Opinion

The new telecom professional.

Oct 30, 2018

Fortune favours the bold.

The telecommunications industry has gone through drastic changes in the last 15 years. An explosion in data demand, the emergence of domineering over-the-top players and the resulting disintermediation of end-user ownership have been some of the well-publicised drivers reshaping it.

As external conditions quickly transformed, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) scrambled to respond. Old practices took completely new makings. Revenue stimulation, for example, went from voice-focused and single-channel to data-centric and omni-channel. Investment decisions started to face, simultaneously, higher CAPEX tickets and increased uncertainty on returns. And experience management evolved from securing pleasant customer care interactions to delivering end-to-end meaning across a myriad of touch-points. Accordingly, CSPs have redesigned their organisations, re-invented capabilities and re-written the talent profiles they must count on. As a result, the individual skillsets typically required from marketing, network, finance and customer care functions (to name a few) also underwent significant adjustments.

To start with, the digital wave that engulfed telcos eventually also found its way into their own day-to-day operations. Quantitively-supported thinking has become an imperative for any employee, on virtually any level. Abundant data, about subscribers, machines and systems, has forced the average telco professional to open up to a more scientific genre of management. That requires considerable familiarity with new-age ‘maths’ and, most importantly, an evidence-based mindset.

Interdisciplinarity has also emerged as a major mould-breaking force. Marketing and technology have become so intimately connected that it is unthinkable to deal with them in isolation. Value proposition engineering spans from the hardness of service quality to the intangibility of data privacy protection – and everything else in between. The telco professional of today must navigate adjacent domains with ease.

“CSPs have redesigned their organisations, re-invented capabilities and re-written the talent profiles they must count on.”

Perhaps the most striking change to what is expected from telco personnel comes, however, from the reframing of how CSPs see themselves. The boundaries of how they define their missions have vastly expanded and, with that, so did the nature of demands on their people.

Telcos have witnessed how much the world has changed on the back of the connectivity services they offer. And, for some of them, sticking to that enabler role stopped being enough. Developing new digital capabilities and experimenting with innovative ways to create value have reached – and stuck to – the top of their agenda for the last 10 years. The rise of deep network analytics is, for example, a testament to this new data-centric drive.

That is a whole different ball game. It demands strategic thinking, acute understanding of digital ecosystems and risk tolerance, all required to make inroads into spaces which are typically already occupied by faster movers. Professionals who thrive in this world amount to daredevils in the not-so-long-ago placid telco environments.

Unsurprisingly, CSPs have sought inspiration from native digital players to reformat their talent pool. In some cases, they went ahead and poached executives, who would then come and sprinkle some of their stardust around. In others, they siphoned out training after training of Silicon-Valley-inspired techniques into their own people. Rare is the telco that has not carried out a single design thinking, agile or lean management session in-house.

All that helps, but it is not enough. Preparing employees to live a hybrid ‘telco and digital life’ is a grassroots exercise, which must prepare everyone, from top to bottom, to marry the strength of a telecom firm with the opportunities that its digital presence enables. Importing practices from admired firms is good, but the real leap happens when learning is tweaked to cater to the constraints and possibilities that only telecom professionals have the privilege to experience. A bespoke preparation, custom-designed to their unique rollercoaster of changes and possibilities.