Is being a Utility the new black?

Thursday, April 27 2017

Photo by Mike Wilson

Utility. It’s a dirty word in the telecommunications business. We’re trained from our corporate upbringing to fight against being seen as one – to fight against behaving like one. The same with Commoditisation. The process through which we all become Utilities. The thin end of the thick wedge that soon makes us about as exciting as the water industry.

But Utility doesn’t only mean boring and uninspiring. Nor does it need to summon images of chimneys belching smoke across a sun-starved sky.

The dictionary definition of Utility is “the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial”.

That doesn’t sound that bad, does it? What if us telcos are supposed to be Utilities? Useful to our customers, Profitable for our customers to use and for our shareholders to invest in – and Beneficial to the society in which we operate? Maybe that is the role that our customers, and wider society, need us to play?

Here at Telia Carrier, we’ve put a lot of thought into what we want to be when we grow up.  It’s hard in the wholesale telecoms space (cue violins). As the internet grows, it’s becoming more locally delivered, more concentrated and consolidated until the role of acting as an intermediary between “big content” and “eyeballs” becomes hard work in the short term, and quite possibly untenable in the long term.

We recognize that and think, heck, maybe that’s the way things ought to be?

But not every traffic flow can go through direct interconnections and not every circuit justifies buying and lighting a fibre. There will always be a role for someone serving the demand that just doesn’t justify its own fibre build – solving client problems in “long tail” connectivity.

We stand ready to accept that challenge, and challenging, it certainly is. In the space we operate in, the trends above mean we have to constantly redefine ourselves – to keep ourselves relevant to our customers, who can just as easily “build” instead of “buy”.

And so for us, customer-centricity isn’t a cynical ploy to maximize market share – we see it as key to our long term health, and the way to make sure we play a positive role in the ecosystem, rather than falling back on the consolidating, monopolistic behaviour of more traditional telcos.

So, what exactly do we mean by customer-centricity? For us, it rests on 3 things:

  1. B2B is really P2P (Person to Person)
    Our clients aren’t just companies with purely financial targets. Inside all of them are people.  People with projects and passions and hopes and dreams and ambitions. They’re people we believe in and we want them to believe in us.  We need to empathise with them – to put ourselves in their shoes. Clients deserve that from someone who is asking them to trust us with their business.
  1. We’ve got to be creative
    To win that trust, we need to be more than automatons following the company rulebook in the anticipation that doing so should generate “on average” the most predictably mediocre outcome.  We need to aim for higher than that, and unleash our collective creativity on everything we do – to design solutions for clients that fit their needs, not just our financial targets.
  1. And so we need to automate the drudgery
    Not as a way to cut costs (though doing so will help us remain affordable), but as a way of improving quality and reducing errors. In doing so, we free up our most important resource (our people) to spend more time with customers, understanding their needs, and helping them achieve their goals.

Does that sound too much to hope for from a telco?

Perhaps. But think about it – who do you really want to work with as a partner? The folks who think they’re already as good as they could possibly be, or the ones who challenge everything to be better?  To be more useful, to be more profitable, more beneficial. Here’s to the new Utility.