Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2021

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2020 saw a shutdown in both supply and demand which has effectively put the brakes on many economic activities and forced a complete rethink on how to continue doing business and maintain social interactions. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digitalisation of consumers and enterprises, and the telecommunications industry has been the pillar which has kept the world ticking over. The rise in data use coupled with the fervent growth of the digital economy augurs well for the telecom sector in 2021.

Ecosystm Advisors Claus Mortensen, Rahul Gupta, and Shamir Amanullah present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Telecommunications & Mobility trends for 2021. This is a summary of the predictions – the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform.

The Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2021

  1. The 5G Divide – Reality for Some and Hype for Others

Despite the economic challenges in 2020, GSMA reports that the global 5G subscriptions doubled QoQ in Q2 2020 to hit at least 137.7 million subscribers. This accounts for 1.5% of total subscribers – and is expected to rise to 30% by 2025.

The value of 5G will become increasingly mainstream in the next few years. 5G offers a tailored user-centric approach to network services, low latency and significantly higher number of connections which will power a new era of mobile Internet of Everything (IoE).

However, there are many operators who are still sceptical about 5G. In the US, many operators failed to get any tangible positives from 5G. In the near term, many operators will continue to evolve their 5G capabilities – a full grown standalone 5G technology implementation in some verticals might take longer. 

The unsuccessful launch of 5G by the US operators does not mean that 5G is a failure, however. It also implies that we need to look at other geographies to lead us into 5G – and Asia Pacific may well emerge as a leader in this space. China, for example, leads the drive in 5G adoption; and 5G smartphones account for more than half of global sales in recent months.

  1. Telecom Operators Will Accelerate Digital Transformation

Telecom operators are facing increasing demands for cutting-edge services and top-notch customer experience (CX). The global pandemic has caused revenue loss, due to struggling economies and many operators will aim to reduce OpEX to circumvent these financial pressures, raise the quality of CX and retain existing customers. To realise this, there will be much focus on improvement in efficiencies, better operations management as well as improving the IT stack. These digital transformation efforts will enable rapid and flexible services provisioning, which will be better prepared for the tailored services customers now demand.

Many operators are increasingly incorporating cloudification alongside the 5G network deployment. Operators are moving towards transforming their operations and business support systems to a more virtualised and software-defined infrastructure. 5G will operate across a range of frequencies and bands – with significantly more devices and connections becoming software-defined with computing power at the Edge. Operators will also harness the power of AI to analyse massive volumes of data from the networks accessed by millions of devices in order to improve CX, ramp up operational efficiencies as well as introduce new services tailored to customer needs to increase revenue.

  1. Remote Working Will Transform Telecommunications Networks

The changing patterns in peak network traffic and the substantial movement of traffic from central business districts to residential areas require a fundamental rethink in network traffic management. In addition, many businesses continue to ramp up digital transformation efforts to conduct business online as physical channels will remain limited. Consumer onboarding will also be fervent, as organisations look at business recovery – resulting in increase in bandwidth requirements.

The increasing remote working trend is amplifying the need for greater cybersecurity. Cybersecurity has catapulted in importance as the pandemic has seen a worrying increase in attacks on banks, cloud servers and mobile devices, among others. Cyber-attack incidents specifically due to remote working, has seen a rise. A telecom operator’s compromised security can have country-wide, and even global consequences.

  1. SASE Will Grow – and Sprawl

Although it was perhaps originally seen as an Over-The-Top (OTT) provisioned competitive service to operators’ MPLS services, many telecom service providers have been embracing SD-WAN over the years as part of their managed services portfolio. “Traditional” SD-WAN offers some of the flexibility needed to address the change towards a more distributed access and the workload requirements that the pandemic has accelerated – the technology does not address all of the issues related to this transformed workspace.

Employees are now working from a variety of locations and workloads are becoming increasingly distributed. To address this change, organisations are challenged to move workloads and applications between platforms, potentially compromising security. Despite all the challenges that the pandemic brought with it – both human and technical – it has also provided organisations with an opportunity to rethink their IT and WAN architectures and to adopt an approach that has security at its core.

We believe that secure access service edge (SASE), which is a model for combining SD-WAN and security in a cloud-based environment, will see a drastic rise in adoption in 2021 and beyond.

  1. OTT Players Will Continue their Expansion in the Telecommunications Space

Facebook, Google, Amazon are no longer considered as web companies as they moved from standalone ‘web’ companies to become OTT providers and are now significant players in telecom space. With the Facebook-Jio deal in India earlier this year, and with Google and Amazon actively eyeing the telecom space, these players will continue to explore this space especially in the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. There are telecom providers in these countries which will be prime targets for partnerships. These operators could be those that have a large customer base, are struggling with their bottom lines or are already looking at exit routes. OTT players were already offering services like voice, messaging, video calling and so on which have been the domain expertise of mobile operators for a long time. The market will see instances where telecom providers will sell small stakes to OTT players at a premium and get access to the vast array of services that these OTT providers offer.


Download Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2021

The full findings and implications of the Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.

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Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021

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The Retail industry has had to do a sharp re-think of its digital roadmap and transformation journey – Ecosystm research shows that about 75% of retail organisations had to start, accelerate, or re-focus their digital transformation initiatives. However, that will not be enough as organisations move beyond survival to recovery – and future successes. While retailers will focus on the shift in customer expectations, a mere focus on customer experience will not be enough in 2021. Ecosystm Principal Advisors, Alan Hesketh and Alea Fairchild present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Retail & eCommerce in 2021.

This is a summary of the predictions, the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.

The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021

  1. There Will Only be Omnichannel Retailers

The value of an omnichannel offer in Retail has become much clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers that do not have the ability to deliver using the channel customers prefer will find it hard to compete. As the physical channel becomes less important new revenue opportunities will open up for businesses operating in adjacent market sectors – companies such as food and grocery wholesalers will increasingly sell direct to consumers, leveraging their existing online and distribution capabilities.

Most customers transact on mobile device – either a mobile phone or tablet.  New capabilities will remove some of the barriers to using these mobile devices. For one, technologies such as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will provide a better customer experience on mobile platforms than existing websites, while delivering a user experience at par or better than mobile apps. Also, as retailers become AI-enabled, machine learning engines will provide purchase recommendations through smartwatches or in-home, voice-enabled, smart devices.  

  1. COVID-19 Will Continue to be an Influence Forcing Radical Shifts

In driving the economic recovery in 2021, we will see ‘glocal’ consumption – emphasis on local retailers and global players taking local actions to win the hearts and minds of local consumers. There will be significant actions within local communities to drive consumers to support local retailers. Location-based services (LBS) will be used extensively as consumers on the high street carry more LBS-enabled devices than ever before. Bluetooth beacon technology and proximity marketing will drive these efforts. Consumers will have to opt-in for this to work, so privacy and relationship management are also important to consider.

But people still want to “physically” browse, and design aesthetics of a store are still part of the attraction. In the next 18 months, the concept of virtual stores that are digital twins will take off, particularly in the holiday and Spring clearance sales. Innovators like Matterport can help local retailers gain a more global audience with a digital twin with a limited technological investment. At a minimum, Shopify or other intermediaries will be necessary for a digital shop window.  

  1. The Industry will See Artificial Intelligence in Everything

AI will increase its impact on Retail with an uptake in two key areas.

  • Customer interactions. Retail AI will use customer data to deliver much richer and targeted experiences. This may include the ability to get to a ‘segment of one’.  Tools will include chatbots that are more functional and support for voice-based commerce using mobile and in-home edge devices. Also, in-store recognition of customers will become easier through enhanced device or facial recognition. Markets where privacy is less respected will lead in this area – other markets will also innovate to achieve the same outcomes without compromising privacy but will lag in their delivery. This mismatch of capability may allow early adopters to enter other geographic markets with competitive offers while meeting the privacy requirements of these markets.
  • Supply chain and pricing capabilities. AI-based machine learning engines using both internal and increased sources of external data will replace traditional math-based forecasting and replenishment models. These engines will enable the identification of unexpected and unusual demand influencing factors, particularly from new sources of external data. Modelling of price elasticity using machine learning will be able to handle more complex models. Retailers using this capability will be in a better position to optimise their customer offers based on their pricing strategies. Supply chains will be re-engineered so products with high demand volatility are manufactured close to markets, and the procurement of products with stable demands will be cost-based.
  1. Distribution Woes Will Continue

Third party delivery platforms such as Wish and RoseGal are recruiting additional international non-Asian suppliers to expand their portfolios. Amazon and AliExpress are leaders here, but there are many niche eCommerce platforms taking up the slack due to the uneven distribution patterns from the ongoing economic situation. Expect to see a number of new entrants taking up niche spaces in the second half of 2021, sponsored by major retail product brands, to give Amazon a run for their money on a more local basis. 

As the USPS continues to be under strain, delivery companies like FedEx in the US who partner with the USPS are already suffering from the USPS’s operational slowdown, in both their customer reputation and delivery speed. In 2021, COVID-19 – and workers’ unions – will continue to impact distribution activities. Increased spending in warehouse automation and new retail footprints such as dark stores will be seen to make up for worker shortfalls.  

  1. China’s Retail Models Will Expand into Other Markets  

China’s online businesses operate in a large domestic market that is comparatively free of international competitors.  Given the scale of the domestic market, these online companies have been able to grow to become substantial businesses using advanced technologies. All the Chinese tech giants – among them Alibaba, ByteDance, DiDi Chuxing, and Tencent – are expanding internationally.

China’s rapidly recovering economy puts those businesses in a strong position to fund a competitive expansion into international markets using their domestic base, particularly with their Government’s promotion of the country’s tech sector. It is harder to impose restrictions on software-based businesses, unlike the approach that we have witnessed the US Government take for hardware companies such as Huawei – placing constraints on mobile phone components and operating systems.

These tech giants also have significant experience in a Big Data environment that provides little privacy protection, as well as leading-edge AI capabilities. While they will not be able to operate with the same freedom in global markets, and there will be other large challenges in translating Chinese experience to other markets – these tech players will be able to compete very effectively with incumbent global companies. Chinese companies also continue to raise capital from US stock exchanges with The Economist reporting Chinese listings have raised close to USD 17 billion since January 2020.  


Download Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021

The full findings and implications of The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.

Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021
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Automation Drives Digital Transformation at the University of Staffordshire

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The Education sector is currently facing immense challenges with enabling a remote learning environment and ensuring the safety of staff, employees, and students. This is on top of the usual challenges of resource optimisation, student retention, student recruitment, and so on. Moreover, today’s students are millennials and post-millennials, who are digital natives – pushing educational institutions to adopt technology to attract the right cohort and provide an education that equips the students for the workplace of the future. The industry is being driven to transform, to keep up with student expectations on delivery, access to the resource, and how they choose to communicate with their educators and peers.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Dr Alea Fairchild says, “Education administration budgets are not increasing, but the pressure for quick response and more personalised interaction for students, means that administrators need to focus on interaction as the core competency. This requires institutions to automate as much of the volume back-office activity as feasible. The challenge is that individualised course structures mean more complex billing configurations.”

Dr Fairchild, who is active in international education in Belgium, says, “Individual study paths, including Erasmus exchanges, create a need for an audit trail on transfers, exemptions and completions.”

Ecosystm research finds that educational institutions are focused on adopting emerging technologies mainly to improve student services (Figure 1). The processes are being automated to reduce risks, errors and turnaround times for results and application processing, while also removing repetitive tasks so administration can focus on more value-add student-facing activities.

Top Tech Priorities in Education

University of Staffordshire Embraces Digital Transformation

The University of Staffordshire is a “connected university” with an emphasis on industry connections and graduate employability. At the heart of Stoke-on-Trent and a regional hub for healthcare education, the university has six schools as well as a well-known degree in computer games design.

The UK-based University has over the years built a reputation for being keen on embracing digital as a way of better management, offering better student services, and serving the larger community. In 2018, Staffordshire University announced plans to build a multi-million-pound apprenticeship hub at its Stoke-on-Trent campus supported by tech giants including Microsoft to equip students with digital skills and to deliver more than 6,500 new apprenticeships over the next decade.

Last year, the University implemented a digital assistant, called Beacon, hosted on Microsoft Azure Cloud that provides support to their students on their learning and on-campus activities, including monitoring their emotional well-being and providing recommendations on groups and societies that they might be interested in. Beacon aims to ease the life of a university student, acting as a digital coach, and to minimise drop-outs due to stress and uncertainty.

Like its peer organisations, in the wake of the pandemic, the university was able to implement a blended learning program – offering courses through digital and remote learning systems from this semester for the entire 2020-21 session.

Focusing on Transformation through Automation

The University of Staffordshire, recently implemented robotic process automation (RPA) as part of its digital transformation plan. Talking about the role of RPA in Education, Dr Fairchild says, “This is a recent trend in higher education, with other new initiatives seen at the University of Auckland and University of Melbourne. RPA as a tool is used in Education to achieve the service levels required to meet both students’ and potential students’ expectations. This includes downloading student applications, processing language waiver requests, and entering academic results. These are all rule-based, high volume applications where automation increases speed and reduces errors.”

The University is using Blue Prism Cloud to access the RPA software and has plans for a automation-led digital transformation roadmap. Dr Fairchild says, “Blue Prism is based on Java and uses a Top-Down approach. It offers a visual designer with no recorders, scripts, or any intervention. Blue Prism is based on process diagrams that utilise core programming concepts and create the operational process flows to analyse, modify and scale business capability.”

The Staffordshire Digital team initially implemented RPA in the Finance department, as it involves a lot of administrative and back-office operations such as management of finance, records, tuition fees details and more. The University’s emphasis is to free up personnel and make them focus on more productive areas. This is beneficial for both the administrative staff’s feeling of personal contribution as well as student service satisfaction levels. “Using RPA gives the opportunity to universities to revisit, redesign, and improve their existing processes in line with expectations from digital native students. For prospective students, the next wave of RPA integration is intelligent machine learning algorithms to help route emails and integrate chatbots to address questions on course selection,” says Dr Fairchild.


Gain greater visibility into the key adoption trends in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions and industry best practices
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How is AI Helping you Improve Customer Engagement?

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Your CEO and Board are asking you to cut costs and do more with the IT budget.

This is the usual refrain you get used to as a Chief Digital or Information Officer. COVID-19 has increased the need for cost savings, without compromising your organisation’s mission. In Ecosystm’s on-going research, Digital Priorities in the New Normal – a COVID-19 Study, there are several common themes that emerge for retailers. 

Impact of COVID-19 on Retail Industry

The impact of the cost-cutting measures that organisations are implementing, on CDOs and CIOs has been discussed in my report Managing Costs in the New Normal, where I provide guidance on how to address the necessary cuts.

Super Retail Group (SRG) recently presented at SalesForce Live on their success in using AI to improve their customer engagement – linking digital customer engagement and re-calibration of AI models. I want to highlight a couple of aspects of SRG’s experience for those retailers addressing these themes.

Increasing Customer Engagement

In a well-run online presence, retailers acquire a significant amount of data about their customers’ online behaviour. Data such as customer’s purchase history as well as how they traverse the site, how long they remain on the site and how they leave – often without purchasing. The challenge is how you can collect and use this data to improve the customer experience (CX) and increase sales in our new normal.

SRG, trading under banners such as Super Cheap Auto, BCF and Rebel across Australasia, has adopted a Salesforce tool called Einstein to address this challenge. SRG is using this AI engine to present product recommendations in several contexts across a customer’s online journey.

The impact of COVID-19 means overall sales across the group has declined. At the same time, online sales have grown to be generating almost 20% of the overall sales. Within these online sales, the AI recommendation engine has directly influenced 1 in 5 customer purchases.

SRG has developed a significant base of customer data since they introduced omnichannel and club offers; and are now seeing the return from this investment. Recommendation engines operate best when they have quality data in volume – and the proportion of and growth in, online customers using these recommendations is a guide to the quality of the platform.

Coping with Increasing Online Demands

Ecosystm research finds that over 56% of retailers are increasing their use of digital technologies for CX and will continue to invest after the immediate crisis. As always, getting the right value from this increased expenditure will be critical to a retailer’s price competitiveness and profitability.

With online sales growing dramatically, SRG’s online share of sales has more than doubled over April and May, the potential return from an engaging online CX has increased significantly. In turn, this has increased the importance of the online CX to a retailer’s competitive positioning and market share.

Tech leaders will be expected to provide direction on how to achieve this improvement, with AI engines offering an increasingly important tool in increasing the speed of response to changing customer behaviours.

With their mapping of customer journeys, SRG has been able to target specific stages in the journey for the use of the AI recommendation engine. Their focus on increasing the size and value of a customer’s basket provides the explicit measure of success. And SRG’s customers are showing their enthusiasm for these recommendations. The share of online sales influenced by the AI engine grew by over 600% in the past 12 months.

Customer expectations are continually being redefined by their experiences across the online environment, not just by retailers. In our new normal, with online becoming significantly important, retailers need to be consistently improving their offer to remain competitive. 

Our study results shows that retailers are taking this step and will need to pay careful attention to their cost base and profitability while making these changes. SRG’s success with the AI engine shows that this is possible.

Lessons to Learn

COVID-19 has changed customer behaviour significantly, and tech leaders are identifying new tools and processes to improve their CX in line with these changes.  SRG has continued its customer-focused omnichannel approach by adopting the Salesforce Einstein AI engine. By using one of their key sales metrics – size and value of basket – they have been able to assess the contribution of this tool.

There are some clear lessons for other retailers from their experience:

  • Be very clear on why you are introducing the new tool – how you are going to achieve value.
  • Understand the foundation that you need, to introduce new technology. You will find being successful using AI without quality data in volume will be difficult.
  • Experiment and learn quickly from experience gained. In this cost-constrained world, don’t over-commit to a new approach without evidence.
  • Use products and services that have a low cost of entry and a variable cost model. Cloud services generally provide this cost model.

Our research, along with press release such as SRG’s, show that retail leaders are continuously improving their customer engagement. As a tech leader, you need to be aware that customers will vote with their clicks, for retailers that are delivering. 

And getting those non-essential costs out has never been more critical.


More insights on Retail organisations and their most significant response to COVID-19, can be found in the Managing IT Costs in The New Normal – Report
Managing IT Costs in the new normal

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The Path to Recovery – The Post COVID-19 World

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We continue to receive responses from the tech buyer community on the impact of COVID-19 on Digital Transformation initiatives, and the early business and technology measures that were implemented to combat the crisis. As the months go by, it is becoming apparent that organisations have implemented the early measures and are now looking ahead to their journey to recovery.

IT Teams realised that even if they had the right technology solutions, they were unprepared for the scale or capacity to extend these technology offerings to handle the sudden and enormous changes required to manage the crisis. Their cloud business applications, cybersecurity and collaboration solutions were simply not sufficient to meet the needs of the remote workforce. As organisations become more conscious of business continuity planning (BCP) for future eventualities, they will boost their technology capabilities, over the next 12 months.

Another area the study aims to explore is how optimistic is the business outlook, when it comes to expecting a return to normalcy. Only 3% of organisations are expecting a New Normal that is very different from where things were at the beginning of the year. About a third of organisations are expecting a return to normalcy by the end of the year, while the majority expect to recover by the middle of 2021. Also, some industries are more optimistic of a recovery than others. As an example, 35% of healthcare organisations expect a return to normalcy by the end of the year. This is a positive indicator, given that the industry has been in the forefront of the crisis, for nearly 6 months now.

Recovery Post COVID-19 World

More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see continued investments, as organisations get into the recovery phase, can be found in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study.


Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data


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Global Leaders Partner with Tech Start-ups to Create an Agile Supply Chain

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Global supply chains were impacted early and badly by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that the pandemic started in China – the leader in the Manufacturing industry – meant that many enterprises globally had to re-evaluate their supply chain and logistics. This was compounded by the impact on demand – for some sectors the demand went down significantly, while in others, especially for items required to fight the crisis, there was an unexpected spike in demand. There was also the need for many manufacturers and retailers to shift to eCommerce, to directly access the market and sustain their businesses. These sudden shifts that were required of the industry, opened up the need for a global supply chain that is more integrated, agile and responsive.    

Last week, global heavyweights with a stake in the global supply chain, joined a consortium to work on creating that agility. This includes PepsiCo, BMW, Shopify, DHL, and the United States Postal Service and some emerging tech companies. The alliance will actively work on solutions to embed automation and digitalisation in the logistics and supply chain systems. While this consortium was formed last year, recent events have accelerated the need to fix a global problem.

Co-Creation and Innovation

LINK is a collaborative ecosystem, co-founded by Innovation Endeavors and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) to bring together emerging tech start-ups, institutions and global organisations to innovate and make supply chains resilient. The tech start-ups involved include the likes of Fabric, that has large automated micro-fulfillment centres for faster deliveries, and Third Wave Automation, that has developed automated forklifts with enhanced safety measures.  

LINK aims to transform global supply chains, with the use of technologies such as automation, IoT, AI, and Robotics. The solutions developed by the start-ups will be tested in real-life situations, often in large organisations with complex operations. On the other hand, the start-ups will have access to the internal systems of these large organisations to understand the data and their organisational needs.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought the need for supply chain agility and resilience to a completely new level of criticality. Companies in the ‘New Normal’ will need higher levels of nimbleness and flexibility to be able to recover from this crisis quickly and sustain in an increasing disruptive world. Increased ability to sense and respond to disruptions will be key to success. It will require better visibility of their entire supply chain, increasing efficiencies, building necessary redundancies (in form of inventory and capacity) where they are required the most – redundancy comes at a cost – and being flexible and innovative to cater to the rapid market and supply-side changes. Rapid digitalisation to build such capabilities will be a key to success.” 

“Managing such rapid changes is usually a struggle for organisations with large and complex supply chains, because of the years of past practices, systems and culture. For them Innovation is a must, but the path to innovation is difficult. The LINK collaboration model is the right step towards addressing that challenge. Collaborating with start-ups can infuse new ideas, more innovative ways of solving a problem and rapid testing of use cases in the areas of IoT, AI and automation.”

Involving Start-ups for Innovation

This initiative is a great example of how larger enterprises are looking to leverage innovations by the start-up community. The Financial Services industry has been an early beneficiary, when it stopped competing with Fintech organisations, partnering with them instead. Other industries have started to recognise the benefits of fast pivots and the role start-ups can play. 

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “Bringing together companies that have complementary and unique capabilities to solve industry issues is a great way to speed up experimentation and innovation.”

However, he recognises that forming alliances such as this, comes with its own set of challenges. “One of the key things to recognise in such a construct is that the team members from different possessions bring with them their unique belief systems, organisational and country cultural constructs. Expectations on how things should work, can become quite tricky to navigate. The talent and expertise in such an environment need to be facilitated be able to deliver high quality outcomes.”

Talking about how these constructs can work successfully, delivering what started out to deliver, Bhogaraju says, “An agile team setup can help tremendously as it uses two key principles – People and Interactions over processes; as well as Working models over documentation.”

“A clear expectation setting through contracting at the beginning of the project cycle can help establish the ways of working and rules of engagement. Increased regular feedback and problem solving should continuously fine tune the ways of working. This way teams can get through the norming process at pace and scale and eventually focus on outcomes, rather than fumble over each other and/or have ego flareups.”

“The key is to get to creative problem-solving working cohesively – the intent being to challenge the status quo – stepping outside the box and using all capabilities within the team. Blending the subcultures together using agile way of working and principles, can be a fantastic way to make that happen – failing which you have the challenge of trying to somehow bring together different work products, people and preferences.”

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Re-imaging Hospitality: Digital Acceleration to a more Agile Offering

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One of my Twitter followers who is stressing about her kids going back to school this Fall was wondering if hotels could start offering elearning assistance as part of the re-purposing of their facilities.

Is this part of a digital hotel of the future? This digital hotel is a facility that is welcoming, hospitable, warm and can be used as a multi-functional space. Traditional revenue generation is measured in revenue from room nights, but given that instability in current demand, the facility can be re-purposed to highlight its network-enabled footprint. This is where global design strategies that leverage technology come into play, with a focus on integrative design for use. Digital classrooms, art exhibitions, alternatives to working from home – many things are possible.

With travel restrictions and hygiene and health concerns, hotels and tourism locations globally are having to pivot to a different way of doing business this year. Agility is critical, and how we measure agility and employ agility differentiate us.

I will explore the alternative view on recovery looking at the impact of COVID-19 on organisations in the hospitality industry and how they are pivoting digital priorities to adapt to the New Normal.  

This post will focus on two aspects of the use of digital technology – more innovative ways to view industry recovery, and re-imaging the use of the physical asset from its traditional uses to more creative, digitally enabled functions.

Moving Towards A Different View of Recovery

Since Online Travel Agents (OTA) entered the scene, the hotel industry became obsessed with simple adjustments of rates. Revenue managers focus on analysing, forecasting, and optimising hotel inventory through availability restrictions and dynamic rates. This has become key in measuring a hotel’s demand.

RevPAR, or revenue per available room, is one of the traditional and still the most instilled metrics in the industry. But given demand issues with the pandemic, is revenue forecasting per room the best way to examine hotel recovery? A traditional view on revenue fails when hotel closures and uncertainty on opening impact the ability to forecast and to determine capacity. As seen in Figure 1, both winning customers and increasing agility are paramount to recovery.

Business Priorities in Hospitality

When a destination becomes inaccessible to the traditional clientele, your actual location becomes relevant to a different set of customers. This is for different reasons – so hotels must find different ways to leverage the resources and assets of the business.

One way of looking at this is by re-imaging the use of the physical assets and a suggested approach is looking towards profit planning and management with ProfPASF or Profit per Available Square Feet. We look at hotel construction costs this way, so it stands to reason that utilisation of the asset might also be examined from a cost benefit perspective.

Impact on Digital Transformation

Where does technology play a role in re-imaging Hospitality? As an enabler, a facilitator, a business model supporter? How does the process of Hospitality need to change, and how can technology help? As seen in Figure 2, hotels have had to accelerate and modify their plans.

Impact of COVID-19 on hospitality

The structural assets of the business must either be repurposed or repackaged to take travel restrictions and hygiene and safety concerns into account. 

There are several good examples of hotels who have had the ability financially to rethink and restructure the footprint to address issues that have come from the pandemic. The ones that already planned renovations prior to the crisis have added hygiene aspects such as improved ventilation and less porous floors and fabrics in the selection of materials used. And adding better spatial design to public spaces has allowed them to reinforce the concept of luxury. Documented renovation can be seen in innovative design work by Onyx Hospitality Group, Blink Design Group, independent brand View Hotels and Banyan Tree Holdings.

But this does not mean the hotel or destination must make the investment alone, or even all on-site. Using systems integrators and cloud resources to create digital enabled platforms for guest management, hygiene process management and physical mapping of the capacity of the facility using sensors and mobile are all methods for enabling the digital acceleration of tech investment in the property.

And personalisation of the experience is key, which leads to a discussion of personal data usage and management.

Social Distancing and the Hotel of the New Normal

Retailers, hoteliers and convention centres have the same thing in common, they are all physical locations trying to become safe yet contactless, socially distant yet memorable at the same time.  As we have mentioned in previous reports, the comfort, safety and hygiene of the customer is paramount for their return to Hospitality. Using customer location data on a reliable online platform to track their movement, enable their facilities and services and limit the density of customers per square metre for health, safety and comfort are all aspects of tech-enabled social distancing.

Imagine that you are considering a day stay, for home working alternative or for having a local event. This needs to be within the sanctioned numbers of your locale.  Guests want to know the population density of the location to determine their comfort level. Having a mobile app where potential visitors can see the state of the visitor density of the hotel would provide reassurance as to a safe visit.

Rich Contactless Content

With the encouragement of expanding the scope of technology and social distancing given priority, automated or contactless transaction technologies have seen an increase in implementation in the last six months. Having sensors and IoT technology implemented to see the footprint of the facility in use provides real-time insight for both the customer and the hotel, as to usage.

In order to be able to highlight the functions of both the room and the facility, augmented reality (AR) can demonstrate the use of interactive elements within hotel rooms without human contact.

AR applications within the hotel sector include offering in-house interactive elements (such as location maps and relevant points of interest). These provide digital history of the property and supply guests with relevant information when they are located within certain areas of the hotel (such as a menu if they happen to enter a restaurant).

Use of Space: Location & Hygiene for a Better Experience and as a Precaution

Hotel environments have evolved to add a healthcare layer, including well-being programs, and individual room controls. This includes materiality/ sanitised covering that protects against the spread of infection with clearly defined and explained roll-out cleaning protocols. 

Accor has launched the Cleanliness & Prevention ALLSAFE label, and other brands like Hilton, Hyatt and IHG have tried to brand hygiene into the experience. But the challenge for many is how to restructure and re-image space utilisation to make it both pleasurable and secure.  

Data for Purpose

With contact tracing in the news, many of us are already aware of the digital footprints we leave everywhere we go. And people have a wide variety of personal responses to this.

So how does a hotel use the information a guest either willingly offers or the hotel learns via services provided? If the hotel knows preferences prior to arrival, should they customise the room accordingly? Lighting, scent, preferred pillow choice, allergies – all are useful information. But what if preferences change or implementations are seen to be presumptuous?

Hilton is continually updating its guest technology offerings, from increasing in-app functionality to making further improvements to the entertainment system. One of their ideas is allowing guests to load personal or family pictures. These display on the TV, giving their hotel room more of a familiar sense of home.

And to be both keyless and cashless means the hotel needs to be mobile data enabled. All of this data, including mobile data, should flow like fine wine. But to do that requires knowledge, and learning – gained from experience and AI.  How can I check your preferences are still the same?  How should I use information I collected on you from a previous stay? Is that data kept on your mobile device, or on my hotel server? Is this in the cloud or on-premise in some manner?

Using Data and Intelligence for Personalised Experiences

The final point shown in Figure 3 from the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study on technology direction from the pandemic, combined with Figure 4 from the Ecosystm AI Study showing the use of AI, highlights the need for technologies that support customer experiences and automate processes. Whether it is customer authentication at check-in, virtual customer assistance or rate pricing for appropriate engagement, technology can enable guest appreciation.

Measures after Crisis in Hospitality
Top AI solutions in Hospitality

Summary – Three Post-Pandemic Takeaways

1. Demand for rooms will have to be viewed differently during this period, and cancellation policies already reflect this. To view recovery, use metrics that look at how the whole asset is being used on a physical basis.

2.  Re-imagination of the physical asset will involve some agility and re-purposing within the business. Technology can help enable this, with some wise additions to add value. Voice, IoT and contactless mobile apps all are good candidates for enablement.

3.  Data helps with understanding of guest preferences and can be used for staff learning and knowledge. But it must be held and used correctly.  Listen carefully to what the guest is telling you and respond accordingly.

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Creating Ecosystems to Thrive in the New Normal

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2) A decade ago, the axiom of a successful business model was to identify a need, find the market and then develop an idea or product that fits into that chain. It was a process of inserting a product in the customer’s already existing experience journey with the hope that the product/idea would deliver efficiency to the client. This efficiency could be financial, operational, marketing or cost savings – the uni-product, uni-feature approach.

There has been enough said about the many companies that failed to innovate beyond their existing product/feature and failed to stay ahead of the game. Nokia and Blackberry remain at the centre of any discussion about “lack of innovation”. There are others like Kodak, Canon, Napster, Palm, Blockbuster – that were devoured by innovative competitors.

The predators were ones with the vision to see the entire value chain and not just their own product. Netflix created content and distributed it, Apple touched the lives of their customers in multiple ways and AirBnb provided accommodation inventory, choice and booking all in one. The new secret sauce is to provide the customer with an ecosystem and not a product!

The Need to Transform

Cut to the COVID era – there are many businesses facing the downturn and experiencing the “moments of truth” giving rise to a desperate attempt to innovate, transform, survive, and come out as the rising stars. Ecosystm research finds that 98% of organisations have re-evaluated their Transformation roadmap (Figure 1), while 75% have started, accelerated or refocused their DX initiatives.Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Transformation

New business models are evolving, and accelerating digitalisation is the result. The digital movement, be it in food delivery or payments, is here to stay. This digital acceptance and absorption exaggerate the need for business models that capture holistic ecosystems and entire customer journeys, due to reasons that separate the hunter and the hunted.

  • Margins will never be the same again as in the uni-product model. Using the F&B analogy; with the increasing number of customers wanting to dine in the comfort of their homes, restaurants cannot use ambiance as the price differentiator. Since most restaurants are available on food delivery services, customers are getting brand agnostic. This is the start of commoditisation of dining. Restaurants (or food caterers now!) will need to play the price card to remain competitive resulting in compressed margins. The food delivery market is expected to grow 4-fold to USD 8 billion by 2025 but with lower margins. This example of the food delivery model will be the same as experienced by retail, apparel and other industries.
  • Customer experience will still be the differentiator and lever for loyalty and repeat purchase. Factors like proximity, parking, in-store experience, and store layout are fast getting replaced by the ease of navigation, user experience, seamless check out and finally efficient and timely delivery. The ease of transaction including multiple steps of search, assessment, evaluation, payment and delivery is of paramount importance. Customers do not want fractured journeys with multiple drop-offs. A unified seamless journey will win.
  • Virtual, Digital and Automation are the three mantras that management consultants are betting on. However, this trilogy will not guarantee survival since the road to recovery is not a straight one. Different work schedules, observing various curves and on what point of the curve the business, its customer and the market are at, will add to the complexity of decision making and transformation.

Given the above, an obvious strategy to beat the existential crisis is to transform and seek out sustainable operating models. However, it may not be so simple since most businesses may not be able to change models as quickly as needed. There is an inherent cost to change since the existing processes and procedures have been well oiled and smoothed over time. The much-needed change requires the infusion of the 3Ts (time, technology, training) and associated costs. Most often, there is an inverse correlation noticed between the sturdiness of the business and its ability to be flexible to change. Businesses that are “rock-solid” and profitably sturdy and stable, have high inertia of transformation versus FinTech businesses, as an example, that pride themselves with nimble operations but are financially fragile and may not be able to absorb the cost of speedy transformation.

This Sturdy-Flexible continuum is the tight rope walk that businesses will need to walk in this need for transformation. Businesses that embark on this walk alone will find it extremely painful and lonely. Especially in the case of small business owners who are scared and low on all 3Ts.

The Rise of Ecosystems

The new world has manifested that businesses that use physical space or assets as their competitive advantage are more prone to be impacted. Retail, Education, Hospitality and Entertainment are some obvious examples that have been impacted by the physicality in their propositions. Digital businesses are more agile but have suffered in their inability to scale up in time to capture the increased demand.

Fashion retailer FJ Benjamin has decided to shut 300 physical stores and rely on online sales. This strategy also helps to utilise precious time to scale diversification. Other retailers too have been going down the FJ Benjamin path and ramping up eCommerce as this trend is expected to stick beyond COVID-19.

Zouk, the renowned nightclub with 30,000 square feet of space in Singapore uses this venue as a live streaming venue during the day to host bazaars for eCommerce vendors. From June 2020, it launched an online shop selling merchandise, bottled cocktails and food from its RedTail kitchen.

Transformation of businesses will require capabilities that were not created within their models. The instinct to survive in the short term will require businesses to create symbiotic partnerships. This will require some fresh thinking by business leaders.

  • Change the “Build” obsession and not try to own every leg of the customer journey. That will not only take time but also distract capital and management.
  • Rethink the customer needs – and this time think of the entire journey rather than an inward view of product-market fits. Customer needs are changing at breakneck speeds, so chasing and “building” these “fits” will always remain a common string amongst laggards.
  • Connect with like-minded ecosystem players and complement strengths with a single-minded focus on solving customer problems.
  • View technology stacks through the lens of your partners. There may be opportunities available from near open source technology solutions.

For example, FJ Benjamin will need the last-mile-delivery capability that will be provided by partners who have optimised in that field, Zouk has tied up with Lazada to host the bazaars and GrabFood is using underutilised taxi capacity to meet the increased demand for food delivery. There are many other examples in the O2O (Offline to Online) space.

This ecosystem approach is also relevant to other sectors like Financial Services. These firms also need to understand the changing consumer needs faster, with a mantra to deliver. Aspire, originally an alternate lending platform has gone through a metamorphosis and transformed into a Neobank. From a uni-product loan provider, it is now solving for a business account, card solution, integration with expense management solutions and continue to provide loans. Capabilities not necessarily built in-house.

The changing world will give rise to business models that will integrate and complement each other. Businesses with an ecosystem mindset will be winners while others might just be relegated to oblivion.

 


Visit Ecosystm’s COVID-19 research module to take part in the Digital Priorities in the New Normal study and get a benchmark of how you compare to your peers in regards to your organisation’s response to COVID-19.
Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data

For more information on Ecosystm’s “Digital Priorities in the New Normal”, please contact us at info@ecosystm360.com


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Operating in the New Normal – Telecom Providers in Southeast Asia

5/5 (4)

5/5 (4) Never before has the world experienced a shutdown in both supply and demand which has effectively slammed the brakes on economic activities and forced a complete rethink on how to continue doing business and maintain social interactions. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digitalisation of consumers and enterprises and the telecommunications industry has been the pillar which has kept the world ticking over.

It is unthinkable just how the human race would have coped with such massive disruption, two decades ago in the absence of broadband internet. The technology and telecom sector has seen a rise in their visible importance in recent months. Various findings show that peak level traffic was about 20-30% higher than the levels before the pandemic. The rise in traffic coupled with the fervent growth of the digital economy augurs well for the technology and telecom sector in Southeast Asia.

Revenues Hit Despite Rise in Traffic

Unfortunately, the rise in network traffic has not translated to an increase in revenue for many operators in the region. The winners, that enjoyed YoY growth in Q1 2020 despite challenging circumstances were: Maxis (4.9%) and DiGi (3.4%) in Malaysia; dtac (3.3%) and True (5.7%) in Thailand; PDLT (7.5%) and Globe (1.4%) in the Philippines; and  Indosat Ooredoo (7.9%) and XL Axiata (8.8%) in Indonesia. The telecom operators that struggled include: Celcom (-6.1%) and TM (-8.0%) in Malaysia; Singapore’s trio of Singtel (-6.5%), StarHub (-15.2%) and M1 (-10.3%); and AIS (-1.0%) in Thailand.

Key market trends include a dip in prepaid subscribers due to fall in tourist numbers, roaming income losses due to travel restrictions, and a general decline in average revenue per user (ARPU) due to weaker customer spend. The postpaid customer segment was resilient while the fixed broadband revenue stream was stable due to the increase in work from home (WFH) practices. With fixed tariffs, there are no incremental gains with an increase in usage. Voice revenue has been hit with the increase in collaboration-based communication applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Equipment sales fell as global supply chains were severely disrupted and impacted new sign-ups of the more premium customers. Most markets in Southeast Asia depend on retail outlets as a key channel to the market, which has been hampered.

With the job losses across the world, bad debts and weakened customer spend is inevitable and it is imperative that the operators provide for reflective pricing strategies, listen to new customer requirements to ensure customer retention and strengthening of their market position. In May, Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg said nearly 800,000 of their subscribers were unable to pay their monthly bills. Discussions with operators in Southeast Asia also highlighted this as a current concern.

Enterprise Segment Target for New Growth

Ecosystm research shows that enterprises in Southeast Asia are increasingly considering telecom operators as go-to-market partners (Figure 1). Enterprises are demanding more than just devices and connectivity and with the fervent digital transformation (DX) efforts underway, services such as managed services, business application services, cybersecurity and network services are in demand. Technology vendors have an opportunity to partner with the right telecom operator in each market to enhance their IT market offerings, ahead of the 5G rollouts.

Top Telecom Providers in Southeast Asia

The broad 5G ecosystem inculcates cross-sector innovation and greater collaboration leading to new business models and exciting new opportunities. Singtel is the leading operator in the region and has the enterprise segment contributing approximately 65% to its revenue in its domestic market. In the World Communications Award 2019, Singtel won both “Best Enterprise Service” and “The Broadband Pioneer” awards.  This places Singtel in a fine position to capitalise on the 5G enterprise services.

5G Needed Now More Than Ever

The pandemic has seen a rise in network traffic, onboarding of the digital customer and rapid DX of businesses which has whetted the appetite for faster broadband speeds and new services. Southeast Asia countries stand to profit from the trade war between the US and China and 5G features of low latency and higher security can boost adoption of IoT, Smart Manufacturing and broader Industry 4.0 goals to drive the economy.

Fixed Wireless in Southeast Asia is expected to be very popular considering the low penetration of fibre to the home (with the exception of Singapore) and will provide enterprises with a viable secondary connection to the internet. Popular applications – including video streaming and gaming – which are speed, latency and volume hungry will also be a target market for operators. Mobile operators that do not have a fixed broadband offering can enter this space and provide a serious “wireless fibre” alternative to homes and businesses.

Governments and telecom regulators ought to make spectrum available to the major telecom operators as soon as possible in order to ensure that the cutting edge 5G communications services are made available to consumers and businesses. Many experts believe 5G can raise the competitiveness of a nation.

Recent research from World Economic Forum (WEF) has found that significant economic and social value can be gained from the widespread deployment of 5G networks, with 5G facilitating industrial advances, productivity and improving the bottom line while enabling sustainable cities and communities. GSMA notes that mobile technologies and services in the wider Asia Pacific region generated USD 1.6 trillion of economic value while the mobile ecosystem supported 18 million jobs as well as contributing USD 180 billion of funding to the public sector through taxation.

US-China Trade War Threatens to Change Equipment Supplier Landscape

Despite severe pressures caused by the US-China trade war, Huawei posted an impressive 13.1% YoY growth in 1H 2020 registering revenue of USD 64.88 billion. Both Huawei and ZTE generate approximately 60% of their business from their domestic markets which is critical with the current unfavourable global sentiments. Huawei has diversified its business and built its consumer devices business which should withstand the disruptions caused by the political challenges.

Ericsson and Nokia stand to benefit from Huawei’s current global position and this was evident with the wins for the 5G contracts by Singtel and JVCo (Singtel and M1). The JVCo announced it selected Nokia to build the Radio Access Network (RAN) for the 5G standalone (SA) mmWave network infrastructure in the 3.5GHz radio frequency band. Singtel selected Ericsson to provide for the RAN on the same mmWave network.

However, while there is an opportunity for NEC and Samsung to join the party, Huawei is expected to do well in most other countries in Southeast Asia.

The Rise of the Digital Economy in Southeast Asia

A recent Google report valued the internet economy in Southeast Asia at USD 100 billion in 2019, more than tripling since 2015, and the sector is expected to hit USD 300 billion in 2025. With a population of approximately 570 million people, the region has some of the fastest-growing internet economies in the world.

The Indonesia market is the largest in the region and is expected to hit USD 133 billion from USD 40 billion in 2025. Indonesia’s lack of a world-class telecom infrastructure coupled with their slowness in 5G adoption has not impeded the country’s attractiveness for global technology investors who see the 270 million population as an immense opportunity. US tech giants, Facebook, Google, and PayPal have invested in Indonesia to reap the benefits from the growing digital economy powered by unicorns such as Gojek, Bukalapak, Tokopedia. In June 2020, Google Cloud launched in Jakarta, only the second in the region after Singapore with the four big unicorns being anchor customers.

In 2025, Google predicts Thailand to be the second-largest internet economy worth USD 50 billion. The internet economy for Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are estimated to be over USD 27 billion each. Shopee and Lazada are the top eCommerce apps in the region and have seen an increase in sales due to the disruption in the Retail industry. In-store shopping contributes to more than 50% of Retail in Singapore and Malaysia – this provides a tremendous opportunity for eCommerce players.

While movement restrictions are gradually being lifted, some things may never return where they were before COVID-19. Public debts have risen with numerous aids and handouts impacting economic growth forecast and rising unemployment is impacting customer spending power. On the plus side, DX of businesses and sharp onboarding of customers have redefined interactions, and sectors such as Education, are going online which will boost the digital economy. While the challenges are evident, exciting times are ahead for the technology and telecom sector in Southeast Asia.


For more insights on the key trends in the telecom services market in Southeast Asia, read Shamir’s report

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For more information on “The New Normal for Telecom Providers in South East Asia”, report please contact us at info@ecosystm360.com


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