The traditional responsibility of telephone companies to be "the custodians of the network" leads them to be a bit conservative, according to Andy Hicks, the research director for IDC's EMEA Telecommunications and Networking Group.
The dynamic is interesting, since the elements that must be supported have -- to a great extent -- exited the data center. In part two of a conversation with Telco Transformation, Hicks points out that support for such things as autonomous vehicles and virtual reality must be geographically dispersed due to latency limitations. This means that, like it or not, telcos must innovate and transform themselves. In part one, he talked about digital transformations being more than just the enabling technologies. (See IDC's Hicks: Digital Transformations Are About More Than Technology.)
Telco Transformation: Is there kind of a feedback loop in which the new technology can suggest how processes controlling them should evolve?
Andy Hicks: What you're pointing to is the whole value proposition around analytics. It's almost a truism in the industry that the people aren't getting the value that they need from their data. The first reason is that a lot of the data stores are not integrated. You can't just go to one place to look for what you need. You have to go find your data stores, and get permission from the data owners to put a feed into the particular sets of data that you need.
Secondly, people really still are not accustomed to getting the value out of it. Some of that value comes from knowing what queries to put against that data. Some of it comes from enabling automation with those analytics. You can't automate to the extent you need to unless you've got good data integration and good analytics to support that.
TT: So there's a real human issue?
AH: Exactly. The human engineering is precisely where technology departments and traditional technology vendors haven't been so good. What we've been seeing lately is that telcos buy their technology from a traditional IT vendor or a traditional hardware vendor but then they'll be going to a consultancy like a McKinsey or Accenture to get that last 10%, that last 20%. The vendors are realizing that this is a problem and they're realizing that the solution value comes precisely in that human change and that process change.
TT: What are people looking for?
AH: There are probably at least two major needs. One is always reducing your operating costs. That's just never going to go away. You want to introduce more types of products, more types of experiences to more customer classes without breaking the bank.
The second is just being able to know what kinds of services customers want and to be able to introduce them much more quickly than they have been. It's still all too common in the telco world to spend six months developing a new product. When it takes you that long to develop a new product, not only are you much more likely to lag the market, but you're also going to be hugely conservative. The telco industry really needs to get to the point where it can use the fail fast model.
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TT: Is there any structural difference in a carrier digitally transforming as opposed to other organizations?
AH: I think there's something special about being the custodians of the network. I think that being the custodians of network has made telcos a little bit conservative. That's just an organizational culture that they're battling with. Especially as the data center distributes throughout the network, as the data center and the network inter-penetrate, the telcos are actually in a fairly good position to make sure that each user is getting the best possible workload experience they can.
When you talk about things like multi-access edge computing and so on, that's really a network issue. You're tuning to the network response. You're tuning the workload response to make sure that every use case and every customer is supported to the maximum percent possible. There is that legacy drag of the network, in terms of culture. I don't think anyone would really seriously argue against that. There are also opportunities that the new network will bring that telcos are best positioned to take advantage of.
TT: So the need to offer five-nines reliability leads to conservatism?
AH: That's right.
TT: But in this new world things tend to push against that conservatism. It's an inner tension?
AH: That's right. Once you start thinking about data centers not really always being a huge room with a bunch of racks and good air conditioning, but a data center node being in every basestation and in multiple places between the basestation and those big buildings, then you start thinking about the fact that the network is going to be making those choices depending on what kind of use case is being presented to it. If you're dealing with virtual reality or autonomous driving, you can't afford to make that trip back to the data center. It's just too much latency. The network has to figure out what's going to provide the best experience and make sure the workload is living in the right place.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation