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Your future operations depend on one thing: people

When the analysts start talking about multi-trillion dollar opportunities, people tend to pay attention. That’s where the projections for 5G are sitting — up to $9 trillion* and covering a huge range of enterprise applications from automated factories and smart cities to digital healthcare and logistics.

Service providers are eager to claim a share of that market, prompting a lot of discussion about 5G technologies and business models right now. But there is one thing that is absolutely essential to successful 5G transformation that hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz yet, especially where operations are concerned, and that’s people.

Getting people aligned and shifting culture can be hard for organizations that have been around for a long time and have set ways of doing things. That’s definitely the case for many service providers. Compared to webscale companies like Uber and Netflix, service providers have accumulated a lot of legacy operational processes and technologies over the years, as well as particular attitudes about fundamental things like competition.

While managing change is a complex process, there are a few key principles service providers can adopt to smooth out their shift to 5G — operationally and beyond: 1) share the vision; 2) anticipate potential barriers and 3) be prepared as an organization to re-examine your core beliefs.

1. Share the vision — and engage your people

CIOs, COOs and other leaders need to communicate their plans clearly and involve people in the transformation process if they want buy-in and support. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, if you’re designing a new solution, involve the engineers who know the related technologies or processes best. That will make the effort transparent and help cultivate alignment. Start with an “open loop” approach so that people can stop the process if they’re not comfortable with the direction things are going. Sometimes it’s better to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of transparency.

Clear communication is key to helping people understand how change will affect them — and how they’ll benefit. That’s especially important when you have barriers to overcome.

2. Anticipate potential barriers

Automation and AI are understandable areas of concern for operations teams when it comes to 5G. There’s a perception these technologies will take jobs away from people. That’s not the goal of the service providers we at Nokia have been working with: they want machines to handle tedious, simple tasks so their people can focus on higher-level, more strategic things — creating new enterprise services, for example, instead of processing network alarms. The aim is to augment human intelligence with automation and AI, not replace it.

This is where communication comes in again. I remember hearing about an AI solution designed to help engineers troubleshoot network issues. The engineers were reluctant to follow its recommendations even though in many cases the AI had found a quicker or better way to resolve the issue. There needs to be dedicated, deliberate work to get people to see the benefits of change before they go along with it.

Data is another potential barrier because getting the right data, and ensuring quality, is not a trivial task. In our experience at Nokia, it requires a careful blend of data science and telco expertise as well as — you guessed it — the right orientation of people within the organization, because people are the ones who will have to break down the silos that get in the way of data sharing. (That reminds me of the famous Jeff Bezos memo: “Share your data or you’re fired.” Of course, most people can’t enforce compliance the way Bezos did, but they can facilitate more collaborative, open and platform-based approaches.)

3. Re-examine your core beliefs

Brand-new opportunities are going to emerge as part of the 5G transformation, especially in the enterprise market. (Remember the trillions!)

To seize those opportunities, service providers will need to collaborate with third parties — using the network not just for connectivity but rather as a platform for advanced, dynamic services. That collaboration is going to require service providers to reframe some of their core ideas about competition.

Telcos have traditionally designed services based on network capabilities and pushed them out to customers, fighting hard with cable companies and others to win and ‘own’ subscribers. With 5G, telcos won’t necessarily do the start-to-finish service design themselves, and their ‘end users’ may not be subscribers at all but rather companies using third-party solutions that leverage key network capabilities.

It’s about creating an ecosystem around the network, similar to the Apple AppStore model. Apple doesn’t make all the apps for its devices but instead partners with developers and earns revenue for the apps they sell. Telcos don’t have to do it all. In many cases, it would be impossible, anyway, because they lack the skills or knowledge of specific vertical markets. Instead they could play a central role in orchestrating the overall ecosystem and working with partners to create integrated solutions.

By focusing on the needs and concerns of their people, communicating the opportunities and making a conscious effort to shift the culture and throw-away old attitudes, telcos can seize the full potential of 5G and deliver the extraordinary.

In the next and final blog in our Future of Operations series, we’ll take a look at what 5G means for security — and the role of the security and operations team in delivering it.

You can also watch my interviews on the Future of Operations website for more insights on managing complexity and why artificial intelligence and automation are game-changing.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #FutureOfOperations #Telcos #Operations. 

Andrew Burrell

About Andrew Burrell

Andy is responsible for Nokia’s Digital Operations’ marketing.  After more than 25 years in the telecoms industry he remains fascinated by the possibilities of technology, in particular the potential of 5G and Artificial Intelligence to transform networks, operations and business.  He loves to use his various devices to keep up with social media, news, and above all, the football results. Finally realizing that the phone call from Arsenal FC was never going to come, he has given up playing and now prefers to watch his kids chase their own dreams from the side of the pitch.  Tweet me @andyburrell or connect via

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