Product Agility and Innovation: Supporting B2B Product Transformation for CSPs

By Ben Warren

As a specialist consultancy, we have over 30 years’ experience supporting the channels, products and operations of the largest communication service providers (CSPs) across the globe.

The communications sector is facing unprecedented levels of change as customer expectations, product evolution and the associated technology/architecture evolve to support a digitised age. This generational shift is creating challenges and opportunities in equal measure.

CSPs of all shapes and sizes are under growing pressure to adapt to this change in order to meet evolving customer demands. At the centre of this change is digital product innovation and the corresponding need for greater agility. This is rapidly increasing across the B2B market, where customers expect to be able to engage with their provider via a digital channel, allowing them to manage their entire journey (learn, buy, get, use, pay, support) largely without the need to engage with a representative from the CSP.

It’s no surprise that organisations which have adopted agile practices throughout the business have increased their competitive advantage – according to a recent Harvard Business Review study, this can be by as much as “60% revenue and profit growth”. Those organisations have also taken the first step to future-proofing their businesses as over the medium term, this will enable those firms to create new products and service offerings to their business customers at pace – responding effectively to new disruptions.

From a CSP perspective, the ability to develop at pace is an essential enabler to capitalise on the sales opportunities within emerging technology areas and ultimately hold the key to increasing sustainable profitability as legacy products become end-of-life. Our engagements across the globe highlight that most CSPs have recognised the need to transform their product function and many have already embarked on this journey, with SAFe agile teams or Squads now commonplace in pockets throughout the sector.

But this is a mixed picture, with lots of unresolved challenges and conflicting ways of working observed within most large telecom organisations.

The most common challenges still tend to fall into the following:

  • Functions operating at different paces with misaligned objectives;
  • Legacy IT systems and highly coupled technology; and,
  • Long funding cycles and rigid governance structures.

Each threaten new opportunities and hinder growth.

Enabling B2B product agility and innovation

There are two distinct routes to creating better product agility and increase innovation:

  1. A ‘big bang’ approach led by ExCo with change cascading through the organisation – the benefit of this is strong engagement across all groups, as, in theory, there are better defined objectives between business units and therefore a stronger alignment. However, this approach does require wholesale buy-in and does mean that change will happen slowly in larger/more complex organisations. It will also require greater HR engagement upfront, as large numbers of existing roles will likely be impacted to enable the change.
  2. Proving the value of agile on a small scale with defined teams and projects. This approach allows CSPs to develop the right agile blueprint for them, before rolling out across the organisation. Often this is the better option as it offers the organisation a more organic route to agile with short periods to learn, fix, test and deploy; iteratively evolving the blueprint to meet the organisations aims, ambitions and market opportunities.

It’s possible to achieve the right outcome with either approach. However, in our experience it’s often quicker (minimised set up), easier (fewer stakeholders to engage) and more cost effective (less upfront cost and less resource cost allocated) to start small in order to win big. The added benefit here is there’s more opportunity to bring the legacy systems and ways of working on the product agility journey (more on this in the next Product Insights series article).

Enabling product agility to unlock innovation is multi-faceted, with existing systems, team structures and architecture all to be considered. For this reason, we recommend beginning the journey in a new product area with a cross-functional team set up from the existing business, comprised of expertise from key areas. Whilst the focus is defined, this team can make independent decisions to achieve the outcomes and – where appropriate – test new systems, tech and processes.

Our approach

Cartesian has developed a flexible approach to support our partners towards product agility – the Product Transformation Playbook. The Playbook can be applied effectively to both ‘big bang’ transformation programmes as well as smaller projects. However, the focus here is on unlocking product agility at a project level in order to prove the value and incrementally affect change beyond; eventually reaching the whole enterprise.

Our Playbook focuses on a small number of core areas: existing product and technology, available data, automation and operating model – assessing the current structures, interviewing key stakeholders, auditing processes, delivering new insights and change.

Below is a snapshot of the Product Transformation Playbook and some of the steps we take:

Operating model assessment: Often the biggest challenge is altering the legacy ways of working and culture, with high levels of complexity and timeframes inhibiting progress. However, building agile teams within key areas – testing and proving the concepts – allows us to support our partners in proving step change value, which can then be credibly and coherently amplified across the business.

Data audit: Forming a robust view of data is critical to both optimizing a product and exploring new routes to revenue. We typically explore: what data is available and how is it stored; how is the data currently being used and to what extent; how unique and accurate is the data; how regularly is it updated; and, data cleanliness and understandability. An audit nearly always the optimal place to begin, often offering new possibilities for future areas of development (our network analytics post talks through best ways to capitalize on new analytics opportunities).

Existing product and supporting technology: Focusing around pre-defined product areas and surfacing interdependencies often provides two insights: firstly, a view of the major blockers and pain points and secondly a prioritized list for next actions. Taking a wider view, we’re able to give an assessment of current state vs the vision for product function of the future. During this phase we conduct interviews with key stakeholders, build a comprehensive flow of current actions and how the technology impacts those actions, sign off processes and delivery times.

Automation: Our specialist teams of data analysts, scientists and engineers are engaged throughout the project in order to build a best-in-class view of where there are the most impactful and scalable opportunities to apply advanced analytics or machine learning techniques. This is ever evolving, but a critical component of the journey for our partners to deliver step change.

The Product Transformation Playbook is designed to give a high-level view of the areas to focus on when undergoing or iterating product transformation and is based on our experience of engaging with leading CSPs across the globe over many years. Beginning that journey is crucial. Cartesian engage with partners by helping to simplify their product challenges and start in small, high impact areas of the business, leading to huge upsides and potentially uncovering new growth opportunities.

To hear more or if you’d like to speak with one of our specialist consultants today, please fill out your details on our Contact Us page and we’ll get right back to you.