Building the learning telco

Organisational learning is key to telcos’ success in the Coordination Age

Developments in technology and organisational digital transformations increased the pressure on learning and development (L&D) departments in telcos. L&D departments, many of which were compliance-focused, were tasked with upgrading telcos’ entire skills inventories to ensure that workforces were fit for new ways of working (e.g. AT&T’s “Workforce Reskilling” effort announced in 2016).

What was perhaps under-appreciated initially was that the need for L&D would not go away:

  • Telcos continue to operate in dynamic environments that are inherently unstable (e.g. pandemics, climate crises, new and evolving technologies);
  • Traditional telco revenue streams have remained under pressure, requiring new and innovative thinking to identify opportunities for growth.

The VUCA acronym (first coined in 1987) – standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity – provides a useful framework to describe the current telco environment.

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The telco’s highly VUCA environment

learning telco

Source: STL Partners

Telcos have made changes to organisation structures in order to accommodate this reality, e.g. “flattening” the organisation and decentralising decision-making to accelerate the pace at which organisations can take action (absorb change and innovate).

Additionally, they are recognising the importance of learning to this process. Workforce skills must remain relevant and collective corporate intelligence must evolve to decide and inform winning strategies.

This type of “organisational learning” requires conscious efforts on the part of both the organisation and individual employees. It is not enough to make L&D the sole responsibility of an L&D team, or an HR department and to task them with identifying appropriate content and courses to push out to employees.

Organisations need to foster an environment where learning is encouraged and enabled in pursuit of organisational improvement, customer satisfaction, innovation and growth. After all, it is impossible to improve/do something new without learning in the first instance. Learning tools, processes and practices are required – and barriers to learning should be removed.

Learning barriers can include:

  • L&D teams creating bottlenecks to learning (e.g. restricted course access)
  • The existence of knowledge silos
  • Beliefs that “knowledge is power”
  • A lack of clear goals around using knowledge/new capabilities for improvement (i.e. learningto create behaviour change)
  • No incentives for individuals or teams to engage in learning
  • Uncertainty about processes for capturing and sharing learning
  • Fear of failure inhibiting trials in order to learn something new.

This report considers the key practices associated with organisational learning and identifies lessons from telcos who are progressing towards becoming a learning organisation.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The value of organisational learning
  • Enabling organisational learning
    • Types of learning in organisations
  • Organisational learning in practice
    • Learning as an organisational priority
    • Identifying learning purpose
    • Content-based learning
    • Person-led learning (knowledge sharing)
    • Process-led learning
    • Trial, reflection and practice
    • Recognition and rewards for learning
  • Towards learning organisations
    • Findings
    • Evaluation
  • Conclusions
  • Index

Related Research

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Can Telcos Entertain You? Vodafone and MTN’s Emerging Market Strategies (Part 2)

Telcos and the entertainment opportunity

In most emerging markets, which are the focus of this report, mobile networks are fast becoming the primary distribution channel for entertainment content. Although television is popular all over the world, in much of sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, terrestrial television coverage is patchy, while cable TV is rare. Satellite television is broadly available, but fewer than half of households can afford to buy a television, meaning many people only watch TV in bars, cafes or in the houses of friends.

In Kenya, for example, only 28% of households have a television, according to the World Bank development indicators, while in Tanzania that figure is just 15%. In some major developing markets, television has a stronger grip – in Nigeria, 40% of households have a TV and 47% of households in India. For sub-Saharan Africa, as a whole, television penetration is about 25% and in South Asia, 36%.

For many people in these regions, purchasing a versatile smartphone, which can be used for communications, information access, commerce and entertainment, is a higher priority than acquiring a television. The advent of sub US$40 smartphones means more and more people can now afford mobile devices with decent screens capable of displaying multimedia and processors that can run apps and full Internet browsers. In India, 220 million smartphones were in use at the end of 2015, according to one estimate , while Ericsson has forecast that the number of smartphones in use in Sub-Saharan Africa will leap to 690 million in 2021 from 170 million at the end of 2015 (see Figure 1).

 Figure 1: Predicted smartphone growth in developing regions

 Source: Ericsson Mobility Report, November 2015

In emerging markets, most Internet users don’t own a television (see Figure 2) and many rely entirely on a smartphone for digital entertainment. Moreover, a scarcity of fixed line infrastructure means much of the entertainment content is delivered over mobile networks. Mobile trade group the GSMA estimates that 3G networks, which are typically fast enough to transmit reasonable video images, reach about three quarters of the planet’s people. Mobile network supplier Ericsson has forecast that mobile broadband networks (3G and/or 4G) will cover more than 90% of the world’s population by 2021.

 Figure 2: Device ownership among Internet users in selected markets

 Source: Ericsson

The reliance on cellular infrastructure in developing countries has enabled mobile operators to take on a central role in the provision of online entertainment. The fact that many people rely almost solely on mobile networks for entertainment is presenting mobile operators with a major opportunity to boost their relevance and revenues. Given the capacity constraints on mobile networks and the implications for cellular tariffs, entertainment services need to be optimised to ensure that the costs of bandwidth don’t become prohibitive for consumers. Mobile operators’ understanding and real-time knowledge of their networks means they are in a good position to both manage the optimisation and package connectivity and content (regulation permitting) into one service bundle with a predictable and transparent tariff.

Although the network effects and economies of scale and scope enjoyed by YouTube and Facebook mean that both these players have strong positions in much of developing Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, some emerging market telcos have also built a solid foundation in the fast growing online entertainment sector. In Africa and India, for example, the leading telcos enable third party content providers to reach new customers through the telcos’ dedicated entertainment platforms, including web portals, individual apps and app stores selling music, TV and games. In return for supporting content offerings with their brands, networks, messaging, billing and payment systems, these telcos typically earn commission and capture valuable behavioural data.

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos and the entertainment opportunity
  • Roles in the online entertainment value chain
  • Further disruption ahead
  • Vodafone India faces up to new competition
  • The land-grab in India’s online entertainment market
  • Vodafone India combines content and connectivity
  • Takeaways – greater differentiation required
  • Music Gives MTN an Edge
  • Takeaways – music could be a springboard
  • Conclusions

 

  • Figure 1: Predicted smartphone growth in developing regions
  • Figure 2: Device ownership among Internet users in selected markets
  • Figure 3: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 4: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?
  • Figure 5: Vodafone India curates a wide range of infotainment content
  • Figure 6: Smartphone adoption in India will more than double in the next five years
  • Figure 7: Vodafone Mobile TV enables customers to subscribe to channels
  • Figure 8: The new Vodafone Play app combines TV, films and music
  • Figure 9: Vodafone India offers an app that makes it easy to track data usage
  • Figure 10: Vodafone’s Mobile TV app hasn’t attracted a strong following
  • Figure 11: Competitive and regulatory pressures are pushing down prices
  • Figure 12: In 3G, Vodafone India has kept pace with market leader Airtel
  • Figure 13: Vodafone India’s growth in data traffic compared with that of other telcos
  • Figure 14: Vodafone’s performance in India this decade
  • Figure 15: MTN’s Telco 2.0 strategy is focused on digital services
  • Figure 16: MTN’s growing array of digital services
  • Figure 17: MTN Play has been localised for each of MTN’s operations
  • Figure 18: The Ugandan version of MTN Play caters for local tastes
  • Figure 19: MTN bundles in some data traffic with each music plan
  • Figure 20: MTN’s digital services are particularly strong in Nigeria
  • Figure 21: MTN tops a list of most admired brands in Africa in 2015

Can Telcos Entertain You? (Part 1)

Telcos and the entertainment opportunity

As telecoms networks are the primary distribution channels for the digital economy, all telcos are in the entertainment business to a certain extent. With more than 3.2 billion people worldwide now connected to the Internet, according to the ITU, entertainment is increasingly delivered online and on-demand over telecoms and cable networks. The major Internet ecosystems – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – are looking to dominate this market. But telcos could also play a pivotal role in an emerging new world order, either by providing enablers or by delivering their own differentiated entertainment offerings.

Many telcos have long flirted with offering their own entertainment services, typically as a retaliatory response to cable television providers’ push into communications. But these flings are now morphing into something more serious: connectivity and entertainment are becoming increasingly intertwined in telcos’ portfolios. Television, in particular, is shifting from the periphery, both in terms of telcos’ revenues and top management focus, onto centre stage. Some of the world’s largest telcos are beginning to invest in securing exclusive drama and sports content, even going as far as developing their own programming. This push is part of telcos’ broader search for ways to remain relevant in the consumer market, as usage of telcos’ voice and messaging services is curbed by over-the-top alternatives.

The central strategic dilemma for telcos is whether they should be selling services directly to the consumer or whether they should be providing enablers to other players (such as Amazon, Google, Netflix and Spotify) who might be prepared to pay for the use of dedicated content delivery networks, messaging, distribution, authentication, billing and payments. In many respects, this is not a new dilemma: Operators have tried to become content developers and distributors in the past, building portals, selling ringtones and games, and establishing app stores. What is new is the size of the table stakes: The expansion of broadband coverage and capacity has put the focus very much on increasingly high definition and immersive television and video. Creating this kind of content can be very expensive, prompting some of the largest telcos to invest billions of dollars, rather than tens of millions, in their entertainment proposition.

It isn’t just telcos undergoing a strategic rethink. The spread of broadband, the proliferation of connected digital devices and the shift to a multimedia Internet are shaking up the entertainment industry itself. Mobile and online entertainment accounts for US$195 billion (almost 11%) of the US$1.8 trillion global entertainment market today . And that proportion is growing. By some estimates, that figure is on course to rise to more than 13% of the global entertainment market, which could be worth US$2.2 trillion in 2019.

For incumbents in the media industry, this is a seismic shift. Cable television companies, for example, have had to rethink their longstanding business model, which involved selling big bundles of television channels encompassing the good, the bad and the ugly. Individual customers typically only watch a small fraction of the cable TV channels they are paying for, prompting a growing number of them to seek out more cost-effective and more targeted propositions from over-the-top players.

Cable companies have responded by offering more choice and expanding across the entertainment value chain. For example, Comcast, a leading US cableco, offers an increasingly broad range of TV packages, ranging from US$16 a month (for about 10 local channels) to US$80 a month (for about 140 channels bundled with high speed Internet access). Moreover, Comcast is making its TV services more flexible, enabling customers to download/record video content to watch on mobile devices and PCs at their convenience. Even so, Comcast has been shedding cable TV subscriptions for most of the past decade. But the cableco’s vertical-integration strategy has more than compensated. Growth in Comcast’s NBCUniversal television and film group, which owns a major Hollywood studio, together with rising demand for high-speed Internet access, has kept the top line growing.

Roles in the online entertainment value chain

Other cablecos and telcos are following a similar playbook to Comcast, increasingly involving themselves in all four of the key roles in the online content value chain, identified by STL Partners. These four key roles are:

  1. Programme: Content creation: producing drama series, movies or live sports programmes.
  2. Package: Packaging programmes into channels or music into playlists and then selling these packages on a subscription basis or providing them free, supported by advertising.
  3. Platform: Distributing TV channels, films or music created and curated by another entity.
  4. Pipe: Providing connectivity, either to the Internet or to a walled content garden.

Clearly, virtually all telcos and cablecos play the pipe role, providing connectivity for online content. Many also operate platforms, essentially reselling television on behalf of others. But now a growing number, including BT, Telefónica and Verizon, are creating packages and even developing their own programming. The pipe and package roles present opportunities to capture behavioural data that can then be used to further hone the entertainment proposition and make personalised recommendations and offers. At the same time, the package and programme roles are becoming increasingly important as the platforms with the best content, the best channels and the best recommendations are likely to attract the most traffic.

Figure 1 illustrates how the package and platform roles, in particular, are increasingly converging, as consumers seek out services that can help them find and discover entertainment that suits their particular tastes. Google’s YouTube platform, for example, increasingly promotes its many channels (packages) to better engage consumers, help them discover content and help viewers navigate their way through the vast amount of video on offer.

By venturing into packaging and programming, telcos are hoping to differentiate their platforms from those of the major global online players – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix – which benefit from substantial economies of scale and scope. But pursuing such a strategy can involve compromises.
In many cases, regulators force telcos to also make their programming and packaging available on third party TV platforms, including those of direct competitors. In the UK, for example, BT has to wholesale its BT Sports channels to other TV platforms, including that of arch rival Sky. Figure 2 shows how BT’s platform, packaging and programming is intertwined with that of third parties, creating a complex, multi-faceted market in which BT content is available through BT TV/BT Broadband and through other platforms and pipes.

 Figure 1: How the key roles in online content are changing

 Source: STL Partners analysis

Figure 2: BT has to provide standalone packaging & programming, as well as a platform

 Source: STL Partners analysis

 

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • Telcos and the entertainment opportunity
  • Roles in the online entertainment value chain
  • Further disruption ahead
  • BT – betting big on sport
  • Takeaways – sport gives BT a broad springboard
  • Telefónica – leveraging languages
  • Takeaways – Telefónica could lead Hispanic entertainment
  • Verizon – acquiring and accumulating expertise
  • Takeaways – Verizon needs bigger and better content
  • Conclusions
  • Annex: Recommendations for telcos & cablecos in entertainment

 

  • Figure 1: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 2: BT has to provide standalone packaging & programming, as well as a platform
  • Figure 3: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?
  • Figure 4: The extras and upgrades to the free BT TV and BT Sports offer
  • Figure 5: The differences between BT TV’s free and premium packages
  • Figure 6: BT’s app enables consumers to watch premium content on handsets
  • Figure 7: BT Sport has driven broadband net-adds, but the rights bill is also rising
  • Figure 8: In the UK, BT is still behind the Sky TV platform but on a par with YouTube
  • Figure 9: How BT Sport creates value for BT
  • Figure 10: Telefónica offers a selection of bolt-ons to cater for different tastes
  • Figure 11: Acquisitions boosted Telefónica’s pay TV business in 2015
  • Figure 12: Pay TV and fibre broadband are the growth engines in Spain
  • Figure 13: Telefónica TV’s position versus that of Netflix and YouTube in Spain
  • Figure 14: Verizon’s three-tier strategy envisages providing platforms and solutions
  • Figure 15: Verizon was attracted by AOL’s growing platforms business
  • Figure 16: Verizon’s go90 is designed to be a content and social hybrid
  • Figure 17: AOL ranks sixth in terms of online visitors in the US
  • Figure 18: Verizon’s new go90 app has had a fairly positive response from users
  • Figure 19: AOL video trails far behind Internet rivals YouTube and Netflix in terms of usage
  • Figure 20: How future-proof are telcos’ entertainment portfolios?