Managed services is quickly becoming a must-have option for operators around the globe. It reduces costs, improves efficiency and can be used across all platforms and multiple operations. This helps operators focus on more pressing issues like innovation and new product launches, greatly improving the customer experience the whole time.
Junaid Khan, manager, corporate strategy, Ufone
Akshay Lamba, chief architect and head/ director-IT strategy, planning and alliances, MTS India
Yacine Atroune, VP network operations, Etisalat Afghanistan
CommsMEA Do you view managed service providers as organisations that can help with customer experience directly or only indirectly to what they can provide in terms of capability?
Akshay Lamba: The whole concept behind a practical versus a strategical decision is fundamental to this question. The way we see it, we have S1 partners, or Strategic 1 partners. Here you work with one partner. You understand each other’s trends. You talk strategy and not practically and hence derive a value out of the whole ecosystem. The minute you have two partners you still have that mindset of a vendor-customer relationship, but when you have one, you work much more closely with that partner.
Yacine Atroune: There are situations where this model works, but sometimes you need to have more than one partner. Etisalat Afghanistan has two partners. We are covered by our GNMS (Global Network Managed Services) and Huawei. Competitiveness is important especially for the first level. You can say if you tie your faith to one vendor, it is tough to control. Maybe in the beginning the vendor will show it is capable, but after a while complacency sets in.
Akshay Lamba: I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. As long as your KPIs and result outcomes are aligned, it continues to work, and a good example of that is Bharti Airtel.
Yacine Atroune: Actually I’m talking in the particular context of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the turnover is high. People come and leave after a month or two. When new people come, it’s difficult to get them to understand the business and know the environment, especially in a place like Afghanistan. So you must remind them to bring the tools they need and let them know that there are always options of changing here and there. The second scenario is now Etislalat is working with GNMS having one single MSP, covering three operations, and this is for cost reduction. If you look at it from a holistic view from the top, it’s great to have one MSP to cover three operations. Huawei for us covers Afghanistan, Nigeria and Tanzania. The cost and process efficiency is certainly better. But I feel within the operation itself, it’s good to have a choice.
Junaid Khan: I think it all depends on your strategy and the relationship with a MSP. In my view, we have seen is initially we had multiple vendors, but later on we stuck to one. Over a passage of time we developed such a good relationship with them, we trust them and rely on them for being the sole provider of both equipment as well as manage our network.
CommsMEA: Do you think you need to be working with a single vendor if your goal is to improve customer experience?
Junaid Khan: Again, yes to an extent, since customer experience with managed services both directly and indirectly play a very important role to improve the customer experience, but then it is the responsibility of the operator to first map all the customer experience KPIs, and then define them at certain levels, because if you make it very subjective then it will be difficult for the vendor to improve on them. If you are clear on the KPIs then you can explain it to your partner and that will help achieve and improve on those KPIs.
CommsMEA Do you think MSPs are the only people to go to for managed services? How do you view ISPs to service your business?
Akshay Lamba: It depends on the function and the area we are talking about. If it’s the network side I would rather have an OEM because he knows the systems, he has access to our needs. He is the quickest answer. When it comes to IT, it is much more heterogeneous, you are talking about more complexities with hardware and software. I will probably go SI. If you talk about a vast infrastructure that has multiple products, multiple vendors, in that case I would potentially look at an independent managed services provider, who can actually work across multiple organisations.
Yacine Atroune: It depends, for an operator you can outsource the first level which is the feed maintenance. You can mix, eg. I have equipment feed from Huawei; I can use a local Afghan sub-contractor to troubleshoot the first level. However definitely, the support contract has to be managed by the vendor itself. For the access network you can bring another sub-contractor to manage it for you, but with the core network, you can’t have another company manage it. With the core, VAS, and charging, you can use a company to manage things like backup, but nothing more.
CommsMEA: If you are going to benchmark and create new customer experiences, is it within the communications industry that you should look? Does that apply also in terms of managed services? Is it an equipment vendor or a telecoms integrator that can help, or someone who actually does business in other verticals?
Yacine Atroune: Customer care is a critical driver to give a good experience. You might have the best network, but if the customer calls and he has to wait for five minutes on the phone to talk to an agent, the customer is not happy, and he may choose to go with another operator which has a good network, but also good customer care. That dimension is critical as well.
Akshay Lamba: To address that topic, typically when you talk as an operator you’re always looking to innovate new products and services for the market. If you look at it from a customer point of view, one of the things a customer expects is that an operator is going to give services and continue to innovate services based on their means. Our managed services partner worked with us to understand what the next step of innovation that the customer expects was. The mindset of innovation from a customer’s needs is very much part of customer expectation. A good managed services partner can help you build that. As long as the partner and you have the same objectives and are driving towards the same goal, its fine.
CommsMEA: What if reaching customer service is difficult? Most issues with services are generally resolved at the operator’s customer care or services department located at the head office. This may not always be convenient for the customer to reach.
Junaid Khan: To enhance the customer experience, we have a model of franchises and business centres. We enhanced this by supplying our franchises with a device through which the shopkeeper can assist the customer with his needs. We have 8-10,000 of these franchises around the country. For the customer, his experience was good, because he didn’t need to go from a rural area to the city to sort out his needs. He could just visit a local shop and ask them for anything that may need to be sorted. A small change made a huge difference.
CommsMEA: If you are involved in a managed services engagement, does that mean you are still able to get to the right type of information and still get the right KPI information to improve the customer experience? Does it make any difference, or does it improve the situation if you are in a managed services engagement and your goal is to improve the customer experience?
Junaid Khan: I think your MSP will never stop itself from providing you with the information, unless you don’t know what you actually need. The need for information should always come from the operator. He should be clear on his expectations and managing those expectations.
Akshay Lamba: What if your customer itself changes. Not one segment to another, a fundamental change in your customer, eg. Vodafone in India sells MTS downloads to their subscribers. IT and the network on the backend is powered by MTS. When we got into that market, it was an absolutely different customer. As an operator we were used to handling the enterprise segment, the SME segment, youth, women, those kinds of markets; but now our customer was an operator. Now we were talking about managed operator services, which is IT, call centre and the network, all bundled into one. A good managed services partner can morph with you.
Yacine Atroune: I share the same point with Mr. Junaid, I think with an MSP you will always be able to get the information you are looking for. An MSP will always try to share information with you and let you know about changing trends. In telecoms it depends what you are outsourcing. Data warehouse and strategies has always needed to be in sourced. For Etisalat Group, the information flow is easy. An MSP share the information and can maybe tell you maybe something else is better, because there may be specific equipment or a specific solution, so it’s never an issue.