The telecommunications industry is often criticised because it is made up of many silos that act as independent business entities despite being part of one corporation. There are many reasons things have evolved this way but in today's customer centric marketplace it can be a major hindrance.
It's not just a telecoms' phenomenon either. Many other single product or service enterprises, like utilities and retailers, have morphed into multi-product players attempting to provide all kinds of physical and non-physical goods to their customer base.
When most core systems were geared around one product or service it was understandable that systems were designed specifically to cater for them. In telecoms it started with fixed-line voice; in utilities it was water, gas or electricity; in retail it was merchandise. Diversity into other lines was not a consideration and the cost of developing computer systems was inhibitive enough without having to allow for items not even considered at the time.
Billing, inventory, ordering, service activation and CRM systems were developed and introduced independently and were coupled (loosely at times) with each other using 'middleware' or customized APIs, often from multiple suppliers. Systems integrators were thrown into the mix as essential players to glue the whole thing together.
We look back at these so-called 'legacy' systems and wonder why businesses allowed themselves to go down what many now consider as 'dead-end' paths. When singe product monopolies ruled the world of telecoms and utilities and margins were plentiful computing costs were not queried. But times have definitely changed.
Deregulation was the first salvo across their bows and the subsequent and sudden emergence of competitors led to a change in mentality. Some of new competitors turned to the monopolies as suppliers of product and support services, but some were simply not geared for the partitioning of existing systems let alone acting as wholesalers. They started looking for alternatives just as their new competitors looked at doing things themselves - differently.
The emergence of convergent billing systems in the nineties meant that multiple and differing products and services could be accounted for. CRM systems became more 'flexible' at least in terms of what could be managed on them and 'brand' names started extending the deregulated services to their customers hoping to make them more 'sticky'.
Today we have retailers selling insurance, utilities and banking services. The emergence of a totally new mobile telecoms market that offered voice, messaging and data, has morphed further into apps, content and third party services required a whole new set of systems. Enterprising developers came to the rescue with software developed on cheaper, faster machines using programming languages and tools that sped up creation and deployment times dramatically.
We have embarked on a journey that never ends. Enterprises are trying to sell anything they can get their hands on and they want to do it all on systems that can handle almost anything thrown at them. They are using the Cloud to access systems and data they don't need to buy outright and they expect everything to work first time and constantly with no interruption.
Customers now expect information on what they are buying to appear in real-time on their mobile devices and they want to be able to pick and choose the services they want, the bundles the want and at the price they want - in an instant. They prefer to not to talk to customer service representatives (CSRs) if they can avoid it and they go to YouTube if they can't make something work or ask for help on Twitter or Facebook.
The customer is now the boss. Those old silos may still be around but their underlying systems are expected to act and feel like one magic portal to satisfy the customers every whim. Where this will all end is anybody's guess but if history repeats itself we may see the return of specialists, acting like monopolies, selling only one thing but doing that better than anyone else.