The highlight of the DTW 2018 event in Nice was the Bladerunner catalyst. This was notable in being a non Telco centric, dynamic and transient service. Most NFV products or proof of concepts still major on what are effectively variants of existing WAN or CPE products. The catalyst was about enabling a heavy machinary provider (Caterpillar) to set up an augmented reality diagnosis of a mining machine between an engineer in a remote UAE quarry and a product SME in a UK engineering centre. The catalyst demonstrated the inter-carrier orchestration of remote network functions in the UAE and their associated service assurance functions.

No customer and nowhere to go

A catalyst is not a working product (having often been lashed together rapidly with cludges) however it was demonstrating a real world solution to a real world problem.  The challenge was the catalyst lacked the two crucial ingredients for a true digital transformation: Caterpillar, the customer, was not involved in the work and there was no obvious champion who could drive this forward into a real test or deployment. The only obvious next step for this catalyst seemed to be planning for the next catalyst whilst waiting for the underpinning technologies to be Telco grade.

I couldn’t help feel that if this were a web scale player, like Amazon, this would be being rapidly rolled out, in a DevOps style, working with a lead customer like Caterpillar based on iterations of minimum viable product … and therein is the problem for Telcos and their suppliers in gaining traction in adjacent industrial markets.

Telstra taking a different approach

Fortunately it would seem some Telcos are changing their approach. This week I have been at the Telstra international analyst day. Here they described an almost identical scenario to the catalyst for inspecting airplane panels after lightning strikes. The critical difference was that the product concept had been developed in active partnership with the airline Qantas, using an iterative approach to development, that majored on delivering minimum viable product. The approach even challenged Telco orthodoxy such as 5 9s availability. The product was not yet live, but it was clear that Telstra had a plan for onward development of this and understood what was important for the customer and what was not.

The Telco industry is failing to realise its “digital” value.

Achieving the theme of the DTW2018 of becoming a Digital Service Provider isn’t about technology and open APIs. It requires a radical change of behaviour within operators to innovating, trialling, collaboration and co-development with customers.

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