Search, click, buy, use – online stalwarts like Amazon, Uber and Netflix have shaped our expectations of a fast and joined-up digital customer experience.
But when the pandemic raised the bar and digital became virtually the only way to shop, work and access entertainment, not everyone could match this speedy delivery. Gaps in digitalization meant there was often a significant lag between clicking and receiving purchases, as digital user interfaces and back-office processes were not connected.
Communication service providers (CSPs) frequently face the same issue. While most have their digital transformation well underway, digitalization is typically introduced at the customer-facing front-end, for basic commerce and care processes. However, we frequently find that the ‘back office’ service and network operations areas lag or are not entirely on board.
This needs to change if CSPs want to win over and retain customers in what is an ever more competitive environment. At the same time, a new mindset will be needed if service providers are to achieve more efficient operations as their networks become increasingly complex.
Digitalizing operations end-to-end and driving true ‘digital-to-network’ automation is key to reaping the full benefit of investments being made in new network infrastructure.
Joining up the digital dots
It is one thing allowing new ‘enterprise consumers’ to upgrade their broadband service for higher speed and new security features with just a few clicks. But the digital illusion quickly breaks down when those customers then have to wait weeks for the service to be provisioned and for an engineer to come out to configure their home gateway.
The reason is that − despite an all-singing-all-dancing front-end − the CSP’s underlying business/operational support systems (B/OSS) are not fully digitalized and connected up with the network to orchestrate and activate the broadband upgrade remotely.
Not being able to follow through in real-time or near-real-time has significant implications for the customer experience, especially at a time of rapidly changing end-user requirements.
New market drivers
The response to COVID-19 has heightened customer demand and expectations when it comes to digital services. This is especially true for businesses’ rapidly expanding need for flexible bandwidth allocation and enterprise-grade services to accommodate large-scale remote working or online events.
Another driver for digitalization is the accelerating competition between traditional telco networks and cloud providers. Cloud players are increasingly offering similar services to telcos, and they are fully digitalized and automated by default. When it takes a cloud provider seconds to provision a new service, CSPs cannot get away with taking weeks or months to do the same. Customers will simply vote with their feet.
However, the most compelling argument for end-to-end digitalization comes from 5G. This is due to the complexity and flexibility of services that these new mobile networks will enable. Network slicing, on-demand services, edge solutions, IoT and low-latency applications – to name just a few – represent substantial new business opportunities for CSPs to tap into.
But they require real-time responsiveness on the part of the network and B/OSS systems to deliver the desired customer experience.
It's digitalize or bust
Vestiges of non-digitalized or manual business support systems and processes will simply not be able to cope. It’s a risk that service providers cannot take.
Moreover, if you’ve invested heavily in building a virtualized, cloud-based network – as much of the telco industry has done over the past decade – automating network operations is key to realizing significant savings and maximizing return on the sizeable network investment.
If you still have a lot of cumbersome manual processes in the mix, you won’t be able to automate your operations comprehensively and realize the significant savings that can be derived from automation.
For all these reasons, it’s no longer enough to focus on digital ‘window-dressing’. The customer engagement interface can only ever be the tip of the iceberg. It cannot operate without digital-to-network automation covering service management, orchestration, or charging that integrates with the front-end.
Digitalization must be deployed end-to-end, from ordering through design, fulfillment, operations and assurance to billing and charging. Meeting customer expectations, staying competitive, and tapping into new revenue streams will depend on it.