Speakers’ Corner: Collective inertia is real enemy of LTE

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David Hilliard, chief executive of Mentor, specialist in telecoms execution challenges, looks at what operators can do to accelerate the evolution of mobile internet

The mobile internet demands a radical departure. It is the toughest execution challenge the industry has faced. Not many seem to appreciate this, however. Executives find it hard to question treasured beliefs. Many prefer to squeeze out another increment of efficiency, believing this is safer than striking out in new directions.

In terms of novelty and complexity, the mobile internet is right up there with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which is at least three years late. The truth is worn-out command-and-control tactics for delivering a ‘game-changing’ mobile internet are clumsy and unsuccessful.

In mobile, conventional execution doctrine for major programmes is repeatedly off the mark. Current approaches almost guarantee operators will take over five years to deliver on their mobile internet promises – leaving mystified customers wondering why smartphones and tablets are such a disappointment.

What can be done to encourage operators to take the plunge and accelerate plans?

1. Make sure staff understand what is happening
Inside companies, little is understood about how the mobile internet will change business. The biggest problem is when people do not understand what the new initiative means, the seeds of mayhem are sown. Managers must get the message across in plain English so people not only ‘buy’ the story but act on it.  ‘Plain talk’ comes from hard work and hard thinking. This means cutting out sterile words like ‘superiority’, ‘advantage’, ‘value’ and ‘leadership’.  They do not inspire staff.

2. Construct a realistic but flexible plan
With volatile requirements and novel technologies, there is no magic recipe for flawless plans. Attempting to plan three-to-five years ahead with precision is insane. With network and IT modernisation tasks, this is the position facing every operator. Mobile internet programmes will be chaotic. Speed and innovation are critical. Relentless, quick-fire direction changes are the new ‘normal.’  Plans must be time-phased, remain fluid and accommodate improvisation. Unfortunately, many businesses will try in vain to force-fit worn-out methods. The endless predicament for the execution team is managing the tension between top management’s need for predictability with the certainty of widespread change.

3. Create a powerful execution structure
The key to accountability is structure. With limited structure, a mob mentality develops, scattering energy. Complex initiatives provide opportunities to drop the baton between functions and to disperse accountability. Powerful programme sponsorship and management are central to success. To help guarantee the programme runs as fast as possible, time-critical ventures should combine four organisational building blocks under a single management structure – business strategy, design of the initiative, implementation and delivery.

4. Build a well-balanced team
Key execution jobs must be given to people with hard-core experience in similar knotty programmes. CEOs must ask how good this person is at getting things done. They must be sure the right people are in the right places. This is the most important factor behind failing programmes. But, plans based on core execution teams, supported by part-time resource from other functions, do not make any genuine contribution.  Timesharing resource is a management fantasy that sidesteps resource conflicts that should be tackled head-on.

5. Differentiate between facts and opinions
Pragmatism is at the heart of execution. Weak control and reporting masks detailed implementation difficulties. Individual mistakes may not be shattering, but collectively they can be. When news is bad, there is always widespread reluctance to face facts. The basic purpose of any control system is to provide feedback, relative to plans. Measurement is not just about judging progress but also to find ways of performing better. This means there must be an extraordinary intensity and frankness in the review process – more citrus and less syrup.

If operators are committed to putting data at the heart of their businesses, incremental fiddling with networks, IT systems and voice-dominated business models will not cut it. Five years, or more, is a long time for customers to wait for the mobile internet dreams they are being sold today.

Operators can do it faster but it will take a company with style, innovation and guts to break the mould and show the way.

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