Telcos Need to Learn how to Fail

by Matt Klassen on November 23, 2015

It’s no wonder wireless operators are feeling threatened by the disruptive force of tech companies making inroads into the wireless industry, tech companies are willing and able to do what telcos have long avoided: fail.

Take Google for example, a company that made a bold attempt at smart glasses with its controversial Google Glass project. As DisruptiveViews Alex Leslie writes, “Google had an idea. They funded it. They tested it. People laughed. Publications like us poked fun at it. Google pulled it. We thought that was that.” But of course that wasn’t it for Google’s wearables project. The company went back to the drawing board, brainstormed improvements, and are currently rumoured to be close to revealing the next iteration. They tried, they failed, they improved; the tried and tested cycle of innovation.

So again, perhaps it’s no wonder operators are struggling to get a handle on this digital age, as surviving the next evolution of the wireless industry is going to take plenty of innovation; and innovation takes vision, it takes risk, and it takes failure. But instead of launching products and improving them, it seems to me that telcos want everything perfect from the outset, and that desire for perfection is a threat greater than any new competition could ever pose.

What Google has offered practically every established incumbent in an industry disrupted by new competition is this: even when people laugh at you, mock your products, and dub their early adopters “glassholes,” don’t take that as a sign that the project isn’t worth doing, take it as feedback to make the project better. I mean, if Google would have scuttled its Glass project and curled up into a ball and cried for a few years, I would guess it would set the advancement of the wearables market back at least a decade. Yet Google went back to the drawing board, thought of better applications for its wearable tech, re-designed it, and is now poised to re-launch it.

But instead, as Leslie writes, you have operators that function like this: “Have an idea. Network it. Get some support. Work on a business case. Get the business case rejected. Get more support. Refine the business case. Finally get approval. Talk to IT. Get acknowledgement from IT that it might fit into the roadmap sometime in the next decade. Get more support, including the CEO. Push it to the top of IT’s agenda. Build it, or buy it in after RFI and RFP processes carried out. Get delayed by Procurement. Test it. Test it. Test it. Soft launch it. Refine it. And only when it is perfect, launch it.”

As Martin Taylor of Metaswitch says, the problem is that “telcos are going about software the same way they always have. Instead of being iterative, launch something, then improve, they want it to be perfect from launch.”

With that in mind, what operators need to do is learn how to develop, learn how to offer iterative advances, and, most of all, learn how to fail. Granted investors aren’t happy when things go wrong, but again, it’s a matter of one’s perspective on failure. Sell failures as developmental steps to a larger, better goal, instead of a disappointing end unto themselves, and you’ll see a lot more people jump on board.

Apart from finding out what products and services to offer in this evolving market, operators need to initiate a significant philosophical shift, one that puts notions of perfection out to pasture and embraces the same philosophy of experimentation and innovation we’re seeing in the tech industry. Heck, as tech giants are delving into industries like healthcare, automotive, automation, and IoT, it seems all operators can dream up is delving into streaming video, hardly a stretch from their current comfort zone.

While that’s not necessarily to say that established operators won’t survive this evolution, if they can’t figure out a way to have the same sort of innovative vision of the future that we’re seeing from the likes of Google, and the willingness and patience to test and re-test (and re-test again) that vision they’re going to come out the other side faint shadows of their current selves, and my guess is that reality will bother investors a lot more than some temporary failures along the way.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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