Telcos struggle to adopt unified digital strategy in era of CTIO

A study by TM Forum has found that telecommunications firms are struggling to adopt a single technology strategy comprising both IT and network elements, despite a general acknowledgement that a unified approach is essential for Digital Transformation and 5G.

This unification of network and IT strategies is a response to the requirement to meet growing demand for capacity and data, while also trying to ensure the rapid rollout of new services and capabilities. Technology enables network innovation and so there is a need for convergence.

The role of CTO and CIO is increasingly converging into the single position of CTIO, which is responsible for ensuring that the activities of the network and IT teams is aligned. However, the study found this was easier said than done.

Changing role

“A decade ago, the demarcation between the CTO and CIO roles was clear and obvious: The CTO was responsible for the technical delivery and operation of the network, while the CIO’s domain was to provide the IT systems used by staff and customer-facing systems,” said Catherine Haslam, Senior Analyst, TM Forum.

“A labyrinth of complexity sits behind a simple title change. The differences in skills, tools, timescales, working practices, not to mention culture, is vast. The modern CSP technology leader is a rare breed who crosses many skill-set barriers.

“Not only merging IT skills and engineering knowledge, but also embracing characteristics more traditionally associated with business leaders, marketing teams and strategy advisors. Where once the technology leader was judged by throughput speeds, capacity gains and coverage, today’s CTIO is often rewarded based on meeting business objectives, not technical key performance indicators (KPIs).”

Four major tech trends are cited as driving this convergence: network evolution and virtualisation, moving Operational Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS) to the cloud, demand for service innovation and the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data.

Biggest challenge

The single biggest challenge cited by telco technology leaders is the migration of OSS to the cloud. Half of respondent said that just 5 per cent of all OSS had been migrated despite a belief that 50 per cent would be moved within three years.

Some believe that vendors are not doing enough to help, especially with regards to DevOps and an multi-vendor approach to virtualisation.

“Network evolution and virtualization is complicated. It involves not only changes in behavior from CSPs and its technology leaders, but also in the vendor community,” added Haslam. “Just like CSPs, suppliers must change the way they develop, deliver and charge for products and services.”

A separate report from TM Forum found that European telcos are lagging behind whe it comes to the use of advanced analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Just 11 per cent of communications service providers (CSPs) on the continent make use of real time data to drive customer interactions compared to 20 per cent worldwide, while there is a gap in critical areas such as fraud detection, collections and personalisation.

“Mobile operators are under pressure to become data-driven to improve their decision-making and profitability,” said Mark Newman, chief analyst at TM Forum. “As they start to explore artificial intelligence and machine learning, CSPs need to take a holistic approach and find opportunities and use cases across the customer lifecycle. This is how the battle for customer loyalty will be waged.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.