How to collaborate in today’s digital economy

The full version of the following article can be read in the latest edition of ITU News Magazine, which highlights key insight from ITU’s recent Telecom World 2016 event in Bangkok, Thailand.

Rapid technological developments are enlarging the information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem. New over-the-top (OTT) players and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are becoming key stakeholders alongside established ICT companies and governments driving policy and regulation.

30910015391_bf4ba7aae2_kAt the same time, rapidly changing user demands are upending established business models and creating entire new markets. This has brought a range of disparate industries, including financial services, health care and automobile into the new ICT ecosystem.

The recent ITU Telecom World 2016 reflected this changing mix of stakeholders and, as in previous years, attracted strong private-sector participation to complement ITU’s unique ability to bring together public-sector ICT leaders.

Together they discussed and debated a range of pressing questions, such as:

  • What are the business models, the policies, regulatory approaches and partnerships we need to move forward?
  • What can we learn from differing international perspectives cutting across both emerging and developed markets?
  • How can we adopt or adapt best practices to our own local realities?

While sharing case studies and best practices, participants agreed that these times call for new partnerships, new approaches and new ways of thinking — and that today’s challenges can only be met by working together. But they did more than just talk about the need for collaboration. They spoke in detail about how it can and should be accomplished.

Can industry players align?

One major theme that emerged from throughout the different discussions was: how can the new, broader set of private-sector stakeholders work together to meet the complex challenges to increase the connectivity that powers all of their respective business models?

“True connectivity comes from being able to break the silos,” says Suphachai Chearavanont, President of the Telecommunications Association of Thailand, adding that Thailand is boosting efforts to break down the silos between the private sector and the government — as well as the silos between various industries increasingly dependent on ICTs. “If we are not connected between the layers, even among the private sector itself … then we are very vertically oriented. We are only looking at: ‘How can we compete?’”

Mr Chearavanont sees progress on that front in Thailand, noting the increased collaborative spirit among industry verticals that realize the need to work together in order for all to thrive. “The private sector actually started to have this awareness of: ‘How can we share the goals?’ From the private sector side, we see the benefits of collaborating,” he said.

RELATED: CTOs meet with ITU in Bangkok to discuss 5G strategy, standards

“What’s happening in Thailand, I can call it a digital revolution,” said Lars-Åke Norling, CEO of the Telenor-owned Thai mobile provider Total Access Communication PLC (DTAC) during the Industry Leaders Roundtable on the power of collaboration to create value, accelerate growth and open new markets. He pointed to average Internet usage rates of five hours per day with 3-5% projected growth driven mainly by video streaming. “To maintain this growth, it’s fundamental to maintain good networks,” he said.

Funke Opeke, CEO of MainOne Cable in Nigeria made similar points, saying that such collaboration on network infrastructure and services was a “proven global model” and that incumbents have to open up their networks to generate new revenue even if that means they will get a “smaller piece of the pie.” Ms Opeke said that this is an opening step that many African countries will need to go through, adding that “in the most advanced markets, we’re seeing OTT merging” with larger operators.

New models for sharing infrastructure and services

Mr Norling mentioned the need to share network infrastructure costs and resources. Most fellow panelists at the Industry Roundtable agreed as they gave examples of sharing everything from fiber to spectrum to cloud services in order to save money and time so that they could focus on new products and services that create new revenue streams. Norling also emphasized the need to work more closely with OTT players as well as digital payments players on new products

“The biggest barrier is getting competitors to become allies. Competition needs to come together to share the networks,” said Ms Opeke. “It’s amazing to watch the significant shift from cash to cashless banking. … What has happened could not have been achieved without a high degree of collaboration.”

But it’s just the beginning of a more collaborative era on digital finance.

“We take it for granted, the [digital] financial services success, but just think about the two and a half billion people without financial inclusion,” said Yvette Oh, Group Executive, Market Development, APMEA, International Markets (IMK), MasterCard Worldwide, Singapore.

Ms Oh mentioned examples of how those unbanked could be financially included — and how a mix of technologies could be leveraged to enable payments that can boost the average revenue per user (ARPU) of both operators and payment service providers.

“Interoperability is key, because that will drive usage,” said Oh, driving home the point about cooperation. “It means all the different verticals coming together working as one to deliver the solutions.” ….

To read the full version of this article, read the latest edition of ITU News Magazine.

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