Don’t get your wires crossed: telecoms services

6 December 2016

Companies across all sectors are seeking ways to digitally transform their business, such as by migrating to cloud or adopting machine-to-machine technologies. But as this shift gathers pace, what does it mean for their telecoms operators? Didier Duriez, senior vice-president of global solutions and services at Orange Business Services, explains how telecoms companies are working with corporates to meet their rapidly changing requirements.

The telecoms market is evolving fast. While, in the past, it was sufficient to deliver traditional connectivity services – the likes of telephony and broadband – today’s providers need to offer more, or risk ceding ground to their upstart digital rivals.

Corporate customers in particular are becoming more exacting in their demands. As they seek ways to improve their own customer service, not to mention cutting costs, they are on the hunt for newer and better ICT solutions. Telecoms providers, then, have little choice but to rethink their product portfolio.

Importantly, this is no longer purely the domain of the IT department. As CEOs are coming to recognise, digital transformation cuts right to the heart of a company’s business model, with a strong digital infrastructure likely to prove a key determinant of its success.

Perhaps the clearest example is the growth of cloud. Little more than a fringe solution five years ago, cloud has now reached a tipping point of mass adoption, with businesses of all sizes migrating. According to research by solutions provider RightScale, 93% of businesses were using some form of cloud technology in 2015. Other research, by International Data Corporation (IDC) suggests worldwide spending on public cloud services will grow from around $70 billion in 2015 to more than $141 billion in 2019.


Like a machine

Then there are machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, in which various devices and appliances are connected to a mobile network. As the internet of things (IoT) market develops, businesses of every stripe are considering the advantages it might offer. Healthcare providers, for instance, are introducing remote patient monitoring devices, while retail companies are adopting M2M supply chain solutions to help them with stock control.

Factor in big data and mobile videoconferencing, and the need to move away from legacy systems has never been clearer. As Didier Duriez, senior vice-president of global solutions and services at Orange Business Services explains, what we are seeing amounts to a wholesale technological revolution.

“More and more enterprises are using cloud software – they have their own data centres, and their own applications within that,” he explains. “It could be their customer relationship management [CRM] tools or their enterprise resource planning [ERP] platforms. What it means for us is that we need to be able to provide the connectivity on a national or worldwide basis.”

He adds that today’s enterprises, now more than ever, need to deliver a seamless customer experience, focusing on digital channels of engagement alongside traditional call centres. What’s more, a siloed approach will not suffice – this needs to be a true omnichannel strategy, in which the customer can switch effortlessly between their various devices without the interaction seeming disjointed.

“Companies need to offer their customers the same comfort they are used to, allowing them to engage through their tablet or smartphone,” he says. “It means we need the best of both worlds – having the reliability and security of the enterprise information flow, and, at the same time, the comfort and ease of use of the customer experience. That’s an evolution we see happening very fast.”

As a global telecommunications operator and IT services company, Orange Business Services supports businesses across all industries, as well as government bodies and public sector organisations. Its solution base is broad, encompassing cloud computing, customer contact solutions, mobility management and M2M among others. Above all, it aims to help businesses get the most out of their digital strategy.

Clearly, this will mean something different for every enterprise. While they may share some similar underlying pressures, companies’ precise demands are likely to vary considerably.

“If a company is in the mining or automotive sector, for instance, what they need will be highly specific,” says Duriez. “On top of the discrepancies between companies, there may be differences within the same company in terms of how they operate in different geographies. We have the capability to deliver customised offerings from an operational and commercial standpoint. And because we have a presence in more than 160 countries, we can engage locally with a company’s branch offices.”

We have customer service centres that are able not only to take the call and troubleshoot any issue a customer may face, but also to manage delivery of new products and solutions.

Open for business

Orange has a vast array of clients, ranging from small start-ups to well-known multinational players. For instance, it provided a major transformation strategy for Saudi Arabia Airlines, and a collaborative cloud-hosted platform for the Paris Police Department. It worked with the African bank Ecobank to deploy an MPLS network, and provided UEFA with a fibre network for the stadiums in Euro 2016.

Despite their many differences, one common denominator among Orange’s client base is a need for 24/7 support.

“Because we have a worldwide stamp, most of our customers have activity 24/7,” says Duriez. “We have customer service centres that are able not only to take the call and troubleshoot any issue a customer may face, but also to manage delivery of new products and solutions. We have three major service centres – in Egypt, Mauritius and Brazil – from which we offer customer support resources around the clock.”

Evidently, a company like Orange benefits from strong brand recognition and global reach, as well as the ability to manage large, complex infrastructure projects. This is not always the case for its purely digital competitors.

However, if a telecoms company is to survive in today’s marketplace, it needs to be more than just a well-known name – it also needs the ability to adapt. Since 2007, Orange has benefitted from its Orange Labs network, which constitutes 15 research and development centres on four continents. This means it can detect major technological shifts some time in advance, as well as working closely with its customers to develop specially tailored solutions.

“We are one of the few operators that has a significant R&D presence and, therefore, we are able to anticipate new technology,” says Duriez. “This is really helpful when the market is moving so fast, because if we have to find the right technology, we had better experience a few and only put on the market the ones that are really beneficial to our customers.”

After all, competition in the ICT sector is intensifying as traditional boundaries break down. According to a 2015 report by PwC, we are seeing a “proliferation of competitors willing to commoditise connectivity as part of an ICT solution”, meaning telecoms companies face threats from systems integrators, software manufacturers and OTT players.

This means, instead of designing its digital offering from scratch, a telecoms operator might wish to partner with another company. Noting that its “close partner relationships play a starring role in delivering service innovation and outstanding customer experience”, Orange has teamed up with the likes of Cisco, Microsoft, Polycom and many more.


Time for partnerships

In 2015, the company announced a new collaboration between Business VPN Galerie (its own secured cloud hub) and Google Cloud Interconnect. In doing so, it extended its cloud application ecosystem and gave customers direct access to Google Cloud Platform data centres.

“Business VPN Galerie is part of our hybrid network strategy designed to help enterprises cope with the predicted tripling of global IP traffic between 2014 and 2018,” said Pierre-Louis Biaggi, VP networks for Orange Business Services, at the time. “Today, more than 1,300 enterprises and more than 20 cloud partners – including Orange Cloud for Business, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Express Route, Salesforce, AWS, Ingenico, Cegid – trust us at over 33,000 sites around the world.”

From time to time, telecoms providers may also choose to work with each other. Most recently, Orange signed an agreement with AT&T to collaborate on open source and standardisation initiatives, helping to ensure future network functions are designed around a common architecture.

“If AT&T delivers something on our network, it can use the same connection, and, of course, it goes both ways,” explains Duriez. “The connection is standardised on a technical level and even more so on an operational level.”

For corporate customers, this kind of business ecosystem means certain problems are easier to solve. They will be able to deploy services faster, customise their infrastructure in near real time, and innovate more easily, all the while reducing operational and capital expenditure.

Of course, while technological shifts bring unparalleled opportunities, they also tend to bring concerns. The chief fear for many businesses is security – as they migrate to the cloud, for instance, or adapt to a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) model, can they be sure their data is safe?

Duriez feels that this, above all else, is an area in which CEOs should get involved. Since anybody in the company can, albeit unwittingly, contribute to a cyberattack, the whole organisation needs to consider strategies, attacks and defence. This is particularly the case at a time when threats are evolving so fast.

While viruses and denial of service attacks are, arguably, less of a concern than they used to be, distributed data and unauthorised apps pose a considerable risk. For a company like Orange, there is a tricky balance to be struck – how can customers reap the benefits of increased mobility while protecting themselves against its dangers?

“What we have done is created a specific entity in charge of cybersecurity, Orange Cyberdefence. Now we are able to detect weak signals in the network, which could signal something is happening. This means that we are able to anticipate and react more quickly,” Duriez explains.


Time to act

One of its key customers in this field is the technology company Siemens. It had identified that its employees were increasingly using business applications to support their work, leading to greater use of the internet and increasing points of vulnerability. It decided to adopt an Orange Security Cloud solution, enhancing its ability to identify the nature of an attack and minimise the impact on business activity. At the same time, it was able to simplify its network and security operations.

Didiez believes that the next few years will spell further exciting changes for all its clients. It goes without saying that there will be a certain number of challenges for all parties involved. For telecoms providers, there will be an greater need to move away from traditional connectivity services, and towards a more agile model better suited to customer needs. And from the corporate side, starting out on the journey towards digital can be daunting – it essentially means no turning back.

That said, this is not the time for technophobia. As the digital revolution continues apace, businesses are likely to develop new capabilities they could only dream of before.

“This is a very interesting journey, for the enterprises, and for the telecoms operators and technology suppliers,” says Didiez. “When we look back five years from now at how the situation has evolved, it will be very impressive.”

Telecoms providers are expected to move towards more agile connectivity models, moving forward.
Didier Duriez is senior vice-president, global services and solutions at Orange Business Services...