According to a forthcoming report from Moriana Group, the average sales cycle for IMS related products is more than a year1. Apparently, this is composed of about three months for a field trial, three months for a lab trial with the remaining six months presumably accounted for by various RFx activities. Since a wide range of vendors was surveyed, we can infer that the process is not limited to the largest Communications Service Providers (CSPs), which one might expect to have more bureaucratic processes, but extends to Tier 2 and other classes of CSP. So, it’s likely that this reflects the reality of the market. Yet this is in great contrast to the ambitions of CSPs, which generally include the aim to launch new services quickly in order to capitalise on new opportunities and satisfy customer demand.
It’s certainly in stark contrast to the agility that has been described in the Web 2.0 arena, in which new ideas are realised, tested and either become successful or are discarded much more rapidly. Yet CSPs strive to match this agility and to respond to what are seen as the external threats of “over the top” (OTT) service providers; that is, internet based companies that depend on access networks (fixed or mobile broadband) or traditional CSPs for reach, but then deliver subscription services directly to customers without paying a royalty to the CSP. This situation has been summed up by the “bit pipe” dilemma – how do CSPs avoid becoming mere bit-pipes? Some of these OTT providers are now beginning to offer telco services, solidifying the threat and providing genuine competition to CSPs. Clearly, CSPs have to become more effective at launching attractive new services to secure and grow market share.
And yet, we know CSPs that have successfully launched entirely new businesses in less than 6 months! One of our customers took a mere 6 months to move through the RFx process, install a system, develop services and then launch a fully-fledged Mobile Office solution, based on Gintel’s Easy Virtual PaBX platform. How did they achieve this?
Well, first, a clear strategic intent was crucial. As a new entrant, they decided on the market focus to enable them to break into the market, in this case, a focus on the enterprise and SME market. Of course, being a market entrant did mean they were unencumbered with any legacy network or culture that might resist rapid change, but even so, it was an ambitious plan.
Next, they had to dramatically improve product section processes. They placed a strong emphasis on finding commercial, off-the-shelf products. Seeing a live demonstration of the solution provided a rich understanding that the product was real, viable and fit for purpose. Reducing the cost of time consuming test activities allowed the CSP to half time-to-market for new services. Of course, full testing is part of the acceptance criteria for any delivery, but this can be achieved in parallel with integration and service development, without compromising standards.
Having determined their strategy, it was now imperative to define the services that would be developed to support it. This had to encompass service evolution from day one, as it was clear that service requirements would be subject to change through time.
This allowed them to define a network architecture to support the required services. The RFx process was thus conducted with a clear vision of what was required for the product and how it was likely to evolve, rather than being a wish-list of features that, at best, might be required, at worst, simply the result of different influences. They also defined the subscriber base that they intended to target and how it was likely to grow, so expansion of the service was built in from the outset.
But in parallel with the technical definition and evaluations for the service, they also invested heavily in defining how the services would be brought to market. Presentation and packaging of each service offer, the bundles that would be available and the pricing for each was critical. By the time the solution was ready for launch, they had a very clear value proposition to bring to potential customers. This vision was absolutely critical and was supported by an extensive media campaign, across multiple channels to build awareness and visibility for the service offer.
Equally important were the sales channels that were involved in the process. An internal team was created, briefed and trained in the solution, but investments were also made in a reseller network, allowing reach to be extended across all segments of the business market. The direct and indirect channel acted in tandem to maximise coverage.
All of this sounds sensible and perhaps not that unusual. But the rapidity with which the service was launched still causes eyebrows to be raised. As for Gintel, we were making live calls a mere six weeks after the contract was placed, and services were launched just ten weeks later.
The difference was the focus. The entire organisation was united behind the service launch and orientated towards ensuring that it was successful. Of course, this success can’t always be replicated – larger organisations may be offering multiple different services, targeted at different markets. But, it’s clear that unity of purpose needs to extend across the different teams and divisions within a CSP if a service is to be launched effectively. It’s equally clear that, once an investment decision is taken, the launch of a product is no longer simply a technical issue – it’s one for marketing, sales, operations, etc. Effectively, it involves multiple teams from the organisation. The trick to creating service agility may just be in co-ordinating these efforts in parallel, rather than the traditional way in which a relay takes place with the new service passing from division to division in the launch cycle. If you involve the key stakeholders at the outset, then it will surely help accelerate service delivery and launch cycles.
Gintel has a wealth of experience in helping customers with service launch. Next time you think about a new service, why not talk to us and see how we can help?
1IMS and RCS Survey, Moriana Group 2009