The faint whiff of sweat greeting visitors as they entered the Acropolis Convention Centre in Nice to attend this year’s TM Forum Live could have been a consequence of the enhanced level of security this year – or the result of a slight sense of anxiety pervading the show floor.

Digital transformation was again a dominant theme, but there was a sense time is running out for the telecoms industry to really get to grips with this complex task. Not that the industry is standing still: telco executives such as Deutsche Telekom’s Erik Meijer painted a picture of operators which are turning everything on its head to ensure they not only transform their operations in order to meet changing customer demands and the over-the-top challenge, but do it in a sustainable way.

Meijer, who is responsible for digital transformation among many other aspects at the German telco, spoke of a new corporate culture that is sweeping away traditional ways of working, with hot-desking now de rigueur even for CEO Timo Hottges.

People and culture are fundamental to this transformation process, Meijer explained – a belief echoed by a number of spokespeople including Bouke Hoving, KPN’s EVP of simplification and innovation, and Angel Vaccaro, a director at Deloitte. Vaccaro said the gap in digital talent is one of two key areas in which telcos need to improve; the other being improving the customer experience.

The TM Forum is now providing a tool for telcos to measure and assess their own digital transformation progress: the Digital Maturity Model (DMM). The tool, endorsed by BT, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Orange, PCCW Global and Vodafone as well as management consultancies and suppliers, offers a set of metrics which can be used to measure digital maturity across five dimensions: customer, strategy, technology, operations and culture, people and organisation.

While well intentioned, the tool does raise the question of how objective the outcome can be since it will be the telco itself conducting the measurement and assessment. As commented by Shahar Steiff, VP of new technologies at PCCW Global, it will be a brave telco which declares it achieved digital maturity. However, you could argue anything that pushes telecoms in the right direction is a useful asset.

Amid the anxiety there was also optimism: Atul Purohit, principal enterprise architect at Vodafone Group, noted the industry “will see a lot of dust” before it settles down, “but it’s a journey worth taking.”

The operators also did some gauntlet throwing to vendors, with Purohit calling for “greater urgency” to move to cloud native applications and support same-day VNF onboarding. Erik Hoving, group CTO at KPN, perhaps caused one of the biggest sensations when he questioned the need for the traditional billing structures telcos have relied on for decades.

“No over-the-top company sends a bill and nobody ever uses the data of the billing system. Why do we have a billing system at all?” Hoving asked.

Who knew that OSS and BSS could be so exciting?

 – Anne Morris, contributing reporter, Mobile World Live

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.