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It's time for telcos to make worlds collide

This article originally appeared in DisruptiveViews

When you hear the term ‘worlds collide’ you imagine a cataclysmic event that changes something forever. However, when applied to the telecoms arena it probably means an agonisingly slow process of change that takes up lots of resources, firstly to line up the two worlds and then push them into each others path.

Despite years of debate on the need to break down the vertical silos of most telecoms operators and to start working on a more horizontal plane, like their more sprightly digital competitors, we still see them surviving. It seems that they have become so embedded in the operational structure that nothing, apart from the company going bust, will dismantle them.

There certainly were good arguments for their creation, and there is no question the industry developed processes and systems to make the best of them, but do we really still need to have OSS and BSS, corporate and consumer, network and IT, running as medieval fiefdoms into the 21st century?

No matter how many ‘transformations’ a CSP goes through, it never seems to shed the extra overhead and replication across departments and, quite often, those departments, when feeling threatened, do their best to develop complexity so that any silo merger ideas can be nipped in the bud.

If you were to start a greenfield operation tomorrow rolling out network infrastructure, IT, support systems, finance, marketing and distribution, would you do it the same way? Sadly, the answer is probably yes, because the only people you could find to work for you will have come from the very same world you are trying not to replicate. You only need to look at the two highest profile greenfield rollouts in recent years, the national broadband networks of Australia and Singapore to see proof of that.

Of course, we will never eliminate ‘departments.’ Every business in the world has those, but how they work together and how they share common resources is the key to their success. Working under different cost or profit centres is also common, but the best results are achieved by pooling success and sharing it, and the associated costs to achieve a goal.

Companies that do this well are targets for the best staff. Try getting a job at Google and Apple, presuming you even see a job advertisement. I’m told the ethos in those companies is that everyone is proud to work for the COMPANY, and they love the COMPANY. I wonder how many big telco staff members would openly declare that?

The same applies for smaller startups that are generally formed by like-minded people with one objective in mind. Working hours and locations are not as relevant as making progress on a project and seeing their ideas come to fruition. They are not bogged down by the need to produce quarterly results and appease shareholders that probably have no idea what they are doing anyway. That state may not last forever but even after many years trading, innovative companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, etc. still manage to maintain the same basic philosophy and staff loyalty.

So why don’t CSPs have the same aura? I’m sure there are some exceptions but it certainly is not a general trend. Perhaps the key to achieving and maintaining excitement levels is commensurate with how much innovation the firm is striving for and achieving. Constant innovation seems to be the common thread with the ‘popular’ and successful digital players in this era.

Simply maintaining the status quo with regard to products and services or only adopting other companies’ ideas is not a recipe for progress – either technically or financially. And maintaining those silos will effectively stop any chance of these old worlds colliding and, hopefully, disappearing forever.