Telco CPaaS Revisited

telco class revisitedI’m seeing a resurgence in telco CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) initiatives. However, I’m seeing mistakes being repeated from the past, important learning points from successful telco CPaaS programs being ignored, and a broader misunderstanding on the role a telco plays with CPaaS in their countries of operation. Hence the focus of this weblog on Telco CPaaS Revisited.

The telcos were early adopters of exposing service capabilities (APIs being an example). Since the IN (Intelligent Network) days beginning in the ’80s and standardized in the ’90s. Exposing capabilities to make it easy for others than the telco or switch provider to create value added services around telephony. The vision was not achieved as the switch vendors saw the money to be made from winning multi-million dollar projects for changing a few lines of code on their platforms.

However, as discussed in this article on the Potted History of Programmable Telecoms, the rise of Web APIs resulted in telcos achieving more success in service exposure. Some like IdeaMart have built an enviable position in their country. Becoming an innovation engine for the country’s economy. Shafraz gave an excellent presentation at TADSummit 2016, I highly recommend you spend the time and listen to his presentation. While other telcos in the past decade launched and then closed (or gently let fade away) their attempts.

Sharing a few of the secrets to success:

  1. Its not really about APIs, I know all the telcos’ vendors and consultants are saying ‘its all about the API’. However, APIs are a segment of the addressable market for telcos. To get broad market adoption templates (simple web forms / wizards) are the real secret, not APIs. Most businesses do not want APIs, they want solutions to business problems. That is, services that are easy to set-up through a web interface. For example, businesses want to set up an SMS reminder for appointments, or add their web site’s FAQ for SMS response to their main line number. Doing this through a web interface rather than an API gives at least one hundred times greater addressable market, that is people who can do it. Look at Twilio’s GUI and enablers, this is more competitive to telco’s CPaaS aspirations than its APIs. Don’t focus principally on the APIs, focus on what the targets of the program need.
  2. Linked to the first point is when a developer or a system integrator or a startup need telecom APIs, they’ll use a popular platform like Twilio / Nexmo / VoIP Innovations / Plivo / Cequens / etc. The reason is multi-country, multi-telco, great support, easy to use documentation, easy to work with, customer not internally focused, etc. If a business is working with the telco there is something else in the mix. For example, they are an existing enterprise customer of that telco, that wants to add chat to their call center, or integrate their Salesforce implementation with their telecoms. Or the business wants to use the telco as a channel to market for their service. This brings up the thorny Telco App Store issue, which I’ll not discuss here, but needless to say using a telco as a channel is ‘specialized’. The customers’ needs of dedicated CPaaS providers and of telcos are different.
  3. Long term commitment to the whole of the Sri Lankan economy. Universities, start-ups and accelerators, enterprises large and small, developer and technology communities. IdealMart prove their commitment and continuity day by day, year after year. TADHack Sri Lanka remains a phenomenally successful location with hundred of registrations (600+ last year), though Kuala Lumpur and Johannesburg are catching up. BTW we’ll have Yusuf Kaka, GM Innovation, MTN presenting at TADSummit 2018. I highly recommend his presentation, we’re working on it at the moment 🙂 Several other TADHack locations are showing the same year on year growth as Sri Lanka did in the early days.
  4. If you’re using dedicated API management infrastructure you’re likely paying too much and being advised to focus on the wrong things. Many telcos have implemented API management in the past, this has not delivered CPaaS success. Most dedicated CPaaS providers do not used dedicated API management. All the silly Digital Transformation / API Economy / ‘Live or Die unless you API’ are distracting telcos from simply solving business problems for their customers in their countries of operation using programmable telecoms. IdeaMart is based on hSenid Mobile, you should assess them and other CPaaS enablers in preference to API management platforms. API management is NOT CPaaS, as discussed in this article on the Potted History of Programmable Telecoms.
  5. Its all about the people. You need people with inter-personal empathy. Not these awful ‘cheer-leaders’ I see pop up at events. Genuine people that want to help people be successful through the telco’s innovation program. I worked with James Parton over the years, he worked for Telefonica on BlueVia, then when that folded he joined Twilio as their first employee outside North America. As Director Europe, he did a great job building out their business. Those of you who know James will recognize the characteristics of being genuine and inter-personal empathy.
  6. The approach a telco takes to its innovation program is highly dependent on the culture of the specific country, the role the telco plays in that country, and the objectives (degrees of freedom) the initiaitive has been allowed.  There is no cookie cutter formula, which is great for limiting the risk of web-scale competition. Hence telcos can, with the right people, technology, processes, and objectives win like IdeaMart.
  7. And finally, do not under any circumstances, use the term CPaaS on the public website. Its a horrible term made up by analysts that should only be used within the industry. Even limit use of term API on the front page, you should be offering much more than just APIs. Focus on what the program delivers to the country of operation, check out IdeaMart as an example.

To learn more from the people leading this topic, the 2 leading events in Programmable Telecoms are TADHack and TADSummit.

At TADHack Global on the 13-14 Oct people around the world can experience firsthand CPaaS, CPaaS enablers, chat bots, Ethereum, and much more. TADHack is for Everyone, whether you’re a coder or non-coder, it doesn’t matter. We want you to learn about some great technologies, share your experiences with others, and create something over a weekend that could change the world. Seriously, companies have been founded from TADHack, new services created and later launched, people have found amazing jobs working with world-leading teams. TADHack Global gives you unmatched hand-on experience, discover more here. Thanks to Status and VoIP Innovations for sponsoring TADHack Global 2018.

At TADSummit 13-14 November you’ll meet the people leading the Programmable Telecom revolution as well as the channels delivering the revolution to enterprises large and small around the world. You’ll see what’s possible before the rest of the industry because TADSummit is the thought-leadership event in programmable telecoms, now in its 6th year. Check more information here. Thanks to tyntec, VoIP Innovations, Wazo for sponsoring TADSummit 2018.