Last year at this time I wrote that I was not one for predicting the future, but I didn’t mind attempting to influence it, within my reasonable means. Every new year we seem to be overwhelmed with what some people believe will occur in the coming twelve months, some of it so obvious ‘blind Freddy’ would see it coming, and others so way out we discard them immediately as the ravings of a mad prophet.

And at this time last year, most predictions were downright depressing. They all revolved around the ‘economic downturn’ we apparently had to have. It seems TM Forum Chairman, Keith Willetts, and I were the only voices playing up the positives of the telecommunications industry and its potential to sustain strong revenues even in times of financial uncertainty against most other sectors.

I went even further and made three predictions:

  • that telecommunications revenues would not recede but were likely to increase and quite dramatically;
  • that other industries would take a closer look at what we were doing and want to emulate it, because we are so good at it they would come and ask us to either provide them with the technology or do it for them; and
  • there would definitely be more emphasis on the whole revenue management operation within service providers, this being the most effective means of realising revenues and adding dollars directly to the bottom line.

They may seem to be safe predictions in retrospect but if you recall the sombre and almost depressive mood at the time you would agree they were quite bold.  It’s also fair to say they were, in broad terms, quite accurate.  This year, however, it may best to offer a note of caution to those executives amongst us that feel obligated to reduce head count in order to reduce costs, increase profits and appease their shareholders.

The telecoms industry, as a whole, has been trimming itself since the big downturn of 2001.  Staff numbers have been steadily decreasing and productivity gains eked from a smaller workforce (presumably working harder) and more efficient network and BSS infrastructures.  When things are tough people can’t just leave and find a new job.  They fear losing their own so they tend to work harder and longer to the detriment of their families and themselves.

The result, as France Telecom management found out in 2009, is tragic. 24 of its staff took their own lives over 20 months and led to culling of senior management that ignored the warning signs.  Many left notes blaming work conditions that led them to take the most drastic of actions.  We, as an industry, should be shamed by these headlines and pray they are not repeated in 2010.

On a brighter note, 2010 does hold great promise but only the nimble will see benefit.  The landscape is changing as rapidly as the speed of an LTE network.  Data, long seen as the savior for flagging voice revenues has created its own set of issues and many mobile networks were caught napping in 2010.  The task for the new year is to find out how to make money from increased data usage, and that could be a lot harder than it sounds!