Global Innovators | Ben Parker | TelecomDrive.com
Fostering innovation is very important for any organization and in the technology space – it is often innovation that differentiates men from the boys.
Innovation sits right at the helm of all successful businesses and its impact can be significant – from developing products and services that drive a competitive advantage to disrupting the market scenario.
As part of our special content series focused around ‘Global Innovators’ TelecomDrive.com speaks with Ben Parker, Chief Technology Officer, Guavus on the spirit of innovation and its importance for the company and the industry.
How do you define innovation today and why do you think it is important for an organization of your nature?
I look at innovation from two points of view. The first is pure research. This is research work being done that has no known outcome and, when successful, it pushes technology forward in sometimes amazing ways. The second is co-innovation. This is a go-to-market methodology we use at Guavus to create innovative AI-based analytics solutions that quickly address real-world business problems. This form of innovation is focused on delivering business value to our customers at the speed of their business and in a form that allows the innovation process to continue over time.
We look at co-innovation projects as living things. One truth with analytics is once you answer one question, you see many more questions. This form of innovation-led projects allows us to find the answers and continue to answer the new questions seamlessly. It also allows us to keep our long-term research efforts focused on the needs of our customers.
Please share details of your innovation that you are driving or have been an integral part with?
Some of the most interesting projects we’re driving now are focused on combining customer experience management with network operations. Customer experience is a well-used, and possibly overused, term but we are looking at customer experience in totally new ways. Our core Reflex analytics technology allows us to focus on the actual experience each and every customer is having while using each of their communications service provider’s (CSP’s) services.
Whether it’s voice, video on demand, or high-speed Internet, CSPs want to ensure the quality of experience their customers expect is being delivered at all times. Our approach to this effort not only quantifies each customer’s experience, it will root cause the source of problems in the CSP’s network that are negatively impacting customer experience.
Once this is done, it’s possible to automate the next steps. These steps may include simply opening trouble tickets to notify the CSP’s operations staff of the problem or, in more advanced deployments, the problem is automatically fixed without the involvement of a person. Once the problem is fixed, our Reflex analytics platform and applications monitor the results and use AI to continuously learn and continuously improve the results of the actions which reduces the cost of maintaining the CSP’s network while maximizing customer experience. By keeping all these tasks focused in the experience of customers, the net effect is that the customer will truly have a better experience and the CSP will quickly be able to identify and repair those problems with the largest customer experience impact first. Improving customer experience while reducing cost is a win-win for everyone.
Why is this innovation important for your organization and your end customers?
Our team has focused on being truly customer centric in our innovation strategy. When we engage with our customers, we engage in a process where we truly co-innovate with them. We work with them to root out the most challenging problems in the business and we quickly propose a custom analytics application solution. We segment the solution in such a way that the customer gets to see frequent demonstrations of the solution as it’s developed. This ensures that the application, as it progresses, will address their problem and also allows for finetuning of the application ensuring it addresses all operational needs along the way. Our ability to marry innovative solutions with existing product technology with research allows Guavus to deliver high-value solutions quickly in a manner that proves immediate value and are able to be adapted to changing business models and business requirements.
How did you conceive the idea for this innovation?
Our co-innovation process was conceived by our Office of the CTO while working with the IT operations team at one of the most innovative and fastest growing CSPs in Asia. This team very quickly identified the use case and documented it for implementation.
Although the process is structured, the real differentiator is the team. The team consists of people with 20 or more years of experience across many aspects of the telecommunications industry. The team can share experiences with customers, whether good or bad. This changes our relationship with the customer. We are no longer simply a vendor.
Our relationship becomes much more of a partner, not just selling a product, we are helping identify and solve the hard problems. Our team approaches problem identification and creates proposed solutions from the perspective of our customer and not from Guavus’ perspective. We strive to be a trusted partner and that creates an open and honest banter between the CSP and us. The result of this banter is the ability to quickly identify the customer’s challenges and define a targeted solution to the problem.
Please share details of some of the big or small difficulties / challenges that you faced while carving out this innovation for your company?
The biggest challenge was pivoting the entire company to this new co-innovation go-to-market method. Changing the habits and processes that have been developed over 10 years is always a big challenge. The entire company must be very agile — agile in both development process but also much more malleable in the way they’re used to solving problems. Our GTM innovation process requires thinking of projects as MVPs, or Minimum Viable Projects as they’re called in Agile project management.
The goal of MVPs is to get a simple version of the solution quickly into the hands of the customer to make sure you’re on the right track and identify the highest-priority things to do next; in essence, the “first draft” of a product. These MVPs are typically short in nature, which requires our team to consider how the MVP will evolve over time and how it may be fully productized later. Additionally, each MVP is a “lego block” in our strategy. Each MVP builds on the previous one or adds new value to another. Ensuring the entire company understands how one project builds on another is critical. For the customer this is usually great as each MVP creates true business value and additional MVPs extend that value. This process helps avoid long drawn-out programs that tend to lose both focus and support because they fail to deliver value to the customer quickly.
What does the future hold for this innovation now? How relevant will this innovation be in the coming years? Please share the roadmap for this innovation?
The innovations I’ve discussed to this point span multiple domains. We’ve created innovative solutions that are coupled with a very innovative go-to-market methodology. As we go forward, we will become much more efficient as we develop innovative MVPs and we will continue to improve our algorithms and techniques to improve the way CSPs improve their customer experience and operations. The projects we are running today will transition seamlessly into 5G mobile networks and will enable a new generation of services that are powered by both mobile and fixed CSPs. Additionally, the applications and algorithms developed to address the needs of our CSP customers are easily applied to other domains including aerospace, space, transportation, defense and security.
Please share details of some of the technologies / solutions where you are working on now and from where future innovation is likely to emerge?
We will see in the next few years a whole new way to operate large networks. They will become truly self-optimized and self-operated. In networks where 5G will be deployed with very high frequencies, we will see an explosion in the number of cell sites that must be deployed. This will enable a host of new services — from wireless home broadband to new AR/VR and IoT services — that promise to change how cities operate and public safety is managed.
From the CSP perspective, there will be large capital cost to deploy the networks without a significant jump in revenue from that investment. This results in a much more complex network with more elements to manage with the same or fewer operational resources. In turn, there’s a need to operate those networks at a lower cost and much more efficiently than in the past. Our innovation agenda is focused squarely on addressing these challenges.
Today we are perfecting the AI required to drive customer experience and root issue identification across any network domain. Automatically fixing those Issues and continual learning to ensure the root cause is correctly identified and the repair action is correctly implemented represents the next step on this journey.
Personal Profile – “Never Stop Thinking”
Please share details about your family? In what way do you think your family helps you in terms of ideating well?
I grew up in a small town and on farms. This ingrained, at an early age, the ability to see solutions not just problems. For example, when a tractor breaks down and you still have hundreds of acres to harvest, you can’t just stop and raise your hand for help. You must do what it takes to get the job done.
My father is a very technical person who, during his career, built vinyl sheeting factories. He taught me to see a factory as a system, not just as a bunch of black boxes. A factory has many components, but each component has limited value without the other.
I believe these experiences gave me a unique perspective that’s very conducive to thinking about innovation and also not giving up when the going gets tough. These lessons were cemented into my mind as my first job in the telecom industry was as a system troubleshooter. Troubleshooting a network requires you to think of the entire network and to understand how each element in the call flow affects a call.
This forces you to naturally “think outside the box.” Learning to think beyond what is in front of you is a crucial skill required to be truly innovative. This is a skill that’s very hard to find. It’s not taught in college. It’s a skill that’s learned throughout life.
Creating innovation is not that easy – one has to look beyond the horizon, so what are some of the books or tools to innovations that have helped you personally on thinking aloud on innovation?
I’m a voracious reader. I read dozens of technical articles each day. This helps me stay on top of industry trends, but that is just one thing. More important than anything is the team. Innovation is a team sport.
The real magic is creating an environment that inspires innovation. The Guavus Office of the CTO is made up of industry experts who have held positions across all facets of the telecom industry. This team has seen so much in their career that they can often see what is driving the telecom industry from both business and technical perspectives. We spend a lot of time in deep debates on what a solution should do.
These debates can get loud, but they always remain respectful. These discussions lead to a more thorough understanding of potential solutions and new ideas emerge. Those new ideas are then tested with the customer and, if they pass muster, they become part of the strategy.
What keeps innovators moving is the satisfaction and pride garnered from seeing your ideas come to light. Organizations who can’t do this stifle the innovative mind and often find themselves as laggards in the high-tech arena.
Personally what is your way to process innovation so that it can see light of the day? For instance some people take down notes, use customer feedback etc.
Never stop thinking! The greatest ideas can come while at the gym or while watching TV. I think that when you’ not focused intently on a problem, the solution will almost always emerge. I also try to not fall in love with an idea. Some ideas should not survive. Getting too focused on one thing will stifle the process. True innovation starts with a spark but must be fanned into a fire by the team. Once that spark is caught, the real magic comes when the whole team understands its potential and makes it their own. When the team owns the idea, they contribute to the vision and that is when an innovation turns into reality. Sharing our innovations with customers is key.
These discussions are key to creating a conversation with the customer that is more than just technology. We discuss business problems and value propositions and share how our innovations can be employed to solve those problems.