Here’s how innovation is alive, well and thriving (in some telcos)

Written by on May 22, 2017 in Opinion with 0 Comments

By Billion Photos /

It seems that innovation is alive and well at Deutsche Telekom. For a start no-one in the company has their own desk, according to Erik Meijer, head of Group Innovation, “not even the CEO. In fact, my secretary’s first task in the morning is to figure out where I am”.

This – sadly rather sparsely attended – session at last week’s TM Forum Live! event revealed much about how operators, at least some of them, are becoming increasingly innovative.

This conscious shake up and flattening of the organisation is as a direct result of what Meijer calls ‘value vampires’, the WhatsApps and Messengers and Skypes that have eaten away at telcos’ core revenues.

“Our board members work in the call centres”, says Meijer, “that way they completely understand what is going on, what the customers are doing, complaining about, happy about. Even smoking breaks are helping this process of bringing the top of the company into line with the rest of the guys. You stand outside with the CFO, for example, and the guy fielding the calls can discuss real problems with someone who can do something about it, take grass roots ideas on board”.

Meijer points to various projects that he is engaged in at the moment, that he believes will bring real value. “Bots”, says Meijer, “are misunderstood. Many think that they are just there to reduce cost. But what they are very good at is asking specific questions, looking up answers, so that if the query is not solved, when the call is transferred to a human, that human has a very good idea of the exact problem and can work on it straight away. And as the calls become about a loyalty card with Starbucks that didn’t work on a customer’s device, identifying the exact problem becomes more complex”.

Such seismic transformation does not happen by magic, as one delegate pointed out, so where does it come from?

In the case of T-Mobile, Meijer points directly at one man. John Legere.

Legere, he says, realised that he had to be revolutionary and he broke the mold from the start. “Have you seen the ‘before and after’ pictures of John? He was a senior manager in a suit until he took over at T-Mobile. He knew he had to be at the front of the bus. That was why he took the first call when T-Mobile launched the campaign to ‘buy out’ other telco contracts”.

Legere’s influence began to disrupt the company, and ended up right in the heart of the headquarters. The culture has changed radically, says Meijer, and now, if innovation comes from a country such as, say, Bratislava, he promotes it as coming from there. “We have stopped ideas just going from the inside out, now it is about outside in thinking”.

Deutsche Telekom is not alone.

Robi Axiata in Bangladesh has a Chief Corporate and People Officer in Nowshad Matiul. Robi Axiata is the first company that Matiul has worked for that is younger than him. And there are various initiatives afoot that need to be flagged up.

First is an initiative to reduce the layers of management to speed up decision making. Now there are only five layers of management, and just three in the back office. The company actively promotes entrepreneurial projects and looks either to fund them themselves or to help find funding for them. It is not only acceptable, but encouraged, that employees should strive to find the ‘next big thing’.

The company does not discriminate on salaries or pay packages either, they know that this is a global marketplace, and that someone from Boston can work for Axiata just as someone in Bangladesh can work for Verizon.

It is fair to say that there is innovation, dramatic innovation, out there. It is also fair to say that people like Meijer and Matiul are breaking down silos and changing the culture in an exciting and disruptive, yet highly effective way.

And as we know, changing the culture is almost always the first step to achieving great things.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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