Big Interview

Just look at yourself and make a change

Carriers are trying to enable business transformation for enterprises, but to do so they need to transform themselves first Verizon’s associate director of product strategy Oliver Cantor tells James Pearce

Carriers looking at offering business transformation services need to transform themselves away from the network-centric model that has served them so well.

That is the view of Verizon associate director of product strategy Oliver Cantor when I ask him how the US telco is helping businesses tackle digitisation. 

I meet with Cantor, a Brit, at a hotel near London’s Tower Bridge, and he enthuses about Verizon’s own journey which has seen the US giant, in his words, become “more than a telco”.

“We talk about our own transformation,” he adds. “To break the ice we say “look at what is happening to us”. We have invested heavily in all of these other areas and services, as well as our network. 

“There are so many downward business pressures on networks, it is a no-brainer. There are almost no companies out there just doing network now. We’ve made significant acquisitions and you can categorise them. Oath is about who is looking at the internet, who are the digital users, what are they doing, and how do I turn that into business?”

Start at the top

So how did Verizon, one of the biggest telecoms carriers in the world, transform itself into its new digital model? And, perhaps more importantly, what does that new model look like?

For Cantor, the transformation began both at the top, with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, and at a product level, where he works. McAdam has overseen a number of acquisitions over the last decade that has helped add, supplement or transform Verizon’s offering, while staff like Cantor have taken that and its existing strengths to create new networks.

“It comes down from Lowell McAdam, and also comes up from the bottom – we’re such a big beast,” he adds. “He makes acquisitions from the very top which we’ve been restructuring around, while we’ve been investing in networks to transform them into software, and in the middle, the products that I do are what our customers want. Go back 10 years and you can see acquisitions that make more sense now than ever.”

He points to Oath as a prime example of how Verizon has transformed its own business in order to support the business transformation and digitisation of its own customer base. Oath is a newly-created unit of the telco, formed from a combination of Yahoo, which it acquired earlier this year, and AOL, which it bought in 2015.

Oath offers digital services, such as big data solutions, to its customers, as well as supporting digital publisher platforms as well. According to Cantor, across all of its sub-brands, Oath has “more eyeballs than Facebook”, he adds.

That means “the amount of business we can generate from digital marketing campaigns, digital profiling is enormous. And that business will go on from a user experience”.

“We explain that and it is an eye-opener for a lot of businesses. They didn’t realise all the things we’re doing and we’ve got so many – we’ve got IoT, we’ve got security products – we top Gartner’s global quadrant for managed security and managed services, and we’re the only carrier in those two quadrants. And we then ask company’s about them.”

Coming from both sides

The demand for digitisation, Cantor says, comes from both sides – Verizon’s own marketing efforts, of course, start with “finding out where our customers are in their digital journey” – but there is also a lot of demand from enterprises themselves.

“For some it is just moving completely from a supply-side business to demand. The demand for bandwidth and complex use cases is just growing and growing, so we have to talk to businesses about this. 

The key opportunity though for carriers comes in that change because if you don’t evolve from just offering a network then you’ll be dead in a few years, says Cantor. For carriers, that is almost doubly the case. The term carrier is “tainted”, Cantor adds, because it implies offering just a network, when modern telcos have the scope to offer so much more. Carriers bring the network experience necessary to provide strong services, but “that’s the old discussion”.

Cantor sums of the key to transformation success: “It’s not just the idea of transformation, it is how you live that experience, and for that you need ITIL standards, exchange management, control management, contracts, the integration with procurement departments, the technical departments, the procurement departments – all of that has to be integrated for big businesses. No one else does it. Who can you go to who can give you that level and depth of knowledge globally?” 

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