Listening to the “Exploring the Mobile Cloud” keynote with CEO of Alcatel Lucent, Ben Verwaayen;  CEO of Deutsche Telekom, Rene Obermann and CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, one key theme was serving the customer better.

At Mobile World Congress, there are many big screens with big numbers; billions of mobile users, trillions of dollars generated. But what the panel emphasises is that these numbers are made up of individual people. Traditionally telecommunication companies have been archaic and slow to move. They locked people into contracts and didn’t really give you a choice in a rather authoritarian way. Why was this? Verwaayen argues that “Till recently, we had no tools to recognize individual needs. Now we have the technology to do that.”

Now armed with the data and capability to dive deep into individual customer needs, companies like Alcatel Lucent, Deutsche Telekom and Cisco are looking at new ways of profile customers and deliver what they want, when they want. Verwaayen says “The time is gone where we can be comfortable with our own domains.” He later talked about the need to be more open and instead of building products that they think they want, ask them first then build.

Obermann agrees that telcos must adapt and transition to a higher level of customer service. He has taken on the leading role of pushing innovation and wants half of the 60 Billion Euros in the next few years to come from new revenue sources. Some of these could be the much talked about internet of things, where everything in your home is connected to the cloud from the entertainment system to the security system.  “Customers want connectivity, simplicity and security.” Says Obermann. He also believes there is a long way to go until the industry becomes customer friendly but that is the mission Deutsche Telekom is embarking on.

Managing a goliath company like Cisco must be a stressful job. So what keeps CEO John Chambers up at night? “Not moving fast enough.” He seems tremendous opportunity, especially in the way of mobile cloud and networks so the need to innovate and capture low hanging fruit is imperative. He also said he spends most of his time “listening to the customer.”

So who will serve customers the best? The panel appears very excited to watch the emerging countries and sees very progressive innovation come from that region. “Innovation has no passport.” Says Verwaayen. Keep an eye out for China.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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