STL Partners

Telco 2.0 Growth & Innovation

Why closing Telefonica Digital should make Telefonica more digital (and innovative)

Summary: Albeit pioneering, Telefonica’s Digital business unit as was lacked focus and combined too many clashing cultures and incompatible businesses. Our latest analysis sees the change as ‘the end of the beginning’ for Telefonica’s Telco 2.0 services, and summarises lessons for all players implementing strategic transformation. (March 2014, Executive Briefing Service, Transformation Stream.)

Telefonica right to shut digital?

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Below is an extract from this 23 page Telco 2.0 Report that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service and the Telco 2.0 Transformation stream here. Non-members can find out about the service and how to subscribe here.  For other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Several different CSP organisation designs for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Telefonica is one of the companies that we have analysed in depth in the Telco 2.0 Transformation Index research. In this report, we analyse Telefonica’s recent announcement that it is restructuring its Digital Business unit. We’ll also be exploring strategies for transformation at the OnFuture EMEA 2014 Brainstorm, June 11-12, London.


Telco 2.0 strategy is a key driver of organisation design

We have defined Telco 2.0 and, specifically, Telco 2.0 Happy Piper and Telco 2.0 Service Provider strategies in other reports  so will not focus on the implications of each on service offerings and customer segments here.  It is, however, important to understand the implications each strategy has on the organisation in terms of capability requirements and, by definition, on organisation design – structure, processes, skills and so forth.

As Figure 1 shows, the old Telco 1.0 world required CSPs to focus on infrastructure-oriented capabilities – cost, service assurance, provisioning, network quality of service, and congestion management.

For a Telco 2.0 Happy Piper, these capabilities are even more important:

  • Being low-cost in a growing telecoms market gives a company an advantage; being low-cost in a shrinking telecoms market, such as Europe, can mean the difference between surviving and going under.
  • Congestion management was important in the voice-oriented telecoms market of yesteryear but is even more so in the data-centric market in which different applications (including voice) co-exist on different networks – 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Fibre, Copper, etc.

Telco 2.0 Happy Pipers also need to expand their addressable market in order to thrive – into Infrastructure Services, M2M, Embedded Connectivity and, in some cases, into Enterprise ICT including bespoke vertical industry solutions.  For sure this requires some new Service Development capabilities but, perhaps more importantly, also new partnerships – both in terms of service development and delivery – and a greater focus on Customer Experience Management and ‘Customer data/Big data’ in order to deliver valuable solutions to demanding enterprise customers.

For a Telco 2.0 Service Provider, the range of new capabilities required is even greater:

  • The ability to develop new platform and end-user (consumer and enterprise) services.
  • Brand management – not just creating a stolid telecoms brand but a vibrant end-user one.
  • New partners in other industries – financial services, media, advertising, start-ups, developers and so forth.

Figure 1: Capabilities needed for different Telco 2.0 strategies

Fig1 Capabilities need for different Telco 2.0 Strategies

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

Most leading CSPs are pursuing a Telco 2.0 ‘Service Provider’ strategy

STL Partners analysis suggests that the majority of CSPs (and certainly all the tier 1 and 2 players) have at least some aspirations as a Telco 2.0 Service Provider.  Several, such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom Orange, SingTel, Telefonica and Telenor, have been public with their ‘digital services’ aspirations.

But even more circumspect players such as Verizon and Vodafone which have to date largely focused on core telecommunications services have aspirations to move beyond this.  Verizon, for example, is participating in the ISIS joint venture on payments, albeit something of a slow burn at present.  Vodafone has also pushed into payments in developing markets via its successes with mPesa in Kenya and is (perhaps a slightly reluctant) partner in the WEVE JV in the UK on digital commerce.

Further back in their Telco 2.0 development owing to the attractiveness of their markets from a Telco 1.0 perspective are the players in the rapidly developing Middle Eastern and Asian markets such as Axiata, Etisalat, Mobily, Ooredoo, and Zain.  These players too aspire to achieve more than Happy Piper status and are already pushing into advertising, content and payments for consumers and M2M and Cloud for enterprises.

Telco 2.0 Service Providers are adopting different organisation designs

It is clear that there is no consensus among management about how to implement Telco 2.0 services. This is not surprising given how new it is for telecoms operators to develop and deliver new services – innovation is not something associated with telcos.  Everyone is learning how to take their first tentative steps into the wonderful but worrisome world of innovation – like toddlers stepping into the shallow beach waters of the ocean. 

There is no tried and tested formula for setting up an organisation that delivers innovation but there is consensus (among STL Partners’ contacts at least) that a different organisation structure is needed to the one that manages the core infrastructure business.  Most also agree that the new skills, partnerships, operational and financial model associated with Telco 2.0 innovation needs to be ring-fenced and protected from its mature Telco 1.0 counterpart.

The degree of separation between the old and new is the key area of debate.  We lay out the broad options in Figure 2.

Fig 2 Organisation design models for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Fig 2 Organisation design models for Telco 2.0 Service Innovation

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

For some, a central independent strategy unit that identifies potential innovations and undertakes an initial evaluation is a sufficient degree of separation.  AT&T and Verizon in the US have gone down this route – see Figure 3.

Fig 3 Organisation design approaches of 9 CSPs across 4 regions

Fig 3 Organisation design approaches of 9 CSPs across 4 regions

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0

In this model, ideas that are deemed promising are handed over the operating units to develop and deliver where, frankly, many are ignored or wallow in what one executive described to us as ‘Telco goo’ – the slow processes associated with the 20-year investment cycles of an infrastructure business.

Players such as Etisalat, Mobily and Ooredoo that are taking their first steps into Telco 2.0 services, but harbouring great aspirations, have gone a step further than this and set up Central Innovation Units.   In additional to innovation ideation and evaluation, these units typically undertake piloting, investment and, in some cases, some modest product development.  This approach is a sensible ‘first step’ into innovation and echoes the earlier attempts by many multi-national European players in the early 2000’s that had central group marketing functions that undertook proposition development for several countries.  The benefit is that the company can focus most resources on growth in existing Telco 1.0 services and Telco 2.0 solutions do not become a major distraction.  The downside is that Telco 2.0 services are seen as small and distant are always far less important than voice, messaging and connectivity services or devices ranges that can make a big impact in the next 3-6 months.

Finally, the most ambitious Telco 2.0 Service Providers – Deutsche Telekom, SingTel, Telenor, Telefonica and others – have developed separate New Business Units  The Telco 2.0 New Business Unit is given end-to-end responsibility for Telco 2.0 services.  The units find, develop, launch and manage new digital services and have full P&L responsibility.  

STL Partners has long been a fan of this approach.  Innovation is given room to develop and grow under the guidance of senior management.  It has a high profile within the organisation but different targets, processes, people and partnerships to the core business which, left unchecked, would intentionally or unintentionally kill the new ‘rival’ off.

5 Principles for developing a Telco 2.0 New Business Unit

  1. Full control and responsibility.  The unit must have the independence from the core business to be able to control its own destiny and not be advertently or inadvertently impeded by the core business.  Telefonica, for example, went as far as to give its unit a separate physical location in central London.
  2. Senior management support.  While the unit is largely independent, it must be part of the corporate strategy and decisions about it must be made at the highest level.  In other words, the unit must be tied to the core business right at the top of the organisation – it is not completely free and decisions must be made for the overall good of the company.  Sometimes those decisions will be to the benefit or detriment of either the core business or the new business unit.  This is inevitable and not a cause for alarm – but these decisions need to be considered carefully and rationally by the senior team.
  3. Go OTT to start with.  One of the challenges faced by senior managers is how to leverage the capabilities of the core business – the network, customer data, retail outlets, brand, etc. – in the digital services offered by the new unit.  Clearly, it makes sense to use these assets to differentiate against the OTT players.  However, STL Partners recommends not trying to do this initially as the complexity of building successful interfaces between the new unit and the core business will prove too challenging.  Instead, establish some momentum with OTT services that the new unit can develop and deliver independently, without drawing on the core business, before then adding some specific core business capabilities such as location data, customer preference data or network QoS.
  4. Don’t forget to change management incentives …There is no point in filling the new business unit with senior management and fresh talent imbued with new skills and undertaking new business processes and practices unless they are clearly incentivised to make the right decisions!  It seems an obvious point but CSPs have a long and successful infrastructure legacy which means that management incentives are typically suitable for this type of business.  Managers typically have to hit high EBITDA margins, revenue targets that equate to around 50% of the capital base being generated a year, strong on-going capital investment – things that are at odds with a product innovation business (lower EBITDA margins, much lower capital intensity).  Management incentives need to change to reflect this and the fact that they business is a start-up not a bolt-on the core business.  These incentives need to be specific and can affect those in the core business as well as new unit.  

    For example, if collaboration between the new unit and the core business units is a key requirement for long-term success (to build Telco 2.0 services that leverage core assets), then instigate a 360º feedback programme for all managers that measures how effectively they collaborate with their counter-parties in the other business units.  Scores here could be used to determine bonuses, share options or promotion – a sure way to instigate the required behaviour!
  5. …and investor metrics.  As mentioned above, a product innovation business has a different financial model to an infrastructure business.  Because of this, a new set of investor metrics is required focusing on lower margins and capital intensity.  Furthermore, users will often be a key metric rather than subscribers.  In other words, many users will not directly generate revenue (just as they do not for Google or Facebook) but remain an important driver of third-party sponsorship and advertising revenues.  Linked to this, ARPU will become a less important metric for the new business unit because the end user will be one of several revenue sources.

Many of the leading telecoms players have, therefore, done the right thing with the development of their digital units. So why have they struggled so much with culture clashes between the core telecoms business and the new digital innovations?  The answer lies in the way the units have been set up – their scope and role, the people that reside within them, and the processes and metrics that are used to develop and deliver services. This is covered in the next section of this report. 

To read the note in full, including the following additional analysis...

  • Even the boldest players are too Telco-centric with their digital business units
  • Defining traditional and new Telco 2.0 services
  • Current digital business units cover all the new Telco 2.0 services but should they?
  • Option: Reduce the scope of the Digital Business Units
  • Telefonica’s recent closure of Telefonica Digital
  • How might Telefonica’s innovation and ‘digital services’ strategy play out?

...and the following additional figures...

  • Figure 4: Defining Telco 2.0 new services
  • Figure 5: The mixed bag of services found in current digital business units
  • Figure 6: Separate new Telco 2.0 Services from traditional telecoms ones
  • Figure 8: The organisation structure at Telefonica
  • Figure 9: Telefonica’s strategic options for implementing ‘digital services’

...Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Service and the Telco 2.0 Transformation stream can download the full 23 page report in PDF format hereNon-Members, please subscribe here. For other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Technologies and industry terms referenced include: Telefonica, AT&T, Ooredoo, Singtel, Verizon, strategy, business model, Telco 2.0, OTT, competition, transformation, Index, telecom.