One area that has become increasingly more relevant for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) of late is partner management. The disruptive digital explosion has forced them to seek out new digital service providers (DSPs) to meet the growing demand for services they don’t have or may even understand.
There is a fast-growing realization that no one party will be able to provide everything the market demands. The options will be to specialize in a few or try and offer a much broader range of products to attract a broader range and number of customers.
It’s becoming less appealing to simply resell a third-party product or service and then offer support for it. Training customer support staff to answer queries on hundreds of different products is not viable either, yet the CSP is probably the first place to get a call when anything goes wrong.
Partnering with other providers and suppliers is one way of sharing this load and ensuring they have some ‘skin in the game.’ Moving to more and more self-service support means that inquiries can be diverted to the partners help site as well.
Tighter partner integration also means that many products and services can be hosted on the partner’s site or cloud service and be accessed on a needs basis rather than having to replicate inventory locally.
Strong partner arrangements can extend payments and billing options giving tighter control over settlements and cash reconciliation. That is a win-win for all parties and a sensible optimization of assets and resources.
Of course, this will require considerable system integration work to become a reality. With the expectation of many new partners from different industry sectors, the task could be daunting and the benefits far outweighed by the costs.
However, this will not stop or even slow down the trend. Partnering will be a necessity but will early adopters make a hash of it and what will be the potential traps?
Inexperience at partner relations and management stand out as the main issue for CSPs in particular. They have traditionally worked in supplier/buyer arrangements for network equipment, software and IT purchases. Only relatively recently have we seen RFPs with options for partnership arrangements, revenue sharing and joint ventures.
It is understandably difficult for telecoms corporations and their stakeholders used to earning relatively high margin revenues generated by voice calls and data traffic over sophisticated networks to have to partner, let alone share these revenues and profits with others.
But that is the essence of partnership success. Being a dominant overseer simply pushes the new providers to others less aggressive. It wasn’t long ago that CSPs demanded 70 per cent of revenues from the sale of any content through their channels. That was until Apple and Google, vie their app stores, offered to take only 30 per cent.
Suddenly, there was competition for the content and application distribution, with the winners providing their products over the CSP networks with the CSPs not even benefiting from the traffic.
Getting back to the main point though, we may be seeing the emergence of new specialists in partnership management. The commitments in agreements between the new partners will need to be clearly and simply outlined and account for service level agreements that are not overbearing for either party.
The sheer number of partnerships, the speed they will have to be established and the optimum means of connecting systems to take advantage of each partners’ strengths will require skills that may not be readily available.
At a more basic level, we may need to accelerate the development of simple APIs and standardized solutions that enable an open “plug & play” multivendor environment. Mission impossible? We may have no choice.