Fiber Broadband Provider Viability: The Digital Operations Imperative

Jan. 11, 2023
Most companies are inadequately addressing their greatest risk factor and critical path item – a digital operations business platform that will enable rapid market adoption, customer retention, process automation, and a financially sustainable enterprise.

During this exciting time of expansion, broadband service providers remain fixated on getting fiber into the ground for speed to market. What the industry is not sufficiently preparing for is speed to market adoption. Yet this will be the primary driver of operational sustainability, enterprise value, and continued investment. Without a holistic approach to preparing for, accelerating, and increasing take rates, a fiber network is going to be equivalent to a “bridge to nowhere.” Two drivers of this holistic approach (and often the weakest links in buildout plans) are the strategy itself and the digital operations business platform that supports it.

On the strategy front, the key is simplicity: a clean, straightforward set of offerings and streamlined customer experience (CX). The strategy needs to revolve around a fresh, non-telco-like approach. Providers must go beyond thinking like a telco or ISP to adopt state-of-the-art business models, like Netflix, Amazon, and others. They should offer an incredibly convenient, innovative, and highly intuitive customer experience with minimal friction, including minimal human interaction (unless the customer wants it). And they need to provide instant access to the product, with ease of use. For example, offer SaaS-like onboarding, simple pricing tiers, and a monthly autopay subscription via credit or debit card – no bills, no credit checks, no complex fee structures. It’s a better CX and simplifies backend functions exponentially.

The key enabler for all of this is a state-of-the-art digital operations business platform, or what many refer to as business and operations support systems (BSS/OSS) – the processes, technology, and people running the operation. The platform does everything from monitoring and managing the network to marketing to, serving, and billing the customer. It allows you to design an attractive product at a competitive price and then market and sell it. And it is the key to delivering a compelling CX and financial returns via high, rapid take rates and retention.  

What is a “Digital Operations Business Platform”?

In the context of fiber broadband, the term “digital operations business platform” refers to all of the processes, people, and systems that run the network and manage the customer. In industry parlance, we call these the business and operations support systems (BSS/OSS). Use of the word “systems” in this context has evolved to refer to not just software applications but, in a broader sense, a system of interdependent and optimally integrated processes, people and technology that enable everything from standing up and running the network to functions like preordering, customer service, and billing. It is the ”guts” of the business.

We are calling this the “digital operations business platform” because for broadband, the goal is to be as automated and integrated as possible across functions so as to optimize the customer experience, which in turn, drives stronger financial results.

This platform should be born-digital (vs. digitized legacy processes) and provide self-enablement, self-service management, digital sales and marketing, and digital experiences. It should make your operation holistic (integrated) from day one. It should be simple and intuitive for both customers and employees to use. It should sync across channels, providing consistent information, regardless of how the customer is engaging.  

Most companies are inadequately addressing their greatest risk factor and greatest financial driver: cost-effectively putting the digital operations business platform in place that will enable rapid market entry and a modern CX, encourage high take rates from the get-go, reduce churn, and easily scale to allow uninhibited growth. Greenfield startups need to get this in place quickly starting from scratch. Existing communications service providers (CSPs) must strike the right balance between meeting the needs of their legacy business without bogging down the lighter, modern fiber operation. Often, this means creating a new, streamlined platform for the fiber operation, unencumbered by regulated telco functionality, manual processes and old technology.

The effort to create a superior digital operations business platform should include the following:

  • A strategy that lays out the vision for a delightful and streamlined customer experience, simple products, and effective pricing, along with other operations decisions
  • Fully defined business processes and workflows
  • Upfront, well-defined requirements based on best practices – what’s not in there is just as important as what’s there
  • Full, best-of-breed, born-digital operations and technology stack with minimal or no technical debt
  • Pre-built operation staffed with subject matter experts
  • Industry-standard APIs
  • Experience with how to avoid the pitfalls of rapid fiber buildouts and rapid platform deployments.

There are many options for getting this done, each with pros and cons based on your situation. Regardless of your path, speed matters. Your goal should be to get to market with high take rates in less than 8 months instead of 18. You get a quicker return on investment, access to even more funding, and more rapid market expansion. CSPs also get more flexibility in the fiber operation without disruption to the legacy operation. Customers win, too, whether through life-saving virtual medical appointments or remote work at jobs not available in their hometowns.

The fiber broadband sector is at a tipping point. The business decisions that fiber operators make right now in building out their digital operations business platforms will have a lasting impact on their future ability to grow, thrive, and serve and keep customers.

The future is fiber, and your customers need it yesterday.

Paul Treasure is an executive vice president at ProCom Consulting, where he leads the company’s Fiber Broadband Group. He and his team work with service provider c-suite executives and investors to stand up fiber operations more quickly, increase take rates, and optimize the customer experience. He is a former vice president at Frontier Communications, where he led post-merger integration and digital transformation efforts.

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