Telefonica's Richard Benjamins on Big Data's Huge Potential for Telecoms

Big data analytics -- the ability to gain deep business insights through crunching large amounts of data -- is rapidly becoming an important part of telecommunications, and telecom leaders need to be aware of what it can do for their organizations. We recently talked with Richard Benjamins, group director of business intelligence and big data at Telefonica, about big data in telecom and what’s at stake for companies.

Benjamins says big data insights can be used for both internal and external business optimization. “If you look at the internal part, traditionally there is a lot of focusing on marketing and sales and specific campaigns. That’s important, but it’s only a small part of your opportunities.” Internally, big data insights can be drawn and applied to improve all operational processes such as HR to procurement, where to deploy antennas and routers, and how to staff customer call centers. “All those things, you can optimize.”

Understanding your role

Externally, big data can be used to understand your business’ role and future in the marketplace. “At Telefonica, we help transport companies understand their customers as well as non-customers. Railways can understand their customers, but they don’t know how to draw insights about those who use planes or cars. With big data, it’s possible to see potential opportunities or potential problems.”

To apply big data principles to your business, you’ll need the technology and people to do it. “There’s a scarcity of people who have the skills to do data science, but without that, you can’t do anything,” he says. Simply assembling a platform and pumping data through it is useless without someone to analyze it and create value from the insights. Using information from your network, all the products and services you sell, your customer lists and other information combined with qualitative data and other secondary information may provide interesting outcomes, but you need people who can draw valuable and actionable conclusions from these outcomes.

One challenge with using big data methodologies is that there is always concern about security and privacy, Benjamins says. Because telecoms use personal information, it’s vital that they are aware of any laws regulating the use and storage of that information. Organizations will also need to engage their customers about the use of big data so they know their information is safe, he says.

A transformational journey

The telecommunications industry is on a journey to transform itself, Benjamins says. “It used to be, we launched products and they went by themselves and you didn’t have to think about them; some people used them and some didn’t.” Now, the importance of understanding your market and how customers use your product create a bigger urgency for finding better insights.

Organizations that don’t adopt big data methodologies will find themselves stuck in old ways of thinking and doing business, Benjamins says. Their operations will be less aligned with their business needs, they will have larger lead times on taking positions in the market, he says. “Others are more agile because they have the insight. Not using big data is a missed opportunity.”