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Technology has always played an important role in our lives. From helping us carry out our daily tasks to working more efficiently in the office, it has made our lives easier in some way or another.

The importance of alleviating technology has never been more in focus than it has lately. Businesses and digital innovators worldwide are working assiduously to hammer out an action plan to gather data and learn how to ensure business continuity in the era COVID-19 and beyond.

CSG is a leading provider of software and services that help companies monetize and digitally enable the customer experience, and therefore plays a vital role in the current climate. CSG realizes that digital connectivity in the time of COVID-19 has become a lifeline for using data, consuming content and engaging in digital applications by individuals, governments and businesses to ensure continuity of economic and social activities in light of social distancing and the complete lockdown in most countries of the world.

Telecom Review managed to secure an interview with CSG’s James Kirby, Senior Vice President & Head of EMEA, to discuss how the company is leading its clients through their pressured digital transformation journey in response to the global pandemic.

In your opinion, how did the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the need for digital transformation?

I think it has had a profound and unprecedented impact on both the customer and employee experience.

The pandemic has driven a major shift in how customers engage with most companies, from physical to predominantly digital. The global lockdown has made digital services more important than ever before since interacting in person is no longer a viable option. These digital services might be provided by your telecom provider, by the government, or simply by one of the food delivery services.

We have seen some real innovation in the use of digital technology in recent months. For example, police officers are using smart helmets with thermal cameras, face recognition, license plate scanners enabling easy identification of people violating lockdown protocol without carrying the necessary permits.

I think COVID-19 has pressure tested many companies’ ability to support the new normal, which is in essence a distributed, remote and online digital experience. Companies have responded to this and made rapid pivots to digital engagement and accelerated years’ worth of transformation in a matter of weeks and months. Organizations had to rapidly innovate and transform to support their employees as well, who are now working remotely as call-centers, offices, and shops have closed.  

On top of this, organizations had to rapidly provide innovative approaches for managing increased online demand and supporting customers remotely, putting in place technology and working practices to enable virtual call-centers, changing working practices in warehouses, and increasing delivery capacity.

They also had to fundamentally re-think how they accelerate and innovate across all digital transformation programmes. By operating in a more distributed manner, the need for virtual meetings and online collaboration tools increased. We really should not underestimate the cultural changes our clients have endured and will continue to face as they adapt to new ways of working.

So the race to transform customer experience and business models in a rapidly evolving digital world has never been more critical to business survival. Keeping a swift pace is important, but it is vital for all companies to learn how to check for blind spots where hastily implemented changes may be creating unintended consequences downstream in the business and creating friction in the customer journey.

It is important to balance a strategic, holistic approach with fast tactical activities. Companies that failed to make progress on their digital transformation journey are being left behind at a far higher rate than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the main pillars of digital transformation?

From my perspective there are six key pillars to digital transformation:

  1. Strategy – This is about establishing a clear and coherent vision of what “being digital” means to both the business and its customers. While it does not need to be an all-encompassing definition, there is a need to have a clear direction and articulate how the change will be realised.
  2. Experience – Companies need to define and deliver a consistent digital experience across all digitally enabled channels, which is intuitive and easy to understand. The digital experience needs to reflect both customers and employees.
  3. Operational efficiency – One of the key pillars of digital transformation is driving greater operational efficiency. We are increasingly seeing business processes being automated and applications being integrated, enhancing the digital experience while removing the human element. Companies are increasingly looking to deploy more intelligent solutions and embrace the power of AI, including rolling out solutions like chatbots and other conversation AI components. I would expect to see a further reduction in the level of human interaction in operational processes, increasingly being limited to the “high value” moments of truth. 
  4. Digital insights – As companies embrace digital customer engagement, they collect more and more insights about their customers and their behaviours. Companies are increasingly able to use these insights to optimise business processes and strategies. Data-driven insights can also help companies understand their customers better, making more informed automated decisions, create business strategies and enhance the overall digital experience.
  5. Products/services –  Digital transformation is not just about how you sell; it needs to consider what you sell as well. Companies will need to increasingly think about the new digital services their customers are demanding and how they can monetise them. This will go beyond just selling connectivity.
  6. Digital culture – Digital transformation cannot survive without the right company culture. It is not purely about implementing new technologies or automating processes. It is about building a digital mindset, which focuses on both the customer and employee experience. This approach is collaborative, embraces new technologies and encourages innovative thinking.  Companies will need to think about how they develop their employee’s skillsets and knowledge base to enable them to excel in the new digital workplace.

At what levels can CSG accompany businesses to achieve digital transformation?

Several telco operators that CSG works with have little experience in how to get started with launching a “digital” line of business. 

At CSG, we have the proven solutions to enable our customers to become digitally enabled, next-generation telecom providers almost overnight, driven by four key pillars: customer experience, customer interactions, customer insights and digital monetisation.

  • Our customer experience practice is market-leading, which is about more than digital transformation. We ensure that the new digital experience is tailored to our client’s customer.
  • Our intelligent customer communications solutions enable all customer journeys from buying to service assurance, using Conversational AI to deliver chat and assistant-based engagement. Our Journey Orchestration solution provides orchestrated smart and targeted communications.
  • CSG Dash, our data platform, provides visualisation, analytics and machine learning to support next-generation analysis and digital campaigns.
  • Our Digital BSS platforms provide a consolidated digital monetisation and revenue management solution, centred on a digitally focused, centralised product catalogue.

How do you view the state of digital in the Middle East and Africa compared to other regions?

Historically, we have seen less cloud adoption in these regions, but many major vendors have established their data centres in the region in the last year.

According to the IDC, public cloud spending in the Middle East, Turkey & Africa (META) is predicted to grow from $2.8 billion this year to $6.5 billion in 2024. Some sectors, such as banking and telecom, are still heavily regulated, and there is also often a preference for on-premise implementations.

Will we see an acceleration of digital transformation initiatives in MEA and at the level of what sectors?  

Yes, indeed, almost all businesses are now looking at how they can enhance their customer engagement with digital transformation. COVID-19 has helped to fast-track digital transformation by shining light on a future where we might work more from home and generally practice more social distancing.

We should, however, note one aspect which may temporarily reduce the execution rate of government megaprojects as compared to other regions. The global lockdown, travel restrictions and many people working from home have had a negative impact on oil prices.

Some geographies reliant on stable oil prices are keeping a close watch on these developments. But the same geographies also wisely see that the future belongs to digital, smart societies, which is why the investment into digital transformation will continue with a remarkable intensity. Such investments already laid the foundation to better cope with COVID-19 working conditions.

In telecom, we have seen operators take different paths to digital transformation and improving customer experience through all steps of engagement.

  • We have seen cases where the telco tries to maintain the systems of record and just purely apply a new digital layer on top as a refresh. While this approach might work, often there are underlying issues throughout the legacy stack, hampering both the time to market and providing a superior customer experience.
  • The second scenario we have seen is the creation of a new brand supported by a very light BSS stack. While this option might seem attractive at first glance to quickly enable digital transformation, it is a shortcut that may not pay off. There may be issues moving the rest of the subscribers over to such a lightweight stack as typically functionality may be missing and there is a need for extensive integration. Adding yet another stack to maintain without solving the underlying problem goes against the principle of simplification as an important part of digital transformation.
  • The third scenario involves creating a complete greenfield adjacent stack, ensuring the new stack is as pre-integrated as possible. This reduces the risks associated with the coexistence of legacy systems and protects the new offering from any pre-existing issues. A complete greenfield adjacent stack solves the underlying issues with a complex legacy stack, while also enabling all subscribers to smoothly move to the new stack and be completely part of the digital initiative.
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