Why this year should be the year of ‘cognitive telco’
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), predictive analytics, cloud: There’s a long and growing list of technologies that will have a huge impact on telcos in 2020.
All these technologies rely on data to make a real difference to the business, says Kamal Bhadada, president, communications media and information services, Tata Consultancy Services. But even if companies are capable of collecting and processing the vast amounts of data required, it’s still not certain that the business will be able to extract real value from that data.
What telcos need is a different approach, one that puts business needs and priorities, rather than technology, at the heart of the process. I call a business that follows this approach a ‘cognitive telco’.
Problems on the horizon for the telco industry
Telecommunications companies today face a critical problem: they are experiencing organic as well as inorganic growth, organisations are siloed and it is still very difficult to bring together data held across multiple business units. There’s no unified view, and the insights gleaned from the data telcos do have access to simply aren’t good enough.
This is especially challenging as telcos produce vast amounts of data, far more than other industries such as retail. End-point devices, the transmission network, and the activity of subscribers are all producing different types of data that need to be processed, cleaned and actioned. Using all this data in a way that is both profitable for the business and also ethical for the consumer, is a critical challenge that telcos need to solve.
Ultimately, adopting a data-driven approach to business decision-making will enable the business to be more reactive to upcoming issues, and guard against inefficiencies. This has the dual benefit of boosting business growth and profits, and providing the end customer with an improved experience that will make them more likely to stick around for longer.
What is a cognitive telco?
Put simply, a cognitive telco is a telco company that has successfully integrated data into everyday work. It’s a business that has put operational needs first, rather than just new technology for the sake of it.
The result is a telco that is able to use technology to deliver stand-out customer experiences, characterised by consistent and reliable quality of service and experience across all channels, including social media.
Customer expectations are shifting, and how telcos engage with their customers has to change in line with those expectations. To meet this higher quality bar, new technologies such as automation and predictive analytics need to be deployed in order to enable the intelligent provision of services and creation of self-optimising systems. This affects all parts of the business, not just IT: marketing is focused on delivering a portfolio of offerings that best fit customers’ needs and business development is focused on building the right partnerships with ecosystem players.
To make this a reality, data from internal and external data sources have to be combined. This is where it can get complicated: what is often needed for larger telcos is a multi-layered data engine, built with AI and machine learning technology, to translate the data into outputs which can then be used by any number of customer-facing applications.
These applications could include event predictions, impact analyses, automation of basic tasks, and chatbots powered by natural language processing. The guiding principle of this cognitive telco approach is that the technology doesn’t come first – the priority is first and foremost what customer experience is required, and how can the available data service that experience.
Cognitive telco: Fundamentally it’s a human problem
There are a number of different business models within the telco sector, and there is not one cognitive telco model that will work across different businesses. However, it is important to recognise that, whether your business is B2C or B2B, your model needs to be built around how you expect your customers to behave, and what you know they want out of their business relationship with you. Technology and data is part of this story, but it’s not the only thing that will help solve the problem.
Implementing a cognitive telco strategy also requires strong executive leadership: it means asking your employees to commit to a significant mindset shift and culture change. Opening up the business to sharing data across silos, and gradually building a partner ecosystem to deliver more value to the customer, takes time to implement.
Ultimately, transforming into a cognitive telco model is the best way for telcos to realise a return on the infrastructure investments they have already made. Telcos need to diversify, and upgrade their service delivery model from a legacy system based purely on connectivity to one that is proactive, predictive and cognitive.
It’s easier said than done, but I firmly believe that the telcos that take positive steps this year on the path to becoming cognitive telcos, will put themselves ahead of the competition in the long-term.
The author is Kamal Bhadada, president, communications media and information services, Tata Consultancy Services.