Watch out for the bundlers

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Telecoms operators face a challenge from consumer companies with experience in bundling products and services, says Jean-Hervé Jenn, EMEA president at Convergys. As prices are reduced by new technology such as VoIP, they need to look for sources of growth

Jean-Hervé Jenn
Jean-Hervé Jenn looks at the telecommunications industry with a banker's wary eye and spots trouble ahead. As the afternoon sun shines on him in his office a few miles outside Cambridge, England, he runs through some of the challenges that are facing the operators that are the clients of Convergys, which he joined in 2003.

The money set aside for third generation mobile doesn't take long to say: "There's $100 billion on infrastructure, and $110 billion on licences," says Jenn, shaking his head in disbelief. "What have they got to show for it?" he asks.

He turns to the fixed operators, cutting the cost of broadband, and seeing voice over IP competitors eating into their revenues. If they cap the monthly fee, "then they cap their growth", he says. "The population in Europe and the US isn't growing, so where will the growth come from?"

They're trying bundling, taking on the cable industry and the entertainment industry, but telcos are not good at bundling. "Who are the great bundlers?" he asks, offering his own answer for the UK market: Sky, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled digital satellite broadcaster, and Tesco, the country's leading supermarket chain. Their revenues are going up. "That's where the telecom companies are going to go."

It means telcos have to get new skills at the top. "They need to be much better at attracting talent into the industry," he says — giving as an example of the sort of boss they should be hiring Pierre Danon, the CEO of BT Retail who is a former Xerox executive.

Consumer background
The industry needs an injection of people with a consumer background, he adds, "and then it needs to empower them", he adds. "Look who's running the industry now: technologists, network engineers."

Jenn joined Convergys in October last year from Goldman Sachs, where he led a team handling strategic dialogues with clients — not specifically in telecoms. However, before that he was European head of telecommunications, technology and media at KPMG.

He trained at the École Spéciale des Travaux Publics, du Bâtiment et de l'Industrie on the Left Bank in Paris — a university specializing in training construction engineers. Intriguingly, over at BT, Danon was trained at another French civil engineering school, the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. It makes an amusing thought: business meetings between senior executives of BT and Convergys starting off with a friendly chat in French about motorway bridges and railway tunnels.

Jenn's role at Convergys is president of the company's information management group for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And his task is to help boost the company's non-US business over the next five years. "The global operation should be 30% of our sales," he says. "We're not at 30% today. I've got a growth challenge."

Convergys has been international for only about three years. The company, which emerged from the in-house billing operation of independent operator Cincinnati Bell, started its worldwide strategy by buying a UK billing software company, Geneva Technology, based in Cambridge.

The stock-for-stock deal was completed in April 2001, but two years later as far as many people in the industry were concerned Geneva was still a separate organization. "My role is to consolidate," says Jenn. "Geneva got incorporated into Convergys pretty quickly," he says, but he makes it clear that he means the technology of the billing and rating engine. "From a marketing point of view the entities were left independent for a while."

How does he plan to grow the non-US operations? "It's got to be a five-year objective, and to me that's going to be a combination of organic and acquisitive growth," he says. Organic growth means more emphasis on systems integration, consulting and outsourcing. That will require some new alliances to be formed with potential competitors. "Are we going to compete with Accenture and Cap Gemini?" Jenn asks. "I don't think so." Indeed, Convergys will need to work with such partners. "We're not just a supplier of the Geneva product."

Tactical acquisitions
On buying other companies he is, understandably, reluctant to say more than "probably some tactical acquisitions at the European level". What sort of deals? "We're a cash rich company but we know how to do a deal," he smiles. And he was at Goldman Sachs, remember.

What areas would he look? The OSS/BSS industry is big: "We don't do it all. No one does it all, but our emphasis is more on BSS. We're not deep into network management, OSS. Does that mean that's where we want to go?" he asks himself. Jenn is good as asking the questions, though his answer is not very revealing: "Not necessarily." And "it's too early to have a budget" for potential acquisitions, he adds.

There is a third aspect to the challenge Convergys has set Jenn, in addition to integration and building the business. In the US, in addition to billing, the company provides outsourced customer care and employee care operations. "We want to start implementing that with telecoms operators in Europe," says Jenn.

Convergys is one of the biggest operators of call centres in the world, he says, with 22,000 seats, including some in the Philippines and Indonesia. "It's an end-to-end solution", that covers billing and other functions, he says, but he admits that "it's a very Anglo-Saxon product". Different countries react differently to the idea of outsourcing, he adds: "The UK is very advanced in outsourcing, and Germany is going to be next. France is being left behind."

There is a lot of interest "at the CEO level" but he admits there are also many challenges. These are large, successful companies that have whole departments handling these operations. "We are realistic. This is an infrastructure industry and it takes time to build."

Human resources
But Convergys has major interests outside the telecoms industry, and it is wanting to bring these offers to telcos: employee care, for example, where Convergys takes over a client's human resources function, including access to benefits, training and so on. "We're one of the leading players in the industry, and most of our clients are global clients."

It's a two-way street: the billing systems that Convergys now offers the telecommunications business are "very sophisticated transaction engines" that can also be used for banking, health care and other businesses. "We'll be able to expand way beyond telecom," says Jenn.

Which all sounds as though he has some challenges ahead of him. GTB