TM FORUM DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION WORLD SERIES: Stephane Richard, CEO of Orange Group, kicked off this year’s virtual event by calling on industry groups GSMA and TM Forum to work closer together to ensure both the telecoms and IT sectors take full advantage of the future digital ecosystem enabled by 5G.

Richard, who serves as GSMA chairman, suggested the group’s focus on mobile networks and TM Forum’s efforts in IT, data and AI made a collaboration between the pair an obvious fit.

Richard’s comments complemented the wider theme of his speech, as he urged for greater cooperation between the mobile and IT sectors.

He noted operators face the very immediate challenge of digitally transforming their businesses, with the emergence of 5G accelerating the need to bring together network and IT, with both using the same cloud services.

“We need to fundamentally rethink our operating model, our processes, our ways of collaboration and our ways of working. This means we should revisit our culture,” he said.

Richard was the first speaker of TM Forum’s annual show, which will be held virtually over six weeks, hosting speakers from the IT and mobile industries.

He added the series “was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate and make our industry one of the most innovative and sustainable ones.”

Nik Willetts, president and CEO of TM Forum, said he would welcome further collaboration with the GSMA.

Technical debt
While collaboration was one of Richard’s key messages, he also issued a stark warning to telcos, urging the industry to take immediate action on the way they operate IT systems today, arguing the current approach was too complex, too rigid and too cost intensive.

Richard said there was a requirement to rethink the way “we do IT”, adding it was no longer the concern of the operator CIO alone, but a strategic capability that had the attention of the entire boardroom.

“We as an industry have to take an honest look at the way we operate our IT, where we stand versus the competition, as well as how we are perceived by our customers,” he said.

Richard argued that the operators’ core IT – the billing systems, ordering systems and provisioning – were built 10-30 years ago and made of monoliths. Not adapting this could lead to increased costs and debt over the next five years, he added.

“Legacy processes and technologies are a systemic part of the problem. Progress in addressing these challenges is so slow that some studies predict that by 2025 technical debt will consume more than 40 per cent of operators’ current IT budgets.”

Richard added that mobile carriers often struggled to balance quick fix changes to meet short term business needs, “which only increase their financial debt, their technical debt with investing in long term transformation of the business.”