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Digital Infrastructure

Dragons, tuna and Lego: the strange world of telco transformation

There can't be too many times that a tin of tuna, an old VHS video tape and some Lego are used as props for a presentation at Digital Transformation World (DTW), or any other telecoms industry event for that matter. But then Josie Smith, chief architect in BT's Digital division, was employed as a disruptive force and original thinker to help BT push boundaries and beat the competition.

If that takes waving a tin of fish in the air to make her point about product ("our industry's biggest challenge"), reliving the hassle of renting videos to describe what customer journeys used to be like before they became more simplified, and using children's toys to portray the need for "composable" architecture, then that is clearly what Smith is prepared to do.

She made clear the challenges she and her team have faced in trying to remove some of the inherent complexity in a legacy telco business – not least the objective to strip out some of BT's original tally of 2,465 applications.

At DTW, executives from CSPs old and new provided insights into the challenges and opportunities of turning digital. 
 (Source: Iain Morris)
At DTW, executives from CSPs old and new provided insights into the challenges and opportunities of turning digital.
(Source: Iain Morris)

Indeed, DTW was fertile ground for some interesting imagery to illustrate what telcos are all going through right now, as they battle with the challenges of IT and business transformation. A particular high point was the presentation by Jon James, CEO of Danish serviceco Nuuday, who likened his company's decades-old IT system, called Columbus, to a sleeping dragon that still occasionally requires the odd snack to keep quiet.

Nuuday was created after former Danish incumbent TDC was split into two standalone independent businesses, the other being netco TDC NET.

Nuuday has now turned to Netcracker for a cloud-based, pre-integrated full telco stack that it hopes will gradually wean it off the older system, although James conceded that Columbus will be supporting legacy services for some time to come.

Pretty in pink

Elsewhere, executives donned somewhat garish footwear and colorful clothing, presumably all part of an ongoing effort to eliminate the image of telcos as slow-moving and somewhat staid companies. T-Mobile US, the self-proclaimed Un-carrier, was of course fully on brand with magenta-hued garb, as modeled by Meg Knauth, VP of IT application development and production support.

Knauth also told a story of how her team was able to eliminate a number of bureaucratic levels in one fell swoop: "I left the technology organization and moved into marketing, and I moved my whole team with me," she said. The impact of this move has been profound. "It makes so many things faster. The amount of bureaucracy that just [disappears] is amazing," she said.

Employing terminology perhaps best suited to the average Youtuber, Knauth declared that the Un-carrier's aim "is to make every single customer feel like a rockstar, and every single employee feel like a rockstar."


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Achieving that requires some pretty radical thinking, it seems. As Knauth explained, the key is to continue to "push cultural boundaries, organizational boundaries, architectural boundaries – all of it is fair game. Just keep that love of the customer at the very center of it and you can't go wrong."

Meanwhile, Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile, is pretty much expected to come out with radical ideas, although the world is now more familiar with the operator's goal to build a fully digital, cloud-based mobile network. During his presentation at DTW, Amin cited some of the concrete effects of such an objective, such as completely eliminating field technicians, for example.

"I almost have no field technicians," he said. Indeed, Rakuten Mobile employs around 200 people to manage its operations, and about 5,000 people in total. Rakuten Symphony has about 3,500 employees, of which some 99% are software engineers.

To be sure, other CSPs still have some way to go to get the right amount of software talent on board.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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