Vendors fail to match carrier data management needs

OvumAt the recent SDM and Data Warehousing Summit, telecoms operators and vendors discussed a range of complex issues related to telco subscriber data management (SDM).
SDM solutions centralize vast amounts of subscriber data from various repositories to get a unified view of each unique subscriber. Although the main focus was data warehousing, most of the operators’ presentations revolved around Big Data, analytics, and the challenges they face.
Operators are under immense pressure as a result of the changing competitive landscape, with over-the-top (OTT) players such as Google and Skype eating into their revenues. A key message from the conference was that operators are dissatisfied with vendors’ current offerings. Operators’ focus has shifted from reducing costs to delivering value and managing customers’ experience over their networks. They expect vendors to understand and help them deliver business value.
Data is digital fuel
Operators were enthusiastic in discussing the potential they see in using subscriber data in more sophisticated ways. Operators treat such data as a strategic asset – the oil that will fuel their future growth. Some take the idea so far as to see themselves transforming in five years or so into companies that primarily manage data and also provide communications services.
But much of the conference discussion revolved around customers’ comfort (or discomfort) about telcos mining their personal data, related security and privacy concerns, and telcos’ moral obligations. Some operators use the analogy that customer data is a form of currency, and that operators are like banks where customers deposit their personal data. In this analogy, just as banks invest their customers’ money in various assets that they expect will yield a return, operators can share customer data (in accordance with customers’ stated permissions) in order to achieve a return.
Operators are already considered one of the most trusted entities (after banks) with whom customers are willing to share personal data. In order to develop new services, operators need to stop playing “big brother” with this data and – carefully, to avoid harming that trust – give customers themselves more control over how the data is used and shared. For example, operators could seek customers’ permission about what kind of data operators may analyze. Also, operators often complain about being highly regulated in accessing customer data. This can be used as a key differentiator against the OTT providers. Operators can advertise themselves as trusted parties who have solid security and privacy controls in place. Relationships between service providers and subscribers could thus grow stronger and stickier.
At the conference, operators also highlighted their historical “silo” approach to data as something that needs to change. SDM solutions can help operators to centralize data from network and IT operations, but a big question remains as to which department – network or IT – will be responsible for the project. Such challenges are hampering the growth of SDM deployments.
Vendors fail to meet expectations
The moderator of one panel discussion asked service providers to raise their hands if they are not satisfied with their vendors. Surprisingly, all of them raised their hands, demonstrating a clear disconnect between operators’ expectations and vendors’ current offerings. Service providers seemed particularly dissatisfied about pricing, licensing agreements, and off-the-shelf products. Such concerns have led many operators to build more solutions in-house - not good news for the telecoms technology suppliers.
Operators complain that vendors approach their IT departments and propose solutions based on cost more than value. Today, operators seek to derive more business value from their investments, and they want vendors to help them achieve this goal. Telcos are changing how they make decisions; in most cases, decisions are now being made by strategy-focused executives rather than IT departments. As Ovum found in the 2012 telco business and IT trends survey, an increasing number of telcos consider improving customer satisfaction and experience to be a high priority, as compared to reducing costs.
Since operators are at early stages of analyzing different kinds of data, they want vendors to be flexible with their licensing agreements. As operators experiment with different data sets, they sometimes want some extra data stored in the networks, but vendors charge them extra for this. That is not an attitude operators appreciate. They expect vendors to help them in their evolution by being more flexible.
As the telecoms marketplace becomes more competitive, service providers do not want vendors; they want partners. Many times, in the midst of large projects, things do not work out as planned; at such times operators want vendors to cooperate and even invest further in the relationship. They want their vendor partners to walk with them on the journey.