Nick Lambert is President of Asia-Pacific at Cable & Wireless Europe, Asia & US. Prior to C&W, Mr Lambert was the Asia-Pacific Vice President of Infrastructure Management Services for IBM as well as the Asia-Pacific General Manager for the ‘i series’, mid-range servers and, earlier, Managing Director of IBM New Zealand. Mr Lambert also held senior leadership positions at Wang Computers System, in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and at Sequent Computer Systems as Managing Director for New Zealand, as Managing Director for the Australia - New Zealand (ANZ) region and as Vice President of Sequent’s Asia-Pacific operations. Nick Lambert graduated from the Victoria University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He attended the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Boston University Executive Management Programme.
ICT sector suppliers, after years of technology-based competition, have finally discovered that the customer cares more about having his problems resolved efficiently and cost-effectively than about the technology employed to resolve them. Customers want connectivity, interoperability and scalability, maintenance, service level agreements and financing. No one is talking ‘core and access’ any more! Smooth evolution to IP-based network architectures and delivering a top-quality experience to users are areas in which managed services companies can play a decisive role.
Not so long ago, network evangelists were split into the ‘core’ and ‘edge’ schools of thought. Opinion was divided on literally everything, from where to invest to what was the ‘end-state’. The ‘edge’ fans won the intelligence argument, whilst the ‘core’ fans claimed victory in the speed debate, but no one could agree on what element should come first. This ‘chicken or egg’ argument could have gone on forever had customers not stood up and cried foul! Customers watched this argument play out without anyone involving them in it. Customers, understandably, grew tired of the ‘tech bake-offs’, and started demanding a change in the rules of engagement. They insisted on a focus upon their needs - applications that drive business and employee efficiencies, returns on their technology investments and an understanding of the total cost and related merits of owning these technology assets. Customers were just not concerned about the technology-based arguments It’s not just about buying technology Of course, technology is important - as are the technology-specifications and contracts. These days most customers have to deal with multiple suppliers and products. Over and above that, there is the design, flexibility, seamless integration, inter-operability as well as the management of the networks. In a converged world just about every piece of hardware has to be able to talk to every other piece. This is a concern of customers in search of connectivity, interoperability and scalability - and looking carefully at much more, including maintenance issues and service contracts, SLAs, service level agreements, and financing agreements. Of course, customers recognise this. Their purchasing of IT and telecoms, though, is prompted by budgetary constraints, a desire for more joined-up solutions and the need for an all-important ROI (return on investment). Also, increasingly, the ‘green agenda’ is forcing companies to think of the environmental impact of their purchases and looking at suppliers to ensure they meet certain criteria. No one is talking ‘core and access’ any more! Buyers are far more aware of what they want and of the competing solutions on offer. Customers are better prepared to deal with suppliers and IT-savvy buyers put suppliers under much more pressure. Today’s knowledgeable buyers are tougher to negotiate with and are demanding more for less. Still, even IT-savvy buyers have got to make a judgement at some point, because an organization that gets its IT wrong will be in real trouble. Certainly with larger IT projects, customers are not just buying hardware, software and the cables to link them all together; they are buying a relationship with the supplier to ensure that the system works, that it stays working, and that it meets future needs. Changing the industry CIOs are looking at two things from their network service providers. First, how can network elements be optimised to deliver the performance needed to empower their employees to better serve their customers? CIOs want service providers to be their partners, to help them to drive their business growth and achieve their business goals. Second, they looked at service providers that invested as much in people as in technology, infrastructure and applications, since it takes skilled professionals to leverage technology and deliver results. As a result, the network service provider business went through a change in pace, scope and scale. A business that had been a bastion of cost conscious price warriors became a business demanding service, speed and customer-focus. The future of the network was no longer about capacity and cost; it was about intelligent design, rapid implementation, efficient deployment and smart optimisation - all wrapped together at a level of service never seen in this industry. Suddenly, it is not just about linking points on a map, but about voice and video applications that make communications more efficient, content delivery tools that make training and sharing more effective, collaboration tools that allow employees across the world to share, learn and communicate and hosting and collocation solutions that streamline data storage and analysis - making businesses more intuitive to their marketplace. Suddenly, there is a significant change in our business. Customers are now looking for service providers who can deliver the service they signed on to deliver without compromise or exception. Service provider is not an oxymoron! Even today, it seems that a lot of telcos have forgotten the old definition of the purpose of a business - to create a customer. To borrow from Peter Drucker, “It is not the role of businesses to reform customers but to satisfy them.” Thankfully, for the customers, those times are at an end. Today, true service provider partners no longer fight their customers; they are helping them to accomplish their business goals by providing a supportive environment on their mission critical business networks. Welcome to the new world of great service, relationships and mutual investments. Enterprises realise that they need to invest in their service providers and encourage them to look ahead. Service providers, in turn, need to invest in their networks, deliver smart IP-based products and services and deliver appropriate levels of service to ensure that they deliver each and every customer email and log each and every order. Investing for the future The future of the network is seamless mobility and intelligent wireline connectivity - across multimode devices, giving uninterrupted access to, and services from, virtually any network or combination of networks. The lines between the edge and the core have begun to blur. This seeming network simplicity also brings complexity. In this new service environment, providers must support inter-connections, ‘intuitively’ understand the customer’s location and preferences and stay ‘always-on’. In addition, they need to support a wide range of content and applications provided by multiple partners on a standardised, end-to-end, highly secure and centrally manageable platform. Addressing this ‘complexity in connectivity’, enabling smooth evolution to the IP-based network architectures, and delivering a top-quality experience to users are areas in which managed services companies can play a decisive role. Customers are the ‘core’ Let’s be honest - the telecoms industry has never had a sparkling reputation for customer service. Every time there’s a survey about customer satisfaction, phone companies - both fixed line and mobile - tend to be among the worst offenders. Ironically, this comes at a time when telecom services are becoming increasingly vital to the running of business. All too often, when communications are down, a business is down. Customer satisfaction - and the eternal quest to keep customers happy - is a perennial problem. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the telecoms business the gap between what customers expect - and what companies provide - is actually widening. That is possibly because, today, customers expect to be the centre of attention of their service providers. In the telco business, one might say that the customers are the ‘core’ of the network now. They demand unfailing access to the information they need, when and where they need it. Improving customer service - improving the customer experience - in such a market is about changing the way a service provider runs their business. It’s about empowering staff to put the demands of the customer ahead of the internal processes that regulate a business. For the customer, there is nothing worse than bouncing from one department to the next trying to find the right person to handle your enquiry or being told that there is no one available to help. Moreover, as customers are becoming more knowledgeable about real business-related performance, the biggest change should not be what service providers do, but the way they do it. Indeed, service providers have long talked about being customer-focused, yet have paid more attention to their networks, product sets and rivals’ products than their customers’ needs. Customers need a service provider that is aware of what is happening in the network and can provide pre-emptive management - not just proactive management. Service providers have to be a step ahead and prevent accidents from happening - ever. Customers now expect predictive management capabilities and reporting! It’s about great service - finally! Telcos are communications service providers; they are not carriers - you get carriers at the supermarket. New-age service providers have to build connections with their customers based on trust, long-term commitment and a perception that the service provider puts the customer’s business first. That, and nothing else, is the core of the customer/service provider relationship.