Legacy Architecture & Digital Transformation: Can They Co-Exist?

Legacy architecture shouldn’t be a bad thing, but legacy thinking will hold you back

Dilbert cartoon
(C) 2000 Scott Adams.

There’s usually a Dilbert quote for every occasion and this might be applied to many telco organisations that are battling with 30+ years of legacy technical architecture and how to balance this with the demands of transformation projects to serve the modern customer.

But beware legacy thinking in the organisation.  Legacy thinking may have its roots in strict regulation that applies to comms providers, a case of things being rigid and static, “we’ve always done it this way”.  Some staff that have been in place for many years may tend to become a little stale and not evolve as quickly as new ideas, thoughts, technology, and initiatives.

However, most telco professionals I know are hugely adaptable and embrace change.  For example, my old boss at EE adopted Heraclitus’s “The only constant in life is change” as a mantra that filtered its meaning to me in many manifestations.

So “legacy” needn’t have negative connotations.  In fact, as we discussed recently with several major European operators during an industry Think Tank, legacy isn’t going anywhere and is needed to keep doing the things that a telco needs to do to keep the BAU going. 

Legacy Architecture and Digital Transformation

Legacy architecture can be viewed as older generation technology that can be foundational to the transformational and fun stuff that we want to accomplish.  After all, 2G/3G still enables the basics of voice calling and other devices that rely on them even while 4G/5G enables all sorts of new services and applications to be imagined and developed.

Legacy technology and transformational platform technology will co-exist for a considerable time at least.  And an enterprise platform can wrap around the legacy stacks, complex as they are, to help break down the silos between the different functional areas.

As Martin Creaner argues in his book Transforming the Telco, “Digital transformation will be happening constantly over the next few decades… When tackling digital transformation, the telco should view it as an opportunity to put a structure in place that will enable it to constantly change, to constantly re-evaluate and optimise itself in every way.”  To me, this means moving away from point solutions that might provide band-aid relief for a while toward enabling micro services and an enterprise-wide set of capabilities. And, as one member in our recent Think Tank recognised, “If even one point in the journey causes a break in the process then it will demolish the overall CX.  We need to evolve from looking at spot things to looking at the overall picture.”

Rooting Out Duplication and Inefficiency

For example, we typically see that business areas and support functions have developed their own data warehouse domains over time. Customer value management has their data, marketing another universe, billing have their view and network ops a different set.  Typically, telcos are still organised in silos around the Operation Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS).  All of these have different structures, making it really tough to unify a complete customer view and derive optimal insights. 

As a result, operators investing in AI and machine learning may find that the algorithms they develop don’t give them as much value as they might, as they are often applied to a subset of the full picture.  In fact, different business areas may invest time and resources into developing models that have the same / similar attributes, use the same upstream data sources and are trying to predict similar outcomes; this is clearly inefficient.

The real challenge is building an omnidirectional, all-encompassing view of customers, the prerequisite to increasing customer satisfaction, retention, and share-of-wallet. This was discussed in a new white paper from Digital Insurance on digital transformation and the future of insurance.

In fact, the leading organisations across all verticals are taking a centralized approach to customer intelligence and personalization.  This is powered by sharable and reusable decision assets such as data characteristics, predictive features, behavioural profiles, and advanced analytic models. This ensures innovations from one team are available to other departments and enables the organization to gain a clearer 360-degree view of the customer, so that a single unified view of lifetime value, profitability and risk can be operationalized across individual customer decision points.

This is where we see the real value for telcos in adopting an enterprise wide digital decisioning platform.  Bringing together the best of the OSS and BSS domains with real-time event streaming will become mainstream in the modern telco business.

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