The telco agility flywheel

Telco agility


In 2015, STL Partners published a report on ‘The Agile Operator: 5 key ways to meet the agility challenge’, exploring the concept and characteristics of telco agility, including what it means to telcos, key areas of agility and the challenges in agile-focused transformation. Today, the definition of agility remains as broad as in 2015 but many concepts of agility have crystallised through wider acceptance of the importance of the construct across different parts of the organisation.

Agility today is a pervasive philosophy of incremental innovation learned from software development that emphasises both speed of innovation at scale and carrier-grade resilience. This is achieved through cloud native modular architectures and practices such as sprints, DevOps and continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Six years ago, telcos were largely looking to borrow only certain elements of cloud native for adoption in specific pockets within the organisation, such as IT. Now, the cloud model is more widely embraced across the business and telcos profess ambitions to become software-centric companies. Telco agility is required:

  • To realize both near-term and future imagined commercial opportunities unlocked by new types of value-added services and the capabilities that 5G can bring.
  • To participate in non-traditional, non-linear supply models, involving interconnected ecosystems of customers and partners for the purposes of innovation (ecosystems allow the disparate needs of participants to be met through highly configurable assets rather than waiting for a centralised player to understand the complete picture).

Telcos’ need for agility has moved beyond the area of IT and network architecture: operators are accelerating towards agility organisation-wide. They are moving from traditional waterfall approaches to product and service development towards more agile iterative sprints, co-creating with customers and building ecosystems to deliver more precisely what customers’ demand. This requires not only technological transformation, i.e. core capabilities that are programmable by design and exposed through APIs, but processes and organisational change as well.

Telco agility improvement depends not only on agile technology, but also agility in the products and services as well as acceptance and adoption of agile working practices across the organisation. If operators only focus on a discrete area where they want to drive agility, they will be held back by other areas. Equally, bold attempts to simultaneously drive agility across-the-board can meet with resistance that ultimately stymies success. A stepwise virtuous cycle targeting incremental gains in turn across the three highlighted fronts is required. We call this the agility flywheel.

The flywheel refers to a mechanism that is driven by rotational speed – it requires significant initial effort to kickstart the motion and build momentum, but once that initial inertia is overcome, it is designed to efficiently accelerate to much greater speeds in a stable manner. Therefore, leadership’s aim should be first to break the inertia of the flywheel and accelerate the cycle speed, ideally ‘snowballing’ under its own momentum.

For more information, check out our report Driving the agility flywheel: the stepwise journey to agile.

See our other in-depth research on telco transformation: