Telecom sector in need of change

As someone who's been in and around the telecom industry for a long time, I have seen sweeping changes over the years. At its basic level, we've gone from a world of monopoly fixed line service providers, to a de-regulated one where CLECs temporarily roamed, to the fragmented mobile-centric/Internet-centric business of today, where players like Amazon and Google and innovative device companies like Apple and RIM lead the way.
We've also gone from a telecom world that was very much focused on voice services and maybe a handful of ancillary products such as call forwarding, conference calling and the like, to one where voice is a declining product, and the focus is on data services and the almost infinite variety of apps you can run on the iPhone, iPad or latest gizmo based on Droid.
How quaint the telecom world of just 20 years ago might look to someone who wasn't even alive when AT&T broke up into the Baby Bells, setting the stage for what's now known more broadly as the "communications" industry. But even as government regulation and mandates helped put the wheels in motion for the evolution of the industry, not all of the changes are being forced on the various players. In truth, most operators are actively seeking out these changes, and a very natural broadening of focus areas and themes has been taking place.
In our rapidly changing and evolving world, I firmly believe that the only way traditional telcos and other providers as well as their vendors will survive is to adapt to the current environment and even reinvent themselves along the way. For example, two of the most traditional operators in the world – AT&T and BT – are among the trailblazers in the cloud services space. They clearly saw the linkages between the seemingly disparate topics of communications and the cloud. And they are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm seeing and hearing about more and more companies that are finding ways to reinvent themselves by expanding into new potential markets and redesigning product offerings.
If providers just stuck with voice services 20 years ago and never bothered to join the wireless revolution, start offering smartphones and move out of their comfort zone by delivering television and broadband services, they'd probably be out of business today.
Instead, the ones that have remained successful and relevant have done so by constantly evolving and reinventing themselves. And as an industry association that includes many of these service providers, their vendors and system integrators in its membership ranks, TM Forum over the past several years has also consciously been looking for linkages between the traditional telecom world and new emerging opportunities that allow us to apply our expertise.
If our more than 700 members around the world are going to stick with us, we need to make sure we're not only helping them solve their current problems, but that we're also looking over the next hill and helping them prepare for what's coming down the line. So over the past five or so years, we've been looking at broadening our focus out to other industries, in particular ones that are very closely related to our own.
A no-brainer has been cable, because as we know the management requirements of cable and telecom are almost identical. So rather than duplicating efforts, we've been reaching out to cable providers and their vendors and sharing our standards and best practices and working with them to discover how they can be put to use within their own organizations. We're essentially opening a huge opportunity by reusing what we've been creating and getting more value and mileage out of existing things.
Another industry that we're moving into may not be as obvious as cable, but it's no less relevant. We were surprised to learn a couple of years ago that defense agencies and their contractors had been employing many of the components of TM Forum Frameworx within their organizations. Now that we know that, we've been working very closely with the defense community – even forming the Government and Defense Initiative – to support this, and today we're at the point where defense companies are significantly contributing to our Information Framework and other standards going forward.
We're also broadening our horizons into areas such as smart grid, mobile money and much more. But we're trying to be sensible about it; if another industry group is well established in an area, we're happy to step back. But because TM Forum occupies a unique horizontal management space that cuts across industries, problems and opportunities, we think we're in a great position to influence a much wider community.
Martin Creaner is president and COO of TM Forum