Five telcos changing culture: Lessons from neuroscience

Introduction: The role of skills and culture in telco transformation

Skills and culture are the biggest barriers to transformation

It is generally accepted that the telecoms industry is currently undergoing a major process of transformation. In very general terms, telcos are engaged in a transition from being primarily operators of physical infrastructure and networks designed for the efficient delivery of analogue voice and packet data services, to being providers of cloud-based (distributed software, IT and virtualised) infrastructure, platforms and digital services (including communications).

STL Partners has documented this sea change in numerous previous reports focusing on different aspects of the transformation: technology, processes, business models, organisation and culture. This report focuses more closely on two interrelated aspects: skills and culture.

A recent STL Partners ‘summit’ workshop of leading SE Asian operators found that skills and culture are presently seen as the greatest barriers to transformation:

Figure 1: Benefits of and obstacles to transformation

Source: STL Partners

The above chart, reporting the results of a snap survey of attendees of the SE Asia summit, could be interpreted as implying that skills and culture change are of very little direct benefit to telcos, given that only two respondents indicated that it had “the greatest value” to their organisation. But at the same time, telcos are clearly focused on addressing the skills and culture issue, as this was overwhelmingly the most salient transformation challenge that the senior operator executives picked out. And the results of this small but high-quality survey are entirely consistent with STL Partners’ findings in other parts of the world, including research conducted for this report (see Sections 2 and 3 below).

There is a chronic shortage of essential software and IT skills in the industry

Precisely why have skills and culture emerged as such a critical challenge at this time? The skills issue is easier to analyse. The new business and technology model to which operators are transforming places a much greater emphasis on software and IT skills than traditional telco operations: skills such as software development and coding; digital product development and operations (DevOps), and marketing; cloud and IT infrastructure deployment, maintenance and support; etc. There is a chronic shortage of highly-skilled people in these areas, which varies country by country but could rightly be described as a global shortage owing to the international character of the telecoms industry. It is the top talent that is needed right now given the complexity of the technological and IT challenges that are involved in the migration from the legacy Telco 1.0 to the telco-cloud service provider (Telco 2.0).

Telcos have adopted a variety of methods to try to close the skills gap. These are discussed in more detail in Sections 2 and 3 below in the context of conversations on skills and culture we have had with five operators from different parts of the world. On skills, these operators have adopted three broad approaches:

  • Aim to fulfil the skills requirements of the business from existing staff as much as possible by giving every employee the opportunity to up- and reskill (AT&T)
  • Try to meet the skills needs of the business through a combination of selective hires and retraining; but accept that a given percentage of positions in the company after the transformation phase can only be filled by new hires, and that existing staff whose functions have become redundant or who cannot adapt will need to be let go (Telkom Indonesia, Middle Eastern operator (MEO), and international enterprise networking provider (EO))
  • Accept that the business needs to transform radically and rapidly, and a relatively high percentage of people without the requisite skills or whose roles have become redundant must be let go (former developed-market incumbent (DMI))

Content:

  • Executive Summary
  • 1. Introduction: The role of skills and culture in telco transformation
  • 2. AT&T: A textbook exercise in re-skilling and culture change
  • 3. Two other models of skills development and culture change
  • 4. Conclusion: Skills are necessary but not sufficient, without culture

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Benefits of and obstacles to transformation
  • Figure 2: Old and new telco cultures and business model
  • Figure 3: MRI scans showing parts of the brain activated by social rejection and physical pain

Changing Culture: The Great Barrier

Introduction

On Tuesday 6th December, STL Partners met with 17 executives from telecoms operators in SE Asia, including Singtel, Starhub, M1, Telekom Indonesia, Axiata, Bridge Alliance and Tata Communications. The group was a fairly even mix of C-Level, SVP/VP, and Strategy / ‘Heads of Digital’ roles.

The session was conducted under clear and explicit anti-trust guidelines, and had the objective to review and explore learnings in the strategic and operational transformation of telecoms business models.

Objectives of Transformation

One of STL Partners’ global observations is that all operators have different goals in the pursuit of transformation. This was also true with the group in Singapore, as shown by the following chart of a vote on the priorities assigned to different transformation objectives.

Figure 1 – Transformation priorities are different for every operator

Source: STL Partners

The subsequent discussion showed that behind these votes:

  • Improving customer engagement (and customer centricity) is a fundamental goal of almost all operators
  • Operators, like all businesses, want to manage costs, and this is generally a welcome benefit of change
  • Most operators wish to improve the fundamental agility of their businesses – to become faster to market
  • For some, creating new revenues from new services is the primary objective, while for others, it is seen as a welcome possibility once the core agility has been improved

What is the outlook for growth for telcos?

STL Partners shared findings from its recent research report Which operator growth strategies will remain viable in 2017 and beyond? that examined the growth performance of 68 operator groups globally over the last seven years.

Figure 2 – The growth performance of 68 global operator groups 2009-16

Source: STL Partners

The overall picture presented was that most telcos had enjoyed a period of good growth in this time, though latterly growth rates have slowed to an average of 2% globally. Many markets, especially in Europe, are now in decline. Voice and messaging revenues have been eroded by substitution from Internet based applications, and data competition has by and large brought strong growth in usage volumes, but not enough to make up for the declines in voice and messaging.

Can data growth ‘save the day’?

A question raised in Europe and discussed again in Asia when this analysis was presented, is whether broadband data sales can offset the declines in voice and messaging revenues. The arguments for and against this are summarised in Figure 3.

Figure 3 – The arguments for and against broadband producing long term growth

Source: STL Partners

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Objectives of Transformation
  • What is the outlook for growth for telcos?
  • Can data growth ‘save the day’?
  • Why is transformation so difficult?
  • The challenge of achieving synergy with the core
  • So ‘going digital’ is becoming a necessity whatever your strategy
  • Opportunities for ‘Telco Cloud’ Centred Growth
  • Models for how to transform
  • The Publisher / Utility Model
  • 20 transformation metrics that matter
  • Digital Maturity Model
  • NFV/SDN Playbook
  • Case Studies of Transformation in Practice
  • Telkom Indonesia – Becoming the “King of Digital”
  • Celcom Axiata – Quick ‘HITx’ to Kick-start Transformation
  • Conclusion: how to change model and culture together?
  • 1. Establish transformational leadership and vision
  • 2. Empower and motivate people to unlock culture
  • 3. See success through a new lens (and new metrics)
  • 4. Re-engineer the guts of the business

 

  • Figure 1 – Transformation priorities are different for every operator
  • Figure 2 – The growth performance of 68 global operator groups 2009-16
  • Figure 3 – The arguments for and against broadband producing long term growth
  • Figure 4 – A clear majority in the group believed broadband will not sustain long-term growth
  • Figure 5 – Telco ‘digital’ plays have experienced varied success to date
  • Figure 6 – Telco Cloud services by type
  • Figure 7 – NTT Docomo is one leading benchmark for new revenue creation
  • Figure 8 – The ‘Utility’ and ‘Publisher’ Models
  • Figure 9 – A high level Digital Maturity Model
  • Figure 10 – The NFV/SDN ‘Playbook’ explained
  • Figure 11 – Telkom Indonesia’s ‘Digital Telco’ vision
  • Figure 12 – Telkom Indonesia’s Transformation Key Success Factors and Lessons
  • Figure 13 – How the HITx programme was delivered
  • Figure 14 – Which area of transformation has the greatest value, and what requires the greatest effort?
  • Figure 15 – A new business ‘stack’ for telcos?

The Digital Dashboard: How new metrics drive success in telco digital initiatives

Introduction

As core services revenues, margins and cash generation decline quickly, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are seeking to invest in and grow new (digital) services. STL Partners estimates that digital business should represent 25+% of Telco revenue by 2020 to avoid long-term industry decline. The move to digital is challenging for CSPs.  It will require large established organisations to define and implement new sustainable business models with new services delivered to existing and new customers via new channels and partners underpinned by new technology and supported by new operating, revenue and cost models. This requires a fundamental shift from a traditional infrastructure-based business to a complex amalgam of infrastructure, platform and product innovation businesses:

  • Historically, the telecoms industry has been an infrastructure business. It has invested large amounts of capital on things such as spectrum purchases, fibre and tower deployments. The result has been three largely undifferentiated services and revenue streams that have been ‘bundled in’ with the networks – voice, messaging and data. In the past, being a good communications service provider involved:
    • Making effective capital investment decisions, and then
    • Operating the network efficiently and affectively.
  • The Internet has changed everything by fracturing the integration between the network and services so that voice and messaging are no longer the sole domain of CSPs. CSPs now need to continue to hone their infrastructure business skills (in a world where every dollar of revenue is competed for hard by other operators and by ‘OTT’ players), and must also develop a range of new skills, assets, partnerships, customer relationships and operating and financial models if they are to compete in the new digital service areas.

In our recent survey (see Reality Check: Are operators’ lofty digital ambitions unrealistic given slow progress to date?), Telco practitioners were asked to comment on the importance of nine things that needed to be addressed to complete their digital business model transformation and the progress made to tackle them (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Digital metrics should be driving change at CSPs but are themselves proving difficult to implement

Source: STL Partners/Telco 2.0 Operator Survey, November 2014

Measurement using new digital operational/financial metrics was highlighted in the global survey as one of the ‘big 6’ challenges that need to be addressed for CSPs to be successful in future. However, to date, it has often been neglected by CSPs (metrics are often an after-thought and not an integral part of the digital transformation process).

In this report, we argue that the reverse is true: effective metrics lie at the heart of change. Without measurement, it is impossible to make decisions and engender change: an organisation continues on its existing path even if that ultimately leads to decline. We will:

  1. Look at why it is important to capture, synthesise and act upon appropriate metrics.
  2. Examine traditional and new approaches to the use of performance metrics and identify the factors that contribute to success and failure.
  3. Highlight ‘telco best-practice’ via a case-study from a leading Asian CSP, Telkom Indonesia.

Why metrics matter

There is a common misconception that start-ups and digital companies do not – and do not need to – measure and report the performance of their businesses and initiatives. Digital start-ups are often portrayed as small creative teams working on ‘exciting stuff’ with no sense of business rigour or control. This could not be further from the truth. Most start-ups follow a LEAN & agile approach to product ideation and development are steered by one motto… “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage”.  This is even more true if they are VC-backed and therefore reliant on hitting specific targets to receive their next round of funding.

Start-ups rely on operational and actionable metrics to measure progress, identify when to pivot as an organisation and translate strategic objectives into daily activities. By applying the “Build – Measure – Learn” concept (see Figure 2), innovators create something (Build), evaluate how well it is received (Measure), and adjust it in response to the feedback they receive (Learn).

Figure 2: “Build – Measure – Learn” concept

Source: LEAN Analytics – Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster

Metrics evolve over time. Start-ups are continuously searching for the ‘right’ metrics at any given stage of their development because their businesses are constantly evolving – either because they have just started on their journey or because they may have recently changed direction (or ‘pivoted’ from their original value proposition). Metrics are perceived as an operational toolset to quickly iterate to the right product and market before the money runs out. This ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over entrepreneurs’ heads is a world away from the world inhabited by telcos’ employees.

Indeed, CSPs’ current approach to business targets & funding allocation is unlikely to create a sense of urgency that will drive and stimulate the success of digital initiatives. Based on extensive interviews with CSPs, digital start-ups and VCs, STL Partners concludes that CSPs should focus on:

  • Removing the Telco ‘safety net’. To succeed in creating truly compelling customer experiences CSPs need to mimic a VC-like environment and create a culture of higher-reward in return for higher risk by targeting employees more tightly on their digital initiative’s performance:

    • Reward success more heavily: this could be ‘shadow’ share options in the venture which yield value in the form of shares or cash bonus for hitting targets which would takes an employee’s overall package way beyond what could be earned in the core business.

    • Create risk for individuals: the quid pro quo of a big upside could be a reduced salary to, say, 60% of normal Telco pay (i.e. similar to what might be earned in a typical start-up) or offer contracts that only renew if an initiative hits its targets – if you fall short, you leave the business and are not simply moved elsewhere in the organisation.

  • Adopting ‘start-up culture’ and ways of thinking. For example, when negotiating for funds, employees should be negotiating for their survival, not for a budget or a budget increase. Also, Telcos should start using the vocabulary / parlance commonly used in the digital space as such burn rate, time before cash runs out, cash break-even date, etc.

  • Establishing new processes to manage KPIs and performance metrics. In the fast-paced digital environment, it usually does not make sense to use 18-24 month targets derived from a detailed business case backed by financial metrics (such as revenue, EBITDA, etc.) – particularly for early-stage start-ups.  Google actually identified a move away from this approach to one focused on a stable strategic foundation (make sure the initial proposition is viable by defining a clear problem we are trying to solve and how the solution will differentiate from alternative solutions) + fluid plans as one of the pillars of its success (see Figure 3)

Figure 3: Business plan and financial metrics are out-of-date in a digital world

Source: How Google works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle

Metrics are a powerful tool that CSPs should use to foster sustainable commercial growth through validated learning. Unfortunately, metrics are often an “after-thought” and very few CSPs have implemented a consistent approach to metrics.  From a series of interviews, undertaken by STL for this research, it became apparent that most initiatives failed to develop regular reporting that engages (or is even understood by) other stakeholders. At best, operators are inconsistent in tracking digital innovation, at worst, negligent.

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Why metrics matter
  • Metrics make a difference: 3 case studies from telecoms operators
  • 3 additional reasons why Telcos need digital metrics
  • Alternative approaches to digital metrics for telecoms operators
  • Introduction
  • The corporate approach – the Balanced Scorecard
  • The start-up approach – LEAN & AARRR methodology
  • Telkom Indonesia’s approach to digital metrics
  • Background
  • Telkom’s current digital strengths
  • Telkom Indonesia’s digital metrics system
  • Benefits of the digital metrics system to Telkom Indonesia
  • Conclusions
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Figure 1: Digital metrics should be driving change at CSPs but are themselves proving difficult to implement

  • Figure 2: “Build – Measure – Learn” concept

  • Figure 3: Business plan and financial metrics are out-of-date in a digital world

  • Figure 4: Near perfect correlation between number of agents and number of M-Pesa subscribers, R2 = 0.96

  • Figure 5: Metrics reporting by M-Pesa, December 2012

  • Figure 6: Turkcell’s Mobile Marketing Platform Overview

  • Figure 7: Turkcell’s continuous development of it Mobile Marketing portfolio

  • Figure 8: Libon single roadmap enables rapid evolution and rich features

  • Figure 9: Libon – Cost per Monthly Active Users (M)

  • Figure 10: Illustrative Net Synergy Make up (Hypothetical case)

  • Figure 11: Facebook vs. Yield Businesses: Revenue and Enterprise Value (EV)

  • Figure 12: Facebook: Monthly Active Users vs. Valuation

  • Figure 13: Different players’ metrics requirements

  • Figure 14: Balance Scorecard concept

  • Figure 15: AARRR model

  • Figure 16: Pros & Cons – Summary table

  • Figure 17: Telkom Indonesia’s Metrics Approach – Characteristics

  • Figure 18: Telkom Indonesia’s digital strengths

  • Figure 19: Telcos – slow by design?

  • Figure 20: Telkom Indonesia’s TIMES service portfolio

  • Figure 21: LEAN start-up approach

  • Figure 22: Delivering Innovation – Telkom’s internal organisation

  • Figure 23: Telco 2.0 Domain Framework

  • Figure 24: Metrics Prioritisation & Outcomes Example

  • Figure 25: Governance process – Phase 1 & 2

  • Figure 26: Innovation Governance – Case studies examples