Tune in to the big picture and you'll see that the implementation of next-generation network access technologies by network operators to support ultra-broadband initiatives have far-reaching benefits that are the foundation for unparalleled improvements in service delivery, customer support and new offerings.
Customer speeds, while extremely important, are only part of that vision. In a world of churn, loyalty counts. And service providers recognize that providing high-speed upstream and downstream bandwidth is a base requirement to retain residential and business customers.
UBB2020 Editor Alison Diana spoke recently with George Nazi, a longtime telecom operator veteran who now is managing director for Accenture Digital Transformation, and his colleague Raghu Puri, managing directing in the consulting firm's Communications, Media and Technology operating group, to discuss some of the trends they see.
Accenture's Raghu Puri: "What are the incremental services or the high-bandwidth services that you can enable now as a result of the high-bandwidth technologies companies are investing in?"
Following is an edited transcript of that conversation:
UBB2020: How do service providers begin to address customer experience?
George Nazi: With these journeys you always want to start with the client trigger and finish with the client trigger, which means there are a lot of processes that cut across the entire firm -- all the way from the sales organization to customer service to the product organization to operations [and] engineering. There are two pillars. One is, how do I do it in a mechanical way by looking at them in a Lean 6 Sigma approach... Even in my BT days, more than ten years ago, they really helped... by looking at the entire process, looking at the defects, how do I remove it, what should be onshore/offshore, how do I improve it, leveraging a lot of these sensors in order to remove the defect and enhance the capability. The second area is all about... automation, robotics, analytics and finally artificial intelligence, where you go from reacting to a customer experience or incident or request to smartly predicting what the customer might want and try to make it happen before the customer might ask for it. This is the new thing that's now taking place across operators and an area that we're seeing with our larger clients: How do we leverage analytics? How do we try to take it from reactive to proactive? How do I ensure the field forces are smart?
UBB2020: How do new network access technologies help service providers achieve their customer satisfaction improvements?
Raghu Puri: We look at it on two dimensions. What are the incremental services or the high-bandwidth services that you can enable now as a result of the high-bandwidth technologies that companies are investing in, such as XGS or DOCSIS 3.1 or even 5G as an alternate access methodology? That is one element of customer experience, which is new products, new features, integrated experiences that you can now do, which are really centered now around video, because that's the highest bandwidth service that's consuming the network. And the other is the customer experience, in terms of enabling better support and better technician capability so when the person shows up at the house to do the service, they are empowered not only with the tools and diagnostics they may have, but also -- using communications methods back to the home office, if you will -- to identify problems and situations they can't resolve and getting the remote help.
On top of that we also have concepts around user experience-based testing as opposed to just network-based metrics testing. So we have some assets that we are using, and a lot of clients are starting to use, for example, when you measure successful video, when you measure successful service, are you looking at pure metrics -- signal optimization and so on -- or are you really looking at what somebody's watching on the screen, which is a higher order of bandwidth consumption, which then justifies the higher investment they have made in the access network?
UBB2020: Are there different challenges when it comes to upstream versus downstream?
RP: In terms of consumption, absolutely. Video is still the killer app that consumes the maximum amount of bandwidth: about 70% of downstream traffic is all video. It's also starting to creep up in terms of upstream traffic, as a lot of people are creating personalized streams or personalized consumption.
When it comes to the actual monitoring and management of it, it does start to get pretty complicated with [residential customers]. You've got multiple choke points. It's fragmented, but the expectation is people are moving to a single device offering, which is what for example Comcast has done with its XGI platform. And then all the services that are being rendered within the house -- whether it's a broadband service or a video service or an entertainment service or connected home services -- all of that being consumed in some kind of an integrated service experience is critical to enhance what the consumer is experiencing. But at the same time it is very important to monitor and manage each component of it as well as the integrated service in order to be able to isolate problems in advance of rolling the truck.
UBB2020: What are some of the questions service providers must ask in order to leverage their ultra-broadband investments and improve customer experience?
RP: How do you do better device management? How do you do better application performance management? How do you do better isolation of network metrics that support the application of the device performance so you can eliminate all of those things or actually identify problems that might be resulting in the house before you have to discuss a truck roll?
I'll give you an example of some work we have done with one of our clients where we looked at the home Wi-Fi network as a potential problem point based on all the services that are going on in the house. Today in an average house you've got 25 to 30 IP addresses. A lot of these devices are connecting to each other across a Wi-Fi network. Being able to isolate on whether it's a device or application-performance problem, or is it network location happening on the house Wi-Fi network -- something that's as simple as a channel change or relocating the device in order to get better performance for the type of service that device is rendering is a significant value-add. Being able to monitor, manage and resolve them and offset the need to roll the truck makes for a significant saving and good application for the service provider.
UBB2020: Where does artificial intelligence fit into operators' new infrastructure plans and the focus on customer experience?
GN: What has changed in the last few decades is the fact that storage and compute have grown massively with respect to the reduction in cost and the fact they're extremely available, which is why AI is becoming very prevalent. You take the capability of AI... and you allow this to run, whether upstream or downstream, to start creating preferences based on the user and then enable a lot of these service capabilities. The capability is there. It's now how do we find the right data, the analytics, make sure it's the correct data and then allow this to run and compare it to real life in order to allow the machine to drive the preferences, whether it's upstream or downstream.
UBB2020: Are operators at the start of their predictive analytics and AI journeys, given they now are upgrading infrastructure?
GN: We are indeed at the beginning. As an operator, even when we build greenfield networks, we end up with 20%, 30% data integrity between the customer information, inventory, planned versus build. Of course, number one, is fix the basics. Let us make sure we have correct data, and data integrity is resolved.
Now, what's happening with NFV, SDN and the whole virtualization capability says you need to have this data corrected in order to know what you can virtualize, how you're going to orchestrate, what you're going to build on and the automation -- and the fact you're going to have intelligent networks providing these data pools -- is solely the first layer.
Once you're able to have that data pool -- eliminating the silos, have analytics run on that data pool -- it starts facilitating... now you can start using AI to predict. If AI is running on corrupt data, it's difficult to get the right information. It's like a human: You give me the wrong information, I might come to the wrong conclusion. You cannot blame the machine if the data is wrong. Fix the basics. Let us use the science. Use analytics. Eliminate organizational boundaries and silos. Then start riding it. Everyone is starting to get that and we're seeing a lot of requests around this capability.
UBB2020: How would you describe how operators are pulling together all these capabilities -- next-generation network access, ultra-broadband, cloud and virtualization, analytics and AI?
RP: It is a combination of data acquisition, normalization and then within that, integrity and... on top of it are the interpretive and implementation layers. We are looking at the analytics in three dimensions. One is consumption analytics: Looking at what subscribers are watching or consuming from a service standpoint and how they use that information in helping the service providers cross-sell, up-sell and create better experiences for users so they can offer then richer experiences in terms of service offerings. The second is performance analytics, which is around how is the application, the device, the network performing in support of the service in order to do a better job in terms of resolve and improve the overall service experience. The third dimension is the relationship service providers must have with their ecosystem... identifying what content is being consumed because they have to pay for that content and how to optimize that in order for them to do a better job of negotiating backend in contracts and so on.
Analytics is such a high focus area right now across our clients because previously they realize they'd been very focused on reporting and now they need to focus more on insight and proactive activities around leveraging those insights with automation and machine learning.
UBB2020: How is today's landscape impacting operators' decision making?
VR Gets Real
Accenture's George Nazi: "We started to incorporate virtual reality into technicians' glasses not only to minimize visits or to ensure it's one visit, but also to enhance collaboration between the technician and the center in case he runs into problems."
RP: Companies are either coming together or recognizing they desperately have to transform themselves faster, because the digital companies like Google and Facebook are effectively coming across the top to their customers and establishing a direct relationship, which will cannibalize their ability to monetize their existing customer base.
UBB2020: How are standards, and the move by service providers away from proprietary systems, impacting integration efforts?
RP:The whole premise has been you are starting to build [next generation systems] on standard technologies and capabilities that come from industry. The challenge is cobbling them all together. It's not just putting them all together but determining what real information is needed to effectively run the business... and bringing that all together, combined with the complexity of the legacy data pool that may exist.
For example, we are working with a client who has about 15 different data sources that have come through a multitude of different acquisitions over the years, then bringing it all together into a normalized data lake... that is then transformed into a set of logic that applies for running the business and creating specific rules that are for enterprise services or for their residential services. [We are] taking them through that whole exercise of assessment, then product selection, then implementation, while recognizing that there are legacy platforms and solutions they already have, as nobody's going to throw out the orders of investment they've made over the years. But what is more important is evolving that to adapt to the current environment. Then put it all together into a pre-integrated service they can use while they're managing their existing business, which is being transformed in-flight.
UBB2020: How does the service providers' focus on service agility affect customer experience, which also must be agile?
GN: As we drive improvements -- whether it's in the processes or the downstream organizations or in customer care or operations -- by removing defects, you really see the one-for-one impact of the improvement in customer experience, especially if customer experiences are done via a survey. Clients only respond to the survey when they are dissatisfied. We believe you really need to do this in a much more digital way.
By incorporating design thinking, and white boarding it, and going through the entire journey with a much more agile approach, it helps operators think in a totally different way. It's a similar experience to when the iPhone came out and you could configure your phone with plug-and-play. Everyone started talking about the iPhone experience versus the traditional phone and it really took over the market.
RP: We've been looking at the different user experiences as they pertain to the house, so whether it is previously entertainment, connectivity and Internet -- all discrete services -- but now bringing them all together so you are able to have an integrated service.
The second is the technician experience, which has changed dramatically over time. Not only is there predictability of the technician, the ability to show up at a certain time, but there is also an Uber-like app that tells you where the technician is, where and when they're likely to show up and you've got other applications when the technician shows up so they're fully enabled with a set of performance and diagnostic tools, not only to troubleshoot your complex environment, which the home has become now, but also to be able to use things like variables in order to communicate back to the home office. The remote worker has the tools and capabilities that they have, but at the same time they're able to communicate back with a specialist who's sitting in a central office, who's looking through Google Glass and able to walk them through the specific steps of some unique situation where this technician has not been trained sufficiently. The quicker the issues can be addressed and resolved, and going the extra mile for the service experience... all these things improve the value of the service and, therefore, a better, sticky relationship with the service provider.
UBB2020: Because ultra-broadband is becoming more accessible to technicians, how can this improve support?
GN: We started to incorporate virtual reality into technicians' glasses not only to minimize visits or to ensure it's one visit, but also to enhance collaboration between the technician and the center in case he runs into problems. Using Google Glasses he can see exactly what he needs to fix while he's at the client and it's easy for him to fix the problem. That's what we're calling the digital worker. From a customer service perspective, when the client calls in he canů take a picture of his setup if he wants to do a self-fix and have the agent work with him on the spot, in a collaborative way.
UBB2020: And of course, this saves providers money too...
RP: At my house, I had a first technician show up, and then two other people he was coaching showed up to get some more information. From a monetary standpoint, that is a service disaster for the service provider. Each call is $100 a pop. Think about how long it's going to take to offset that truck roll, even from the bill you're paying. For all those reasons, operators need technology not just to enhance the customer experience but also to impact the cost of operations and the time to resolve an issue, because all of that links together in terms of financial impact to the service provider as well as perception impact as it relates to the client's view of working with somebody who's got leading edge technology and cares about delivering the best service experience.
UBB2020: Do larger providers have any edge over smaller operators on adopting ultra-broadband and new customer experience initiatives?
GN: All operators should be doing this; if anything it's a major differentiation. Many times smaller operators are the ones that try to differentiate themselves by trying to come up with something a lot more digital, that drives customer preferences. I don't think it's limited to the large operators. Of course the big operators have the brand, which helps tremendously, which puts probably more pressure on the smaller ones to differentiate themselves with customer experience, which is important for improving the stickiness of the client, the revenue and all the other services you can offer.
RP: Whatever it takes, whether you are small or large, you have to retain that connection and that subscriber relationship because it is under attack from various dimensions -- either from over-the-top service providers or alternate access providers that are trying to take over that connection and the subscriber.