Effective Partner Management – Key to Success

April 25, 2013 Guvenc Kaplan

Effective Partner Management – Key to Success

Metin Zavrak,  Senior Product Manager, Telenity

Operators need to evolve their existing business models, network platforms and assets into an open ecosystem that enables different players to conduct business with consumers and with other businesses easily.

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New Opportunities, New Challenges
Telecom industry is facing major changes at every level of the value chain. These rapid changes in technology, mobile devices, computing models, business trends and standards lead to new opportunities.

However, these new opportunities bring along their own challenges. New devices and technologies confuse the consumers, while at the same time open standards and new business trends tighten the competition. This puts operators in a tough position where they need to advance their existing Value Added Service (VAS) offerings and broaden their portfolio with attractive personalized services. They will have to evolve their existing business models, network platforms and assets into an open ecosystem that enables different players to conduct business with consumers and with other businesses easily.
For many operators, this means stepping into an entirely new territory and dealing with processes and business partners that they are currently unfamiliar with. As more new players come into the equation, operators will not be the only source of services and applications. These new players are in search of dynamic but structured environments and operators should adapt to this challenge. They need to find a way to cohabit with these new players in an open ecosystem and support them with different business models.

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Where is the Industry Now?
Typically, telecom operators have to deploy and maintain multiple platforms to deliver a variety of VAS offerings. Most of these services are provided and managed by different types of partners (service providers, content providers, application providers, aggregators, marketing agencies, etc.) making it difficult to keep track of all involved parties and manage relationships in an effective and ubiquitous way.

Business Objectives and Obstacles
Due to the lack of predefined methodologies, strategies, software, and Web-based capabilities to regulate and manage the partner ecosystem, most operators fail to achieve their business objectives to the maximum. Some of these objectives and challenges are provided in Table 1.

In order not to lose the “hearts and minds” of customers, developers and partners in this highly dynamic and challenging environment, telecom operators need to manage their partners more effectively and efficiently. This can be achieved through introduction of standardized processes, tools, and practices, which will improve the interactions with these third parties, and will enable partners to not only launch attractive new services, but also enhance existing offerings with new features and offer consumers much more personalized and relevant services.

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Table 1: Business Objectives and Challenges

The New Trend: API Exposure
APIs have been in use in the telecommunications sector since the very beginning but with slower adoption compared to other industries (e.g. Web based service providers). This can be related to the characteristics of Telcos, which have always been self-sustained in providing services to subscribers. APIs allow an operator to expose its services, network and IT assets to all existing and new partners; e.g. internal groups, partners and long-tail developers.

With technology advancements and increased mobile phone penetration, different verticals are embracing the telecom sector and services in their quest to expand their offerings to their customers; e.g. healthcare and finance using SMS to remind doctor appointments and to verify customers’ identities, respectively.

Simply put operators are in need of finding new ways to compensate their declining voice revenues and stay competitive. Verticals are in need of reaching their customers more effectively and efficiently through high-speed mobile data. Thus an opportunity arises for both sides to work together across mobile ecosystems. This new opportunity can only be made possible when operators provide a controlled access to their network assets and capabilities through well-defined APIs, and work with an increased number of internal and external development partners to offer new services that enhance their own mobile service offerings.

New telecom trends such as M2M, Application Stores, and Mobile Payment heavily depend on APIs. Thus, API exposure is a big step to shift current business models into tomorrow’s multi-sided business models.

Partner Management Solution: Key to Success
API exposure brings the need for operators to have a strong Partner Management Solution, a system of methodologies, strategies, software, and Web-based capabilities that helps an operator to organize and manage its partner relationships with service providers, content providers, application service providers, mobile marketing agencies, and third party application developers.

The general purpose of a Partner Management Solution is to enable operators to manage their partners more effectively and efficiently through the introduction of standardized processes, tools, and practices for interacting with them. With a Partner Management Solution, operators can address the following needs:

  • Simple access to network assets and shortened time-to-market for service providers
  • Self-management capabilities for partners
  • Easier management of service providers and developer community
  • Simple onboarding process for the developer community
  • Decreased OPEX through automated partner management processes
  • Reduced risks as a result of tracking partner and service metrics
  • A well-defined business with flexible and automated workflows

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A Partner Management Solution should help telecom operators create an effective and sustainable ecosystem with the following benefits:

  • Single point of access to all partners and services
  • A discussion platform for partners and access to technical support
  • Automated business workflows
  • Teaming up with partners to create an open, sustainable ecosystem
  • Comprehensive set of documentation for partners
  • Tracking and evaluating partners via well-defined processes
  • Effective partner management through the many lifecycle phases including:
    1. Onboard:
      Onboarding companies (service providers, content providers, mobile marketing agencies… etc.) and developers should be straightforward, easy and clearly communicated to new partners.
    2. Train and Enable:
      Operators should get partners familiar with the program by providing business (business models, payment guide, payment calendar, settlement process) and technical introduction (detailed information on APIs supported by documents).
    3. Motivate and Incentivize:
      The value proposition communicated to partners via multiple channels (email, social media, mobile push updates, activities, newsletters). An incentive program should be planned, communicated and executed from promotion and participant registration to sales tracking and verification, point’s allocation and redemption.
    4. Collaborate:
      Tools and necessary API documentation should be provided to help partners develop new services. A straight forward process should be defined to cover an end-to-end development process. An isolated computing environment should be provided for testing with simulators, test devices, etc. and service deployment process should be made clear.
    5. Partner Support:
      Partners should be supported through different channels and methods. Forums and blogs should be made available for developers and partners to share their experiences and train each other. Support requests should be tracked through a ticketing system with clear stages for response.
    6. Performance Management:
      Defined SLA and performance metrics should be tracked to gauge the effectiveness of the partner program and performance of partners.
    7. Optimize:
      Mindshare competition, diverse partner types, conflict among partners, and challenges in communicating goals to partners constitute the main obstacles for revenue growth. Operators should provide individual performance data to all counterparts in the program to improve the performance of geographically dispersed partners and increase revenue growth.
    8. Renew or Retire:
      Any partner can, subject to the agreement that’s in place, end the partnership. The renewal or retirement processes should be defined with clean up checks. The solution should allow for immediate retirement of a partner when the case requires it.

The Path Ahead
Moving ahead bundling of voice, broadband data and media content will not be enough for operators to grow their business. The new “pot of gold” lies in building new business models that open up operator network assets to partners and enabling or simplifying everyday interactions between businesses and consumers, and governments and citizens. Typical examples of such interactions include: authenticating users, targeting promotions, distributing goods and content, collecting payments and providing customer care which today in most cases are slow and ineffective processes that can be made more efficient to improve operational costs and customer satisfaction.

These limitations can be addressed with telecom operator network assets including: real-time subscriber data, secure distribution networks, sophisticated billing systems, a large subscriber base, as well as, core voice and messaging products to reach the consumers.

To realize the new business model opportunity, operators will have to implement a Partner Management Solution and effectively expose their APIs to partners to facilitate improved interactions and transactions between people and organizations.