Serving up next-generation telco services with fast, flexible IT

By Cat Yong

The telco industry isn’t the thriving industry it used to be half a decade ago, with industry growth rates, a dismal 2-4% year on year, according to research by some analysts.

This year, at the sidelines of Oracle’s annual global conference Oracle OpenWorld (OOW), Celcom Axiata’s Chief Corporate and Operations Officer (CCOO), Suresh Sidhu found time to share about top challenges in the telco industry, and how Celcom is using IT to tackle them and remain relevant.

He immediately identified, “The challenge is to find growth in a market where there is increasing competition from traditional telcos and over-the-top (OTT) players.”

As if that isn’t enough, evolved network technologies and mass adoption of 3G, mobile devices and applications, have raised customer expectations and radically changed their consumption behaviour. 

Suresh explained, “We call it going from ‘walk and talk’ to ‘sit and play’. Mobility now has to serve stationary needs in a big way, and it’s around data in particular – you need your mobile to now serve you well when you are sitting at one place for 30 to 40 minutes.”

Suresh Sidhu

Interestingly for the biggest mobile service provider in Malaysia, there is still healthy growth from voice which Suresh attributes to Celcom’s voice resuscitation efforts and active engagement with customers.

“We are the only telco to still run campaigns around voice,” he shared, which reflected Celcom’s all-encompassing approach to the market, given that users of OTT service, WhatsApp, on their data network, could peak as high as 150,000 in a day.

It would seem Celcom had decided to make their network work a little harder.

Suresh admitted that another challenge is provide the type of network that is multi-access for customers. “We have to make sure we have the fastest and most stable mobile data access across our network in tandem with WiFi and home fixed solutions… we have to extend the Celcom brand to be available for the occasions when customers need them.”

Massive transformation
Having to be much more data and digitally-savvy requires providing a much more excellent data experience. “We are innovating around customers’ digital experience,” said Suresh.

He opined, “Celcom is very much focused on customers. And to be customer-centric means being very embedded in technology. We have had a massive tech transformation. For instance, we are now in the final stages of a nationwide network transformation so everything is now single RAN (radio access network). This consolidates our network infrastructure to one vendor in any particular location so that handover quality between base stations is better. “

“Now, we can also house a base station in a single cabinet, so upgrades can be software-based which is faster and more flexible.”

But the most significant transformation is Celcom’s increasingly fiberised backhaul and its single and integrated packet core with increased capacity. Suresh shared, “We have started transitioning to the new packet core, which enables us to offer a whole range of new services no matter what type of access the customer is using, be it LTE, 2G/3G, WiFi, and so on. This is a huge deal as many telcos still prefer to run separate data cores for their services.”

However, this huge upgrade to ready their network infrastructure to better serve customers has had to have an accompanying transformation for Celcom’s IT systems as well.

IT refresh
Suresh added, “We must have fast and flexible IT. If you look at traditional telcos, IT is not a central topic but instead treated as enterprise applications. But in the last 2 to 3 years, IT systems are increasingly enabling customer-centricity.”

All this is due to customers having more fluid and changing needs. “For example, we must have a very flexible approach to running campaigns, billing, innovating, and setting tariffs … basically, offering a differentiated customer experience.  If a telco doesn’t have that, it is going to have significant problems with future customers.”

So since 2009, IT was refreshed considerably in 3 major areas – billing, analytics & campaign management, and front-end BSS (business support systems).

“We take the suite approach rather than giving piecemeal parts to different vendors. We look to turnkey providers because we can get solutions fast and flexibly while the vendor takes care of the end-to-end implementation,” Suresh said, adding that they turn to Oracle for their BSS and front-end customer refresh.

The first phase of their implementation entailed a single, integrated multi-channel system by Oracle which touches different channels including call centres, retail channels, e-commerce portals, customer service portals, order management and more.

A second and more aggressive phase, expected to be completed by March 2014, would entail integrating the foundation BSS solution with back-end billing and policy management, which enables a customer self-service function.  For the customer, this means empowering them to be able to activate new lines or services over the Internet, for example. Some of this is already available – customers can now perform top-ups directly from the Celcom website.

“The system has gone live since June and 30% of our customers are already on it. I think self-service is a major trend. Customers want choice,” said Suresh who had also added Celcom is going to enable more customer-friendly self-service tools directly to their mobile devices in the coming months.

Basically, a customer could start engaging Celcom at any one of the above touch points, and complete it at another touch point. “The key thing is to give customers a multi-channel experience, all while ensuring that customer service will have one single view of the customer.”

But the new BSS solution is also helping overcome shortcomings of legacy systems. According to Suresh, the case with traditional BSS multi-vendor implementations is they are usually not scalable and do not offer a standard view of the customer. According to Suresh, it is also difficult to manage access rights to different levels of information in the system. However, Celcom’s suite approach and Oracle’s scalable solution enables upgrades to be done consistently across all channels.

He added, “New products are easier to publish to all these channels, so there is faster go-to-market. When you start to manage these things, it is much more holistic and is in a structured fashion.”

A tech and human capital success story

“We started the project in June last year and went live in September 2013.  Not one single delegate at Oracle OpenWorld could believe that we did it so fast!” said Suresh.

Suresh, who is also the chairman of the transformation project steering committee, opined, “It can happen if you take a suite-based approach, and focus on out-of-the-box capability which Oracle has very strong experience in, and then focus on standardisation and have good partners for delivery such as we have in Accenture and Oracle, to drive it through.”

Celcom had also invested a lot in a new IT team with global capabilities that has helped in its rapid transformation delivery, including the appointment of key people with experience in transformation projects. “You need to continuously refresh what you do. I guarantee nobody will find a similar scale of tech transformation done in a fairly short time. It usually takes 3 to 4 years,” said Suresh.

“As a leader for transformation, one needs to be a little tough but also very encouraging. If you set people a crazy goal coupled with commitment from management, it can get done,” he added.

With the core IT transformation essentially completed next March, Celcom wants next to focus on digital transformation, customer experience and mobility.

Suresh ended by summarising their pipeline of services and priorities over the next year. “The thing we want to really move with is mobility. We want to make the customer experience such that you can more easily interact with Celcom through true communication mobility, wherever and whenever you are.

“It’s a natural progression.”

There are no comments

Add yours