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MW Nice 2013 – Innovation through partnerships

Though ‘Management World’ is not the snappiest of monikers, the TM Forum succeeded once again in attracting the great and the good of the BSS/OSS industry for a very busy week on the Côte d’Azur. With a packed programme of keynote presentations, multiple conference streams, catalyst projects and a substantial expo hall, the only challenge for delegates is fitting everything in.

First up in the opening keynote, Gervais Pellissier, CEO Delegate from France Telecom-Orange, spoke pragmatically about the challenges faced in their business, admitting that young people simply regard telecoms as a utility. He also highlighted a key Telco strength “we know how to make people pay, we bill them every month” but acknowledged that they have struggled to succeed in broadening their offerings, citing a fruitless investment of €600m in producing their own IPTV content. Overall Pellissier was charming and spoke with humility, but his comments seemed to underline their problems rather than presenting solutions or a realistic vision for the future.

Next up, Ben Verwaayen, former CEO of both Alcatel-Lucent and BT, similarly talked about the need for change, and described CSPs as “like the oil industry - we are an ingredient to make other people successful”. But this brought the conversation inevitably back to the subject of ‘dumb pipes’ and the need to be smarter. The same old problems, but again without any concrete solutions.

Thankfully, these industry stalwarts were followed by a more dynamic and diverse mix of innovators less entrenched in the Telco ecosystem and much better equipped to provide the insight and inspiration for a befuddled audience:

Jon Waldron from Commonwealth Bank of Australia presented a compelling story of their transformation to using cloud technology, with real quantified benefits. For example, infrastructure spend as a proportion of overall IT spend has dropped from 50% to 26% in 6 years, and they are now able to rollout approx. 3 times the number of software changes on a monthly basis. Impressive stuff.

Vinay Vaidya, Chief Medical Information Officer (I love that job title!) at Phoenix Children’s Hospital presented some great insights into the evolution of eHealthcare and mHealthcare services, and demonstrated what role CSPs can play in providing the resilient communications networks needed to support these vital services.

Neil Ward, General Manager Global Business Operations at Skype, appeared on stage initially as something of a pantomime villain – the ultimate OTT provider and ‘arch enemy’ of the CSP. But having goaded the traditional Telco audience with the phenomenal success story that is Skype, his presentation turned into an open invitation for CSPs to come and partner with Skype and create more compelling offerings together.

And finally, Steve Mills, CIO of Rackspace, spoke at length about the benefits of cloud computing and then also used his keynote slot to try and woo the CSP audience into partnership opportunities. Whilst many CSPs are scrambling to gain a position in the cloud ecosystem, partnering with an established cloud provider will be an interesting idea for some I’m sure. However, it struck me as a very simplistic vision to suggest that CSPs could just slot Rackspace straight into their IT architectures and suddenly be agile in their cloud offerings!

I’ve been participating in Telco industry events now for over 15 years, and I have an increasing feeling of déjà vu about conference keynotes. There’s not much that hasn’t been said before by the main CSP figureheads, and consequently the view from outside the industry in, is generally far more interesting and inspiring than from the inside out.

That is with one exception.

Wednesday morning’s keynote opened with Stephen Shurrock, CEO New Business Ventures at Telefónica Digital. Though I have seen Shurrock speak twice before, each time he has presented the story has moved on considerably. Last November his focus was on Telefónica’s big data business – Telefónica Dynamic Insights; this time round he talked about their new pay as you drive insurance service in partnership with Generali, as well as the growing success of their TU Go cloud-based phone service. He also talked about partnering with Mozilla for Firefox phones, healthcare trials in Brazil and of ‘smart city’ activities in Santander.

Big data, insurance, cloud applications, handsets, healthcare, smart cities…is there anything Telefónica Digital can’t do?

Shurrock is an excellent presenter, and the Telefónica Digital story is evolving all the time. Unlike many CSPs who are sinking in the “digital storm”, Telefónica Digital is out there riding the waves and showing that CSPs really can be innovative. I for one hope they reap the rewards of their bold strategy, and with a bit of luck they’ll pull the rest of the industry along with them.

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