Telcos have a key role to play in Business 4.0, the profound technology-driven transformation making our world more agile, intelligent and automated.

They not only provide their own digital products and services but also the essential connectivity infrastructure that allows other sectors to function and grow in the digital economy.

But with the pace of change within the telecommunications industry accelerating as the tech sector continues to disrupt existing business models, telcos need to embrace innovation at all levels and keep it at the heart of their strategic thinking.

Automation and agility

TalkTalk is a leading UK value provider for consumer and B2B customers. A FTSE-listed company, it prides itself in being fast-moving and agile with an almost start-up like culture.

For example, when the company recently realised that its 600 software engineers were running 22 different methodologies for delivering software it decided to quickly address the situation.

Through a rapid transformation, the number of methodologies was reduced to just three – allowing the company to be infinitely more agile and responsive to new challenges. It is this kind of rapid, innovative push for solutions that drives TalkTalk’s approach to problem solving.

Philip Clayson, TalkTalk’s Technology Director, says automation has also been a transformative experience for the company, especially in the area of systems testing.

“We had a lot of manual testing  in our software teams … we’ve introduced and invested in software tools to improve that position, to reduce the amount of manual testing and to run effectively a development team 24/7. We test automatically while people are sleeping and that’s a great cost and time saving for us.”

Early adoption

Genuine innovation always entails a degree of risk, and that’s something telcos need to become comfortable with. In such a fast-moving sector, early adoption of new technology is essential if a company is going to stay competitive.

When TalkTalk decided to use Pega’s adaptive, cloud-architected software, it was opting for a system that entailed a significant investment but which wasn’t widely used in the industry at the time.

The software is highly customisable and so sat well with the company’s desire to be agile and innovative, and TCS helped TalkTalk embed the Pega system and ensure the transition ran smoothly. Several years down the line it is clear that the risk of early adoption has been more than worth it.

“It underpins the customer service and net promoter score improvements that we’ve made over the years,” says Philip Clayson. “It’s a simpler technology for our contact centres to use and the case management that Pega brings is very important in making sure if a customer wishes to upgrade, or if they do have a problem, then we can execute very quickly on whatever it is they wish us to help them with.”

Technical debt

Just as adopting new technology is vital for telcos, so is getting rid of older technology which no longer serves its purpose.

TalkTalk uses the term ‘tech[nical] debt’ to describe systems that it would rather have replaced or switched off but hasn’t been able to.

After a series of significant acquisitions, TalkTalk found it was carrying several parallel systems which meant higher operational risks and higher costs. To address this situation the board asked Philip to slash tech debt in half within 18 months.

During that time, many older systems were phased out or upgraded and Philip says the benefits have been ‘absolutely phenomenal’.

“Tech debt has an environmental cost in terms of power and air con,” says Philip. “It has a footprint cost in terms of space, especially if it’s infrastructure, it has a legacy cost in terms of running old platforms and it has a people cost because you’re asking engineers to work on software and systems, which are old and that isn’t as exciting as the newer technologies.  So, removing as much of that technical debt as possible is a win at every level.”

Of course, when an entire company is running more smoothly the customer wins too.

Built-in innovation

Innovation isn’t something to be thought of periodically, or even frequently. It is something that needs to be borne in mind constantly – a theory TalkTalk has been determinedly putting into practice.

To thrive, telcos need to continually innovate – whether that’s identifying new technology that will power a leap forward or getting rid of an outdated system holding things back.

Operating as they do within one of the most competitive, dynamic sectors in the world, telcos need to build innovation into their very fabric.

Despite huge disruption, opportunities still exist for those willing to accept the challenge to permanently innovate.