Work Stream 6 Kick off Discussion: Innovation Pipeline by Mark White

TADHack innovation pipelineTADHack 2014 held during June in Spain, simultaneously at satellite events in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, and remotely from almost everywhere else – was a phenomenal success. Over 500 developers took the opportunity to devote 24 hours straight to innovate and create new services and applications using Telecom APIs. Winning teams created broad-ranging applications from AnYare’s distributed workforce mobile reporting & voice messaging service (AnYare is short for “ano ang nangyari”, which translates in Filipino as “what happened?”), to eFace2Face, which enables consumers to connect with businesses instantly through secure video calling.

Telecom applications built during TADHack – as well as many, many others – could readily (and credibly!) become profitable, commercial service offerings through or via a network services provider. Yet it could seem that the commercial potential of Telecom Applications appears to be languishing, based on the relatively sparse API-powered services that we have recently seen monetised by carriers. We know there’s innovation, and many carriers – including AT&T, Telefonica, Globe, Celcom and Telstra – are launching API programs, but there’s a clear gap between the innovators and sustainable, commercialised services.

TAD Summit 2014 in Istanbul, and specifically Workstream 6, is providing an opportunity for the ecosystem – that’s us! – to explore this gap, and to discuss strategies that can be employed by both carriers and developers, and also the broader TADS community, in order to close it. We’d like to see TADHack become a pipeline for commercial service innovation around the globe, and TADSummit is the opportunity for the community to make it happen.

To get you thinking about the potential, let’s pose a few questions:

What do Telecom APIs change for developers?

Telecom APIs lower the barriers to developing telecom services. It takes, or should take, minutes to get development access to network assets. By way of analogy, I believe the promise of Telecom APIs should be to make it an equivalent effort to get your services commercially deployed (i.e. producing revenue for both developer and carrier) on a carrier’s network as it would be for getting an App published on the iTunes Appstore.

Why do Telecom APIs matter for carriers?

Network operators are in danger of becoming simple broadband providers, or ISPs. The success of over the top (or OTT) services such as Skype merely took away margin on voice minutes. The growth beyond all expectations of WhatsApp and iMessage has really put a dent into SMS margins, which hurts carriers. This, and the slow death (in most markets) of mobile value-added services (VAS) makes it really difficult for carriers to differentiate and create new value from their subscriber base.

Are Telecom API’s the silver bullet for carriers? Probably not, but they’d ideally help, if they opened the doors to new, innovative and revenue-producing services, minus the expensive internal deployment costs.

How can TADHack be an innovation pipeline for carriers?

We think there’s got to be more than a “built it and they will come” approach by carriers; we want to see healthy, sustainable developers and companies continuing to innovate on the revenues they are producing from commercially deployed services.  The developers involved in TADHack have spoken, they consider it unique, we’ve got something here we need to build upon for the benefit of the whole ecosystem.

Here are some initial ideas to discussion:

  • A TAD innovation showcase, where anyone can demo services created by the TADHack community to promote not only the service but all the commercial and go to market issues that filter great ideas to market successes.
  • A standard TAD-recommended revenue-share agreement, to facilitate clear and open commercial relationships between developers and carriers.  Is this even possible?  Different markets, different channels, different people all result in a  large range of numbers.  Rather than revenue share should other commercial aspects be recommended to accelerate success?
  • A TAD-Accelerator program, where developers can be introduced to mentors, investors and possibly even development partners to assist them in creating commercial outcomes from their services.  Getting funding for anything telecom related is close to impossible thanks to the closed nature of telcos and their large vendors which have scared investors away.
  • Any others?

To be clear, TADHack represents more than any single event – it’s a vibrant, worldwide community of telecom developers and innovators. And as much as we will discuss this at TADSummit in November, it’s over to you to get started. Comments, and ideas below please!  Let’s get the discussion started.

See you in Istanbul!