Data management – the new strategic high-ground for the telecom industry

For digital players, data is the new oil. If you know how to derive insights from your data and act on them, you can achieve a new level of customer trust, increased business innovation and streamlining of you existing business.

Kristoffer Kvam is an expert in Data Management & Insights at Telenor Group. In October he’ll share his own insights at the Total Telecom Congress 2017 in London and ahead of the event, he spoke to the magazine about capitalising on the data opportunity, the importance of AI, data and analytics to the future success of the industry, “nerds” and how the shift to data is changing the culture of the industry.

The interview has been republished with the permission of Total Telecom.

Q: Data management is becoming a key strategic priority for telcos as new regulations such as GDPR are changing expectations, and customers increasingly demand data security from providers.  Can you outline the work you are doing at Telenor to protect customer data, improve CRM and CEM, and deliver new revenues with better data management?

K: Our core view is that keeping our customers’ trust is the foundation for having a future sustainable business. Regulation or not, we need to build trustful relationships with our customers where integrity, clear intentions and delivery to ensure expectations are met.

Obviously, the protection of data is one core part of that trust equation.  Hence, our approach to data management is to have the customer experience first and business objectives second in how we approach the regulations.  The initiatives are organized into programs run jointly by marketing, analytics, privacy and product/technology to approach the end-to-end customer journey.  Our approach is also to use the regulatory force to centralize core components in customer experience, data handling, tools and processes related to privacy.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that the industry faces in realising the potential of data as a core asset?

K: We are doing data management to capture value for our business through better decision insights, better marketing and personalisation and more value chain automation to lower costs. If you look at the data analysts and scientists in our team today, at least 80% of their time is used for manual data gathering and preparation of their data across silos.  Less than 20% is used for the actual analytics/machine learning; only a small fraction spent creating business value.  In the cases where we have good data management and proper 360-degree customer profiles in place, the equation is turned around and 80% of the time is spent on value creation.  Therefore my view is that successful and productive data driven organizations have a centralized, real time, well-managed and holistic view of the customer (including digital and external data).  The customer profile is the core asset in telco analytics.  To get there though cloud infrastructure, culture change, competence building and politics across silos is the biggest challenge within data management.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities open to the industry if we can effectively manage data? What are the new products and services the industry can deliver?

K: The biggest opportunities short term is to personalise and automate core telco capabilities – marketing, distribution, advertising, customer service and network rollout & operations.  Unless we focus on these areas, we will loose our competitiveness. My view is that enabling and doing analytics on the core has to be done well to stay in business.

However, there is an opportunity that very few telcos (if any) are succeeding at right now and that is to actually monetize their data insights.  I know that has been talked about for some time without any major successes.  Still, the industry has a unique possibility for insight into our customers lives both on a personal and aggregate level that nobody else has.  The simplest model is maybe to sell aggregate data to businesses: where are customers, who are they talking to, how is their data usage, etc?  This data has good value in and of itself and can be priced, and my experience is that the market is very interested in these kinds of insights.  Further, if you combine the customer insights with our own and our partners’ distribution the insights can become rainmakers.  Think about the Digital Service Providers.  Over 90% of Google’s and Facebook’s revenue is built monetising their customer insights though their digital inventory and sell advertising.  Why shouldn’t we do the same?  We have unique and different data, and our brands have a high trust strengthened by the coming regulation.

Q: How do you see the technology developing over the coming years?

K: I often try to avoid the technology question because there is no golden hammer.  Data and analytics technology solutions depend on the telco legacy, the regulatory environment and, most importantly, the business objectives of the data management and analytics platform.  However, a few unavoidable keywords comes to mind that all effective analytics organizations need to be aware of: Public Cloud, Analytics as a Service, Mar/AdTech, Dev Ops, real time streaming, open source.  In one way or another the data management initiatives will be described with these terms.  These are all important to stay competitive on agility & speed, scalability, revenue growth and cost reduction.

Q: What is the single most important change you have witnessed in telecoms since you joined the industry?

K: Of course, the obvious change is going from call services to data connectivity and the OTTs taking an increasingly large share of the service position.

Still, the biggest change I myself have observed in my daily work is as follows. During my 15 years in this industry, “nerds” have gone from a cost liability to be outsourced to a valued treasure in our industry.  It says everything about how the industry competitiveness has become much more agile / dynamic and customer centricity is on top of our agendas.  In order to create great and smart customer experiences you need nerds with deep passion for their areas: Developers, Product Managers, Data Engineers, Data Scientists, UX Designers, Analysts. Companies that have gone the furthest on outsourcing are insourcing these things back again.

Q: What excites you the most about the telecoms industry today?

K: Simple – the opportunity to make data a strategic asset bringing renewed growth into our industry.  I am a firm believer that data, analytics and AI will drive the major part of our industry growth within a 5-15 year period.

Q: What do you think will be the big telecoms trends in 2018?

K: Aside from the 2017 trends like digitalisation, analytics/ AI, 5G and core simplification, I think that if there is one thing we will remember from 2018 it is privacy.  GDPR comes in play in Europe 25th of May 2018 and it will be like a Y2K-event on steroids.  The effect will only be galvanized be the increased consumer awareness on the privacy subject.  The GDPR will not only affect Europe but will spill over globally.

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Kristoffer Kvam is joining a host of other experts at the Total Telecom Congress 2017, being held in London on 31st October and 1st November. To find out more about the conference visit the website or download the brochure here.