Data becoming the industry
If you ask a management team to define "analytics", you'll probably get answers that conjure up images of massive data storage infrastructure, impenetrable management dashboards and reams of operational reports. Hopefully you'll also get answers that identify the unique opportunities for communications service providers (CSPs): the connection between network data, consumer experience and material impact to the bottom-line.
The challenge of managing data will continue to escalate alongside the unstoppable customer demand for data because every business, regardless of industry, is fast becoming a digital business, with IT as a driving force. While many organizations have become highly proficient at data-gathering and will cope with this management challenge, few are capable of turning this data in to market differentiation, new revenue streams or efficiency improvements that drive measurable impact. For CSPs the opportunity to "hit" or "'miss" in the use of data is greater than for almost any other industry - because data is becoming the industry.
CSPs' data revenue will not keep pace with data traffic growth, as over-the-top and social services continue to replace traditional voice, video and messaging, striking at the very core of CSPs' revenue stream. At the same time, CSPs must maintain the kind of network quality that their demanding customers have come to expect. Today's customers are indeed demanding, with consumers becoming increasingly impatience.
So CSPs are in a tight spot, and they should choose wisely when determining investments in capabilities that will contribute to future success. In this regard, investing in the network to expand broadband capabilities quickly moves to the top of the list. The reasons are quite simple: network issues can significantly impact the customer experience, and investments will ultimately determine whether or not CSPs can introduce innovations that generate revenue from new, network-based services on these high-speed, high-bandwidth networks.
Far-sighted providers are investing in the digital tools, capabilities and skills to more easily identify useful data, evaluate, excerpt, analyze and derive insights from data-hungry services.
One of the most data-intensive services and most commonly used is streaming video, where growth is indeed impressive. The volume of video traveling over public networks doubles every year, but the price consumers are willing to pay for access to video services continues to decrease - not happy news for CSPs. All the same, with this challenge comes an upside. CSPs have a unique opportunity to derive insights and drive new revenue streams.
Through the use of network analytics, we see three opportunities to impact the bottom-line: assuring the consumer experience, network control and investment optimization, and cost avoidance and revenue generation.
Assuring the consumer experience
CSPs surveyed by Accenture worldwide confirmed that the high demand for broadband data access is requiring them to make further investments to upgrade access networks, increase backhaul capacity and invest heavily in emerging technologies to manage escalating capacity requirements.
Fully 100% of CSPs asked said they plan to invest in network analytics over the next three years, particularly as a tool to analyze data coming from the network. In fact, more than half (53%) of those surveyed said they would invest in new analytics tools to improve service assurance effectiveness.
Historically, CSPs used filtering to assess the network and "threshold" metrics to pinpoint problems. That might have been good enough in the past. These days, it's not enough. With the volumes of data on networks, mere threshold metrics can lead to false alarms, misplaced corrective resources, or even complacency.
Analytics tools can correlate several, seemingly disparate, individual events, and recognize a larger pattern that reflects a potential major network challenge. By applying deeper insight and improving responsiveness, CSPs can better manage near-term service quality issues and take systemic steps to improve long-term service quality.
Network control and investment optimization
Streaming video is another area where network analytics can be particularly useful. Streaming video is not only data-hungry, it creates new data traffic patterns that can significantly impact voice and data services. In addition, it has its own, unique use and monetization characteristics. Although other technologies, such as content delivery networks, video compression and adaptive bit rate, can lessen the impact of streaming video, CSPs' competitive advantage really lies in selectively increasing network capacity and quality in locations where the return on investment for new services like streaming video is higher. Again, network analytics that combine customer profile data with network usage data is the key provider of insight.
The above survey confirmed that CSPs need advanced tools to manage new traffic patterns, prioritize service quality issues and avoid overbuilding. Respondents also emphasized the critical role for increased control of planning, building and operating the network, using accurate and granular traffic forecasts.
Cost avoidance, revenue generation
As network equipment and devices become increasingly intelligent, gathering more information than ever before, the absence of a clear network analytics strategy may also result in a significant increase in data management costs. Without a plan of how to use this data to their advantage, the thirst for data will become overwhelming. In parallel, as CSPs grapple with the challenge of net neutrality, the requirement for a holistic view of network health and management needs will become more important than views of single services.
While cost mitigation is important, revenue generation to offset declining traditional services will be critical. Using data to drive new revenue streams is the ultimate goal for most operators. Operators will continue to use big data solutions to drive revenue from their existing customer bases, but increasingly they will look to network analytics to open new external revenue streams, combining network and consumer data, analyzing it and packaging intelligence in a manner that is of value to external parties. In this way, data can become valuable in its own right.
For example, the behavior profile of drivers in a specific location may be of particular value to advertisers and is a unique asset of CSPs. Unlocking value from the richness of data available will require sophisticated analytic systems, processes and, of course, specialized skills.
Clearly, when used to better manage the data explosion, network analytics tools can help CSPs increase the efficiency of their capex and return on investment. One mobile operator, for example, uses cloud-based network analytics to examine end-users based on criteria such as traffic volume, time of highest usage, busy hour traffic percentage and types of smartphones used.
Armed with this behavioral intelligence, this firm can more accurately align its network investments with consumer needs.
Data traffic analysis now has moved beyond giving CSPs' network planners a snapshot of the past. Instead, CSPs must know how to anticipate the future at the right moment. They need the ability to correlate network events with service quality and consumer behaviors, and identify previously unseen digital habits. They should even aim to anticipate the impact of network device proliferation - the increase in wearable devices, smart homes, M2M connectivity and more - and offer tailored services.
As CSPs become data-centric and their clients become digital businesses, sophisticated network analytics will become a pre-requisite to transform an ever-increasing cost into the platform for future growth and margin protection.
Neil Morgan is managing director of Accenture's communications industry group, Asia Pacific
This article first appeared on Telecom Asia CEM & Big Data Supplement December issue