It's possible to get a sense of weary déjà vu when analyzing the difficulties facing conventional telcos in the Web era. Year after year, in surveys and interviews, the same unsolved problems keep popping up.
Take Bridging the Chasm, for example. Some readers will recall that, back in 2011, Light Reading ran a series of articles with that title highlighting the gulf separating Networks and IT inside major telcos. (See Bridging the Chasm: A Manifesto and Why Bridging the Chasm Is Critical for Carriers.)
We'd like to able to say that the chasm is diminishing. In reality it is -- slowly.
But as we've found in several surveys during the past year or two, the gap between Networks and IT is only part of the picture. Just as challenging -- and in some situations, more problematic still -- is the gulf separating Networks and Product Marketing.
In a survey just completed on policy management, for instance, we found that this gap is, if anything, getting worse: The internal barrier dividing the Networks and Product Marketing teams is one of the biggest barriers to policy realizing its potential, survey respondents told us.
One reason for that is that the gap has simply become more visible, and that in itself tells its own story. When policy was used largely to manage traffic, there was little reason to consult the marketing folks. Now, with most operators saying that policy management is a strategically vital platform for differentiating services, the marketing people must be involved.
But poor channels of communications between Networks and Product Marketing at many telcos, surveys tell us, stall those efforts. The organization struggles to make the business case for further investment, and policy tools languish underutilized.
That's just in one area. As the Web and mainstream IT technologies continue to eat away at the conventional dividing lines between internal telco functions, those chasms will get a whole lot more visible, not least as telcos grapple with the opportunities and threats presented by network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).
Indeed, in a separate survey we conducted earlier this year specifically on SDN and NFV, telcos themselves acknowledged that organizational resistance and inertia was one of the biggest barriers to deploying virtualization and SDN.
New technologies derived from the Web and IT present more and more opportunities to telcos, but they make life more than a little uncomfortable for those clinging on to the old ways of doing things. One frustrated telco strategist told us, half-jokingly, that SDN would be much easier to adopt once the current generation of 50-something technical executives is pensioned off.
For many, the threat is all too real: If analytics, policy control, and related tools enable telcos to automate the ways that service offers are bundled for customers, where does that leave marketing? If NFV means that technical staff specialized in managing network gear are no longer needed, where do they go?
None of this is to say no progress has been made. At the most senior levels, most boards understand what needs to be done, and are pushing through change. But making sure that this happens all the way through the organization is an enormous and sometimes under-appreciated task. Technology can only take you so far. To take things all the way, some difficult and wrenching organizational changes are required. Are big telcos with tens of thousands of employees really ready to make them?
— Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading