From competition to collaboration: Digital Britain dominates the agenda

The message from the Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) is glaring, says TalkTalk Business Director of Partners Richard Thompson (Platinum sponsor) who also champions the dominant issue in the comms sector at present – Digital Britain and the roll out of full fibre.

The full fibre issue continues to divide the UK from more progressive digital front runners on the continent. But for how long? As a wave of Government driven full fibre-ism sweeps across the nation efforts to close the digital divide will call for levels of competition and collaboration not seen before in the industry. According to Thompson the FTIR is ‘unashamedly pro-competition’ and the fibre roll out will be market-led. But as the FTIR promotes and nurtures a new era of competition it could also usher in a period of close collaboration between competitors which not long ago was deemed unthinkable. “This is a significant change for UK digital infrastructure but will connect up more businesses and homes faster than just one provider could achieve,” commented Thompson. “Collaboration between competitors to tackle common industry barriers will be needed.” 

The Government’s target to roll out full fibre by 2033 is ambitious, believes Thompson, but consultation between industry and Government has already paid off with customers being presented better options. “During the review process we asked the Government to remove some of the barriers telcos face when trying to build, which will be essential if we are to reach these targets,” commented Thompson. “Early wins are changes to the law on wayleaves which make it easier for connectivity suppliers to get permission to build; as well as streamlining the rules around closing roads for digging and a commitment to duct and pole access. These steps should make it quicker and cheaper for companies to invest in full fibre. It is only competition at scale that will deliver more investment and these changes will make it easier and cheaper for companies other than Openreach to build networks. The race to full fibre is critical. Now is the time to invest and take action on full fibre.”

The demand for faster broadband speeds and ‘all you can eat’ bandwidth shows no sign of slowing down, and investors have spotted long-term investment opportunities in the UK and are spending big money to accelerate the roll out of full fibre. “However, the UK is woefully behind in the FTTP space in comparison to our neighbouring countries,” commented Thompson. “Introductions like G.Fast will help to sustain the hunger for higher bandwidth. But as technologies continue to develop the requirement for speed and bandwidth will only intensify, and the varying speeds, performance and availability across new access variants will bring increasing complexity. Channel partners need to navigate this and insulate their customers from the confusion. Our position is to make new access variants available in a ubiquitous way that is simple to understand.”

The race to full fibre is critical. Now is the time to invest and take action on full fibre

As well as ever growing demand for greater bandwidth end user behavioural changes such as limited attention spans is also a key trend picked up by TalkTalk Business, to which it applies some significance. “There is an expectation for training to be delivered in three minutes and news to be less than 100 characters,” explained Thompson. “Therefore our focus is much more customer centric to ensure we are meeting the trending needs of customers and adapting to this transient behaviour. Customer satisfaction should be the primary measure of success; and in the new digital world service and training models must transform.”

Many channel players will be in need of a digital reinvention, claimed Thompson, rather than continue to operate as simple ‘product creators’. This significant point was underscored during TalkTalk Business’s latest Partner Summit where digital transformation and cloud migration were hotly debated subjects. “While the majority of the channel is aware that the market is changing, the real surprise lies in the speed of change,” commented Thompson. “Industry researcher Ovum calculates that by the end of this year 80 per cent of businesses will be dependent on the cloud. But many don’t realise they already have a presence in the cloud. 

“We recently conducted our own research with SME customers. Only 48 per cent of respondents claim to be already using cloud technology. But when prompted about their use of particular cloud-based apps or tools like Office 365 or Dropbox the response jumped to 72 per cent, so there is much work to be done in educating customers. It’s the role of partners in the channel to do this and act as digital experts. Businesses can’t make this transition without support. Only three per cent of respondents in our survey said that they would be comfortable in approaching cloud migration directly. That represents a fantastic opportunity for the channel.”

TalkTalk Business’s research study shows how the channel is key to driving the adoption of digital innovations and experiences, affirmed Thompson, who also noted that the channel needs to think like a systems integrator and demonstrate to the end user how they add value. “Products and services are increasingly pre-packaged today and the value is more in how you enable and educate customers about which solution is best for their business,” he added. “People need to be at the heart of the technological journey, so the comms sector needs to be more customer centric rather than IT focused. People, processes, systems and customer engagement needs to be re-engineered. End users do not want to be told to ‘call this number for X product’, they want a path of least resistance to implementing new products and services, and connectivity is the core enabler of their digital experience and foundation of new technologies such as AI and Machine Learning.”

Advances in Machine Learning will soon bring about human-machine hybrid workforces, believes Thompson, but only if businesses leverage technology to its full potential. “This is why training and education will be key for successful mass adoption,” he added. “We have transformed ways of working within TalkTalk, most notably with the opening of our state-of-the-art office, Soapworks, in Salford last year. Office 365, robotics and automation are all key in driving greater efficiency and improving the customer experience. We’re also using Big Data to reduce churn and understand Customer Lifetime Value. We will package these learnings to share with our partners. 

The UK is woefully behind in the FTTP space compared to other countries

“If you demonstrate how new tools will improve your workforce’s productivity and work experience, they are much more likely to embrace it. Robotic processes have saved our operations teams 200 hours per week. The technology has removed layers of administrative work, allowing staff to focus on interactions with customers. We involved our people from the outset, asking which elements of their jobs were time consuming, repetitive and stopped them from adding value to customers. This not only identified which elements to automate, it made us more efficient, increased morale and enhanced our customers’ service experience. In Digital Britain the combination of technology and staff buy-in will be what matters. It’s about making sure you deliver a quality and reliable service that works underpinned by a future proofed full fibre infrastructure.”

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