Customer-driven Networks

By: Matthew Ray

With its roots as a utility, the traditional culture of communications service providers (CSPs) has been to first consider what the network could do, and then monetize it. Service offerings were built on existing capabilities. And for years this worked until—with cloud providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers encroaching on the telecom market—suddenly it did not, with serious impact to both CSPs’ revenues and relevance. The legacy, network-centric approach is not attuned to the demands of the enterprise customer, and to the real and emergent pressures of a hyperconnected, always-on world. Cloud providers were born customer-first, and they can deliver what customers want: greater control.

Faced with increasing and evolving customer demands, and under immense competitive pressure, CSPs must make a pivot to attain greater control, visibility, and extensibility. But it’s not easy—and the clock is ticking. However, this will require a shift from a network-centric to customer-centric approach, digitizing operations, and simplifying the ever-increasing complexity of network management—all while improving the customer experience (CX). It’s a tall order, but with the right tools and approach, this turning point can represent significant opportunity for operators and CSPs of all sizes. In fact, smaller CSPs likely have the agility to use superior CX for a faster, more successful pivot than many of their larger counterparts.

Improving CX with greater control

Today, enterprise customers want more control over their networks than ever before. They want to be able to change direction or locations or buy or sell bandwidth. At a higher level, they want options like going deeper into the network, enabling automation and intelligence-driven decisions that give them agility for present demands and future needs.

Standing in between CSPs and the ability to deliver on the desire for greater customer control is equipment and provisioning that does not expose information beyond a network engineering group. In many cases, CSPs lack the agility, software, and tools to quickly provision services and manage network configurations—and the ability to provide this level of control to their customers.

As a cautionary tale, CSPs need only look to data centers and the entrance of Amazon Web Services (AWS) to the market. AWS gave a new level of control to enterprise customers, enabling them to provision a server, turn up virtual machines, and install applications—all from a desktop without having to perform these functions within a proprietary environment.

This is exactly the type of control that enterprise customers want from their network service providers. They want to manage their network environment without having to involve or wait on the provider’s personnel to make the changes for them. They want the agility to increase bandwidth between two locations, for example. They want to execute it and have everything that goes along with it automated, from modification record to billing, without any human involvement on the network side. It’s a zero-touch, self-service experience that encompasses automated provisioning, service chaining, data flow, and network management. Enterprise customers are used to and expect that they can make changes themselves and in real time. They want to manage it themselves, as opposed to making a call, opening a ticket, and waiting two days before something can be done. They want control as their business applications or requirements dictate. But ultimately, when your biggest competitors are customer-first, being able to provide greater control is no longer a ‘nice to have’—it’s a survival imperative.

It's a paradigm shift to take a native network and expose it out in a secure manner to the appropriate personnel at the customer site—and allow them the capability to control it. But it’s a necessary shift, because otherwise CSPs risk losing customers to cloud service providers who provide a digital experience—with superior CX—that gives them the control they want. In a highly competitive market, network services are being commoditized, which is driving price erosion. And enterprise customers are looking for that element of control as a deciding factor.

Enabling agility by simplifying complexity

Giving customers more control leads to differentiation and enables better CX, but it goes further. Customer control also unlocks additional business benefits. In addition to enabling CX as a key competitive differentiator, you’re also simplifying your business at the same time.

Managing the complexity of customer requests is costly and time-consuming for service providers, so there are upsides to efficiently empowering customers through greater agility and control. Once a customer has these tools and capabilities, they are also far less likely to churn to another service provider that doesn’t provide the same control—so there is a new customer stickiness that can ultimately benefit the bottom line. In addition, making the shift to a customer-driven network can help service 


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