Telco 2.0 event: Digital Worker Summary

'Digital Worker' means different things to different people. At the Telco 2.0 event we tried to look at this market segment from lots of different angles to see if we could come up with some new insights for the industry. We started with a basic hypothesis, outlined here, and were stimulated by special presentations from BT, Orange, Cisco, Nokia, and Intel among others.

Many thanks to Dean Bubley who facilitated the session and to Colin Mallett who acted as 'Analyst-in-Residence'. (For those not there, more details of the agenda and stimulus presenters here).

Here is a summary analysis (the presentations and detailed verbatim output is reserved for participants):

The day was kicked off by Bob Brace of Ambulant (and, formerly, Nokia). He gave the day a quick introductory tour of many of the key elements facilitating Telco 2.0 and FMC services in the enterprise and small-business markets, including the emerging role of the Internet and disruptive non-operator services and applications.

Highlighting the broad differences within the "knowledge worker community" he noted some of the key problem areas facing next-gen operators:

  • working with (or around) large businesses' IT departments, and
  • the ability to reach the right small businesses and serve them profitably.

His assertion that smaller companies "want services" rather than relying on "DIY" solutions is a popular refrain, but the uptake of unified communications, hosted email/telephony and similar offers still faces significant challenges from a commercial perspective.

Grant Goodman of Orange Business Services has been at the sharp end of delivering managed telecoms services to businesses for some time. Although Orange is best known for its mobile business, France Telecom's former Equant corporate data unit has been rebranded under the same umbrella, and this helped him provide a good, unbiased picture of the full range of connectivity requirements for knowledge workers - it's certainly not "all mobile".

The pragmatism showed through in Orange's use of different "mobility profiles" for different employee groups: the types of devices, applications and connections used by a salesforce will differ from the same company's IT operations. He stimulated the debate by suggesting that a key Telco 2.0 role among remote-workers will be the management of complexity, not by techno-religion, but through consultation and customisation. This theme of consultation and "one size doesn't fit all" ran through many of the day's presentations and discussions.

Piotr Cofta of BT Labs gave a fascinating and provocative presentation about the nature of trust and identity among remote- or knowledge-workers, blending a solid engineering background with recent immersion in some of the "fluffier" bits of social science. In theory, working at home or "on the road" brings greater productivity and employee satisfaction - but the actual results show that some managers don't trust what they can't see, and even pay less.

Interestingly, the Web brings some answers - especially "trust enhancing" approaches like eBay's seller ratings and feedback comments. He suggested that operators might have a role in facilitating "relationship-based" communications as a cornerstone of a Telco 2.0 strategy - but he cautioned that this couldn't be achieved through some half-hearted attempt to "corporatise" the archetypal Web 2.0 MySpace and FaceBook experiences.

Sample verbatim feedback from participants:

I liked the conflict between collaboration within organisations and the fact that in many organisations, managers are motivated to hoard information since information is power. Does this mean collaboration within organisations is doomed to fail?

Is there margin in serving SMBs currently?

How much of the complexity is it in the interest of the industry to maintain? How important is it to simplify the customer experience?

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Knowledge workers need smarter devices

Paul Murdock from Nokia's Multimedia business group introduced some of the potential new tools available to remote workers. Notably, he reinforced a strong recent message from Nokia - that the "real Internet" is where it's at, ideally experienced by business users on a device with a big screen, WiFi and a huge range of familiar branded Internet applications and direct access to corporate servers.

He saw a strong osmosis effect where familiar consumer-type experiences (ie the Web and other Internet-based applications) bleed into knowledge worker space, and drive demand for "Internet-optimised" computers rather than general-purpose PC [a nice video of UMPC future scenarios here]. More operator-centric devices like conventional smartphones, or even the trendier WiFi/SIP enabled E-Series range didn't get much of a look-in.

The presentations continued to take a hard-nosed technological line with John Woodget from Intel, who followed up the previous day's plenary presentation by starting with more detail on the underlying innovations like WiMAX and virtualisation. The importance of fitting "innovative charging mechanisms" into enterprises' procurement processes was also stressed.

So, for example, devices could be bundled with specific services and targeted at particular user groups' needs, perhaps reversing the usual mobile subsidy model by including "free" open Internet access along with a "closed" line-of-business service in the upfront purchase price.

A particularly interesting example was that of a dedicated "healthcare terminal" for ill or elderly users, which incorporated medical features like patient monitoring and "reminders" to take drugs, along with more social features like email and chat. This could potentially be provided and managed by a forward-looking telco in conjunction with healthcare providers.

John's comments about Virtual SIMs also provoked a set of questions about the possible models for identity management in future - and whether an operator-oriented SIM card fits well with a typical enterprise's desire to control its own security platforms.

The discussion after this session also took an interesting tangent towards Telco 2.0 and environmental concerns. Partly stimulated by concern over redundant and wastefully incompatible electrical chargers, discussion also went on to consider operators' potential roles in managing, reducing or even monitoring organisations' carbon footprint - even if this just started as a marketing strategy for services like collaboration and messaging.

How will we reconcile the tension between the desire for the coolest device and run of the mill corporate security processes?

Will the Internet interface really take over from vertical-market applications? Will we see fedex guys, soldiers or bank terminals all using web technologies?

Is the mobile operator SIM on its way out?

Is there a difference between 'service-centric' devices customised to operator services, vs. application/IT centric devices which are not linked to a given service provider?

Eat your own dogfood

The next session focused on actual real-world use cases of various new communication technology and service platforms. Barry Turner from Cisco gave a quite inspiring presentation about the way in which the company is making collaboration and virtual teams work effectively on a global scale - and all this even before it's fully acquired and integrated its new subsidiary, WebEx.

Video streaming, high-definition "telepresence" conferencing, unified communications & presence and assorted other tools all have a role - and although it has a lot of in-house expertise, Cisco does indeed outsource various parts of the operation to third-part service providers, rather than solely just buying "pipes".

Paul Kilkelly from BT gave a presentation on the evolution path of BT's own employee intranet portal, which gives its employees (many of whom are mobile- or home-workers) access to 95% of "employee services". Leaving aside the wince-inducing HR-speak, the real innovation is in blending the internal web front-end with an assortment of external "Webside" Internet features like RSS feeds and the ability for users to reconfigure the content and layout of their own "page" whilst still conforming to a centralised security and management policies.

Although some observers decried the interface as "Web 1.0", it's unrealistic to expect organisations with 10's of thousands of employees to deploy this month's latest AJAX fad immediately.

Finally, rounding off the day's trio of BT presenters with very different angles, Simon Partridge from the carrier's professional services team spoke about the consultative business processes that are necessary to get corporate clients to adopt flexible (sorry, "Agile") working styles. This brought some of the more evangelical advocates of business use of Telco 2.0 down to earth - it's all great in theory, but in the real world enterprises have entrenched cultures and business processes which act as friction to adoption.

Senior executive buy-in, construction of measurable business cases and definition of appropriate training regimes are all less-sexy-but-essential corollaries to selling the shiny new technology/service message. (Interestingly, the environmental theme popped up again, with BT claiming to have reduced CO2 emissions by 54k tonnes per annum, largely from a reduction in commuting).

I wonder if all enterprise-focused operators need big consulting & professional services divisions?

Presentations seemed to focus on the needs of the larger enterprise - what about the needs of the SMB?

The examples are technological and focused on knowledge workers. How do you see these examples being adopted in the broader [enterprise] market?

Start, stop, more....

The delegates were then invited to take a step back from the presentations for an interactive session, looking at the broader marketplace for Telco 2.0 services for knowledge workers. People were asked to suggest what operators should be doing to make Telco 2.0 a reality in the enterprise: specifically, what should they start doing, stop doing, or do more of? The comments were pretty diverse, but among the most poignant were:

What should we START doing and WHY?

Open our networks with APIs to let developers integrate telephony into their apps [this theme of opening APIs and encouraging developers came out very strongly, with several related points being made]

Build consulting expertise

Productise our own internal IT systems as external services

Think about unexploited capabilities built into the network or existing customer relationships, eg to create services around trust management, location information etc

What should we STOP doing and WHY?

Thinking that all developments will require years, hundreds of people and huge amounts of money to complete

Approaching IT or web2.0 as TI 2.0. It's starting to look like IN

Focusing on locking in customers. Instead, try to create continuous value for them

What should we be doing MORE of and WHY?

Partner with others who may be more nimble and quick to market [This comment was echoed by others who also pointed out the role of fast, fleet startups in helping Telcos' innovation process]

Thinking about where 'services' stop and 'applications' begin.

Looking to the future

We concluded the day with a couple of sessions to illustrate where the value might lie in operators' future knowledge worker Telco 2.0 plans.

Filling in for his colleague at the last moment, Ronald Klingebiel from Cambridge University's Centre for Strategic Studies looked into the shifting value chain for telecoms in the knowledge worker and SME space. He highlighted some interesting market opportunities arising from personal mobility - such as the opportunity for services the communication needs of "commuting residents" with second homes abroad.

He also considered the various types of FMC solution that are becoming available, and how different operators and service providers from across the value chain are moving into each others' domains. Although it wasn't explicitly considered in the presentation, the volume of enterprise-centric FMC solutions has mushroomed during early 2007, although operator-based solutions will need to fend off the challenge from more enterprise-controlled platforms.

The final speaker was Anish Kapoor, CEO of the intriguingly-named YuuGuu, who presented his company's vision of an easy-to-use, web-oriented conferencing and presence solution. Although YuuGuu is a startup rather than a traditional telco, it is probably the sort of organisation that operators should look to for Telco 2.0 inspiration. There is an interesting argument that one aspect of operators' service platform strategies should be the ability to offer services across the web to customers who don't purchase access.

Particularly in communicating between one company's knowledge workers and its customers/suppliers/partners, it is highly unlikely that all participants will share the same network provider, especially if they are geographically distant. Licencing and rebranding "white label" Internet-resident services could mean the operator could extend its service & application reach far beyond its traditional boundaries.

So, what next?

The final interactive session attempted to derive some concrete objectives for the industry. To achieve success in developing and implementing Telco 2.0 strategies for the "digital worker", what should the industry be attempting to do over the next 6 months, and the next 3 years?

In the next 6 months, what are the next steps?

Define KWs [knowledge workers] and how they overlap with other employees. Segment by size, workstyle, location, vertical industry

Look across Telco borders in collecting customer insights of the KWs. Maybe the real need for telco functionality lies somewhere else.

Start developing mechanisms for KWs to work effectively with multiple devices, multiple numbers etc, ie embrace 'multiplicity' rather than trying to work against it

Audit our own IT and comms/collaboration systems for capabilities that could be productised and offered to customers in other industries

In the next 3 years, what are the next steps

Focus on understanding how tech impacts on work-life balance

Examine the nature of trust & relationships and assess whether any service models are possible

Knowledge workers will more and more work as freelancers. So start developing services for the self-employed KW. eg provide an automated hour registration tool with mobile telephony

Build a comprehensive channel partner strategy to access SMEs and specific vertical markets

Next Steps for Telco 2.0 Initiative

Clearly some big themes have emerged here. What really is the unique value that telcos can offer the Digital Worker market? What compelling 'services' should telcos create that avoid competition from Open Source or from being baked into software by the big IT companies. For mobile operators, what's next after Blackberry, telematics and data cards?

The answer seems to lie in the following:

  1. Much more creativity in:
    1. Market understanding and segmentation (especially in the SME sector).
    2. Channel development (especially in the SME sector)
  2. Much more innovation (commercial and technical) in Voice & Messaging for the enterprise market.
  3. Thinking more laterally about device form-factors and functionality.
  4. Finding a clearer role for telco operators vis-à-vis enterprise IT.

The Telco 2.0 team will be exploring these issues over the coming months.