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Interview: Russ McGuire & Sprint Nextel SAWS Platform

We recently had the pleasure of talking to Russ McGuire, Director of Corporate Strategy for Sprint Nextel. Russ is a fellow blogger, and also is an industry authority on pretty much any issue you choose to discuss. We asked him how how Sprint Nextel is looking at the market through a Telco 2.0 lens. He directed us to the Sprint Advanced Wireless Solutions (SAWS) as an example of applying a platform and partnership approach to the corporate market. We liked it for several reasons: customer needs focused, opening up core IT and network functions to 3rd party enterprise applications, organisational change to support delivery, and a proactive approach to partnership. Who cares about being a dumb pipe if you’re making your money from your customer support and IT capabilities?

Russ has kindly taken the time to answer some questions on the programme and share the lessons with Telco 2.0 blog readers.

What does the program offer?

SAWS is designed to be an end-to-end solution for businesses wanting to capture the power of mobility. A SAWS engagement starts with a discussion of whether the customers’ needs are well addressed by one of the SAWS solutions, which may include Advisory Services, then moves into pre-implementation preparation, implementation including integration with the business’ existing operations, and finally includes ongoing managed services to ensure that the customer continues to have Sprint’s full support in safely and reliably operating their mobile solution.

The SAWS program includes identifying and integrating the right hardware, the right software, the right network connectivity, and the right ongoing management to ensure that the solution helps our customers be more competitive and profitable.

What was the customer impetus for the program?

Businesses are increasingly aware that building mobility into their offers creates new value for their customers and can increase their productivity and profitability. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The combination of choices between devices, software, and services is overwhelming. And since the mobility revolution represents not only new power, but also new dangers, the whole process can be downright scary. SAWS takes away the confusion and the fear.

Sprint has focused on a set of horizontal solutions that apply to a broad range of customers needs. We’ve focused on a set of partners and their applications that we’ve learned over the years create real value for our customers that we can confidently offer to our customers. Our depth of knowledge, strength of relationships, and practical experience translate into a better experience for customers from initial evaluation through to ongoing support.

How does it work in practise?

Here’s an example. Let’s say a Sprint customer is talking to her Sprint account executive and mentions that her team is trying to figure out how to use the power of mobility to make their IT desktop support group more productive. She’d love for their support staff to be able to move from problem to problem, focused on fixing the problems, rather than having to return to their desk to fill in the resolution information, close the ticket, and pick up the next ticket requiring attention. The Sprint rep says “Oh yeah, the Mobile IT Helpdesk. That’s one of our Advanced Wireless Solutions.”

The rep then contacts the SAWS organization and gets a SAWS principal involved. The principal participates in a follow-up conversation with the customer to better understand the customer’s needs, the existing operational environment, the size of deployment, any special equipment needs, the budget, the timeline, existing expectations, etc. If everything sounds like a fit for a SAWS solution, the discussions turn into a proposal, a statement of work, and then an agreement to move forward. SAWS engagement managers coordinate any necessary kitting and staging, training, integration with the customer’s back end systems, deployment to the field, etc. And then the operations group takes over to provide the managed services.

What’s the internal effort required?

Obviously, this is very different from selling a handset with a plan. We have established a separate SAWS business with P&L responsibility. In many respects, this business operates independently - managing its portfolio of offers, its positioning in the marketplace, its pricing and proposals, its operational, professional services, and managed services capabilities. But, it leverages Sprint Nextel’s existing market presence in some very important ways:

  • SAWS has a relatively thin overlay sales organization that supports the existing sales force serving our growing base of business customers.
  • SAWS leverages existing relationships with device and application providers.
  • SAWS leverages Sprint’s existing systems capabilities so that we have an integrated view into the customer.

New capabilities have obviously been required, especially in the area of professional services, but we’ve been able to leverage some of our key partnerships under our project management as we grow into this capability.

What competitive advantage does it give Sprint?

Sprint Nextel has been the market leader in business wireless ever since our merger in 2005. We also have a long heritage of leading with applications to help businesses capture the power of mobility. By some estimates we’ve had as much as 50% business applications market share in the U.S. These leadership positions have provided the natural foundation for moving from being a “product” provider to businesses to becoming a “trusted solutions partner.” Our leadership positions have been well established, but for another wireless carrier to displace us once we’ve established ourselves as core to how our customer does business is another matter altogether.

What has Sprint learnt from its partners or customers from SAWS?

When it comes to mobile solutions for enterprise, there’s no such thing as “simple,” “standard,” or “off the shelf.” Every company’s needs are unique and every environment has its own special implementation details.

What advice or lessons would you offer to other carriers?

Start with your strengths. For Sprint Nextel, our strengths lie in our business market leadership, our strong relationships with leading business applications providers, and our heritage of innovation and technology leadership. We then looked for opportunities to extend those leadership traits in ways that create new value for our customers and that strengthen our market position. Other carriers will start from a different place and therefore, likely will end in a different place.

_Many thanks to Russ for making the effort to share this with our readers. We’re working on getting some more case studies from operators opening up to partners, and we’ll be showcasing some at our next event, but if you know of examples we might have missed, please do contact us

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The Sprint SAWS program appears very promising, at least in concept. The overlay organization approach has been used successfully in the past by U.S. telecom providers.

However, it's clearly an acknowledgment that mainstream front-line employees are incapable of supporting their customer's need for knowledgeable sales support. Which begs the question -- why now, and why not sooner?

In January of 2004 I wrote a column for Telephony magazine entitled "Enterprise Data Needs an Advocate" (here's a shortcut link)

Fast forward to today, and U.S. wireless carriers are still significantly behind the sector leaders within both Asia and Europe. Why? IMHO, it's due to a total lack of strategic foresight within the U.S. market.

All the big U.S. carriers cling to their vertically integrated legacy business models, complete with wall-garden platforms that ensure that broadband service adoption is minimal.

Perhaps you should have asked Russ if Sprint is finally utilizing its own services for "internal" business applications.

Frankly, this issue was my most puzzling discovery back in 2004 -- that network operator front-line employees (enterprise acct managers) were clueless about the tangible applications for their employer's value added services (meaning, beyond basic voice services).

In their defense, I was told by most sales and support people I interviewed that their phones were not enabled for advanced services. Those that were said that they had no practical business use for the VAS offerings, so they quickly forgot what they learned in the brief service launch training class.

What advice or lessons would I offer to U.S. carriers? Stop making excuses about the pitiful VAS adoption rate, and face the reality of your past mistakes. Then, open your network platforms to third-party developers (like the DoCoMo FOMA i-mode model), and be prepared to learn from the world leaders.

BTW, I'm a Sprint customer, and it's my opinion that Russ' comments about Sprint's application leadership are without merit -- relative to the bar of expectation being raised to a global level.

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