these organizations – and who, like Michel, have been named among the “50 Women to Watch” in Telecoms include:

Kimberly Eubank
Enjoying her post as head of operations at Vodafone since 2016, Eubank plays a critical role in Vodafone Americas’ business unit, overseeing a range of operations including product offer management, customer implementation, service delivery and marketing. Previously, Eubank worked in various leadership roles for Wolters Kluwer and AT&T Mobility.

Hélène Barnekow
Executive vice president and CEO, Sweden of Telia Company, Barnekow previously held the position of executive vice president at the same organization. Barkenow has been instrumental in implementing broad institutional changes at Telia, spearheading its transformation into a “customer-centric” company.

Tami Erwin
Erwin has been EVP of Operations at Verizon since 2016, where she oversees the expansion of the CSP’s product portfolio. She also leads revenue growth through product launches in both the consumer and B2B spheres. Previously, Erwin worked as a SVP and group president of the company’s consumer and mass business markets line of business overseeing sales, marketing, operations and customer service strategy for voice, data and video services for the company.

Anne Chow
Since being named president of national business at AT&T in April 2017, Chow has led over 6,500 business professionals accountable for customers across America. With more than 25 of experience in CSPs, Chow has used innovative growth strategies to guide organizations through major transformations.

Maxine Moreau
In charge of CenturyLink’s service delivery, sales, and marketing for local market consumer operations in more than 30 states, Moreau also oversees the smooth operation of CenturyLink’s customer experience infrastructure. Previously, Moreau was executive vice president of the company’s Global Operations, taking charge of the end-to end planning, engineering, construction, operation and maintenance of US fibre network and international transport network.

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On being named one of the 50 Women to Watch in Telecoms, Sigma’s CTO Catherine Michel observed that “Women have historically been underrepresented in this industry,” continuing, “but I am optimistic that the tide is turning.”

With the skills and intelligence brought to organizations by women like these, there’s more than enough reason to see the tides turn further still in the years to come.