By Keith Willetts, Chairman, TM Forum

The digital world is the biggest challenge that any business will face. But transforming to a digital business is much more than absorbing new technologies.

It’s also about putting the customer at the heart of your business; about being very agile and very innovative; and using technologies such as big data analytics not just to support your existing business but as the centre of your operations.

At the heart of many of those factors lies a core problem that needs to be fixed – as complexity rises, so, generally, do operating costs while the customer experience quality falls.

So, a big part of transforming to a digital business is simplifying what you do – your product portfolio, your processes and your systems – and certainly not adding to the problem by introducing yet more layers and overlays of complexity.

Ubiquitous and affordable communications, computing and devices are fuelling the creation of huge numbers of new types of service providers in numerous industry sectors around the world.

Today’s market changes are profound and, as we have seen already with music, video, TV and publishing, the effects can catch up to the companies who sit and watch the trends for too long.  

The telecom industry is by no means immune – we, too, are being stretched in multiple ways. Initially the focus was on operating and capital cost reduction, then on improving the customer experience.

Now we’re seeing a realisation that this is not nearly enough, and becoming much more agile and innovative, moving rapidly, learning how to partner in a value chain, becoming easier to do business with and creating value from data engagement are all vital success factors in the digital world.

The degree of change needed depends on where their current competencies lie and what their market focus is going to be. For example, are they going to be an infrastructure-based player? How are they going to go to market? Are they going to go into the apps space themselves, or go out through other companies’ routes to market? All of these questions must be taken into consideration to be successful.

The Engines of GrowthArguably, two of today's hottest technology trends, the Internet of things and virtualisation, are the most talked about yet the least understood of digital disruptors. 

Meanwhile, understanding customers and putting them at the centre of your thinking is one of the biggest lessons to come out of the first crop of “digital native” companies like Amazon.

Big data analytics and tools can help present tremendous insight into the behaviour of customers but also in how they are using and interacting with your processes, applications, networks and more.

It’s true that people are quickly realising that topics such as being customer centric and becoming more agile, plus virtualisation, big data, partnering and APIs are universal issues, not restricted to any one business sector.

With different companies in different markets moving at different speeds on different topics, there’s a huge advantage in listening and learning from others.

The telecom industry remains a huge and still very profitable market, but is definitely feeling the winds of change. And, although we’re only in the foothills of the digital world, we’ve already seen some sectors changed beyond recognition.

Nevertheless, a window of opportunity to change exists, but it takes strong and inspired leadership to drive a company in a new direction.

European Communications will be reporting from TM Forum Live! Transforming to a Digital Business, (June 2-5, Nice, France) where all these topics will be discussed.

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