Operators – here comes the flood

Written by on December 8, 2015 in Opinion with 2 Comments

floodIt is normally quite annoying when magazines, blogs and other publications try and connect some random (and vicious) natural disaster with their own product or industry. Connecting operators, their challenges and the recent flood in the north west of England might therefore be a little close for comfort.

A few years ago, there were unprecedented floods in the north west of England. Bridges collapsed, towns were divided, businesses were ruined, houses flooded.

The Council built barriers. They got the finest minds in the north west of England – and elsewhere – to figure out how high flood barriers would need to be in order to stop even the most outrageous flood. And they built them at huge cost.

Last week, storm Desmond (our storms are now so bad we have taken to naming them, as they do in the US) raged across the north west of England, southern Scotland and the Borders. 200 milimetres of rain fell in just a few hours. Rivers burst their banks, fields were under water, livestock had to be rescued, houses, businesses and entire town centres were flooded. People were evacuated. A week later and the flood has still not subsided to the point where people can begin to sweep the water, mud and filth out of their homes and businesses. Towns are still cut off and trains have yet to make it through the worst affected areas.

The real irony is that, once the bigger barriers had been breached, they added to the problem. Once the water was inside, they stopped it receding. They, in effect, caused more damage, and made the emergency last longer, than if they were not there.

What analogy, you ask, could possibly come from this.

Operators are rather good at managing predictable things. They build better roads or they build barriers as the situation (as they see it) demands. What they are not good at doing, which is the key to the digital world, is beginning to imagine that the flood will be worse than they and their machines predict.

The ad blocking ‘flood barriers’ could well be the current ‘frontline’ between operators and Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and, for a while, they might hold. The point, though, is that operators are good at managing monthly or yearly, predictable traffic – very good, actually. They always have their eye on the next cost saving, bandwidth improving technologies.

What they are not good at is being ready to address unexpected events, the flash flood. The ad blocking barriers may last through next year, but, at some point, these will be breached by the next wave of innovation and they will have to clean up, regroup and plan again.

Let’s hope they do not simply put up bigger barriers but work with the rain, harness its power, divert it to best effect and thus minimise the damage.

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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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  1. Lorne Mitchell says:

    A great analogy, Alex. Ad blocking sure is the frontline of the commercial wars between advertisers and consumers. It is not just the operators that want to block ads, though As a consumer, I want that choice too. Just as I have chosen to live on high ground in a part of the country that is often flooded five miles away. It is at extreme times like this that the analogy both becomes powerful and breaks. Operators, as you say, take the peaks and troughs – but play, on the whole, for the long game. Sure, they will test out technology (like ad blocking) but will realise that to implement it on a wider scale, it will require regulatory approval (or indifference) as well as commercial negotiation. However, I cannot help think that the current arguments raging between purist ends of the spectrum are being watered-down by practical issues and real consumer choice. Still lots of opportunities for creating a range of flood defences in our industry. Maybe the learning here is to create return valves where the ads that lead to no sale are collected and rated by all the billing systems that are lying around and a bill is sent to the advertiser for ineffective advertising!

  2. Alex Leslie says:

    Thank you Lorne. The advertising/ad blocking issue is causing waves at the moment. YouTube is launching a ‘pay not to have ads’ service (how long have we been discussing that?)
    In fact, we are beginning to seriously wonder whether even huge companies like Facebook have flawed business models, such is the coming backlash. http://disruptiveviews-com.disruptiveviews.com/why-advertising-is-a-risky-business-model/

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