The Telecom Transformation Trap – Part 1

Telecom transformation is at odds with the conventional engagement model for SIs, often leading to exactly the opposite outcome to what is required. However, by applying concepts from IT virtualization to entire projects, telecom finally has an alternative to high cost, low-speed transformation. In Part 1 of a 4-part series, Jag Siva begins by asking: does transformation really work?

Talk of Telecom Transformation is everywhere.  It has been there for the past two decades, and is only on the increase.  Recently, the talk is more of “digital” Transformation.  With new disruptive technologies such as IoT and NFV gaining more airtime on various forums, it appears that the time for Transformation is now.  The recent MWC event in Barcelona is the latest case of frenzied discussion on Transformation.

But is this really different from the stated urgency for Transformation we have been discussing for the past 20+ years?  True, we have seen the urgency for Transformation in multiple forms, Transformation of legacy to support data; Transformation for support of new technologies like IMS and SDN; Transformation of processes for cost competitiveness and facilitation of outsourcing; Transformation for improved customer experience, etc.  We have even seen different flavors of Transformation, Strategic Transformation, Subscriber Centric Transformation, Evolutionary Transformation and most recently, “Digital Transformation”.

Yet, the business of the carrier marches on more or less the same way it has for years.

OTT players continue to erode high-value/high-margin services.  Everyone remembers how quickly Netflix and Google swarmed our living rooms with their new OTT TV services.

So where did all this effort on Transformation go?

How did carriers materialize this effort into business value?  How did they monetize it and demonstrate Transformation’s affect on their bottom lines?  Sadly, they did not.

The path of Transformation is treacherous and the chasm of failure is widening.  Vendors tout numbers like 90% success rate, but peel back the layers and it becomes quickly evident that the intended objectives of these Transformation programs were hardly achieved.  Projects are cancelled, or indefinitely put on hold.  Others are significantly de-scoped and what started as a strategic initative now is a skeleton of its former scope in the form of a point solution.

Why is this?  The need is there, senior level recognition of the need to change is there, and there has been no shortage of dollars dumped into the effort.  Yet the carnage continues.

Rethinking Transformation

I believe the problem lies in our approach to what a Transformation program is, how these complex programs are structured, how accountabilities and ownership are assigned, and ultimately the time-horizon under which they are executed.

Firstly, we need to change our perspective on what a Transformation program is.  Most often, these are multi-year, multi-phase projects involving dozens, if not hundreds of internal and external players.  They cross domains of process, technology, systems and people.  They bisect organizational lines, both within the organization and outside.  But most importantly, they are focused on the “end-goal” of a New Era where life in the carrier is “Transformed”.

But does this really work?

A multi-phase Transformation program could span 2-5 years.  But surely, the underlying imperatives of IT and network technology is moving at a much higher velocity.  Even careers and positions of key sponsors and stakeholders change every 1-2 years.  So can we really build a 2-5 year plan for a big deliverable at the end of it, on this moving foundation?

Right Destination, Wrong Journey

To use an age old cliché, we need focus on the journey, not the destination.  The destination is still very important as a lighthouse, but the perils lie in the journey.  The journey itself also has to, in and of itself, be fruitful.  This means, we continue to deliver value throughout the process, not simply a few years out at the end of it.

The net result is generation of business value very early in the program, continued stakeholder and sponsor interest and commitment, and the inherent agility and ability to change course and direction with immediacy.  One thing we know for sure is that the only thing bigger than the Transformation program itself, is the sum total of change orders that will be executed against it!

In summary then, many transformation programs have simply been built on the wrong foundations. And those we need to correct. In Part 2, I’ll be exploring the role of systems integrators in the telecom transformation trap.

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