From an innovation perspective, I have always been convinced that “the language we use defines the horizons of our imagination” and so it struck a chord with me when I read in a recent ITU document that “voice calls are no longer the preferred communication mechanism between people”.
This phraseology implies peril for the telecoms industry and a golden opportunity for the internet world. Voice is, however, still the preferred mechanism of human communication but voice calls via a fixed or mobile telephone system are now not the only option available.
This glass half full, myopic misperception leads me to suggest that the business models of telcos are overly focused on the delivery of “coms”. While this has been a highly successful strategy throughout the 20th century, it is rapidly running out of steam as the internet world and telecoms collide to create the new mobile cloud world of today.
Maybe we should learn from Max Frisch (1911-1991), the Swiss author and critic, who said: “We live in an age of reproduction. Most of what makes up our personal picture of the world we have never seen with our own eyes—or rather we have seen it with our own eyes, but not on the spot: our knowledge comes to us from a distance, we are tele-viewers, tele-hearers, tele-knowers”.
So is it time to pivot this focus? Given the colossal change that convergence has forced within a concatenated time frame, the answer should most definitely be “yes”. The challenge for the telecoms industry is to shift its mindset to focus less on the delivery of “coms” and innovatively focus on “tele” – literally meaning “at a distance”. This demands a focus on innovation that leverages the assets already in place, the layered technology developments of the last 5 years as well as the new ones that are emerging; most importantly, a focus on the evolution of global consumer and business usage needs and patterns. It means combining capabilities and services to “enable engagement over distance”. Now the question to ask is: what is it that tele-consumers and tele-enterprises really need in this 3.0 world?
As an entrepreneur, I have learnt much over the past five years about the concepts and practices of lean startups, and I realize that some of the challenges they face are very often closely aligned to those of the telecoms companies: namely, having to pivot and adopt a change in strategy without changing the vision, as well as creating multiple iterations of minimum viable solutions to solve customers’ real problems; in essence, getting back to what mobile operators were doing naturally in the early days of cellular. This may require smaller out-boarded organizations but, more importantly, a return of the visionary leaders and problem solvers to replace the accountants and managers before they succumb to the same fate that awaits many startups – running out of resources!
So, in conclusion, the ITU World 2013 panel on innovation that I am moderating is about the need for new mindsets and a reevaluation of the telecoms landscape, chiefly because the current map and strategy no longer accurately represent a territory that has been ripped up by the convergence forces of the last five years. I have no doubt that innovation will thrive in the converged industry but the questions still remain: who will the players be and where will this innovation come from?