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MWC Insights: Why Culture Matters More Than Ever

An interesting and unexpected theme emerged during the Mobile World Congress 2023 show in Barcelona last week. Beyond the typical and expected exclamations of digital transformation, 5G, everything as a service, devices, robots and virtual worlds, a new realization took center stage. Weaved into the well-scripted threads of one keynote after another was the undeniable fact that the biggest change hitting telecom is a much needed and already emerging cultural shift in how the industry thinks, acts and innovates. The alarms were rung, signaling that the telecommunications industry must innovate—or someone else will.

We already know that everything must be dynamic, connected and interactive or people will not use it, but at MWC ’23, we discovered that stereotypical company roles of delivering on that vision have shifted.

Antionetta Mastroianni, Chief Digital and IT Officer at Proximus, recommended building new skillsets, noting that same skillsets of the past will not suffice any longer. She explained that companies must offer people the experience they want, which is possible by combining the power of the network with the building-out of a company’s IT capabilities. Mastroianni said when that happens, companies can then offer telecom services and so much more. Partnering plays into the business strategy, and she recommended leveraging the capability of every company to offer the right network, the right application, the right container and the right API to give customers the right experience.

Telecos no longer have the luxury of thinking about their services and their networks. Telstra CEO Vicki Brady stated that telecoms must innovate on top of connectivity, and they must become comfortable not controlling everything end to end. She cautioned that this big shift is critical to telecom’s success. As a result, it is not surprising that we are seeing telecos becoming techcos at exactly the same time that techcos are moving into the teleco space. It is very likely that as those two worlds collide, culture will help define the winners and losers.

A.P. Moller - Maersk CEO, Vincent Clerc, discussed the cultural shift at his 129-year-old company, and how the merging of business and tech is changing the way legacy companies approach new world problems. The cultural shift underway at Maersk may be accelerated by the fact that over 50% of its 104,000 employees have been with the company for less than two years. Clerc noted that it’s not possible to transfer anything today without having a really solid tech foundation. Maersk operates large global networks at sea, on land and in the air. What connects those networks and those assets is the technology. Clerc stated, “From our customers’ perspective, the most important thing—or the number one thing that they expect from us aside from transporting their goods—is to provide them with visibility with what’s happening with their goods on the way. And that requires edge computing, cloud computing and a network that is extremely powerful.”

Back to its pre-COVID heyday, MWC sessions, stands and never-ending taxi lines were filled. As the industry awoke from its collective post-pandemic haze, there was the realization that the world has changed, and the industry needs to change with it. Many are already answering the call and are rethinking, reimagining and reconsidering what they need to do differently. If the advice is heeded, the network (not the applications) will, once again, be valued as the critical connector of global economies. As Clerc noted, “I think it is a huge opportunity for the entire ecosystem to actually bring solutions to these weaknesses that we have seen.” Time will tell which telecos will act swiftly and seize the opportunity to monetize the power that only the network can provide.