PARTNER FEATURE: ZephyrTel signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to bring its customer service, billing and charging solutions to the cloud platform, as it works to help telcos accelerate their digital transformation.

The agreement covers the migration of ZephyrTel’s existing suite of products, but ZephyrTel is also working with AWS on artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop an expanded portfolio of predictive analytics applications built on the AWS platform.

The move comes as ZephyrTel aims to help telcos capitalise on the benefits of the cloud, which CEO Mike Shinya flagged as an underutilised resource. According to Shinya, the cloud offers operators tools to not only manage network resources but also massively improve customer care, slash churn and reduce total cost of ownership.

Shinya (pictured, right) noted operators are laser-focused on metrics including churn reduction in order to help improve their margins. However, he said achieving such a goal will be difficult unless they find a way to improve customer experience management by “several notches”.

“Whatever the technology being deployed, the vital thing is the relationship with the consumer,” he said. “It’s something that will change very quickly…and you won’t even hear about it or get a chance to persuade them not to leave.”

That’s where the cloud comes in. With software-based tools such as advanced analytics, operators can use data to help predict and address likely churn events. In particular, the ability to process vast amounts of data from multiple sources – social media, the network, call centre interactions and various other internal systems – to produce actionable customer experience statistics is key.

By pinpointing which customers might churn and when, operators can seize the opportunity to step in and address issues which may be bothering them. One option, he said, might be to offer them a customised rate plan which appeals to their particular usage pattern, reducing the likelihood that they will switch operators.

“We think it’s the single most important thing on the C-level executive’s mind. If they can protect their customer base, reduce churn and improve ARPU, the rest is manageable. But if you’re losing customers and ARPU all the time, then you’re on the back foot, in a defensive position, and you’re not going to get time to plan your migration to 5G and other big transformations like digitisation and IoT.”

The cloud, he said, is key to enabling advanced analytics capabilities: “I’m not sure that artificial intelligence, machine learning and powerful, insightful predictive analytics can actually be done unless it’s in the cloud.”

Head in the clouds
Shinya shared a vision in which a wide array of business functions are pushed to the cloud, including the aforementioned analytics processes, customer care coordination, network management, and billing, charging and other back office functions. All of this, he said, will help improve the customer experience.

For instance, cloud-based network management software can help operators efficiently manage a rising tide of data traffic.

Shinya noted network usage is a “mercurial and fluctuating attribute” which can easily create a poor experience for customers if not managed effectively. Cloud-based solutions can help operators respond to usage spikes and dynamically allocate network resources in near-real time, alleviating the congestion experienced by users.

But while the idea of migrating operations to the cloud is “hardly revolutionary”, Shinya noted telcos have been slow to make the shift.

“When you take a look at the various worldwide verticals, financial services or retail or supply chain or pharmaceutical or whatever, many of these have thoroughly by now embraced cloud and SaaS [Software-as-a-Service] and hosted solutions, and they are well into their cloud transformations. Our view is that is less true of telco as a worldwide industry…and the carriers that are doing this stand out.”

Meeting the need
Telcos may soon catch on, though, as Shinya predicted a coming “gold rush” to the cloud given the “huge amount of capital” operators stand to save by making the switch. The CEO said public cloud deployments can offer up to an 80 per cent reduction in the total cost of ownership for operators compared to on-premises installations.

ZephyrTel, which was formed in April 2018, already offers products spanning network management, customer care and analytics, but Shinya said the company is looking to further strengthen its portfolio this year with acquisitions to prepare for the onslaught.

He noted the company’s options are “constrained by what’s available,” since ZephyrTel generally acquires companies which have already listed, rather than trying to persuade a company it should sell.

But he revealed ZephyrTel is aiming to build its capabilities around billing and customer experience. It is also interested in growing its presence in predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“We want to be behind the technologies going to the cloud” which will help operators as they move to digitise their businesses, migrate to 5G and launch IoT offers, he said.

“Where we want to get to is when telcos think about a cloud migration or about redeploying important applications in the cloud, we want them to automatically associate that with ZephyrTel.”