Accelerating Automation and Innovation for Digital Service Providers

Video thumbnail: Accelerating Automation and Innovation for Digital Service Providers

Microsoft, TM Forum and ETI Software customize the Microsoft Power Platform and Dynamics 365 products to enable telco-specific application design and development and fuel new innovation and automation for network operators, internet service providers, and mobile carriers. Learn how this tailored solution for telecommunications and broadband providers delivers functionality that spans the full subscriber lifestyle.

To find out more, watch this interview with Martin Wahl, Microsoft’s principal program manager for industry accelerators in the media and telecommunications sector, and Pete Pizzutillo, ETI’s vice president of sales and marketing and host of the Broadband Bunch podcast.

Accelerating Automation and Innovation for Digital Service Providers – TelcoDR

Listen to the following at these time stamps or read the summary of the Q&A below:

00:44 | Q: What can telcos learn from the way other industries have adapted and innovated?

Martin: I think we can learn a lot from our counterpart industries. For example, the healthcare industry has been going through a tremendous transformation, mostly due to the pandemic. They have had to look at legacy systems with isolated data that is locked in place, and still provide new types of services, such as remote services for patients. Hospitals and clinics need to have access to data across the spectrum of provider institutions, so they have really tried to figure out a way to combine data to create data models that are standardized in nature, to create a 360-degree view of the patient, both for care providers and so that patients feel like they are getting the best, most personalized service.

I think the telecommunications industry can learn a lot from the healthcare industry in this respect. Microsoft and our partners have been looking at how we can bring new, modern technologies to the healthcare industry, and I think the telecom sector can learn a lot from it. Certainly, we have legacy systems, data locked in silos, the need to provide personalized services to our consumers, and provide access to data to our employees. There is a lot that can be learned from this, and I am positive that the telecom sector is moving forward aggressively to do this.

2:22 | Q: I guess customer centricity is inherent in healthcare, but it must be equally important for telcos?

Martin: Yes, it is critically important for telcos. Unlike the healthcare sector, where a patient is committed to a provider for a longer period of time, customers in the telecommunications sector are more fickle. They will move from provider to provider as their needs change. Therefore, telcos need to continuously be aware of what their customers are doing, what they are enjoying, and what they are not liking. They need to provide access to this data to all parts of the telecom space, not just the employees who directly service customers. This includes network operators, field service technicians, executives, and marketing departments. Everyone needs to have a 360-degree view of the customer.

3:23 | From the consumer’s perspective, what does our discussion today really mean for them?

Pete: I think Martin has talked a lot about what’s happening in other industries, like healthcare and retail. Consumers have seen how these industries have become more personalized, omnichannel, and empowering. In contrast, the cable and internet services industry has traditionally had a poor customer satisfaction record. There is a big gap between what consumers expect and what they are getting.

The systems, data, and processes in the cable and internet services industry can no longer be an obstacle to providing what consumers expect. Consumers expect to be able to do things like:

  • Not have to deal with customer service representatives
  • Add services and manage their bills on their own
  • Troubleshoot problems from their cell phones

These things are not a big leap in other industries, but they have been in the cable and internet services industry. That’s why there is so much focus on reducing friction and making it easier for consumers to get what they want.

4:46 | It’s curious that our smartphones are so often the window into convenience for all other services, but for telcos themselves, customer service seems to be low.

Pete: Yeah, it’s quite a paradox. Our smartphones are our new laptops, our control centers. We use them to manage our homes and work remotely. Being able to extend that into services that are critical to keeping customers happy is something that a lot of people are able to do. I’m not saying that the industry isn’t there yet, but as we move down the food chain to different size providers, they need to be able to bring that capability to their customers.

5:33 | Q: You are both already working with providers to get those solutions in action. Going forward, what are your immediate focus points in the short term?

Martin: Microsoft is trying very hard to give immediate access to service providers around the world to technology that we have been developing for business for many years. There is no reason why you have to lift and shift existing infrastructure that you have in place to still take advantage of today’s modern technology. For example, artificial intelligence.

  • Can I use AI to help me learn something more about my customers that I can’t find easily, like who is more likely to churn away or who has reduced their service?
  • Can I use AI or machine learning technologies to find heat maps of where my customers are located versus where they are not so inundated with my service, even though I have spent a lot of capital to invest in my networks there?

We are really trying, in the short term, to show service providers—and the easiest way to do that is to work with partners like ETI—that you have access to this technology. You can install and deploy very quickly new types of applications that don’t require a lot of heavy work on your part, but rather get you going to meet some sort of immediate and specific business goal right away. That’s really what our short-term focus is.

In the long term, of course, Microsoft believes that we will continue to innovate at light speed to provide new technologies in VR, AR, hands-free technologies, natural language communication, and all kinds of business collaborative tools. That’s the long-term strategy. But in the short term, there is a lot that is still available that I think a lot of service providers haven’t yet availed themselves of.

Pete: I would just add to that, the disruption and evolution that Martin is describing inside of managing a service provider business is happening as well in the network and in the home. There are a lot of technologies that people call “edge” technologies, or IoT devices within the home. And going back to consumer expectations, as people want those new devices, whether it’s from Amazon, Google, or Apple, there’s a lot of capability that new disruptors are bringing to the marketplace.

So the challenge becomes for service providers:

  • How do you manage those new technologies?
  • How do you adopt those into a legacy infrastructure?
  • And how are you able to monitor and take the information that you’re getting and providing to your customers and roll that back into a singular view?

Martin talked about having a single pane of glass or 360-degree view of your customer. There’s a lot more information that’s able to be rolled up to provide better business intelligence and apply the AI and automation concepts that Microsoft is bringing as a plug-and-play into this business model.

It’s really a fascinating time. So I would say the takeaway is just trying to keep up with all of that. There’s a lot of demand from the industry. There’s a lot of innovation happening. And things are moving very quickly. So we’re just running as fast as we can.

8:52 | How exactly do your tools and expertise aid in that transformation, and how are you helping make that transformation fast and effectively?

Pete: We look at it in three areas: platforms, modular deployment, and standards.

  • Platforms: We provide an end-to-end solution, and we also allow customers to deploy our solutions in small, modular pieces. This helps them solve their biggest pain points first, without having to make a huge investment. They can then prove the value of our solutions, which helps them fund the next step.
  • Modular deployment: Modular deployment also helps customers avoid the “big bang” approach to digital transformation. This approach can be risky and expensive, and it can be difficult to scale. By deploying our solutions in small pieces, customers can move more quickly and easily.

    I think COVID has brought a lot of this into play. Digital transformation was compressed, and people didn’t think they would be able to do it. But they found ways to improve their customer service capability or their field service capability without changing everything. And eventually, they’ll step into moving to the next department, the next function, the next capability.
  • Standards: I think a lot of people are looking at their networks and their businesses and saying, “Hey, we’ve always done it this way. How should we be doing it?” The TM Forum work is a great example of having expertise from across the globe and up and down the food chain to say, “This is the best practice. This is what your data model should look like. This is what your business processes and workflows should look like.” And people are taking that to heart, because while it’s a change management issue, they can’t reinvent quickly enough to get there. So being able to leverage standards and open data architecture are really two great accelerators that we’re seeing help move providers into the marketplace.

Martin (10:42):

Martin: Well, first of all, Microsoft has invested substantially in creating a platform upon which you can build applications. This platform, which we call the Power Platform, is not intended to be a heavy development-rich system. It is a low-code or even no-code application platform for industry to develop applications that specifically meet certain business challenges. This is secure, safe, and very quick. It has modern user interface capabilities and glues into all of the technology that we offer in AI, ML, VR, AR, chat, and chatbots. So, that’s the first part. We’re providing this platform that’s available.

But the second thing is that we’re investing quite heavily in industry itself. We have divided ourselves up into vertical industries. I head up our media and entertainment as well as the telecommunications sector. And we’re spending a lot of time looking at specifically how can these tools help these sectors.

For the telecom space, this means looking at technologies like customer service, field service, mapping and network resource management, billing and packaging, and ways to improve the sales flow. So we invest in creating these industry-focused solutions that we put forward and say to the industry through our partnerships with companies like ETI and other companies around the world, “Hey, you don’t have to be a hardcore developer. You don’t even have to have an internal IT development shop. You can develop these applications and deploy them very quickly using the cloud to get you there and solve some problem in the short term and possibly in the long term.”

I think what we have found with many customers is that they’ve deployed so many different vendor solutions over the years that each of them runs on their own independently. They don’t talk to each other. And yet, the data is so vitally important to understanding their customers and their business. So we’re looking for ways to bridge that data gap to provide application technology, to provide modern interfaces, and to give our customers a leg up in the space without having to be heavy system integrators or developers themselves.

13:06 | You speak about sort of helping provide a shift to internal processes. Is that a real-world example of this that stands out for you?

Pete: Absolutely. I mean, I mentioned COVID before, and a lot of what our service provider customers were looking to do was protect their customers while still being able to protect their employees while serving their customers, right? So how do you do that? How do you make sure that if there’s a field service call that comes in, the customer service rep is able to troubleshoot remotely and not have to send out a field service representative to do an investigation on site? We’re able to bring automation to the table so that empowers the customer service rep to be able to handle as many troubleshooting capabilities remotely as possible, helping the customer on the first-pass resolution. It’s also not throwing it over the wall to the field service team, where they’re going to have to send out a truck. We’re able to have the field service tech still be out on the street, but doing as much installation, pushing for more upgrades, testing, and activations from as remote as possible, not having to go into the room or proceed within the house. So that’s been a really interesting shift in terms of manual to automated. The outcome of that is to protect your workers, right? And there’s actually a tremendous cost savings and response time savings, but it all adds up into helping keep customers happy.

Martin: Well, the launch of 5G services globally has had a tremendously positive impact on providers’ ability to offer new services and launch into new areas of entertainment, home security, and business tools and services. This is driving a lot of change in terms of who my customers are, what I need to know about them, and what my competitors are doing. So data is absolutely essential, and having the best access to your data through visual tools and automation tools, as Pete has mentioned, is very critical.

Of course, the pandemic has also had an impact on our workforce. Many of us are still working remotely, and possibly for the near-term or even the long term. So how do I provide the best tools to my internal employees? Tools that still give them access to the data they need to do their jobs, but also can rely on a lot of cloud-based automation and workflows.

We’re doing collaborative tools. You’re seeing our Teams capability being embedded into every application that we offer. As I mentioned, a lot of our focus is on artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, as well as hands-free technology. This is necessary if you’re going to be working remotely. You need to be able to have robotics or other types of tools that can give you the data.

These are enormously huge trends for the telecom industry, but I think they’re tremendously positive. They lead me to feel very bullish about the future for telecom. If the telecom industry can move quickly to transform digitally, take advantage of the technologies that are there, and not be scared to try new things, I think the sky’s the limit.

Experimentation is very important. Our customer T-Mobile is a great experimenter of creating bespoke, unique applications that do lots of different things. I love to see the industry be a little bit more risky and looking for ways to delight their customers.