Hamish White, CEO of Mobilise Consulting, says that Brexit could provide the mobile industry with a unique opportunity to innovate and grow
I don’t expect many events in our working life will jolt us more than Brexit. Whatever your view, in four years time we will face massive change.
Of course, the mobile industry is not immune to change. The pace of network evolution has prompted the delivery of new service and product revenue opportunities - and threats depending on your place in the market - all at incredible speed.
Take for example, Apple’s unique view on how people should be able to use a network to communicate. Despite the resistance, its devices are now a necessary evil for the operators, and its game plan has accelerated the adoption of wi-fi, leaving room for new entrants like Whatsapp to shake things up further. Anyone planning network architectures and roll out will no doubt be considering how an ROI on 5G can be achieved.
And let’s not forget the regulatory biggies like Reding’s attack on roaming charges. Consumer championing at its best, whether you liked it or not.
All of these things have happened over time. They are not surprises. They could be planned for.
Brexit is different. The sheer scale of the ‘what ifs’ has left many scratching their heads. An industry so used to dealing with uncertainty brought about by competitive trading, is now wondering what it should anticipate. From skills to regulation the mix of eventualities is a wide as it is varied.
Cost will be the first thing to come under scrutiny as consumer confidence fluctuates and the banks set the scene for economic stability. Rightly so. Prudence in such times is never a bad thing.
However, it strikes me that in this uncertainty is a golden opportunity to do something different. A chance to stand out.
Most companies reacting to a scenario imposed upon them, respond with break-neck speed. We’ve all been there, cobbled together billing system to respond to aggressive competitor pricing, introduced adequate technology that wasn’t budgeted for rather than the tech that was up to the job in order to bring new products to market before anyone else. Even launched a product before all the bugs were resolved.
Speed to market dominates mobile. But this time we don’t have days or months, we have years to plan and prepare. Article 50, will most likely be two years of negotiation followed by two years of activation. That’s four years in which to really consider what will change and identify how you can win in the market.
Regulation has to be up there, but so do skills. They are not surprising outcomes of Brexit. And with the right links into policy makers they can be shaped.
And that’s important, as to my mind both will influence innovation in different measures. The UK has benefited greatly from the free flow of people in Europe - from those on the front line serving customers, to those bringing expertise from other markets and influencing new ways of doing things.
It’s one of the major reasons I decided as an Australian, who has worked everywhere in the world, that the UK, and Europe, was the right place to set up a consultancy. There’s no questioning that the loss of the diversity of skills will be a hard knock to take.
I’ve heard many say that it will affect the industry’s ability to innovate. But will it? Surely this is our opportunity to take the four years as a time to truly invest in programmes that could fundamentally change how we do things, and bring about the instigation of products that really will differentiate and drive loyalty.
Just look at roaming, without regulation, it’s easy to see how things could go backwards. But which operator is going to want to take the risk on customer numbers by bringing in complex or high cost roaming charges?
Instead, could it be a chance to be radical? A chance to really invest in technology that supports pricing innovation? I think so. And if operators were savvy they’d be putting in place even more international secondments, or partnerships, which would support the innovation, by increasing the learning and sharing of best practice across borders in readiness for a time when it won’t be so easy.
I realise money doesn’t grow on trees, and many companies will have to look at innovation in line with cost cutting – investments have to be offset. But it will be crucial to ensure that the economising happens in such a way that it doesn’t impede innovation. By which I mean, you shouldn’t jump to people as the first thing to cut.
Skills are the muscle power behind many companies. Without them we can’t thrive. Instead, it’s essential that the things that are superfluous or could be done differently, are scrutinised. Better to cut the fat out of the business and become leaner so that innovation can be afforded.
This will require the biggest operators to join their plans up – make sure the enterprise team with grand product plans, can be supported by network innovation, and it will take a great deal of insight and future thinking to develop plans that will stand the test of time as well as bring about competitive advantage.
For the smaller players, it’s a chance to be more aggressive and bold and challenge in new ways. And when it comes to the supporting industries, it’s an opportunity to develop capability that operators will buy rather than grow themselves.
All of it is within our gift to achieve if we want to see the UK mobile industry continue to lead the world. We just need to be brave and rather than let Brexit happen to us, we need to take it by the scruff of the neck and make Brexit happen for us.
Hamish White is CEO of Mobilise Consulting