Telco ecosystems: How to make them work

The ecosystem business framework

The success of large businesses such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google as well as digital disrupters like Airbnb and Uber is attributed to their adoption of platform-enabled ecosystem business frameworks. Microsoft, Amazon and Google know how to make ecosystems work. It is their ecosystem approach that helped them to scale quickly, innovate and unlock value in opportunity areas where businesses that are vertically integrated, or have a linear value chain, would have struggled. Internet-enabled digital opportunity areas tend to be unsuited to the traditional business frameworks. These depend on having the time and the ability to anticipate needs, plan and execute accordingly.

As businesses in the telecommunications sector and beyond try to emulate the success of these companies and their ecosystem approach, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by the term “ecosystem” and how it can provide a framework for organising business.

The word “ecosystem” is borrowed from biology. It refers to a community of organisms – of any number of species – living within a defined physical environment.

A biological ecosystem

The components of a biological ecosystem

Source: STL Partners

A business ecosystem can therefore be thought of as a community of stakeholders (of different types) that exist within a defined business environment. The environment of a business ecosystem can be small or large.  This is also true in biology, where both a tree and a rainforest can equally be considered ecosystem environments.

The number of organisms within a biological community is dynamic. They coexist with others and are interdependent within the community and the environment. Environmental resources (i.e. energy and matter) flow through the system efficiently. This is how the ecosystem works.

Companies that adopt an ecosystem business framework identify a community of stakeholders to help them address an opportunity area, or drive business in that space. They then create a business environment (e.g. platforms, rules) to organise economic activity among those communities.  The environment integrates community activities in a complementary way. This model is consistent with STL Partners’ vision for a Coordination Age, where desired outcomes are delivered to customers by multiple parties acting together.

Characteristics of business ecosystems that work

In the case of Google, it adopted an ecosystem approach to tackle the search opportunity. Its search engine platform provides the environment for an external stakeholder community of businesses to reach consumers as they navigate the internet, based on what consumers are looking for.

  • Google does not directly participate in the business-consumer transaction, but its platform reduces friction for participants (providing a good customer experience) and captures information on the exchange.

While Google leverages a technical platform, this is not a requirement for an ecosystem framework. Nespresso built an ecosystem around its patented coffee pod. It needed to establish a user-base for the pods, so it developed a business environment that included licensing arrangements for coffee machine manufacturers.  In addition, it provided support for high-end homeware retailers to supply these machines to end-users. It also created the online Nespresso Club for coffee aficionados to maintain demand for its product (a previous vertically integrated strategy to address this premium coffee-drinking niche had failed).

Ecosystem relevance for telcos

Telcos are exploring new opportunities for revenue. In many of these opportunities, the needs of the customer are evolving or changeable, budgets are tight, and time-to-market is critical. Planning and executing traditional business frameworks can be difficult under these circumstances, so ecosystem business frameworks are understandably of interest.

Traditional business frameworks require companies to match their internal strengths and capabilities to those required to address an opportunity. An ecosystem framework requires companies to consider where those strengths and capabilities are (i.e. external stakeholder communities). An ecosystem orchestrator then creates an environment in which the stakeholders contribute their respective value to meet that end. Additional end-user value may also be derived by supporting stakeholder communities whose products and services use, or are used with, the end-product or service of the ecosystem (e.g. the availability of third party App Store apps add value for end customers and drives demand for high end Apple iPhones). It requires “outside-in” strategic thinking that goes beyond the bounds of the company – or even the industry (i.e. who has the assets and capabilities, who/what will support demand from end-users).

Many companies have rushed to implement ecosystem business frameworks, but have not attained the success of Microsoft, Amazon or Google, or in the telco arena, M-Pesa. Telcos require an understanding of the rationale behind ecosystem business frameworks, what makes them work and how this has played out in other telco ecosystem implementations. As a result, they should be better able to determine whether to leverage this approach more widely.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • The ecosystem business framework
  • Why ecosystem business frameworks?
    • Benefits of ecosystem business frameworks
  • Identifying ecosystem business frameworks
  • Telco experience with ecosystem frameworks
    • AT&T Community
    • Deutsche Telekom Qivicon
    • Telecom Infra Project (TIP)
    • GSMA Mobile Connect
    • Android
    • Lessons from telco experience
  • Criteria for successful ecosystem businesses
    • “Destination” status
    • Strong assets and capabilities to share
    • Dynamic strategy
    • Deep end-user knowledge
    • Participant stakeholder experience excellence
    • Continuous innovation
    • Conclusions
  • Next steps
    • Index

Consumer IoT: How telcos can create new value

Introduction: Trust is a must for consumer IoT – but is consumer IoT a must for telcos?

Lack of trust is a major barrier to mass-market consumer IoT adoption

There was an expectation two to three years ago that take-up of consumer Internet of Things (IoT) services was set to accelerate, and that we would soon witness the success of mass market consumer IoT offers in areas such as energy management (linked to roll-outs of smart metering), home automation and security, and health and wellness applications (linked to wearables such as smart watches, fitness trackers and medical condition sensors). It was also widely expected that telcos would play a leading role in this market.

Although growth has occurred in these product areas, it has generally been below expectations. Everett M. Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory shows how the different stages of public acceptance a new product goes through, with successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology (shown in blue), so its market share (yellow) eventually reaches saturation level. Looking at this theory, STL believes that consumer IoT is still in the “early adopter” stage.

Figure 1: Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory

Source: Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations, image from Wikipedia

In addition to this, telcos have tended to play a peripheral part in the market thus far, limited largely to providing the wireless and broadband connectivity supporting third-party products developed by players focused on adjacent vertical markets. Already the focus of telcos’ IoT strategies seems to have been redirected to enterprise and industrial IoT applications, along with the rapidly maturing connected car and smart cities markets, judging from the wave of new product and partnership announcements in these areas at recent trade shows, such as this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite this, we believe that consumer IoT could still represent a large addressable market for telcos, based on data presented in chapter 3.

There are many reasons for the levelling of the expected consumer IoT growth curve, some of which we will explore in this report. In terms of definitions, we are limiting the term ‘consumer IoT’ to ‘consumer-centric’ applications and services, whether these are deployed primarily in the home (such as home automation and security) or on the person (e.g. wearables, and health and wellness). We will not directly discuss connected car / autonomous vehicle and smart cities applications, even though they relate to consumer services and experiences, as the dynamics of these services and their technological challenges are quite distinct. In addition, we will only tangentially discuss healthcare IoT, as it is far from clear what sort of ‘consumer’ business model will be established in this sector (as opposed to a public service model); although it is likely that remote health and social care will play an increasingly central role in a prospective ‘second wave’ of consumer IoT services, based on trustworthy processing of intimate personal data to enable really useful services.

In addition, we make a distinction between ‘connected’ devices and homes, on the one hand, and ‘smart’ devices / homes and IoT services, on the other. A home is not smart, nor an IoT service present, until the connected devices or ‘things’ involved, and the data they generate, are integrated as part of an app that the user controls. As shown in Figure 2, in the existing IoT business model, this involves delivery of the data from multiple devices and sensors to a cloud-based service, enabling collection, aggregation and analysis of the data, and remote and automated performance of actions on those devices based on the analysis and on the user’s preferences.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary: Trust is king
  • Introduction: Trust is a must for consumer IoT – but is consumer IoT a must for telcos?
  • Lack of trust is a major barrier to mass-market consumer IoT adoption
  • Building trust with customers must be at the forefront of telcos’ consumer IoT offer and brand
  • Consumer IoT 1.0: opportunities and threats for telcos; telco strengths and weaknesses
  • Opportunities: The addressable market for telcos is potentially huge
  • Threats: do consumers buy it?
  • Established telco strengths can help offset the risks
  • Weaknesses: IoT exemplifies the challenges of digital innovation in general
  • Conclusion: consumer IoT is a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity that plays into telcos’ strengths
  • Deutsche Telekom’s consumer IoT platform and services
  • Deutsche Telekom and the Qivicon platform
  • Efforts to address the data security and privacy issues of consumer IoT 1.0
  • Avast: telcos can play a role as part of a cross-industry approach
  • Orange: transparency over use of data is key
  • Atomite: consumer consent and rewards for sharing data with third parties
  • Telefónica’s AURA: cognitive intelligence but an immature business model
  • Consumer IoT 2.0: A move to a (data) sharing economy
  • GDPR: A change in the rules that looks set to change business models
  • Databox: “privacy-aware data analytics platform”
  • IoT and the personal data economy: putting ‘me’ at the centre of my internet of things
  • Conclusion: Telcos need to be in the consumer IoT 1.0 game to win in consumer IoT 2.0
  • A massive potential market, with a large slice of the pie available to telcos…
  • … but do the risks outweigh the potential benefits?
  • Telcos need to play the consumer IoT 1.0 game to reach consumer IoT 2.0

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory
  • Figure 2: Consumer IoT 1.0
  • Figure 3: Consumer concerns about connected devices
  • Figure 4: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for telcos in consumer IoT
  • Figure 5: Connected home installed base and penetration EU and North America, 2013–19
  • Figure 6: Companies most trusted with personal data
  • Figure 7: The Qivicon consumer IoT platform
  • Figure 8: Orange ‘Trust Badge’ – what personal and usage data is collected, and why
  • Figure 9: Key functionality of the Meeco personal data portal