New CEO Nik Willetts unveils Digital Maturity Model as industry group strives to keep up with the times.

The TM Forum on Tuesday launched a tool designed to help telcos assess their digital maturity and plan their digital transformation, as the industry group, led by a new CEO, undergoes a transformation of its own.

Called the Digital Maturity Model (DMM), it tracks the progress of transformation right across the business, focusing on five areas: customer experience and interaction; strategy; technology; operations; and culture, people and organisation. It is being made available to telcos as an app so it can be used at every level of the company.

Speaking to Total Telecom ahead of the announcement, the TM Forum’s new CEO, Nik Willetts – who was appointed on Monday – explained that a telco’s overall digital maturity cannot be assessed by one of those criteria in isolation.

"We see them transforming their technology or the way they interact with their customers," he said. However, until now, there has "not been enough of a focus on the business changes that need to happen along with that."

In order to capitalise on emerging opportunities in various industry verticals, telcos need to be in a position to co-create services that address individual customers’ needs.

"If we’re really going to move beyond connectivity as an industry and really to seize some of the opportunities that we see in many different vertically-focused markets, we’ve got to really up our game as an industry in our ability to co-create and work with other industries in a much more meaningful way," Willetts said.

The DMM has been created with input from 30 different companies, including telcos, management consultancies and vendors. It will be put to use for the first time over the next few weeks, and the TM Forum expects to begin publishing its findings by the end of the year.

Willetts expects to see two trends emerge.

"One is a fracturing of opinion between different departments and different layers of the company about where they actually are" in terms of their digital transformation, he said. The other concerns "a very different sense of ambition" at different telcos.

"Many existing transformation projects that are going on are just designed to make the existing business a bit more digital. A lot of them have been centred around more digital customer interaction or changing technology so it can react faster to the pace of the market," he explained. "The kind of real growth opportunities that we see require a more fundamental change."

The risk to telcos of not undergoing a digital transformation is that they end up as a bitpipe player.

"Existing direct competitors may outpace you in their ability to interact and work with customers, and meet their needs much better," Willetts warned.

Other competitors in the form over-the-top players are ready to pounce too.

"There are going to be needs that somebody will fill, the question is whether the telco will get there first," Willetts said.

Digital transformation is a very popular topic in telecoms this year, and it is perhaps no surprise that Willetts is using the DMM as an opportunity for the TM Forum to look beyond operator IT and reassert its relevance to the industry.

"We’ve refocused on helping our members to transform to be successful in the digital market; that means going beyond just looking at some of the traditional back office services, which remain important, but really looking at the broader transformation of the business," he said.

As well as the DMM, the TM Forum has also ramped up its activities around open APIs, and collaboration, such as its Catalyst Programme, which helps members develop proof-of-concepts (PoCs) more quickly and efficiently, and at lower cost.

"We need to go beyond just influencing change at a technology level," Willetts said. "So much as we remain committed to the challenges of operator IT, to really leverage the impact there, we need to go to other parts of the operator business."

"Just like our industry, the TM Forum needs to transform."