Opinion Piece: Embracing the future: how Telcos can evolve and flourish
Over the past decade or more, telecom carriers across the world have considered how they can evolve their business models, moving away from purely voice and data, to ensure they remain relevant in the future.
It’s an industry that has been hit by various threats from all sides - from banks and retailers launching cellular offerings, to so-called ‘over-the-top’ players running voice and chat services across data networks, to new virtual network operators that spring up and promise a far better customer experience.
For traditional telecom carriers, the fear has always been that of being relegated to become a ‘dumb pipe’, banished to the bottom of the stack and forced to simply build the network, without providing any rich services or owning the direct customer relationships.
But this kind of infrastructure-only strategy isn’t the direction that most Telcos are comfortable to pursue. Instead, they are looking to leverage their expansive networks to provide new services to users, increase their share of wallet, and diversify their revenue streams to reduce the reliance on pure voice and data income.
One of the strategies for Telcos has been to purchase an IT services company, or at least a datacentre, to build out their enterprise offerings to the larger corporates. In general, this is a model that hasn’t yet fully worked, as the IT services tend not to be properly integrated into the Telco’s operations, as the acquired IT firm often continues fairly independently.
But perhaps, as the Cloud Computing revolution sweeps through business ecosystems, this strategy will pay off for Telcos.
One way of better leveraging their IT infrastructure is for a Telco to consider the existing shared services that they already use in their own business (the likes of Procurement, HR, ERP services or Accounting, for instance). They could in fact, build out these capabilities and ‘present’ them to businesses as value-added offerings on top of the enterprise networking agreements.
Telcos could also diversify their revenue streams in the smaller business segments with handy bundled software solutions, bundled alongside data, voice and hosting.
News and entertainment
Another realm worth considering is to move into content services – entertainment, news and lifestyle services that fit in harmony with the core data network. For example, a South African telco could offer a data service alongside a uniquely-local video on demand offering – to give users an array of local channels that can be streamed at any time, with zero-rated data fees for the entertainment service.
So far, locally and globally, Telcos have largely left it to traditional broadcasters (like Multichoice or HBO) to create streaming services, or to entirely new pure-play digital broadcasters (such as Kwese or Netflix).
This could well be a missed opportunity, as Telcos not only have the existing network to carry entertainment and news content, but they also have the deep pockets required to invest in original content creation – effectively moving ‘up the value chain’ in a similar way to the Netflix example.
Looking specifically at the African continent, we’ve seen a number of the larger operators finding fertile new business terrain in financial services.
Mobile Money could be one of the areas of untapped opportunity for South African Telco operators, as millions of local consumers would appreciate the opportunity to make payments via phones – to send and receive money as easily as we can send airtime to one another. New technologies such as the blockchain could make smaller, micro-payments more of a reality.
Internet of Things
Finally, Telecoms players could look to the emergent realm of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a sustainable way to bolster their non-traditional income streams. It’s predicted that billions of sensors and devices will be connected to networks in the coming few years.
For a Telco, the opportunity is to provide integrated services – including the network, the devices, the applications to extract the data, the analytics platforms to make sense of it all, and the integration services into existing business systems (such as an ERP environment for instance).
Whether they grow new lines-of-business organically or take the approach to acquire specialist firms in these new areas, it’s clear that Telcos need to evolve to avoid the ‘dumb pipe’ scenario. With so many strategic options from which to choose, it will be interesting to see which strategies eventually win.
Vinay Bansal is the General Manager & Africa Head-Communications at Wipro Limited
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”