The choice available in the mobile communications market can be baffling for businesses. It’s difficult to make genuine comparisons, get a clear view of possible charges and time-consuming to search for a new deal. But with better sharing of service data by networks such as Vodafone, EE and O2, independent mobile dealers could provide more tailored, comparable quotes and businesses potentially get better service and the right contract for their business needs.
That’s why Open Communications, enabling relevant secure data-sharing, is such a key issue. And why I was pleased to be invited to respond to Ofcom’s current consultation on the potential customer benefits of Open Communications, bringing to the discussion in-depth market knowledge of the particular issues facing SMEs in the mobile communications marketplace and the value of data-based insight.
Open Communications is an Ofcom initiative for the telecoms markets that would allow people and businesses to instruct their communications provider to share their service information with third parties of their choice easily and securely. This is the customer’s own data – it doesn’t belong to the network – and it could unlock better services and better value for them.
With this data, the third parties can then be more intelligent with the tools and services they offer the customer, and create new tools designed round them. It would work similarly to Open Banking, where third-party providers have used agreed shared data to offer better and new services such as money dashboards.
The opportunity is certainly there for Open Communications to have a positive impact, but I wanted at this consultation stage to help Ofcom really understand the differences within the mobile comms marketplace, in order to be able to target what would be beneficial.
Ofcom says rightly that consumers are separate entities from SMEs and that complexity of demand increases as business size increases. But I was concerned that the very different needs and pain points of consumers and SMEs haven’t been clearly recognised.
SMEs are not the same as consumers. Consumers may have their mobile, landline and TV all in one package with just one or two phones, and a sole trader might have similar needs. However, an SME using 5 to 500 handsets is a different level of complexity with different needs and worries – and different opportunities for Open Communication benefits.
For consumers, the main concern is contract price and handset, but they already have a good choice of retail and comparison web channels available. Open Communications could, however, potentially help with clearer tariff comparison for package deals.
For corporates with 1,000+ lines, billing is their main concern – and if they have been overcharged. They tend to be well-served by dedicated network teams, but Open Communications could bring better billing accuracy.
But for SMEs things are a lot more complex. Serviced by independent mobile dealers, the service they need very much depends on the business needs, with issues such as:
And often there’s no clear view of the real usage information.
In many SMEs, it is the IT Manager landed with making the mobile comms decisions. They know it’s important but don’t have the expertise, time or resources to deal with it. And with the current business mobile market being non-transparent, this results in poor decisions and major stress.
Usage data knowledge is key for such SME customers and there are real opportunities with Open Communications to open up transparent service comparison and make finding the right mobile choice quick and easy.
For many third-party suppliers, opening up data access gives them a chance to add real value and advice to their offering for SME customers. Accurate, quality data available to all means a level playing field when quoting for services. It builds transparency, with better understanding of customer needs, clear charges, no unknown extras and no wasted time trying to get the necessary customer information.
For Open Communications to work, the data request system (API) has to be as easy, consistent and robust as possible. I asked Ofcom to consider:
Predict Mobile is currently the only B2B comparison and matching site for mobile communications, helping SMEs find the best suppliers with the optimum solution for what they need now and for the future. Our approach is already based on understanding customers’ usage, data analysis and using machine learning to continually optimise costs during the contract.
It’s an approach that is working well for our customers, with average savings of £80,000 – over 50% of contract costs. We have to put time and effort into getting and checking our customer data, and Open Communications would allow us to do what we do quicker and even better.
I’ve welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and appreciate Ofcom’s readiness to listen. From many years working in the mobile industry and wider business awareness as a non-exec director at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, I know the potential positive impact Open Communications could have on mobile communications for both businesses and suppliers with increased transparency, better comparison and better-informed service. But it has to be based on an in-depth understanding of the business mobile marketplace, particularly SMEs, and carefully implemented to ensure it can achieve the wanted benefits.
Have your say. Closing date for responses to the Ofcom consultation: Open Communications – Enabling people to share data with innovative services is 10th November.