How Telcos are embracing data to become the back-end infrastructure for organizations

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing one of Reltio’s esteemed partners, Sarit Bose at Cognizant about IoT, 5G, and expansion of the industry. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Kate: What are the business challenges faced by telcos?

Sarit: Before we get into challenges let’s talk about opportunities.  The advent of 5G has brought new paradigms. Telcos will be working a lot more with the B2B sector. 5G will deliver bandwidth, speed and reliability so businesses can run their infrastructure which telcos will operate and manage for them.

In addition, you have IoT (Internet of Things) which opens up a huge set of possibilities in combination with 5G. For example in the Healthcare sector, a hospital can generate data from medical devices all day, every day that they can use to generate invaluable, real time, actionable insights. In Logistics you could have a remote van in a corner of the world generating data about itself that can be tracked and used to deliver better service. 5G will make all this possible.

When you think about a telco’s customer, it’s not just a person or residential address, businesses are customers. Telco operators are already starting to provide internet and networks all over cities. With a free wifi service, people log in and out so they are customers even though they are not paying wifi providers for the service. Telcos still need to track these individuals because in an ecosystem with costs going up and revenues coming down they have to be aware of loyalty and keeping these customers with them across all services. They have to see the big picture of an individual and to do this they need to know more and more about them – behavior, buying patterns, payer type, internet usage, who they are, where they are, etc. These are all opportunities that turn into a challenge. The challenge is to deal with all of this data and generate the right kinds of insights. This data must also be trustworthy and be maintained according to all country laws and regulations. These are all challenges but also opportunities.

Kate: Given how their lines of services have expanded, should they still be called telcos?

Sarit: That term is already going away. In many places they are already called DSPs – Digital Service Providers – previously CSPs or Communication Service Providers. Internet, broadband, landline have now got media and other services  added on top. 5G means operators will also be running the back-end infrastructure for many organizations. They effectively are managed service providers to many companies; running network infrastructure, ensuring deliveries, providing service assurance, billing and everything in between.

Kate: What types of technology choices are they making based on these challenges and opportunities?

Sarit: Number one is definitely cloud adoption. With these types of data volumes you need a scalable way of dealing with it. They are also doing a lot around privacy and regulation because if the data is kept in the cloud they need to ensure it is secure. Much of what they are collecting is personal data that has to be stored, analyzed and used in a confidential way.

AI is definitely another one because they will want to automate the generation of insights to find the unknown information. If you know more about a customer (B2B or B2C) you’ll know more about how to retain their business and make it profitable.

Finally, data quality, data governance and master data management.  These are things telcos have avoided for a while; probably due to the complexity.

Kate: Can you elaborate?

Sarit: Data quality is going to be of paramount importance because if they cannot trust the data they cannot act on it. They are going to have to ensure they generate data that is absolutely trustworthy.

Data Governance: They will have to determine who owns which data type. Who will own social media data? Who will own the data from each device? Lots of data will be coming from outside the organisation not just inside the organization. So Data Governance will be essential.

Master Data Management: When customers are going to exist in seven, eight, even 10 or more different internal and external systems, their data needs to be mastered. That MDM system becomes the core for any kind of operational activity as well as analytical activities. These will all evolve further and become of huge importance to telcos going forward.

Kate: Telcos have tried MDM in the past and ended up with data silos. What will be different this time and why do they still need it?

Sarit: There are a few things. One thing is that we used to have five sources and we struggled to find the single version of truth. Now we are going to have 10 or more but the need to have the golden version still exists – we can’t avoid it any longer – so we have to take the bull by the horns and do something with it.

People have tried to use a data warehouse, but this just addresses operational requirements. What about near real-time analytical requirements? For that you need MDM because you can’t wait for everything to come into the data warehouse and deal with it all off-line at a later stage.

People talk about the holy grail of customer 360 or product 360. Where are you going to get that version of truth;  the behavior, transactions and demographics of the customer? This all needs to be trustworthy, connected and real-time.  For this you need MDM even more than you used to. DSPs cannot delay any more and the good news is that with technology advances it has all got much easier than it used to be.

Kate: Tell me about a joint Cognizant / Reltio customer with which you are working? 

Sarit: Cognizant and Reltio are working with a large European quad-play operator that has been trying to do MDM for a long time. They have not completely failed, but it has been a very steep learning curve. The problem is that the speed at which you can actually deliver versus the speed at which the business wants you to deliver can differ enormously. When the business needed the results, they were not there. This was the genesis for them to think differently and find a provider that would give them a baseline in terms of how products and customers should be managed.

“Is there a way we can think about a data model that gives me a starting point instead of starting from scratch? How can I manage it going forward and make it sustainable? Can someone else do this on my behalf? That’s why they chose Reltio due to the capabilities it offers in a SaaS model.”

Ultimately, MDM functionality differs very little from provider to provider. It’s about “how” you do it, not “what” you do. They looked for a disruptive, different way of thinking about the “how” and they found Reltio to help them with this.

See how Reltio stacks up against other MDM vendors on Gartner Peer Insights

The next part is “when”? How fast can someone come in, implement a product like this and get the results for the business? Can there also be a different way to deliver – in a pure agile way, small tranches or sprints that each deliver an outcome that is usable by the business and they continually see the outcomes and results? This allows for mistakes and then corresponding updates to be applied in subsequent sprints.

That’s why they chose Cognizant for the knowledge on the subject. The strong partnership we have with Reltio and the innovations we have invested in delivering at a very fast pace while keeping costs down and making operations sustainable. That’s one example I can share which is a very different decision that would have been made following a traditional process.

Kate: What value drivers/measurements should Telcos be monitoring?

Sarit: I think the delivery model that we have now adopted – this pod-based delivery model – has a bunch of KPIs that are generated in the form of a dashboard, which really helps. The delivery team is constantly monitoring this to see where things are going. At a macro level you have cost, time of delivery, and impact on the outcome. This helps the business execs to understand things like “Am I going to have a customer master in 3 months?” “Can I stick to my budget to get this done?” and, “How soon will business get the value and how soon will it translate into $ value?”

Below that you have matrices on defects, sprint outcomes, quality, etc. It’s a kind of an inverted pyramid structure with the small ones at the bottom that add up to those three big ones at the top. You don’t have the luxury of waiting three to five  months and then fixing anything that is going wrong. You have to look at these almost every day, access the dashboard and make course corrections regularly.

It’s very hard to measure the value of MDM retrospectively because it tends to be little bits everywhere across the enterprise, not great big hits in certain places. Many previous projects have found this and tried to measure value in reverse and then failed to articulate it back to the business against the original base lines. This means they do not generate trust in what has been built which, in turn, means adoption doesn’t come. If adoption doesn’t come, then you’ve failed.

About Sarit Bose
Sarit leads the data, analytics, and AI solutions & for the Europe region in Communications, Media, Advertising, Publishing, Gaming, Entertainment, Education, and High Tech industries at Cognizant.  


This interview was edited by Chas Kielt, Senior Director of Industry Solutions Marketing and Corporate Communications. 

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