Platform agility key to enabling effective customer engagement

By: John Abraham
September 2016

JOHN ABRAHAM 

REVENUE MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME LEAD
ANALYSYS MASON

John is part of the BSS practice in Analysys Mason’s Telecoms Software Research team. He leads the Revenue Management programme and contributes to mobile money research for the Digital Economy Software Strategies programme. John has been part of the telecoms industry since 2006, and joined Analysys Mason in early 2012. He has worked on a range of telco projects in Africa, Europe, India and the Middle East.

The increasing might of internet-based service providers and the growing relevance of the digital economy ecosystem has had a substantial impact on CSP operations and their customer interactions. Customer behaviour and expectations have shifted considerably, driven mostly by their online engagements with internet-based companies. Many customers today demand online, real-time interactions besides complete control over how they engage with their service provider. All customer touch-points and support systems within CSPs are therefore under increased scrutiny in order to remove friction and complexity, and improve agility and customer experience.

The market environment has become more competitive as well, as the ubiquity of the internet has lowered the market barriers to give entry for new service providers. Several bootstrapped startups running off public cloud deployments are competing against well entrenched CSPs with complex support systems and massive data centres.

Leading CSPs are therefore investing in transforming their underlying support platforms in order to improve customer engagement and to more effectively compete against a new breed of digital economy competitors. 

Agile platforms as the key differentiator

Platform agility is critical for embracing new opportunities and reacting to specific market changes in short time. In many cases, the capability of the underlying platform is of itself a key advantage, differentiating the service offered by providing the capability to offer highly personalised and dynamic customer experience. Internet companies such as Amazon and Netflix have led by example in this regard, leveraging agile platforms to improve their understanding of the customer which has a direct impact on their business decisions and the end customer experience.

For instance, Amazon has taken advantage of its tightly controlled, flexible platform to extensively map customer journeys so that it can direct customers to the ideal outcome in the shortest time, which improves customer satisfaction. Netflix too has been able to leverage its agile platforms to alter how its services are delivered and maximise business impact – for instance, in early 2016 it launched services in 130 countries simultaneously.

Despite the availability of large data sets on customer usage and behaviour at their disposal, most CSPs have been considerably restricted in how quickly they leveraged available information to significantly improve their businesses. Complex system architecture, information silos and the lack of common data models have held back CSPs. The recent shift in the market brought about by the changing customer behaviour and rising penetration of smartphones has made it more pertinent that CSPs respond faster to evolving market conditions.

Agility for the future

For CSPs to thrive in the future, they should become an enabler and provider of digital services or DSP (Digital Service Provider). From a telco perspective, this means delivering traditional services through a digital interface and providing new digital services.

This is a major transformation and the underlying support systems need to become real-time and enable direct user control over every aspect of the services. Traditionally CSP support systems were proprietary platforms tightly coupled to the network with a strong focus on network and billing functions. Such systems are often a disparate collection of multiple vendor platforms, which were stretched over the years by several custom modifications to address specific needs. The next generation platforms are modelled on service-oriented architecture (SOA) which prioritises agility, modularity and synergy to deliver a seamless customer experience.

In order to deliver a consistent and delightful user experience across multiple channels CSPs need to deploy an agile unifying platform that can serve as the foundation for all information exchange.

Platform agility is essential to effective customer engagement in the digital economy era. Some of the shifts in the market are already underway in underlining the necessity of having such platforms.

1. Online, real-time, user-driven engagement

Customers increasingly demand accurate real-time information of their usage besides complete control over how they engage with the service provider. For most CSPs, this is a huge challenge today since they have multiple lines of business backed by disparate support systems, often in silos. The starting point for providing a consistent user experience across multiple channels of user engagement is deploying one platform that can unify the many disjoint support systems.

2. Maturing partner ecosystems

Partnerships play a crucial role in enhancing the value of offerings and are critical to the overall success of a CSP. Traditionally CSPs had a hands-on approach towards partner management with long turnaround times and the need for the partner to ensure integration with archaic CSP platforms. In the digital economy era, however, partner on-boarding is seamless and automated for the most part which requires scalable platforms, flexible revenue share models and support for standard APIs which allow partner services to be easily ported on to the CSP ecosystem.

3. Consolidating lines of business

Service bundles are increasingly becoming popular as they offer consumers better value and CSPs improved loyalty. This is expected to trigger a drive towards consolidating multiple lines of business within CSPs. Crucial to this shift will be an agile underlying platform that can support different service requirements while offering the capability to scale up as necessary.

Conclusion

CSPs have seen their traditional voice and messaging revenues decline, while their archaic support systems have made them less nimble to market changes. The internet has muted some of the other advantages CSPs enjoyed such as the direct relationship they had with their customers through retail stores and call centers. The rise of the digital economy era has also increased the focus on customer experience and the importance of digital interface as a channel for engaging with customers.

From a CSP perspective, extensive changes to the customer experience cannot be driven off legacy platforms functioning in silos. The need of the hour is an agile platform that can be an enabler of engaging digital interactions by providing all necessary information to the customer in real-time at their fingertips.

This will require CSPs to embrace nimble technology-agnostic platforms, which can become the backbone for enabling digital interactions, providing personalised experiences and improving customer engagement.