Although communications service providers are faced with shrinking or flat IT budgets, their core product is becoming a commodity. They have responded with new business strategies, products and partnerships. However, many providers have implemented on an ad hoc basis, rather than establish a comprehensive enterprise content management strategy, thus crippling their cost effectiveness.
Changes in the communications sector have been numerous of late: traditional infrastructure is replacing IP-based technologies; the convergence of IP communications is creating new opportunities and challenges; operational support systems are collapsing in order to accommodate bundled services; and regulatory and security demands are increasing. These issues have created mounting volumes of data, both structured and unstructured, which are becoming increasingly unwieldy for providers to grasp. Rich-media content, such as IP video and IPTV, for example, is on the rise, yet has traditionally been difficult to centralize and manage. Risk and compliance strategies have also become more complex, but are often implemented as stop-gap measures. Without a clear and comprehensive plan to manage all this data in the long term, service providers are jeopardizing any short term gains. They stand to become less cost effective and risk averse as more data are generated and accumulated over time.
Datamonitor believes that service providers must establish a comprehensive enterprise content management (ECM) strategy in order to survive and capitalize on the data being generated by new services, technologies and internal systems. Only by taking a broad view toward ECM can providers proactively address new business opportunities. Otherwise, critical information that will give them market insight will remain hidden in silos of departmental deployments. The same is true for regulatory requirements.
Rather than react to new types of data and systems as they arise, service providers must take a step back and determine the business objectives of an ECM implementation as a whole. They should bear in mind that it is sometimes more cost and time effective to scrap an existing ad hoc ECM implementation and to start over with a comprehensively planned ECM strategy. Initially, service providers should draw up these objectives internally and in consultation with end users. When end users are brought in at the planning stages and their implementation patterns are factored in, they are most likely to embrace and use ECM. Providers should then share their ECM objectives explicitly with an ECM implementation partner that has been thoroughly vetted. When assessing an ECM platform, providers should determine its scalability and integration capabilities in order to future-proof their investment.
A successful ECM strategy is typically implemented in phases rather than as a forklift upgrade. Moreover, it gives providers a holistic view of customer data, both structured and unstructured. Currently, data on direct customer-service issues are typically housed in a database that is separate from data on back-office customer transactions, including billing. This often means that customers require several separate contacts within a service provider in order to have all their issues resolved. By federating all data pertaining to customers, including phone and email conversations, billing and contracts, service providers can significantly cut customer contact incidents, which both raises customer satisfaction and lowers costs.
An ECM strategy should also include the management of procurement process data, all employee and human resources data, facilities and assets data, and contract lifecycle management data. It should enable electronic billing archiving and presentment in order to cut costs and to enable providers to benefit from organizational efficiencies. Compliance and risk mitigation should not be standalone applications within an ECM strategy, but rather an integral component of an ECM platform. It should dovetail into all other applications and have a central records management repository.
The benefits of ECM are broad and multifaceted, but will only be realized in full by service providers that implement ECM in a strategic manner. In this intensely competitive climate, a comprehensive ECM strategy will become a powerful business advantage that can deliver new insight into customer behavior and desires. This, in turn, will enable communications service providers to move beyond cost cutting and to the creation of new services and new distribution channels.