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Knowledge is power. So why don't more telcos build it systematically? Expert analysis of four telco insight approaches yields 10 practical recommendations for maximising impact to the whole business, value for money, and minimising subjective bias.
High quality insights are crucial for telcos
Each year telcos invest in external insights from strategic and tactical research houses, alongside primary research budgets. This investment is a response to the ever-evolving trends that are shaping the industry, the need to understand them and support decision-making. It is therefore critical that telcos develop the capability to leverage them well.
What drives the need for insight?
Learning and seeking evidence drive the insight needs across the business. This ranges from individuals drafting a one-off client proposal, to strategy teams developing the corporate response to an emerging opportunity. The breadth of the insight need has implications for research buying and funding practices, as well as how insight is distributed.
Being in the business of external insights, STL Partners is always keen to understand how telco customers use insights and what research management practices they deploy to derive more value from insight services. STL Partners asked Olga Holin, a seasoned research buyer with recent telecoms experience, to talk to a group of her peers and synthesise their perspectives on what “good” insight practice looks like.
The report examines the drivers for external insight acquisition and the types of insights typically acquired. It outlines the insight management approaches at four telcos (representative of Olga’s sample) and highlights the benefits and challenges of each. It then sets forth several guidelines for operators and other organisations to ensure insight quality and derive more value from insight acquisitions going forward.
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Why are external insights necessary?
Across all the organisations we spoke to, respondents agreed that research insights were necessary and valuable, chiefly to drive learning and aid business decision making. The stated reasons for acquiring research include:
- To identify future growth opportunities and threats in order to plan and innovate accordingly,
- To inform and educate employees, thereby complementing existing capabilities,
- To validate internal assumptions and build a deeper understanding of the business and its environment,
- To assess business performance in context and validate effectiveness.
While some of this insight could conceivably be generated internally, the value drivers of external research over an internal function are:
- “We don’t know what we don’t know” – To gain access to topics and trends potentially not on the organisational radar. Drawing on the expertise from external sources allows organisations to capture insight more easily and assures no threats or opportunities are missed.
- To remove blind spots in internal thinking – To challenge mental models, by providing objectivity to change the way an organisation might perceive a certain technology or topic.
- To influence senior executives – To strengthen the credibility of business cases and market overviews. The insights of analyst houses with strong reputations make analyses more convincing to senior management. As one telco put it, “They don’t always listen to us, but they usually listen to external reputable sources.”
- To increase the speed of internal knowledge acquisition and learning – To develop the knowledge of employees quickly (they don’t have to find the information, just contextualise it).
- To secure quality information – To ensure information is robust, unbiased, consistent with industry definitions (external agencies validate information via multiple sources and have no vested interests to protect).
- To supplement limited internal insight resources – To answer information einquiries more quickly and through experts versus having to recruit internal experts to understand an emerging area.
- To get access to information that might otherwise be unattainable (e.g. competitor information).
- To seed change – The outside and informed perspective of a research house can highlight a need for change that may not be recognised due to internal mindsets and environment.
The value to the organisation of having these insights will be influenced by the extent to which findings can inform learning or decisions in more than one part of the business – and the longevity of the findings (how quickly they go out of date) or whether they have a future focus.
External insights may only be required to address needs in a limited business area at a specific point in time, e.g. where a product team wants to know how a newly launched product is faring versus competitor offerings. This type of insight can be considered tactical insight, as it provides the information to enable quick adjustments and decision making in the shorter term, more likely the type of decisions taken by middle managers.
Strategic insights, on the other hand, can generally inform decision making across the organisation more broadly. The topics are relevant to more than one area (e.g. digital transformation) and over a longer period (they say something about the future).
Strategic insights are able to influence decision making at an executive level, equipping teams for discussions around larger investments and those concerned with long-term returns rather than immediate gains. This is illustrated below.
Tactical versus strategic research
Source: STL Partners
The nature of the research has implications as to how it should be managed to maximise value.
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Recommendations to maximise insight value
- Telco insights challenge
- Next steps
- Why are external insights necessary?
- Insight management across the research lifecycle
- Basic insight management process
- Advanced insight management process
- Telco insight management case studies
- Telco 1
- Telco 2
- Telco 3
- Telco 4
- Set-up versus research type
- How to increase the value of research in organisations