A Question of Speed

David Murphy

Yogen Patel, VP Product Marketing at Ceon, looks at how Product Lifecycle Management solutions can help mobile operators to get new products and services to market in the timeframes that the modern consumer demands


Yogen_ceon
One of the defining characteristics of the Web 2.0 generation of
consumers who buy goods and socialise online is their demand for mobile
and entertainment services that are linked to their lifestyle and
individual preferences. This new generation of consumers - the fastest
growing market for revenue-rich mobile data services - are increasingly
impatient and fickle individuals who are notoriously prone to switching
network providers as frequently as they do phones.
Many operators,
however, are struggling to deliver new dynamic services at the speed at
which the market now requires. Converged services operators are looking
to launch anywhere from 20 to 40 or more product offers and packages
every few months. Reliance on traditional, labour-intensive methods for
defining, managing and launching new products is no longer tenable if
operators want to meet their objectives of delivering the right offer
to the right customer at the right time.
As timing and targeting,
together with speed of deployment, are proving critical in winning
consumers business, operators need to adopt more agile and innovative
ways of managing the product idea to product launch process.
Improving the speed and efficiency with which they introduce new, more
complex converged services offerings is essential if they are to
survive in this increasingly fierce competitive market. 
Lacking
the right tools and technology to support the product management
process could severely hinder efforts to win and retain young
consumers. Operators will need to overcome this challenge if they are
to efficiently and quickly provide a tailored mix of services to their
consumers.




Personal treatment
For operators looking to build profit and increase market share, capturing the loyalty of the i-generation is vital. These consumers born in the 70s, 80s and 90s  - consume a dynamic mix of entertainment and communication services, downloading music, TV and games to their mobile and subscribing to bundles of Video on Demand and cable services, from the provider best suited to meet their changing needs.
The significance of their spending power was highlighted in Jupiters recent European Mobile Youth Consumer Survey 2007. This revealed that half of those aged between 15 and 18 use revenue-rich mobile multimedia services, compared to just 17% of 35 - 44 year olds.
They are also significant for the spending power they will wield in the future: todays 15 year-old gamer is tomorrows multimedia communications services subscriber, who will expect an on-demand mix of services.
The rules by which these consumers can be targeted are also shifting. Todays consumer can be defined by a number of different roles and interests - employee, supporter of a football team, fan of action films or of a particular pop group.  Accordingly, they expect to receive a mix of quality, personalised services that recognise their lifestyle and overlapping roles.
For operators, its the ultimate exercise in customer segmentation, and, with consumers expectations rising, the challenge of defining and rolling out new products in order to stay competitive and differentiate themselves has to be addressed now. 
A number of operators are now recognising the need to more aggressively market highly tailored product offerings of converged, broadband, mobile and entertainment services, and are already facing the challenge of coming up with new products and packages on a weekly basis in some cases. Eventually, service providers will need to be capable of putting up product and service package offerings that may only last a few days, or even hours.


The Challenge for Operators
The reality, however is that few operators have the systems and processes in place to be able to do this. Surprisingly, the current methods used to define and deliver products mean that there is a lot of hit and miss in the approach, with a heavy reliance on ad hoc, manual processes such as spreadsheets and text documents, which can seriously delay product launches. Furthermore, product definition and management processes are not integrated into the core operational processes and systems of the service provider.
In many cases, product and marketing managers are now managing a product and service portfolio that often spans thousands of items and offer elements. The challenge of compiling and updating a definitive list of available service capabilities, devices, content and merchandise from which product managers can define product offerings, on a scale such as this, is formidable. The process can be tedious and time-consuming, involving working out service combinations on paper, and manually repeating the bundle requirements, constraints and dependencies. 
Our own research suggests there are significant inefficiencies in the way in which operators launch new products. All too often, they are working in silos with no unified overview of product offerings, hampered by poor internal communications between business units, and legacy infrastructures which prohibit their ability to get a full view of the relevant product and service assets.
From research carried out with Tier 1 UK telecom operators just last year, the time from design to launch of a medium complexity product could be anywhere between three to 18 months, with up to 300 people involved in the process, across divisions and functions including planners, product managers, service designers and analysts. Lead times such as these will simply not be sustainable in toadys fast-moving multimedia/content-driven market. 


From paper and pencil to rapid response
The message then for operators is clear: adapt to survive. Developing more standardised approaches to product lifecycle management, by streamlining and simplifying the collaboration of cross-functional teams and automating processes across the organisation is essential. Operators need to become more innovative and agile in the way they combine underlying network and service capabilities into offerings and packages. They also need to integrate their product realisation and management processes into their operational systems and processes.
Focused and purpose-built Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions are now emerging in the market. They can enable operators to significantly reduce time-to-market and cost-to-market for new products. Although the PLM discipline is not new, its application to the telecoms market brings a fresh approach. This software effectively automates the product management and product catalogue update process, enabling operators to speed-up and simplify their new product introduction processes. 
These systems provide a central definition environment and source of information on products and services, which all relevant teams and systems can access - invaluable for teams working on products which cut across business divisions, that must collaborate on creating new offerings. These PLM solutions also simplify creation of product bundles constructed from external supplier services or content, such as a package linked to a sporting event like next years Olympics, which would comprise a mix of content, wallpaper, ringtones and merchandise sourced externally.
This is a rapid-response, customer-focused mode of operation which will allow teams and business units to manage and deploy a catalogue of product offerings, including new or updated feature attributes and pricing elements, within weeks if not days.
To capture and retain the youth market, speed and choice are everything. Moving to a more product-based, consumer-focused business model will enable operators to design and launch new services or products, matched to changing individual needs, as quickly and efficiently as possible.