We were delighted to speak to Maurice Ma, President, Software Business, Huawei and John Abraham, Principal Analyst at Analysys Mason, to explore the role software plays in meeting customers’ evolving expectations surrounding digital engagement

With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, the topic of digital engagement is one that has developed enormously in the past two years, with enterprises, telcos, and public sector organisations alike all racing to improve their online user experience. 

But while this rapid evolution may appear, at least on the surface, to be a recent development, it is in fact part of a wider trend towards digitalisation that has been taking place for many years, catalysed by the soaring success of online service companies like Amazon and Netflix.

“If you look at how the digital-native companies came around and conquered the market, they actually relied on a software-centred approach to help them connected to the end user,” explained Abraham. “They transformed how consumers connect with their service provider, and that has led to a massive change in consumer behaviour and expectations.” 

Now more than ever before, customers want to be in charge of their engagement, deciding when, where, and how to connect with their service provider, whether this is through a dedicated app or other digital channels. They expect new services to be available at the click of a button and this can only be achieved through a more software-centric approach to engagement.

“It puts the customer in control,” said Abraham. “And this has extensive implications for how the networks are run, how telco operating models are tweaked, and even the process flow itself – be it for the support functions or even network operation functions.”

But more than this, increasing software capabilities allows for more diverse services to be offered to customers. 

Fintech applications, for example, have become increasingly attractive propositions for operators. These solutions, which allow customers to pay for goods and services digitally, have been growing steadily in popularity for many years, especially in developing markets where access to traditional banking services is limited. In Kenya, for example, around 50% of the country’s gross domestic product is now carried over Vodafone’s M-Pesa platform and the company’s African rivals show similar success stories; Airtel Africa recently sold a stake of its mobile money platform to Mastercard for $100 million, valuing their fintech platform at $2.6 billion.

 For Huawei, recently developed a one-stop fintech solution that leverages a cloud-based platform to provide users with e-wallet, digital payment, and microfinance services.

“Our solution enables carriers, banks, and the local ecosystem to jointly upgrade the traditional payment and financial services to become contactless and cashless, helping to serve massive populations in emerging markets,” explained Huawei’s Ma, noting that the solution is already used by over 30 customers and currently serves over 300 million people around the world. 

Naturally, some services are more difficult to move to digital channels than others. For example, many operators still require in-person customer service centres to handle customer engagement surrounding identity authorisation or the signing of contracts. This is inconvenient for customers, especially during a pandemic, and is ultimately inefficient for operators.

But even this area changing rapidly, with companies like Huawei seeking to bridge the gap from offline to online services.

With their latest intelligent customer engagement center solution, combining telecom-native video and intelligent technologies, operators can new pursue omnichannel video capabilities across both 4G and 5G, with video authentication and digital signature capabilities. In this way, customers can complete a full range of interactions with their service provider, including signing documents, directly from their mobile device. 

“All these features help traditional customer service to streamline the weak point between online service and offline service,” said Ma. “Currently, this digital service model is being popularised in China, including for carriers and for the government’s annual pension audits.” 

Much of this discussion and digital engagement, naturally, relates to developing more vibrant and versatile mobile apps, something that Abraham believes will be a major focus for telcos in the coming years. He suggests that, even though operators’ flagship apps are important assets, they are still far from the central hub for customer engagement that they have the potential to be. 

“I think, in a few years from now, the mobile app will become the dominant way of connecting with the operator and that this will be widespread,” said Abraham, noting that operators are increasingly able to offer a broader range of data and services to customers via their app by leveraging partnerships. 

“When an app offers much more than basic information about their telco usage, there is far deeper engagement and far higher likelihood of a satisfied customer,” Abraham explained. “So, operators in the next few years are going to be investing extensively in the development of their mobile apps, to not just retain the customer and increase app engagement times but increase overall satisfaction and loyalty.”

This shift towards offering a wide variety of potentially personalised service offerings from a unified platform is something that is becoming equally vital to telcos with regards to the enterprise space. The emergence of new technologies, like intelligentautomation, and the IoT are allowing telcos to offer customised services for enterprises and enabling Industry 4.0 transformation.

“There’s still much more to come,” said Abraham. “I think we have seen glimpses of what the future looks like in terms of specific use cases, such as AI being used to automatically – or even pre-emptively – support customer issues or allowing operations to go ahead in environments that are risky or inaccessible to humans.” 

Unlike 4G, which was largely simply an upgrade in speeds, 5G offers enterprises novel capabilities that they really value, like ultra-low latency, network slicing, and edge computing. According to a Verified Market Research report published last week, 5G is playing a crucial role in the ongoing growth of the global industrial automation market, set to reach a value of $350 billion by 2028. Telcos must act quickly to stake a claim to their share of this booming market, whether through public or private 5G deployments, or else risk being circumvented by opportunistic third parties.

“That’s where we are headed – with telcos taking on a broader role in terms of going up the value chain and becoming more relevant to the enterprise players,” said Abraham. 

For Huawei’s software team, facilitating this opportunity for telcos will be another major focus in the coming years, advancing their cloud-native agenda and leaning into their software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model. 

“By leveraging our cumulative telecom and ICT capabilities, we will expand our business and solutions for specific vertical and horizontal industries,” said Ma.  

Please see below for the video in full.