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Business intelligence insights for telecom

My recent travels have identified the need for telecom companies to be proactive and to suggest ways that business intelligence can provide a competitive advantage.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

One of my all-time favorite columnists/writers/observers is Jim Armstrong. He writes a “stream of conciousness” notes column for the Denver Post sports section where he pulls a number of different topics together that he has discovered during his “travels” as a sports writer. This month I am inspired by his column as a good way to bring together three topics from my “travels” in the business intelligence world of the telecom industry.

 Not So Best Practices 

Last year I got the chance to read a McKinsey article about how competitive advantage was being lost from industries where companies “blindly” adopted the best practices of industry leaders. The article talked about how a “follow-the-leader” mentality had become commonplace in many industries. Often there are good reasons to follow the practices of the market leader. However, if all of the firms in an industry follow the same practices and provide similar products, the market leader will always have the advantage since they maintain their “first mover” status. In this situation, the market followers lose their ability to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

I was reminded of the article above by a recent column where Daryl Plummer talked about unconventional thinking in information technology. Plummer’s article discussed how “best practices for the sake of best practices” can lead to problems down the road when they are implemented. His example was how a corporate “best practice” to consolidate on a single development platform ran into issues when the platform could not support the existing applications critical to the company’s success. It was interesting to see how the “mis-application” of best practices at both the strategic business and information technology implementation levels could generate similar results.

Bold Moves 

This week CIO magazine highlighted their list of the top “risk taking” CIOs in their CIO BOLD 100. These CIOs were profiled because their management style was “playing to win, not just to survive” in their industries. Typically, these men and women did not shy away from bold or “risk taking” activities. Many of the CIOs interviewed talked about how they were not in the business of risk avoidance, as in my opinion too many organizations are today; but rather in the business of risk assessment. This risk assessment is the recognition of the relative amount of risk associated with their actions. Instead of focusing on the risk of failure, they were very mindful of the potential rewards for their initiatives. 

One of the items that intrigued me from the CIO BOLD 100 was a survey that said data warehousing and business intelligence were two of the top five enabling technologies for these bold CIOs. One of the more interesting article quotes was about how risk taking is about knowing which risk not to take. It appears that the inherent value that business intelligence and data warehousing contributes to an organization is establishing a true foothold in the C-level suite.

“I Enjoyed Very Hard Work” 

In 2000, I read an article about John Wooden of UCLA by Rick Reilly where he wrote about one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century. It remains a great portrait of a strongly principled man who views and treats the world the same today as he did 25 years ago. I highly recommend it, as well as any opportunity to learn from/about Coach Wooden, to anyone in a leadership role.

For those of you unfamiliar, Wooden is generally considered as the best college basketball coach of all-time. He won 10 NCAA championships during his career including seven in a row between 1967 and 1973. Coach Wooden accomplished all of this through a team-oriented philosophy that focused on details and hard work with maxims like: “Do not mistake activity for achievement.” The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.” “Understand that the harder you work, the more luck you will have.”  

Someone once asked Coach Wooden why UCLA was able to be one of the “winningest” teams in NCAA history. He replied that he “was above average in analyzing players, getting them to fill roles as part of a team and paying attention to fundamentals... Additionally, I really enjoyed very hard work.”

Tying It Together 

So at this point, you might ask yourself how does an aversion for “blanket” best practices, an interest in the CIO’s BOLD 100 and a basketball coach who retired in 1975 apply to 21st century business intelligence and data warehouse organizations in the telecom industry…   Coach Wooden often said: 

“Remember that there is no substitute for hard work and careful planning. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

With the increasingly competitive nature of the telecom industry, you should plan on the fact that the CIOs not listed on the CIO BOLD 100 will take a look at the best practices of those risk takers as a gateway to the 2006 list.

Remember there is a risk in these risk-taking best practices. They may not be the best for your organization. In that case you must work hard to point out the valuable aspects of the best practice and how it can be implemented in your firm.

For telecom service providers, it may seem odd if your CIO starts talking about how Churchill Downs raised profits in the face of Internet gambling competition. However, the process of identifying which programs or customers will generate the greatest value can be extremely important to any organization looking to increase revenues.

In particular, your CIO might have heightened expectations of the business intelligence and data warehouse organization to provide the trends and analysis that will help them to avoidan unacceptable risk.

For telecom service providers, the same approach that works for a VoIP provider may not work as well for an RBOC providing landline service. On the other hand the identification of fraudulent activities spans both areas of the telecom space and can be enabled by business intelligence to lower costs.

Final Note 

If your CIO does not come to your organization looking for support on a new initiative, perhaps you should be proactive and suggest ways that business intelligence can enable a bold undertaking to provide a competitive advantage using one or more of the CIO BOLD 100 as a model for a best practice that applies to your industry and organization.

Coach Wooden always spoke of understanding the environment around us:

“There is something going on around us at all times from which we can acquire knowledge if we are alert. Too often we get lost in our tunnel vision and we don't see the things that are right in front of us for the taking, for the learning.”

John Myers has more than 10 years of information technology and consulting experience in positions including business intelligence subject-matter expert, technical architect and systems integrator. Over the past eight years, he has gained a wealth of business and information technology consulting experience in the telecommunications industry. John specializes in business intelligence/data warehousing and systems integration solutions. John may be contacted by email

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