As featured in DisruptiveViews
“I'm usually very cautious when it comes to analyst and press briefings that involve travel and hospitality. They often leave me with a feeling that I have been compromised in some way and that I need to produce something positive to show respect and thanks to the vendor involved. I’m told this anxiety wears off over time but in my case, after ten years or so, it still causes concern. So, I was extremely nervous when my colleague had to pass up an opportunity to visit ‘a beautiful European city’ and I was asked to take his place.”
That was the opening paragraph of an article I wrote that was ‘deleted’ after review by someone with the title of ‘Senior PR Consultant, Corporate Communications’ at a substantial European mobile operator. I feel the title of ‘Sales Prevention Officer’ would be far more apt. I thought my article was not just fair, it was complimentary, but in a moment of lunacy I allowed it to be ‘reviewed’ before publishing. I broke the golden rule that experienced journalists never break. The slip-up has convinced me that however hard I try to be a fair observer and commentator of the telecoms industry I am fighting a losing battle.
So as not to waste a good story I am going to publish it here, in full, but without the names of the parties involved. I will add their comments in italics to show how petty things can become when you let PR people loose. I must stress that the vendor here was totally on board, it was the telco that simply didn’t get it. (It begins with the headline – this is a very unfortunate title as our competitor uses this name for their transformation project)
The original invitation was from a BSS software vendor, ZZZ, and included a visit to their premier European customer, XXX Telecom. I need to point out that the invitation came from the vendor to show off its progress in the European market but it also offered the opportunity to see how XXX was addressing its own digital transformation. The two, it worked out, are inextricably meshed. But more on that later. (The last two sentences should be deleted)
The first thing that strikes you about the European city I visited is the sheer neo-classical beauty of the city itself straddling a magnificent river. It’s hard to imagine this city has survived numerous revolutions, invasions, wars and occupations since Roman times. The crumbling of an empire so rich in culture after the First World War and the years under Soviet control have not dampened the vitality of the city, or the drive of its people.
I mention this because the first impression of XXX Telecom’s premises on the outskirts of the city reminds one of Silicon Valley. The beautifully designed, space-age building with a Nordic tinge is set in an almost rural landscape complete with outdoor sporting facilities (including a beach volleyball court) and beautiful indoor courtyards bathed in natural light from the acres of glass protecting it.
This is the first sign that this is no normal, legacy-based telco run by old-school PTT bosses. It simply can’t be to attract the smartest young minds in an ultra-competitive tech labor market and fulfil the company’s dream of becoming a fully-fledged digital service provider.
That’s not all XXX Telecom is doing to prove that a communications service caterpillar can transform into a digital butterfly. (Please do not use the butterfly metaphor) It took a bold decision a while back to partner with ZZZ Software to transform its BSS infrastructure from the bottom up. I use the word partner because inside XXX Telecom there are a number of small designated work teams made up of ZZZ staff, many of whom have made this country their home, along with local XXX and YYY people.
They work together in open spaces with desks that raise up to standing level, lounge chairs and bean bags and canteens that cater for all tastes. This is where ZZZ centers its European development and XXX seems only too happy to benefit from such a close relationship. (Delete last sentence)
I remember some five years ago being part of a team that was invited to ZZZ headquarters to deep dive into the product set that had been used by all the major telcos in ‘a very large market’ to determine its usability in Europe. I remember being stunned at what I saw but concerned that it was not in any state to be productised quickly. I was wrong. I completely underestimated their ability to comprehend what I was trying to explain and the whole company’s resolve to make it work.
It also took a while to convince a major European operator in a market, but XXX must now be very happy that they made the decision. I know that because at a special launch event for analysts, press and customers, XXX proudly announced it had ‘come out’ as that digital butterfly I referred to earlier.
The CEO of XXX Group was there to launch proceedings and XXX’s CEO emerged from a landing space rocket complete with space helmet to emphasize the point this was no ordinary telco.
You knew things were different when they introduced ZZZ founder and executive chairman to present his vision of the telco of the future and what the support systems will need to do just to keep up. He didn’t have to look far, his number one customer was already in orbit and he was part of the launch celebration. No Houston, we don’t have a problem here!
PS: I was wrong, it’s obvious we do have a problem here. At a time when progressive companies are stressing their ability to work in partnership with suppliers, XXX wants to play this down. Why would you hold a lavish public exhibition and stage show about your digital transformation along with your partners then ask the press not to highlight it? I am sure the CEO and Group CEO of XXX would be appalled to see such an opportunity go to waste. Is it paranoia that makes the PR guru feel such a positive message would upset other supplier/partners or investors. I doubt it. If telcos want to really ‘come out’ they will surely need to grow up and not be frightened to tell the world they are ‘coming out’.