Carry on investing

02 November 2020 | Melanie Mingas

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Kevin Billings, director and communications industry principal at Pegasystems, says that despite economic constraints, telcos cannot neglect technology investment

Earlier this year, Analysys Mason forecast global revenues for telecoms operators to fall by 3.4% year-on-year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and with Three UK just announcing that it is going to reduce its workforce by around 7%, it’s clear that the sector is under pressure and seeking to tighten its purse strings.

But despite unavoidable economic issues on the horizon, telcos cannot avoid innovation spending altogether. They must not be afraid to invest in technology that can help simplify operations and meet high customer expectations in the coming months, so they do not fall behind. Of course, as well as paying customers, they also have investors to keep happy. But, when making their business case, where should their areas of focus be?

More than 5G infrastructure

Understandably, the issue of 5G rollout cannot be avoided. But it is not just bearing the high cost of acquiring spectrum that they have to consider, CSPs also need to invest heavily in core and radio access networks, transmission, and infrastructure. While the various elements required to realise this technology will be costly, 5G is being heralded as critical to the survival and future success of telecoms operators, and to support rapid national and global economic recovery. In fact, the transition to 5G is expected to generate a windfall for CSPs, according to Deloitte.

Even with this in mind, we may see push back regarding 5G investment from stakeholders, who typically prefer to reserve cash and capital investment to accommodate economic uncertainty and risk.

Meanwhile, the market has also witnessed a rise in mergers and acquisitions in-line with the increasing numbers of digital-natives impacting market share – and with every new challenger, CSPs move further and further behind in the innovation game. So, how can they turn the table?

Digital transformation platform at the heart of operations

To avoid this, telcos need to seek a solution that removes the need to choose between experience and profitability, between chasing 5G while keeping stakeholders happy, and between mergers and acquisitions or chasing innovation. Instead of sacrificing one for the other, CSPs should invest in a digital transformation platform that can improve operational efficiency and create new digital experiences in weeks, not years – this will pander to the needs of stakeholders who will quickly see the returns, but will also serve to improve the overall user experience.

For example, as part of a broader intelligent automation transformation, robotic solutions such as Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) processes and unassisted Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be utilised where appropriate to improve the efficiency of back-office operations. RPA can handle tasks such as payment confirmations, credit verification, and enterprise supply orders, among others, freeing up time for the human workforce to focus on delivering a better customer experience.

Workforce applications

There is also the important consideration of the continued transition back to work (or the flip-flopping between working remotely and in the office). Protecting both customers and employees (particularly field operatives) will be a concern in terms of maintaining the required level of health and safety, but this is where employee management tools will prove invaluable. For example, telcos should invest in applications to manage their workforce remotely where they could be dispatching staff into risky environments, or to make sure that that employees are safe from customers who may be unwell. This way, in the eventuality of a member of staff falling ill, the appropriate steps can be taken immediately.

In summary, how each CSP rolls out their 5G plan will be crucial for the coming few years – and may well be a defining moment of both their, and the global economy’s, success. With an economic crash on the horizon, telcos may be inclined to save cash, however, they must not be afraid to invest in technology that can streamline their operations now as well as keep their employees and customers safe. In a pandemic, it can be a struggle to shift focus away from short-term survival, but this mindset will benefit nobody. Instead the telco sector must not lose sight of long-term survival and communicate the benefits with their stakeholders.