It was certainly a déjà vu experience at the 5G Asia conference last week when the discussion at a big data analytics panel turned to the continued mindset and cultural gap between mobile operators and the so-called OTT players.
The response from panelists, to the simple question “why are global internet companies ahead in using data analytics?”, took me back to 2006 when I attended my first billing events in the region.
I recall the talk back then of the need for a real mindset shift, to hire people from outside, to change the internal culture, to take on more risks. A decade later, after billing conferences have morphed into CEM (customer experience management) and then to big data events, the themes have generally changed very little.
YLT Communications (Malaysia) CEO Wing Lee bluntly said: “Telcos are used to moving bits, they don’t understand the importance of data. Internet businesses thrive on data. It requires a total mindset change. They [operators] have to go to school and wise up quickly.”
Ahmed Saady Yaamin, VP of business intelligence at Robi Axiata in Bangladesh, argued that it has to do with how telcos interact with their customers compared with the OTT firms. “The lack of customer trust with telcos allows OTTs to gather more personal data and deliver more personal services.”
Users are willing to sign away access to certain personal data, which is the way the internet players generate revenue. Telcos haven’t been able to reach that level of trust with their customers, participants grumbled.
A comment from the audience suggested that the ongoing gap was due in large part to regulatory issues that limit data sharing. But the moderator, Virat Patel, MD of Pioneer Consulting Asia, noted it was important for operators to determine what they can do within these constraints, since they aren’t likely to be removed any time soon.
It was interesting that in the next big data session, Huawei’s Zhang Lufeng claimed that data openness is the key for data monetisation.
The panel was in agreement that it starts with the type of people being hired, but also requires a top-down approach, with top management having to understand the objectives and how to improve analytics. A common problem is that many firms avoid transparency and sharing data between departments and even between executives, which again is a cultural, mindset issue.
Robi’s Yaamin noted that just the fact that most telcos see a call centre as a cost centre is telling. From another point of view, he said a call centre can move to monetising insights gleaned from interactions with customers.
As for the opportunity to sell data to other companies, particularly consumer brands, he insisted that the market is not mature and telcos don’t have that much confidence to move ahead in this area.
Wing from YLT said: “Big data is about action, otherwise it’s just a bunch of guys looking at spreadsheets and a waste of storage space. There has to be a fundamental change to embrace analytics.”
Let’s see if that message has been widely adopted by 2026.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.