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How to find the value in the IoT: Key focus areas for the telecoms industry

Looking ahead after a lively Mobile World Congress, what have we found are the essential focus areas for the telco industry in the IoT? Mainstream debate must not lose sight of the importance of the end user.

Monetisation of new systems, services or technology is always a concern for the telecoms industry. Monetising the IoT has proved a big talking point in recent months and there are plenty of reasons why the industry is finding this challenging. After cutting through the noise at MWC, here is what we have found to be the most prominent issues facing the IoT today:

  1. Standards
  2. Interoperability
  3. Security

The mainstream point of view is that all of these need to be considered to achieve the industry’s ultimate goal of monetising the IoT.

However, the IoT ecosystem is extremely broad. It spans industries, application groups, technologies, locations, and users. Each stakeholder within these areas probably sees the key focus of the ecosystem differently. Some may focus on security, others reliability and service assurance, while others may see data gathering as the key.

These are all equally important considerations, but there is something missing from the equation. Ultimately, it is the user’s perception of their product/ service/ device that really matters – ensuring they are delivered real value from the service they are provided.

Yes, the IoT must deliver on security and reliability promises, and others, but most of all it must show users real value in their lives. You could compare this scenario to the 3G fiasco – operators tried to sell 3G on the promise that it would be the next step for humanity in networking standards. However, people simply didn’t care because they were interested only in the value it would give to them and whether or not they saw the promised access rates.

On several occasions we heard operators, vendors and analysts complain that the IoT should not be a buzzword that becomes lost in the midst of conference hype. Instead it should be something tangible for the end user.

True, but it isn’t. There is a huge opportunity for the telco industry in the IoT and there are real projects already in action around the world that show just how the IoT ecosystem can work effectively. For example, one leading industry body, the TM Forum, uses its catalyst programme to provide a space for telco companies to come together to solve some of the industry’s common problems.

Within the programme are a host of projects that aim to demonstrate all kinds of solutions, from Agile IT to eHealth. One project in particular has involved the transformation of a Brazilian city, Águas de São Pedro, from a small municipality known for its mineral springs, to Brazil’s first smart city. This is an excellent example of the IoT ecosystem at its best – providing real value to those who could benefit from it.

Even though there are many complex layers comprised of many different stakeholders that make up the IoT environment, people don’t really care. They simply want a product or service that works.

Ultimately, for the telco industry, the perception that users have of the value of the IoT is of the utmost importance. IoT offers nothing in and of itself, but only in the context of other things. So when in debate about the importance of addressing the IoT’s key challenges, it’s also worth mentioning the emerging case studies of companies that have already built effective solutions that solve everyday problems in a creative way.

Rich Communications Services (RCS) – why we were wrong and why we’re happy about it…

Innovation from five years ago provides lessons for enhanced enterprise services

RCS was in the headlines again lately, with some amusing discussion about the taxonomy of zombies hitting LinkedIn. We were certainly wrong to think that some innovative uses cases we saw five years ago may stimulate adoption of RCS, but then such cases tended to be enterprise focused.

Whatever happens in consumer messaging, enterprise opportunities for QoS-backed services remain and there’s a great deal of evidence to support this. Kill RCS by all means, but don’t neglect the importance of QoS in an all IP world for enterprise communications and messaging services. Interestingly, some of the applications we saw five years ago have today become more relevant, as context and integration with enterprise services have gained in importance.

It seems a long time ago now, but just over five years ago, I was asked to attend an event hosted by the GSMA in Madrid. This was part of a competition to highlight innovation around RCS applications. It was a nice trip – with a very pleasant evening spent on the way back having too many gins with a fellow attendee.

While there, we saw many of the usual suspects, companies that were trying to carve out a space in the nascent RCS ecosystem, such as Almira, Soloiemes, NetDev and the like, as well as larger NEPs. With sponsorship money, interest from leading operators and the backing of the GSMA, what could go wrong? Surely there were opportunities for innovative, lean companies to show what they could do and engage with a receptive MNO community, eager to do something positive with RCS?

Well, how wrong we were. We were wrong to suppose the MNOs would be motivated to do something with RCS and support their apparent eagerness and enthusiasm with some form of investment. We were wrong to suppose they might act and do something in a short period of time. In short, there was a great deal of noise and then: nothing happened. It’s been more than five years now. Innovative companies continued to beat the drum, while the MNO community, backed by the GSMA continued to make a lot of noise but do absolutely nothing.

We thought these kinds of use cases, blending communications capabilities with other sources of information to enable rich enterprise solutions, for example, would be enough to highlight the potential of RCS to do new things. We were wrong. Instead, they focused on existing, out-dated cases – or cases that were contemporary then but which were rapidly overtaken by more nimble offers from alternative providers that moved quickly to deliver new, richer functionality to consumers. The focus on competing with other messaging services effectively led to nowhere. We are still stuck in this mode.

We should have known better. While the research we conducted in the previous year with Mac Taylor from Moriana showed that many MNOs were extremely interested in RCS, it turned out (in retrospect) we were probably talking to the wrong people – technology-driven stalwarts who, ultimately, do not make the decisions. But what really should have revealed the flaws in the GSMA vision – and the colossal waste of time this was going to be – was the application that won the innovation award at the event in Madrid.

It was a simple mashup that provided information on the proximity of restaurants and delivered it to the RCS client. Woo-hoo. I can remember scratching my head and turning to friends around me in amazement. Hadn’t this been done, better and faster somewhere else? Hasn’t it been done better and faster in a thousand apps ever since? This solution won against solutions that blended rich communications with, for example, CRM solutions – or with video to enable new customer care applications. In other words, interesting things that have suddenly become quite interesting – note the focus on context in communications and “hyper voice” that has emerged recently.

Really, if this was the best that could be done (it wasn’t), then we ought to have concluded then that RCS would never fly. The fact that the award went to a huge NEP should also have rung alarm bells – the smaller companies that really were showing innovative use cases were completely overlooked. Nothing to see here, move along please.

What kept our interest in RCS going was the fact that we had already concluded that the interesting thing about RCS was not what it might or might not do in the consumer world but how it might be interesting for specific use cases in the enterprise domain (we wrote quite a bit about this, despite – and amusingly – being called telco apologists from one noted pundit). As far as we could see:

  • Looking for a business case for RCS was pointless, as no-one would pay any more for it
  • It seemed about the only way in which MNO messaging services could evolve in concert; but few MNOs seemed to be that interested in doing so
  • The QoS benefits were of most interest for enterprise applications but this wasn’t something that gained a great deal of attention

We were reminded of all of this in the news and bulletins that followed MWC this year. There were some nice debates involving a number of people that have had a lot to say on the subject. There was a very amusing – and thoughtful – thread on LinkedIn, which included a broad discussion of the precise kind of zombie that was represented by RCS.

One of the most interesting points to arise from this was a suggestion that QoS doesn’t really matter. In the main, that may be true – best effort can be fine for most of us (except, as we often point out, when you are trying to reach the emergency services, but then you probably don’t recognise the value of this until you have actually tried to do so). But it does matter for enterprise customers. Indeed, they pay a lot of money to obtain QoS, backed by rigorous SLAs. This fact cannot be overlooked among legitimate criticism of the otherwise moribund RCS. RCS, was a waste of time, one argument went, because consumers don’t care about QoS, as evidenced by their willingness to adopt one or more of the plethora of services delivered by alternative providers.

On the other side, another contributor piped up with the remark that RCS was all about an evolution of universal messaging and so still had some value. Both sides are probably correct – in the absence of anything better, some MNOs may well press on with RCS, but if they are, they will probably keep jolly quiet about it. No one really cares much anymore.

But there is still a case for MNOs to offer something to the enterprise that may leverage some of the promised capabilities of RCS. As far as we can see, it’s the only conceivable way in which any kind of revenue can be made from these kinds of capabilities. Enterprises want QoS and this cannot and should not be ignored just because QoS has been caught up in the debate about RCS.

RCS as a term has become poisonous. When we see it these days, we kind of glaze over and move on. If we discuss B2B services, it’s a much more interesting debate, but as soon as someone mentioned RCS, then it undermines what might be a sensible discussion. We think QoS is a valid term to use in association with B2B offers – indeed, it’s essential in many cases – but the general evolution of messaging remains a deeply contentious and opaque area. The fact is that many of the most valuable services that are offered by MNOs demand rigorous QoS and these can and must continue to be delivered, even as the network evolves around them. Precisely how that QoS is assured in current, new and future network architectures remains a critical point.

But back to RCS. Despite years of discussion, not much has really happened. I still use SMS more frequently than any alternative messaging service and it’s good enough for most cases. It would be nice if some of the things in iMessage or whatever were universally available but it doesn’t seem likely to happen soon. It might, but it might not. RCS may happen, it may not, but the sooner the term morphs into something more palatable, the better – and it’s definitely time to stop talking about it in the terms originally conceived by the GSMA.

So, we were wrong to imagine that the MNO community would embrace the enthusiasm and creativity offered by the entrants in the RCS innovation awards back in 2010. We were wrong to imagine that anything would happen to build on this. In this sense, those who call for the RCS zombie to be culled are right. Perhaps my MNO messaging service will simply remain the lowest common denominator, to be used when all else fails.

But at the same time, there remain use cases in which QoS is important and this needs to be recognised, freed from the legacy of debate on RCS, which is misleading and wastes time because of the huge baggage that accompanies it. Instead of deliberating what’s happened in the last five years, we should instead focus on use cases for service that have more stringent requirements and which can attract money – and the most obvious place in which to look is in enterprise markets.

We don’t mind being wrong about this, because being wrong from time to time is healthy. It means you’ve made a decision, based on some deliberation and evidence and chosen to take a position. Being wrong means you can subsequently re-evaluate matters and adjust your position – at least you move on and take action.

What is most galling about the whole RCS debacle is not so much the debate, which has been both amusing and interesting, but rather the shamelessness of MNOs that pretended to have an interest in things and then chose to do nothing. For all the hot air expended and energy invested, nothing happens – which means we are more sceptical than ever about the ability of MNOs to innovate, at least when it comes to consumer and mass market services.

And it also makes us wonder about something else. The industry has been very focused on the apparent OTT threat, to the extent that operators have spent the last few years in some sort of existential introspective trance, contemplating their very futures. A number of things have emerged lately that suggest very clearly that this has also been a huge waste of time and that MNOs (and other CSPs) have been looking in the wrong direction entirely. On which topic, more another day.

3 things every marketer should know

Marketers spend their careers acquiring and refining new skills.

We’re the people who make sure that event stands arrive on time, we’re the people who write the copy, design the graphics and create the campaigns, we update websites, monitor SEO and create landing pages…The list goes on.

From the day-to-day activities to the quarterly projects, marketing staff have to call on a wide range of creative, analytical and organisational skills and a truly useful marketer will be a jack-of-all-trades, a quick learner with the confidence to turn her hand to anything.

Successful marketers have to know a little bit about a lot of things. Here are three essentials you need to know about in 2015.

How to use a CMS

The days of static, hand-coded websites are behind us.

Today, corporate websites are flexible, dynamic and agile, designed for on-the-fly changes and updates. For most of us, this means using a Content Management System (CMS), an infrastructure like Joomla! or WordPress that enables non-technical types to change and update pages, add menu items, post blogs or change the look and feel of the site entirely.

In the past, the task of making web updates and changes typically fell with someone in the technical team, a jobbing engineer with an interest in HTML perhaps. That’s not the case any more. It’s a marketing task, so knowing your way around a web CMS is a must-have skill for a modern marketer.

There are many different CMS options available and the choice you make is likely to depend on the skill set you have and the functionality you need from your site. In our opinion there’s a simple trade off – the more a CMS is capable of doing, the more complex the back- end environment becomes and the steeper the learning curve is for the administrator.
As a guide, we think there’s a fairly simple continuum from the easy-to-use but relatively limited WordPress, to the tricky but comprehensive environment of Drupal – with Joomla! sitting somewhere in between.

When you outsource the development of your new website, add a couple of days of administrator training to the brief – get the developer to run through basic admin tasks with you but also to teach you how to make changes to the structure of the site and the layout of pages.

Whichever CMS you decide to go with, make sure that you’re the go-to person for web updates and changes.

How to use DTP software

Unless you happen to have an eye for it, the design of collateral and promotional materials should really be left to the professionals but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be competent with DTP (Desktop Publishing) software.

While it’s essential to get the input of a designer at the design stage, you really don’t want to be going back to your graphic designer every time a product specification changes or a new use case needs to be added.

A marketer needs to be able create a new brochure or update a product sheet at a moment’s notice and, despite what some may think, knocking up a word document and printing to PDF isn’t the slick, professional presentation that the boss is looking for.

A basic level of competence with an application like Adobe InDesign is an essential skill for the modern marketer. Accessing and paying for the Adobe Creative Suite has never been cheaper or easier and there are scores of free video tutorials to get you through the basics. No one is suggesting that you need to become a graphic design wizard overnight, but being able to edit some text and update an image in a professional print-ready document is an essential skill that will save you money and time.

Your company’s messaging hierarchy

Messaging development is one of the softer skills that a modern marketer needs to acquire in order to be of real value to the company. Messaging development sits alongside brand management as one of the major planks of your company’s marketing communications strategy and, as a marketing expert, you should be the oracle for all things ‘messaging’ – helping to ensure that all communications are consistent, ‘on-message’ and working to promote the overall brand strategy.

Asserting the brand values and promoting the key supporting messages is a major responsibility. You need to be able to promote a strong and consistent message to your audience and the best way to do that is to create a messaging hierarchy document that clarifies the brand position.

There are numerous, well established templates available that will guide you through the core components of a messaging hierarchy. We prefer to use a pyramid structure that takes us from a statement of context through key messages up to the brand promise. It helps us clarify what’s important for our customers to communicate and acts as a constant reference point when we’re helping them develop a messaging strategy or implement that strategy across their collateral.

As the marketing guy, you’ll be the guardian of the company’s most valuable assets – the messaging and brand – and knowing how to organise this is a key skill that every marketer needs to have.

For more information on how we can help you to develop your brand and messaging strategy or to get some training an advice on CMS websites or collateral creation – just get in touch, we’d be happy to help.