Understanding telecom complexity through visual analysis

Joseph Waring
04 Jan 2010

In an August article in Telecom Asia, Lorien Pratt and Mark Zangari explained why operators need a deep understanding of the many moving parts of the complex systems in which they compete. They showed that a mobile ecosystem -- like any platform business model -- can produce a “virtuous cycle”, where more and better applications attract more subscribers, which in turn makes the platform more attractive to developers to build more applications. Over time, this cycle can produce the kind of explosive growth characteristic of the more successful app stores.

Complexity is a recurring theme across telecoms. It comes from many sources: new competition, exploding service catalogs, the movement from single- to quad-play services, and more. Telecom Asia group editor Joseph Waring asks Pratt and Zangari about how their visual modeling findings can be used by telcos to make decisions that allow them to dominate their markets.

TA: Why is a visual analysis needed to understand complex telecom systems? Text, spreadsheets, and conversation seem to be effective.
There are a few answers. Telecom management is considerably more complex than a decade ago, yet we’re still using the same decision-making approaches.
When faced with complexity, telecom decision makers tend to use spreadsheets, data analysis, and dashboards. Yet they don’t let these tools make the decisions for them. Rather, decision makers study these sources, then set them aside and add their own judgment. So really, the role of decision support tools is to drive intuition: to communicate the situation to the decision maker and to align understanding amongst multiple stakeholders.
Some situations are too hard to understand by analyzing a large spreadsheet. These tools are good at organizing information, but not at supporting complex decision making. This is especially true with the compressed time frames faced by telecoms today—decisions must be made in days instead of weeks or months. Here, decision makers end up taking short cuts: only considering a single outcome, only one investment option, ignoring changes over time. Which leads to our answer to your question: a visual representation of a complex system is essential to align the otherwise invisible views of a complex system into a shared, explicit, map.


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