I recently returned from our annual pilgrimage to Barcelona, Spain for Mobile World Congress 2017 (MWC). Hailed as the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry with over 2200 exhibitors, our company attends every year, and this year once again the show pushed multiple themes and issues to the forefront as operators continue their struggle with digital transformation.
The move to 5G networks was supposed to be a big topic (again). As was the Internet of Things (IoT), Network Virtualization, multiple Mobile platforms and Devices (even drones), Women in Technology, and Sustainable Development. Legacy software vendors continued their attempts to convince mobile operators that their platforms were still cool, and many young companies were finding new innovative ways to get the attention of the large mobile operators in attendance.
Our booth was constantly busy, and I left the week after countless discussions, presentations, and demos with an observation that seemed to permeate every operator we spoke to: they’re beginning to realize that digital identity plays a much bigger role in operator transformation than they originally thought.
This observation stems around the challenges operators are having as they try to migrate their businesses to be effective in the new digital economy.
As operators try to match the simplicity, ease of use, and flexible business models that users have become used to from the likes of Uber, Apple, Netflix, and others, they are realizing that their existing systems were never aligned to individual users in the first place. When these B/OSS systems were originally designed, they were aligned to an account number, an address, or a device, and their developers never saw the need to align individual users and their corresponding digital identities with the processes they’d need to compete effectively in the digital world.
When you think of the power that your own digital identity provides you in terms of access to services, the ability to interact with others and conduct digital transactions, it is clear that an individual users’ digital identity has become an economic passport of sorts – a mechanism that enables access, defines service entitlements, depicts family or group membership, as well as affiliated payment or transaction capabilities across one or more payment mechanisms. It makes you a participant in the digital economy. In the process you get a much more personalized service experience, you can share access with other users where allowed, and even manage your own privacy and consent settings – something that will become more and more important in the near term (especially with GDPR in the European Union).
Is this a huge deal for operators? Pretty much. For the past 20+ years, their paradigm has always been customer management. Take care of your relationship with the person paying the bill, and everything will be fine (hence the operator investments in CRM systems). In the digital realm, every user is important, even those that may be “hidden” behind the bill payer – Mom, Dad, your spouse, your manager, etc. Each of them need a service experience that is second to none in order for operators to be competitive with OTT and cloud offerings.
To date, operators have attempted to enable some of these capabilities, but most have done so in a piecemeal manner, usually with legacy single-sign-on (SSO) and IAM products that have been customized within an operator’s existing service silos. The result is a fragmented approach to digital identity, resulting in inconsistent user experiences when the user moves from one operator service to the next. The better approach is one horizontal identity framework that spans an operator’s entire service portfolio, with processes that ensure consistent onboarding from service to service, a single user id that grants federated access to any core or cloud service, and the ability to maintain an ongoing library of reusable identity-led user processes that an operator can depend upon across all of their current and future service offerings.
Recent research conducted by our company highlights the theme that operators are finding digital transformation a lot harder than they had originally thought. A big part of this is the recognition that their existing B/OSS systems represent significant capital investments and changing them or replacing them is a very tough pill to swallow. Our approach of layering the user management layer above their back end systems solves this problem, reduces costs, and gets them to digital faster.
MWC is always a huge show, spanning across 9 convention buildings at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona. Although many operators have their own extremely large booths themselves, their executives are forever walking the floors, looking for new innovations that can dramatically change their businesses. This year they were searching for a new approach to identity, to make them a more strategic part of the “identity economy”, as a way to speed up their own transformation and get to digital faster.