Reflections from the IBM Business Partner Forum

Posted: May 31st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

IBM is a long-standing partner of Comptel, and last week, I attended the IBM Business Partner Forum in sunny Cote d’Azur (while my peers were attending Management World 2011 in not-so-sunny Dublin).

There was still plenty of evidence of the film festival from the week before, e.g. tents, other temporary buildings, billboards, etc. Unfortunately, the red carpets had been rolled up, and the film stars had already left town, so I had to instead spend my time in Cannes with IBM and its partners. That said, I had numerous fruitful discussions with IT professionals from various industries (including finance, pharmaceutical, etc.).

During the first day, there were a number of really interesting presentations about IBM’s future visions and views on  industry trends. Most of the presentations touched on the subject of business analytics and how companies should anticipate customer needs by analysing data in real time instead of looking back to reports, thus ensuring a great customer experience.

Having said that, the event also looked back to IBM’s 100 years; the history was really inspiring and put many things into a new perspective. IBM has been a pioneer in many fields, and it shared some proof points on the following day.

"Think!" in La Gaude

More surprises were to come on day 2 when we visited the IBM Innovation Center in La Gaude. The first was being introduced to “Watson”, a recent star of U.S. TV-show “Jeopardy”. “Watson” is actually a computing system designed and built by IBM, and it rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. The same technology that powers Watson could soon power many useful solutions in healthcare, finance and telecoms.

After more talks about the importance of business intelligence, smart metering and smart cities, we got a hint of what really intelligent retailing might look like. In La Gaude, IBM staff demonstrated a display screen for shops that can detect which market segment you belong to and fit the marketing messaging according to it!

We look forward to having IBM as the gold sponsor of the Comptel User Group, which will be held in Espoo, Finland from 14 – 16 June.

Once you go Mac you don’t go back

Posted: May 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Once you go Mac you don’t go back

A lesson on capitalizing on the needs and aspirations of the customer, from real users.

On a grey and blustery final morning at Management World 2011 (#mwd11) and in a week when I had received countless notifications about exceeding my mobile data roaming limit, I felt it appropriate to tune into the “Optimizing Customer Experience Summit” specifically its “Creating Loyalty” focus.

Ericsson had “creatively” pulled in a mixed panel from the Facebook generation, selected demographically from the Dublin student and young adult fraternity, to discuss their likes and loathes associated with the mobile subscriber experience.

Almost instantly it became evident that to this select group – who in reality are likely to be some of the biggest consumers of data – that Mobile operator brand was NOT important… a shocker, I know!

Buddy-Bundling: To this bunch of intellectually-apt users, their priorities were led by application bundles that enable them to maximize social interaction with close friends, for the least cost and with offers including group handset deals – some even switching from iPhone to Blackberry to get them. In some examples the panelists talked about entire groups of friends deciding through Facebook discussions to switch operator and handset to get the best inter-friend bundling deals.

Security observation: A common misconception of the younger generations using next generation technology and innovation is of negligence associated with identity and account protection. This group of individuals actually highlighted concerns around security and encryption, maturely stating that other than for iTunes (the exception) they would generally choose not to save credit card details on their handset-accessed accounts. Some of the panelists acknowledged the risks associated with phone theft and the potential identity theft that could follow. I was surprised but pleased to hear this level of maturity and awareness.

It’s of no real surprise that in the eyes of the panel as consumers, Apple emerged as the ultimate brand they would like to build their media and social lifestyles around. Barring the unfortunate high price of the iPhone and iPad, Apple could happily command loyalty. In the words of one of the panelists “Once you go Mac you don’t go back”.

So why is it that operators can’t create such brand loyalty?

Apple’s go to market is built pretty much entirely around the user experience with its intuitive interfaces, media, application and communication on-device ecosystem tailored for ease of use. But take a look at the top operators highlighted in the panel session – Vodafone and O2. The panelists regaled us with their experiences of all-encompassing bundles (with hidden over the top charges for the obvious extras that users would want to use), poor customer service, non-tailored product bundling, patchy coverage in obviously populated areas and unwanted, poorly researched marketing attempts. The fact is that “… Products will pretty much always get commoditized, so differentiation has to come from customer experience – the quality, the way you sell and the way you support them”, a comment made in the customer loyalty session that followed.

So could I be so bold to suggest that if subscriber churn is such a problem for Mobile operators, they start using the data that is available to them from their network, services, devices, billing and CRM systems to up their game on personalization and think about becoming the “Apple of Communications – Social networking enabler or choice”. As commented by Amdocs in the following session, operators should take this extensive data, add some real-time processes and they open the door to a great Customer Experience opportunity.

Wrapping Up in Dublin

Posted: May 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Wrapping Up in Dublin

The third day of Management World is always much slower than the first two. Many delegates have either headed back home or have opted for a lie in for whatever reason (yes, the Comptel party was great! Pictures from Dublin will be posted to our Facebook page).

It’s time to take stock of the event. Overall, I would say this year’s conference has been a success. I have been locked in press and analyst meetings for most of it, but I was told that the standard of the presentations has been very high. To quote Nancee Ruzicka of Stratecast whom I bumped into this morning: “It’s so good to see case studies of operators actually DOING the things that we in the industry have been chatting about for years.” (My colleague, Steve Hateley, who attended quite a few presentations, also seemed to concur with this.) And cloud and customer experience were again prominent buzzwords at Management World. It will be interesting to see how these areas continue to develop, as the industry is looking for more real-world examples.

For Comptel, the prime objective for this event was to connect with customers, prospects and partners—and much to our delight, there have been plenty of good people to meet. The demographics of the event seem to have changed though. We saw far fewer delegates from Eastern Europe, Russia and CIS, and even from the Middle East and North Africa, than we used to at Nice. One contact at TM Forum explained to me that the ash cloud and political situation were to blame, but anecdotal evidence from our own customers suggest the event’s location also influenced their decision.

And that leads us once again to one of the biggest topics of conversation here: Dublin. Despite TM Forum pulling off the most successful event ever, people are still curious to know when we are going back to Nice. Rumours abound that it might be next year, or the year after. But TM Forum is remaining very tight lipped on that subject, maybe in the hope that we will grow to like Dublin. From Comptel’s perspective, as long as delegates come to the event, we are not too bothered about the location. Dublin has proved to be an adequate, if unexciting, location and TM Forum has demonstrated its ability to bring people to the event. If it can convince people to return next year, and delegates from the regions mentioned earlier to join, then we will be happy.

What did you think of the three days in Dublin for Management World 2011?

A Few More Conference Highlights from Day Two

Posted: May 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

The rain held off for the walk into the Dublin Convention Centre on day two of TM Forum’s Management World 2011, and with no sign of royal or presidential visitors, at least everything outside the centre seemed relatively normal and calm. Inside the centre, however, it was a different story. The buzz that was so evident on day one was still around, and at 9:00 a.m., the uphill escalators were packed with attendees eager to listen to the interesting keynote sessions in the auditorium.

The morning’s keynote on innovative players and future-looking directions for the industry was very well attended. Nick Ogden, CEO of Voice Commerce, gave a “Jobs-esque”, abstractive guide through his history and experiences within the communications industry and its paralleled evolution alongside device and subscriber innovation. The presentation culminated with an extraordinary vision of introducing ATMs in the home kitchen! Actually (and thankfully), it was a clever association to the average user’s need for round the clock access to his or her money, and how the other round-the-clock appendage (the smartphone) could be used to access it more freely.

Facebook's Colm Long

  • Over 500 million users worldwide (during any 30-day period)
  • More than 50% returning on a daily basis
  • The largest photo upload site on the Internet
  • More than 30 billion pieces of content shared every month
  • #1 application on smartphones

Yes, you guessed it—FACEBOOK.
As an avid social media enthusiast, I was keen to see the next eagerly awaited keynote presenter—Colm Long, head of Facebook’s EMEA operations. (Even if you are not a fan of Facebook, you have to admit that the facts are astounding.)

Colm explained that most common photo upload sites are very narrow in their focus compared to Facebook’s features. He pointed out that although they offer the ability to share photos, they are still restricted to closed user groups defined by the user, but for true social interaction, it needed to be much more open, and the mechanisms created within Facebook enable that. Tagging was a truly innovative creation that empowers the “socially-sharing generation”.

On another common topic, Colm highlighted the gaming industry, which is essentially fragmented in terms of the consoles used and (other than Xbox Live) the dependence of players to be co-located. Facebook’s exposure of Mafia Wars, Farmville, Cityville and countless other social gaming experiences have proven to be extremely popular! The aim has always been for these games to be “social by design”—Farmville and Cityville have a run rate of 70 million+ users, where people will buy “virtual nothingness” just to be social! What is key, however, is that the evolution of this string of social gaming has unwittingly created a massive demographically segmented target audience for direct marketing—although Facebook are not so keen to overly exploit the monster it has created.

The innovative technology being leveraged within Facebook has now started to make its way into commercial models, with the embedding of social techniques to create lucrative opportunities for Zuckerberg and crew, without exploiting their ever-growing subscriber numbers. Giantnerd, Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, ticketfly & GAP… are all leveraging the instant personalisation techniques. There’s a delicate balance between target marketing, personalisation and turning users off the Facebook application. It’s important to understand the user through interpreting his or her selections and navigation choices, plus his or her subscribed interests and social groups. It’s about tailoring and optimising the customer experience—a theme repeatedly seen here at Management World. But what’s next for these Facebook giants? Are they planning transformation into MVNOs?

“Not part of our strategy…we don’t want to become a 100,000 person company,” Colm stated. “We would rather partner and focus on our core competencies, of course.”

How about their revenues? How do they actually make their money? (The question we are all curious about!) 
Revenues come from traditional methods, such as banners and adwords, but working with BIG brands is a better approach (see above). Application developers who credit Facebook every time they get a transaction done via their application is a good source of income for them, and they expect e-commerce to potentially hold some interesting opportunities, too.

Looking forward to sampling more presentation delights during day three.

Management World 2011: Another Day in Dublin

Posted: May 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Day 2 of Management World 2011 started more or less where Day 1 left off (i.e. plenty of wind outside and plenty of meetings inside).

We have been very pleased by the turnout at this event so far. When TM Forum announced at very short notice last year that it was moving the event from Nice to Dublin, my immediate concern was: will people follow?

As a result, given the perceived risk and to some extent the intransigence of TM Forum on pricing, we decided to scale back our investment in the event. Comptel is not a sponsor and has not opted to take executive appointmentsettings this year. We have invested more in the booth, however, and built on two floors to give us an extra meeting room and afford us a better view of the exhibition hall!

Anyhow, it seems that, despite the near universal grumbling about Dublin not being Nice, people have turned up. Our meeting rooms have been full, and the exhibition floor has been busy. A straw-pole of my colleagues yesterday indicates that the customer and partner conversations have been good, too.

Aside from that, today saw the presentation by Comptel’s Mika Tanttu and Stratecast’s Nancee Ruzicka on the business drivers for policy control and how to get complete control over the customer. Specifically, they shared what TeliaSonera is doing in the space, with the help of Comptel.

And tonight is THE event of the show: Comptel’s party! When Management World was in Nice, Comptel used to hold a very popular rooftop party. This being Dublin, an open rooftop party is not really an option, so we have instead opted to go underground in a bar called The Vaults. We are very much looking forward to it and Day 3!

The Innovation Revolution Makes its Way to Dublin

Posted: May 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Management World 2011 got off to a good start today despite the looming ash cloud. TM Forum reported an increase in attendance—up from 3100 to 3500—and we had the first of 100+ pre-set meetings with customers, partners and industry media and analysts.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama was unable to swing round to our booth today, as he left Dublin early last night to London. However, Ireland’s minister for communications, energy and natural resources, Pat Rabbitte, gave a nice welcome to begin the keynote session. The major theme for this year is: innovation, and how the industry needs to evolve to deliver revolutionary, profitable services. Like Mr. Rabbitte and the rest of the morning’s speakers noted, establishing collaborative partnerships and enabling customers’ journeys (in which OSS plays a particularly important role) are crucial to this.

Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Comptel partner Alcatel-Lucent, joined in via a video message from the eG8 to discuss the challenges of today’s digital economy. According to him, it’s important to connect the dots between operators’ interactions with consumers; as we’ve written before, customer loyalty will change if subscribers’ expectations are not met. The industry needs to be better able to cope with their demands.

Following Mr. Verwaayen was Stephen Shurrock, CEO of O2 Ireland, who explained how his organisation is trying to be

Stephen Shurrock, CEO of 02 Ireland

relevant to customers’ and Ireland’s journeys. To seize the data opportunity, O2 is focused on taking the complexity out of service / price plans—it’s about giving consumers the confidence to further take up data offerings, he said. The operator is also spurring innovation by expanding into new areas like financial services and the mobile wallet, and through its network-sharing deal with Eircom to provide better speeds and greater rural coverage.

What did you think of the morning’s presentations on the “innovation revolution”? We look forward to discussing this concept further while in Dublin.

Readying for Management World 2011 in Dublin

Posted: May 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Readying for Management World 2011 in Dublin

Time has flown by since I wrote about the stress of moving—we’re now only a few days away from traveling to Management World 2011’s new home of Dublin. And yet again Comptel is pleased to have such a packed agenda! Here’s a snapshot of what we’ll be up to in the convention centre next week.

CTO Gareth Senior and Stratecast’s Nancee Ruzicka will be presenting a TeliaSonera case study as part of TM Forum’s Enabling Service Innovation Summit on Wednesday, May 25 from 12:15 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. It’s a worthwhile presentation that will discuss the operator’s unique “you get what you pay for” approach and use of policy control, to better manage its customers’ mobile Internet usage and meet the European Union’s data roaming regulations.

As my colleague Greg Scullard mentioned, we’ll also be giving live demonstrations of the Enhanced Cloud Service Management Catalyst in Forumville. Comptel’s mediation and policy control solutions were used in the proof-of-concept, which explores how communications service providers can develop, monetise, and assure access to new revenue streams and markets with hosted unified communications and collaboration services.

Lastly, Comptelians will be manning booth #49 in the expo hall and are on hand for demos of the Comptel Dynamic OSS, covering catalog-driven service fulfillment, dynamic SIM management, mediation, charging and policy control. We’re particularly looking forward to showing how our solutions can help operators deliver a superior customer experience, from customer acquisition through to service delivery, and to customer retention.

Should you wish to share any thoughts from the event, Comptel invites you to leave a comment here. We look forward to seeing you in Dublin!

Management World Goes Green

Posted: May 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Management World Goes Green

Traditionally held in Nice, France, Management World is going green this year—to Dublin, Ireland that is! The conference also looks to largely be focused on the communications revolution and how it’s impacting CSPs’ green (or revenue)—the “Optimizing Customer Experience” and “End-to-End Revenue Management” Summits, for example, will discuss strategies for maximizing profitability and tapping into new business opportunities.

In addition to attending these informational presentations, connecting with customers, prospects and partners, and discussing hot topics like 4G/LTE, cloud computing and the customer experience, we’re thrilled to explore the new location. And to get attendees better acquainted with Ireland (beyond Dublin’s traffic jams and so-so weather), we uncovered some fun, little-known facts:

  • The longest place name in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, in County Galway.
  • The original Guinness Brewery in Dublin has a 9,000 year lease on its property, at a perpetual rate of 45 Irish pounds per year.
  • Catherine Kelly, who died in 1785, was allegedly the smallest Irish woman ever. With a total height of just 34 inches and a weight of 8 pounds, she was known as “The Irish Fairy.”
  • A single day of good weather that pops up in a long stretch of bad days is known in Ireland as a “pet day.”
  • Bram Stoker was working as a civil servant in Dublin when he wrote “Dracula” in 1897.
  • Historians believe St. Patrick’s real name was “Maewyn Succat.”
  • The national symbol of Ireland is the Celtic harp, not the shamrock.
  • Killyleagh Castle, in County Down, Northern Ireland, is the oldest occupied castle in Ireland. Built in the 13th century, it is still in use as a private home.

Those attending Management World 2011 are invited to the Comptel booth, #49, to learn more about our suite of OSS solutions.

Around the World

Posted: May 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Around the World

Cellular News…
Canadians Annoyed with Increasing Cell Phone Bills
J.D. Power and Associates conducted a survey that examined Canadian wireless customers’ perceptions of their service, mobile phone and retail experience. The study revealed an average of 648 for overall satisfaction (on a 1,000-point scale) and an average of only 551 for satisfaction with cost of service. This could be attributed to rising monthly wireless costs, which have increased from an average of $71 in 2009 to $78 in 2011—and are being driven by the bump in smartphones and, consequently, larger data plans. According to the article, 39 percent of Canadian customersown a smartphone, a 25 percent increase from 2009, while the number of those who have a data package has increased to 60 percent from 15 percent in 2009.

To provide a superior customer experience and balance profitability, operators should offer progressive pricing options based on demand for speed and data consumption, for example. This is especially important because, according to Adrian Chung, senior manager at J.D. Power and Associates, the low satisfaction levels with cost of service have led to a high potential churn rate. In fact, 28 percent of customers strongly agree that they would consider switching to a new wireless service provider with offerings that better met their needs.

Billing & OSS World…
Subscriber Data Management Exploding, Critical in Europe
Infonetics Research recently found that the market for subscriber data management (SDM) tools for wireless networks is growing worldwide, particularly in Europe. The SDM market is seeing significant growth with mobile operators viewing the tools as critical for their wireless infrastructure-sharing initiatives; SDM allows them to identify which subscribers are using their networks. The article also notes that the machine-to-machine (M2M) market is important for SDM investment in Europe, and predicts that this too will become the case in North America over the next few years.

Analyst Shira Levine believes that, “as SDM strategies mature, operators will  better leverage their subscriber data for functions such as customer care, campaign management, churn management, revenue assurance and marketing, and possibly to expand subscriber data sources to include IT systems, including CRM, billing and fulfillment.”

As Simo Isomäki previously noted, we too are seeing growing interest in using subscriber data for active decision-making in OSS/BSS. And while data management is still a challenge, there is no doubt that this intelligence will help operators improve customer loyalty and safeguard profitability.

Light Reading…
It’ll Be Cloudy in Dublin
Ray Le Maistre dwells on the location change from Nice to Dublin for this year’s Management World 2011, but looks forward to the event’s discussions around the deployment and support of cloud services. He states that, to play in this space, the first step will be building the physical infrastructure to support hosted applications and capabilities. Following this is the greater challenge of provisioning, activation, tracking, managing, guaranteeing and billing for those services against a service level agreement.  This is a topic we’ll be exploring at Management World – both on the expo floor and in Forumville with the Enhanced Cloud Service Management Catalyst.

TM Forum Catalyst Explores the Monetisation of Cloud-Based Collaboration Services

Posted: May 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Behind the Scenes, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Over the past several years, Comptel has participated in a number of TM Forum Catalyst projects (most notably, the Product and Service Assembly initiative). And in the run up to Management World 2011, we’ve decided to team up with BT, Cisco and Progress Software again and build upon the Inter-Cloud Service Management Catalyst. A press release was distributed today announcing the latest proof-of-concept and the addition of Amartus, InfoVista and MetraTech to it.

I am particularly excited about the Enhanced Cloud Service Management Catalyst, as it is the first to involve Comptel’s mediation and policy control solutions. Last year, we were primarily focused on fulfillment, with being responsible for orchestrating the delivery of hosted unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) services. Now, in the second phase, we’re also taking a key role in the monetisation of these services by capturing and rating usage and performance data from the infrastructure. It’s great to have this year’s project leveraging most of our software assets, and thus completing the Comptel Dynamic OSS loop.

What’s also interesting to note about this Catalyst—the same core set of applications traditionally used to manage mobile networks is being applied to UC&C in the cloud. For instance, just like the mobile world has gone through many changes in terms of the way subscribers pay for services, customers of UC&C solutions will be looking for pricing that accurately represents their usage levels—whether its billing for video and call usage per minute or per second, blended pricing where video usage doesn’t incur charges for the audio that accompanies it or different pricing for the host and participants. To achieve this service differentiation, operators of UC&C services can exercise flexible policy control and charging capabilities.

Management World 2011 attendees, if you’d like to demo the project, email [email protected] or visit the Enhanced Cloud Service Management Catalyst booth in Forumville.

For those unable to make it to Dublin, a whitepaper with more information on “The Criticality of Effective Service Management in Monetising Cloud-Based Collaboration Services,” is available for download.