Wherever you go and whoever you ask – operators, consultants or vendors – everyone agrees that we now live in a data centric world. This is fine but it is nebulous. It is like saying we live in an oil world, or a coal one. Data, like oil or coal, is not about the substance itself, but what it allows you to do.
We need something to make sense of the potential of data and that something is a real-time capability. Real-time and its many different uses helps give data its value. The value – and perceived value – of data is on the increase, and the ways of persuading the CFO to give you the budget to implement it are also opening up.
Telecoms has historically demanded Return on Investment (ROI) based on how much more efficient it makes a process, or more commonly, how much money it will save. This creates frustration and short-sightedness. Frustration because many IT investments are two year projects, whereas companies have one year accounting cycles, and short sightedness because it was impossible to get a business case approved based on fluffy ‘customer experience’ type arguments.
Remember, the first instances of real-time were all about keeping tabs on what pre-paid customers were spending – a sort of upside down billing process. As data arrived, operators offered ‘all you can eat’ plans and customers went wild. Then data roaming became an issue, regulators stepped in and said that customers should be warned when they approached their limit. This was regardless of whether they were pre-paid, post paid or ‘now’ paid. Yet, an astonishing number of operators still do not have real-time functionality in their post paid systems. And this means they cannot possibly warn customers when they are close to their limits.
While this will mean a healthy demand for real-time systems over the coming years, it is beginning to create an environment where ‘other parts of the business’ are able to use that real-time capability and begin to explore the ‘positive’ possibilities.
We are now seeing some interesting and refreshing examples of telcos innovating with value based pricing but it has been a long and tough road.
The potential for innovation that real-time brings to data is far from over. We have seen the horrors of BillShock being controlled, we have seen the need for real-time tools to bring revenue assurance and fraud control into the ‘now’ generation and we are beginning to see innovation from pricing and marketing departments. Examples are coming in with increasing regularity as some telcos offer cheap and specific access to Facebook or WhatsApp. Others are offering customers data trials for a single, fixed price, which instills confidence and trust. Others still – such as Aio in the US – are MVNOs of larger operators, AT&T in this case. This completely separate entity is able to offer simple, non contract plans, simple, cheap communications channels, while removing the device subsidy, which has been at the heart of over-priced services for many years [financing options available, of course!].
We are a long way from being experts in turning ‘data products’ into consumer products in the same way that Starbucks and Evian have done. But there is no doubt that our industry is now seeing data in the same way that car companies saw refined oil. It is about what you do with it. And real-time allows you to do so much that one day we may even see every customer have their own billing profile – and be charged accordingly. That kind of innovation is some way off, but I would like to think we are going in the right direction.