Frustration = Opportunity

An opinion post by Simon Woodhead

I sometimes think my world is upside down. Some nights I lie awake pondering the changes this industry has coming and our place in it but then I’m brought crashing down to earth dealing with the day-to-day reality of operating in this industry. Whilst so frustrating there’s a comfort in that reality as we can excel there, yet the scary alternative is so much more in keeping with our values. I’m confused and worry about what I’m worrying about!

Looking over the horizon the voice business is going to see immense change. The value of the minute is depreciating or put more correctly the unit of billing for calls is moving away from the minute. The nature of voice is changing too, and the concept of a call is becoming less distinct with voice embedded into games and as things go forward into apps. Then there’s WebRTC which takes all of this to new levels, potentially removing the phone altogether.

The future is about natural embedded communication and it is challenging to know one’s place in that. Our position is to encourage the change and empower our customers to capitalise on it although doing so at the expense of our core revenue channels poses interesting challenges. Embracing a future which potentially renders today’s business redundant but we’d sooner be in the front-runners of change than hiding at the back with our head in the sand. It’ll be a fun ride at least!

Time-scales are the challenge though. I remember having our business model questioned by a ‘visionary’ in the early 2000′s. In his head the minute was already worthless so where was the business? Well it is still here and still growing strongly whilst we progress towards the change he considered present. I reflect on that when I look at the future as the changes that scare me most are pre-standard, let alone in use even by early adopters. It is easy to think of the future as tomorrow but in reality change takes time, albeit the pace of change continues to accelerate. That said, I do not want us to dismiss the future as too far off to take note. We need to adapt and change because our customers need to adapt and change, both our, and our customers’ competitors, need to copy, and end-users need to learn, demand and embrace. That takes time but if it doesn’t start here, it’ll start elsewhere because the inevitable fact is it’ll start.

All that said, I then come crashing down to the reality of the telecommunications industry. An industry where the dominant players cannot even reliably execute basic administrative functions like processing payments, whose processes are literally in the dark age using systems too big and scary to change. Some embrace modern practice but in a cock-eyed way, for example ‘electronic signature’ means pasting an image of your signature into a Word file. Their marketing departments are embracing the future in talk but the reality is the products that result are the old business model re-spun to look contemporary – see our recent post for an example of that. Then there’s the sell process with ‘the channel’ being huge and vast numbers of resellers filling in forms to sign customers to a service they don’t really understand and telephone mis-selling through outsourced call-centres. Add in a regulator who seemingly wants to prevent progress, an incumbent claiming they own progress, a Government wanting to control progress and the present is actually a damn mess. But, it is a mess in which we and our customers can excel and the things we take for granted like a customer being able to talk to us, buy a service and pay us without a whole bureaucratic mess is actually the future for most!

Our customers insulate end-users from that nonsense I hope, as we do for our own customers, and there’s some comfort that in the present we’re really adding value – if only that if we weren’t here the unimaginable frustrations of dealing with large telcos would fall on our customers.

Whilst it is easy to forget that the mess of the present exists and only look with trepidation at the changes to come we all need to take solace in the fact that we’re truly adding value in protecting people from that mess, and leading the change towards something better. Change will always have casualties – but if there’s any fairness in the world they will be the ones for whom where we (and our customers) are today represents the future!