Stakeholder model: Turn growth killers into growth makers

Introduction: The stakeholder model

Telecoms operators’ attempts to build new sources of revenue have been a core focus of STL Partners’ research activities over the years. We’ve looked at many telecoms case studies, adjacent market examples, new business models and technologies and other routes to explore how operators might succeed. We believe the STL stakeholder model usefully and holistically describes telcos’ main stakeholder groups and the ideal relationships that telcos need to establish with each group to achieve valuable growth. It should be used in conjunction with other elements of STL’s portfolio which examine strategies needed within specific markets and industries (e.g., healthcare) and telcos’ operational areas (e.g., telco cloud, edge, leadership and culture).

This report outlines the stakeholder model at a high level, identifying seven groups and three factors within each group that summarise the ideal relationship. These stakeholder and influencer groups include:

  1. Management
  2. People
  3. Customer propositions
  4. Partner and technology ecosystems
  5. Investors
  6. Government and regulators
  7. Society

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1. Management

Growth may not always start at the top of an organisation, but to be successful, top management will be championing growth, have the capabilities to lead it, and aligning and protecting the resources needed to foster it. This is true in any organisation but especially so in those where there is a strong established business already in place, such as telecoms. The critical balance to be maintained is that the existing business must continue to succeed, and the new growth businesses be given the space, time, skills and support they need to grow. It sounds straightforward, but there are many challenges and pitfalls to making it work in practice.

For example, a minor wobble in the performance of a multi-billion-dollar business can easily eclipse the total value of a new business, so it is often tempting to switch resources back to the existing business and starve the fledgling growth. Equally, perceptions of how current businesses need to be run can wrongly influence what should happen in the new ones. Unsuitable choices of existing channels to market, familiar but ill-fitting technologies, or other business model prejudices are classic bias-led errors (see Telco innovation: Why it’s broken and how to fix it).

To be successful, we believe that management needs to exhibit three broad behaviours and capabilities.

  1. Stable and committed long term vision for growth aligned with the Coordination Age.
  2. Suitable knowledge, experience and openness.
  3. Effective two-way engagement with stakeholders. (N.B. We cover the board and most senior management in this group. Other management is covered in the People stakeholder group.)

Management: Key management enablers of growth

management-leadership-vision-growth-indicators

Source: STL Partners

Stable and committed long-term vision for growth

The companies that STL has seen making more successful growth plays typically exhibit a long-term commitment to growth and importantly, learning too.

Two examples we have studied closely are TELUS and Elisa. In both cases, the CEO has held tenure in the long-term, and the company has demonstrated a clear and well managed commitment to growth.

In TELUS’s case, the primary area of growth targeted has been healthcare, and the company now generates somewhere close to 10% of its revenue from the new areas (it does not publish a number). It has been working in healthcare for over 10 years, and Darren Entwistle, its CEO, has championed this cause with all stakeholders throughout.

In Elisa’s case, the innovation has been developed in a number of areas. For example, how it couples all you can use data plans and a flat sales/capex ratio; a new network automation business selling to other telcos; and an industrial IoT automation business.

Again, CEO Veli-Matti Mattila has a long tenure, and has championed the principle of Elisa’s competitive advantage being in its ability to learn and leverage its existing IP.

…aligned with the Coordination Age

STL argues that the future growth for telcos will come by addressing the needs of the Coordination Age, and this in turn is being accelerated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and growing realisation of climate change.

Why COVID-19 and Climate change are accelerating the Coordination Age

COVID-19-and-Climate-change-Coordination-Age-STL

 

Source: STL Partners

The Coordination Age is based on the insight that most stakeholder needs are driven by a global need to make better use of resources, whether in distribution (delivery of resources when and where needed), efficiency (return on resources, e.g. productivity), and sustainability (conservation and protection of resources, e.g. climate change).

This need will be served through multi-party business models, which use new technologies (e.g. better connectivity, AI, and automation) to deliver outcomes to their customers and business ecosystems.

We argue that both TELUS and Elisa are early innovators and pathfinders within these trends.

Suitable knowledge, experience and openness

Having the right experience, character and composition in the leadership team is an area of constant development by companies and experts of many types.

The dynamics of the leadership team matter too. There needs to be leadership and direction setting, but the team must be able to properly challenge itself and particularly its leader’s strongest opinions in a healthy way. There will of course be times when a CEO of any business unit needs to take the helm, but if the CEO or one of the C-team is overly attached to an idea or course of action and will not hear or truly consider alternatives this can be extremely risky.

AT&T / Time Warner – a salutary tale?

AT&T’s much discussed venture into entertainment with its acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner is an interesting case in point here. One of the conclusions of our recent analysis of this multi-billion-dollar acquisition plan was that AT&T’s management appeared to take a very telco-centric view throughout. It saw the media businesses primarily as a way to add value to its telecoms business, rather than as valuable business assets that needed to be nurtured in their own right.

Regardless of media executives leaving and other expert commentary suggesting it should not neglect the development of its wider distribution strategy for the content powerhouse for example, AT&T ploughed on with an approach that limited the value of its new assets. Given the high stakes, and the personalised descriptions of how the deal arose through the CEOs of the companies at the time, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there was a significant bias in the management team. We were struck by the observation that it seemed like “AT&T knew best”.

To be clear, there can be little doubt that AT&T is a formidable telecoms operator. Many of its strategies and approaches are world leading, for example in change management and Telco Cloud, as we also highlight in this report.

However, at the time those deals were done AT&T’s board did not hold significant entertainment expertise, and whoever else they spoke with from that industry did not manage to carry them to a more balanced position. So it appears to us that a key contributing factor to the significant loss of momentum and market value that the media deals ultimately inflicted on AT&T was that they did not engineer the dynamics or character in their board to properly challenge and validate their strategy.

It is to the board’s credit that they have now recognised this and made plans for a change. Yet it is also notable that AT&T has not given any visible signal that it made a systemic error of judgement. Perhaps the huge amounts involved and highly litigious nature of the US market are behind this, and behind closed doors there is major change afoot. Yet the conveyed image is still that “AT&T knows best”. Hopefully, this external confidence is now balanced with more internal questioning and openness to external thoughts.

What capabilities should a management team possess?

In terms of telcos wishing to drive and nurture growth, STL believes there are criteria that are likely to signal that a company has a better chance of success. For example:

  • Insight into the realistic and differentiating capabilities of new and relevant markets, fields, applications and technologies is a valuable asset. The useful insight may exist in the form of experience (e.g. tenure in a relevant adjacent industry such as healthcare, or delivery of automation initiatives, working in relevant geographies, etc.), qualification (e.g. education in a relevant specialism such as AI), or longer term insight (which may be indicated by engagement with Research and Development or academic activities)

[The full range of management capabilities can be viewed in the report…..] 

 

2. People…

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Management
    • Stable and committed long-term vision for growth
    • …aligned with the Coordination Age
    • Suitable knowledge, experience and openness
    • Two-way engagement with stakeholders
  • People
    • Does the company have a suitable culture to enable growth?
    • Does the company have enough of the new skills and abilities needed?
    • Is the company’s general management collaborative, close to customers, and diverse?
  • Customer propositions
    • Nature of the current customer relationship
    • How far beyond telecoms the company has ventured
    • Investment in new sectors and needs
  • Partner and technology ecosystems
    • Successful adoption of disruptive technologies and business models
    • More resilient economics of scale in the core business
    • Technology and partners as an enabler of change
  • Investors
    • The stability of the investor base
    • Has the investor base been happy?
    • Current and forecast returns
  • Government and regulators
    • The tone of the government and regulatory environment
    • Current status of the regulatory situation
    • The company’s approach to government and regulatory relationships
  • Society
    • Brand presence, engagement and image
    • Company alignment with societal priorities
    • Media portrayal

Related research

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Software Defined People: How it Shapes Strategy (and us)

Introduction: software’s defining influence

Our knowledge, employment opportunities, work itself, healthcare, potential partners, purchases from properties to groceries, and much else can now be delivered or managed via software and mobile apps.

So are we all becoming increasingly ‘Software Defined’? It’s a question that has been stimulated in part by producing research on ‘Software Defined Networks (SDN): A Potential Game Changer’ and Enterprise Mobility, this video from McKinsey and Eric Schmidt, Google’s Exec Chairman, a number of observations throughout the past year, and particularly at this and last year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

But is software really the key?

The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets, enabled by ever faster networks, is perhaps the most visible and tangible phenomenon in the market. Less visible but equally significant is the huge growth in ‘big data’ – the use of massive computing power to process types and volume of data that were previously inaccessible, as well as ‘small data’ – the increasing use of more personalised datasets.

However, what is now fuelling these trends is that many core life and business tools are now software of some form or another. In other words, programmes and ‘apps’ that create economic value, utility, fun or efficiency. Software is now the driving force, and the evolving data and hardware are by-products and enablers of the applications respectively.

Software: your virtual extra hand

In effect, mobile software is the latest great tool in humanity’s evolutionary path. With nearly a quarter of the world’s population using a smartphone, the human race has never had so much computing power by its side in every moment of everyday life. Many feature phones also possess significant processing power, and the extraordinary reach of mobile can now deliver highly innovative solutions like mobile money transfer even in markets with relatively underdeveloped financial service infrastructure.

How we are educated, employed and cared for are all starting to change with the growing power of mobile technologies, and will all change further and with increasing pace in the next phase of the mobile revolution. Knowing how to get the best from this world is now a key life skill.

The way that software is used is changing and will change further. While mobile apps have become a mainstream consumer phenomenon in many markets in the last few years, the application of mobile, personalised technologies is also changing education, health, employment, and the very fabric of our social lives. For example:

  • Back at MWC 2013 we saw the following fascinating video from Ericsson as part of its ‘Networked Society’ vision of why education has evolved as is has (to mass-produce workers to work in factories), and what the possibilities are with advanced technology, which is well worth a few minutes of your time whether you have kids or not.
  • We also saw this education demo video from a Singapore school from Qualcomm, based on the creative use of phones in all aspects of schooling in the WE Learn project.
  • There are now a growing number of eHealth applications (heart rate, blood pressure, stroke and outpatient care), and productivity apps and outreach of CRM applications like Salesforce into the mobile employment context are having an increasingly massive impact.
  • While originally a ‘fixed’ phenomena, the way we meet and find partners has seen a massive change in recent years. For example, in the US, 17% of recent marriages and 20% of ‘committed relationships’ started in the $1Bn online dating world – another world which is now increasingly going mobile.

The growing sophistication in human-software interactivity

Horace Dediu pointed out at a previous Brainstorm that the disruptive jumps in mobile handset technology have come from changes in the user interface – most recently in the touch-screen revolution accompanying smartphones and tablets.

And the way in which we interact with the software will continue to evolve, from the touch screens of smartphones, through voice activation, gesture recognition, retina tracking, on-body devices like watches, in-body sensors in the blood and digestive system, and even potentially by monitoring brainwaves, as illustrated in the demonstration from Samsung labs shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Software that reads your mind?

Source: Samsung Labs

Clearly, some of these techniques are still at an early stage of development. It is a hard call as to which will be the one to trigger the next major wave of innovation (e.g. see Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift), as there are so many factors that influence the likely take-up of new technologies, from price through user experience to social acceptance.

Exploring and enhancing the senses

Interactive goggles / glasses such as Google Glass have now been around for over a year, and AR applications that overlay information from the virtual world onto images of the real world continue to evolve.

Search is also becoming a visual science – innovations such as Cortexica, recognise everyday objects (cereal packets, cars, signs, advertisements, stills from a film, etc.) and return information on how and where you can buy the related items. While it works from a smartphone today, it makes it possible to imagine a world where you open the kitchen cupboard and tell your glasses what items you want to re-order.

Screens will be in increasing abundance, able to interact with passers-by on the street or with you in your home or car. What will be on these screens could be anything that is on any of your existing screens or more – communication, information, entertainment, advertising – whatever the world can imagine.

Segmented by OS?

But is it really possible to define a person by the software they use? There is certainly an ‘a priori’ segmentation originating from device makers’ segmentation and positioning:

  • Apple’s brand and design ethos have held consistently strong appeal for upmarket, creative users. In contrast, Blackberry for a long time held a strong appeal in the enterprise segment, albeit significantly weakened in the last few years.
  • It is perhaps slightly harder to label Android users, now the largest group of smartphone users. However, the openness of the software leads to freedom, bringing with it a plurality of applications and widgets, some security issues, and perhaps a greater emphasis on ‘work it out for yourself’.
  • Microsoft, once ubiquitous through its domination of the PC universe, now finds itself a challenger in the world of mobiles and tablets, and despite gradually improving sales and reported OS experience and design has yet to find a clear identity, other than perhaps now being the domain of those willing to try something different. While Microsoft still has a strong hand in the software world through its evolving Office applications, these are not yet hugely mobile-friendly, and this is creating a niche for new players, such as Evernote and others, that have a more focused ‘mobile first’ approach.

Other segments

From a research perspective, there are many other approaches to thinking about what defines different types of user. For example:

  • In adoption, the Bass Diffusion Model segments e.g. Innovators, Early Adopters, Mass Market, Laggards;
  • Segments based on attitudes to usage, e.g. Lovers, Haters, Functional Users, Social Users, Cost Conscious, etc.;
  • Approaches to privacy and the use of personal data, e.g. Pragmatic, Passive, Paranoid.

It is tempting to hypothesise that there could be meta-segments combining these and other behavioural distinctions (e.g. you might theorise that there would be more ‘haters’ among the ‘laggards’ and the ‘paranoids’ than the ‘innovators’ and ‘pragmatics’), and there may indeed be underlying psychological drivers such as extraversion that drive people to use certain applications (e.g. personal communications) more.

However, other than anecdotal observations, we don’t currently have the data to explore or prove this. This knowledge may of course exist within the research and insight departments of major players and we’d welcome any insight that our partners and readers can contribute (please email contact@telco2.net if so).

Hypothesis: a ‘software fingerprint’?

The collection of apps and software each person uses, and how they use them, could be seen as a software fingerprint – a unique combination of tools showing interests, activities and preferences.

Human beings are complex creatures, and it may be a stretch to say a person could truly be defined by the software they use. However, there is a degree of cause and effect with software. Once you have the ability to use it, it changes what you can achieve. So while the software you use may not totally define you, it will play an increasing role in shaping you, and may ultimately form a distinctive part of your identity.

For example, Minecraft is a phenomenally successful and addictive game. If you haven’t seen it, imagine interactive digital Lego (or watch the intro video here). Children and adults all over the world play on it, make YouTube films about their creations, and share knowledge and stories from it as with any game.

To be really good at it, and to add enhanced features, players install ‘mods’ – essentially software upgrades, requiring the use of quite sophisticated codes and procedures, and the understanding of numerous file types and locations. So through this one game, ten year old kids are developing creative, social and IT skills, as well as exploring and creating new identities for themselves.

Figure 2: Minecraft – building, killing ‘creepers’ and coding by a kid near you

Minecraft March 2014

Source: Planetminecraft.com

But who is in charge – you or the software?

There are also two broad schools of thought in advanced IT design. One is that IT should augment human abilities and its application should always be controlled by its users. The other is the idea that IT can assist people by providing recommendations and suggestions that are outside the control of the user. An example of this second approach is Google showing you targeted ads based on your search history.

Being properly aware of this will become increasingly important to individuals’ freedom from unrecognised manipulation. Just as knowing that embarrassing photos on Facebook will be seen by prospective employers, knowing who’s pulling your data strings will be an increasingly important to controlling one’s own destiny in the future.

Back to the law of the Jungle?

Many of the opportunities and abilities conferred by software seem perhaps trivial or entertaining. But some will ultimately confer advantages on their users over those who do not possess the extra information, gain those extra moments, or learn that extra winning idea. The questions are: which will you use well; and which will you enable others to use? The answer to the first may reflect your personal success, and the second that of your business.

So while it used to be that your genetics, parents, and education most strongly steered your path, now how you take advantage of the increasingly mobile cyber-world will be a key additional competitive asset. It’s increasingly what you use and how you use it (as well as who you know, of course) that will count.

And for businesses, competing in an ever more resource constrained world, the effective use of software to track and manage activities and assets, and give insight to underlying trends and ways to improve performance, is an increasingly critical competence. Importantly for telcos and other ICT providers, it’s one that is enabled and enhanced by cloud, big data, and mobile.

The Software as a Service (SaaS) application Salesforce is an excellent case in point. It can brings instantaneous data on customers and business operations to managers’ and employees’ fingertips to any device. This can confer huge advantages over businesses without such capabilities.

Figure 3: Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile

Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile March 2014

Source: Powerbrokersoftware.com

 

  • Executive Summary: the key role of mobile
  • Why aren’t telcos more involved?
  • Revenue Declines + Skills Shortage = Digital Hunger Gap
  • What should businesses do about it?
  • All Businesses
  • Technology Businesses and Enablers
  • Telcos
  • Next steps for STL Partners and Telco 2.0

 

  • Figure 1: Software that reads your mind?
  • Figure 2: Minecraft – building, killing ‘creepers’ and coding by a kid near you
  • Figure 3: Salesforce delivers big data and cloud to mobile
  • Figure 4: The Digital Hunger Gap for Telcos
  • Figure 5: Telcos need Software Skills to deliver a ‘Telco 2.0 Service Provider’ Strategy
  • Figure 6: The GSMA’s Vision 2020