|The big data silver bullet
Lyn Cantor was appointed President of Tektronix Communications in 2011. Mr Cantor re-joined the company after being SVP and General Manager of Visual Network Systems.
Carriers are sitting on a goldmine of customer data that can be leveraged for commercial gain. How can operators transform big data into meaningful and actionable intelligence, redraw the battle lines in the war against OTT players and at the same time reduce costs, generate revenue and stem churn?
The mobile data explosion has thrown the telecoms industry into a spin. Mobile carriers are no longer the masters of their own domain, as more nimble Internet-based service providers continue to encroach into their space. In an era where smartphones and tablets are outselling PCs, carriers should be in a profitable position. But today’s subscribers are adopting over-the-top (OTT) services en mass, diverting commercial opportunities away from traditional voice and messaging revenues and presenting carriers with the real and increasing threat of being labelled ‘dumb pipes’.
Whilst this apocalyptic prophecy is nothing new, the fast-paced shift to LTE across the globe is amplifying data use and complicating matters further. Operators now need to handle growing demand while dealing with data sets that are larger and more detailed than ever before. However, despite these considerable challenges, the current mobile landscape presents multiple opportunities for generating new profitable revenue streams and locking in consumer loyalty – operators just need to recognise what they are.
On the assumption that operators fully grasp the new big data reality, it should be possible to consign the term and concept of ‘dumb pipes’ to history – and big data analytics holds the key. The potential value in extracting commercial opportunity out of the swathes of data crossing mobile networks is huge. However, the cost associated with storing and processing this information can also be huge, particularly as data traffic is growing enormously. The challenge is compounded by the fact that revenue currently generated by mobile data has not grown at the same pace as its proliferation. A new, innovative approach is required to tackle the cost versus reward equation and capitalise on these enormous data sets, while still presenting sustainable and compelling revenue streams.
Armed with the right solutions, operators can not only leverage their massive infrastructure investments, but also offer new services so tightly targeted to the lifestyle preferences of individual customers that they become impossible to ignore. An advanced data analytics platform with a robust real-time data mediation layer can be a crucial component when it comes to an operator’s quest for end-to-end intelligence, helping to find and deliver new sustainable business models in the new world order.
Harnessing data sets for new revenue streams
Customer intelligence is the bread and butter, the lifeblood of the CMO; but how many are truly aware of the power of the data mountain they preside over, or the methods available for mining it?
Mobile marketing is one way that operators can leverage these big data assets. Today’s mobile-centric world means subscribers are revealing huge amounts of intelligence about their daily needs and desires, from the websites they visit, applications they use, products they buy, and geographical locations they inhabit. Smart operators are starting to understand the value of this intelligence for generating new location-based marketing opportunities and offering insights to improve the overall customer experience. For example, real-time changes in consumer behaviour could prompt specific offerings for both the carrier and its partners. A business user who triggers a mobile boarding pass authentication through an airline app might be offered a promotion for car hire, foreign currency or duty free; or visitors to a retail park could be alerted to food outlets when their geo-location data places them close by.
Data that is intrinsic to the smooth running of the network, such as usage patterns and the geo-location of devices, is also of immense value to a number of third party brands and partner organisations. This information can be shared to offer benefits and services based on the profile of the subscriber. There is an opportunity for carriers to tailor their consumer offerings, bundles and tariffs, locking in loyalty and reducing churn. A personalised data package could consist of unlimited access to social media sites, priority streaming to a mobile music platform or guaranteed quality of service for specific applications (such as email, for a business traveller), all potentially chargeable at a premium and based on the consumer’s profile. If carriers start to truly embrace the concept of big data, the opportunities are endless.
Bringing the fight to the OTT players
The OTT players of this world (WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, etc.) currently hold subscribers’ attention in their clutches. Voice and SMS communications have taken a backseat, as the move to 4G has created an environment where value-added services can flourish. Operators are often seen by subscribers as little more than the means of accessing third-party solutions, but they are so much more than that. They are the gatekeepers of data and the platform that allows OTT players to connect to mobile subscribers. With their unique visibility of the network environment, operators can deliver a guaranteed quality of service for OTT applications, tailored to the subscriber’s individual needs.
With this in mind, operators are now in a position to launch their own branded voice, messaging and video-calling services, delivering the same experience as their third-party counterparts but with enhanced functionality and improved performance. Similarly, they can tackle encroaching OTT services by forming strategic partnerships that benefit both parties – as demonstrated by the recent partnerships between Deutsche Telekom and Evernote or Reliance and Twitter.
Carriers are in a unique position to capitalise on these big data opportunities and deliver tailored app and valued-added service offerings to individual customers. Because operators have a contractual duty of care over data security, they can alleviate subscriber concerns about anonymous third party providers – such as the OTT players with whom subscribers do not have a contractual relationship – accessing their data directly. OTT services frequently make the headlines over fears of privacy violations or data leaks. Carriers are better positioned than OTT players, therefore, because a level of trust has already been established with their subscribers, and the existence of a contractual relationship offers them a greater degree of protection.
The caring side of big data
Beyond tailor-made premium offerings, enhanced customer loyalty and a new commercial playing field, big data also has the potential to modernise customer care and trouble ticket workflows and optimise customer experience. As already outlined, operators now have access to data that reveals specific behaviours in real time. By combining a number of data sets from across multiple network dimensions and technologies, when calls to customer care come in, it becomes possible for even a Level 1 operative to identify what device is being used, which application they’re using when problems occur, and to pinpoint their exact location, among other things. By combining and consolidating data in this way, correct information is delivered to the right care agent at the right time. The result is high-speed resolution of problems with a likelihood of first attempt diagnosis, without the need for escalation to other teams or departments. This lowers costs associated with supporting users and ultimately results in happier customers.
Tools also exist that support proactive care, deflecting issues before they even reach the call centre. By harnessing the power of big data to track trends with individual devices or subscribers in a particular area, operators can identify trouble spots before the subscriber is affected. Operators are now adopting solutions which can, for example, automatically reconfigure smartphones over the air and across the network, to alleviate issues without the subscriber even knowing about them.
Telecoms in 4D
The growth of mobile data has expanded the mobile network significantly. There are now four dimensions to be considered: subscriber’s behaviour, the services and applications they consume, the network itself, and the technologies they use. It’s no longer a case of understanding a single aspect of the network. It’s necessary to get to grips with the entire network environment and broader mobile eco-system, where devices behave differently and arrive on the network with varying degrees of capability. Operators need to engage with Telecoms Intelligence Providers (TIPs) and leverage the unprecedented volumes of data the move to 4G has created.
A TIP should offer a full suite of solutions and tools that help operators make meaningful use of the data crossing their networks. They are also in a position to help operators understand the complete network environment and what goes on within it, spanning legacy and new generation technologies, as well as mapping subscriber journeys. Through real-time data collection and analysis, TIPs offer operators actionable insights to deliver the experience and service their customers demand.
A complete end-to-end view of the network is essential. Anything less would belittle the power of big data. Having sight of the device, location and applications in use is necessary to capitalise on new revenue streams and empower customer care agents. This data is not effective in isolation. Without a view of precisely what’s going on from the user’s perspective, there can never be a truly joined up network environment that eradicates glitches as they appear. With the heightened demands of LTE, glitches will become inefficiencies, which will turn into complaints and become a negative and time-consuming drain on resources. Ultimately, this could lead to churn and lost revenue opportunities.
Finally, the data inside a carrier’s various functional areas also has the potential to become the glue that will ultimately bind them together and make silos a thing of the past. Sharing data between departments provides a more holistic and truer picture of what is actually going on in the network and in consumer behaviour. Those carriers that harness this capability and benefit will ultimately reap the rewards in terms of competitive benefit and cost efficiencies.
One thing is true: big data is only useful if it can be actioned. The correct and actionable use of big data provides many of the keys to the successful future and evolution of telecoms providers. Many global carriers concur with this view, asking telecoms intelligence providers to help them extract value from their goldmines of intelligence, as a key part of their growth strategy.