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The Future Of Telecom Is Digital With Google’s Kevin Shatzkamer

Telecom has not been maximizing the power of 5G enough, and not because the technology is not ready. With digital innovation already set, telecom transformation must start with organizations and goals themselves. Carrie Charles brings back her first-ever guest, Kevin Shatzkamer of Google, to discuss how service operators must utilize 5G technology to elevate their industries. Kevin explains why this must start with huge shifts in workplace culture and employee development. He also talks about the telecom talent shortage, as skilled workers look for experiences that aren’t typically offered in this particular scene. 

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The Future Of Telecom Is Digital With Google’s Kevin Shatzkamer

I’m very excited about our guest, Kevin Shatzkamer. He is the Digital Transformation Officer of Telecom for Google. Not only that but he was my very first guest on the show. Welcome back. I’m so excited to have you here.  

Thank you very much. I’m excited to be back.  

One thing we didn’t talk about in our first episode that we did was your journey in telecom, in technology. How did you get from where you were to where you are now at Google?  

[bctt tweet=”In this world, people are becoming more comfortable as a society with moving before having perfect information. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

I’m happy to share the story. I’ve been doing this for years. I started at Cisco Systems in around 1999 as an intern. The day I joined as an intern, my role was to help educate on technology related to mobile wireless networks. At the time that was 2G, 2.5G, the first GPRS launches. That was an internal role initially. It was focused initially internally because, at the time, Cisco did not have a mobile wireless group. The mobile wireless group started on the first day that I joined as that intern. I like to say that at Cisco, I was the first hire into mobile and service provider as a business when it first started to be focused on. I was at Cisco for about fifteen years in various different roles. When I left Cisco is as a distinguished engineer for various programs that I did.  

You can go buy a couple of books that I’d published. I hold about 50 different patents for work in the mobile space. I joined Brocade at that time around 2014 as CTO of their service provider, mobile strategy and business as well, which at the time I was the first hire for the service provider and mobile strategy they heard as well. I was there for approximately two years. I did a number of acquisitions, companies like Ruckus Wireless. I joined Dell as their first hire to focus on service providers specifically and led the service provider solutions group there for also approximately four years before coming here to Google. I cannot claim I was the first hire for the service provider but certainly was one of the first as we’ve taken a lens around how does Google technology, especially Google Cloud technology play a core role in telecom transformation.  

Kevin, you have a common theme of first. You were the first guest on the show, which is probably your biggest accomplishment in your life so far. Congratulations. What a journey. Talk about your role at Google a little bit.  

At Google, we’ve been adding a number of resources that align against strategic engagement to keep customers and partners focused on large industry transformations. In my role as digital transformation officer for telecom, my focus is extremely centered around telecom. I have peers who do similar things for the automotive industry who come out of the automotive industry. I have peers who do the same for aviation and come out of the aviation industry. I have peers who do the same for healthcare and financial services all coming out of the industry. As we look at these large transformations that these industries are going through, if you notice the ones that I’ve mentioned, there are a couple of common themes. They’re 100 plus-year-old industries.  

Telecom Transformation: 5G is still largely the same from a vision perspective. However, it’s more than just technology that takes people in achieving their goals.

There’s a lot of technical and organizational debt that’s been built up over the years. They are heavily regulated, which means that there are boundaries in terms of how far they can go in certain areas. It was important for Google to bring in expertise that understood and can bring credibility, as well as experience to these large transformations to partner with these industry leaders. To help them reinvent themselves, to help them reinvent their go-to-market opportunities and to help them reinvent customer experiences.  

Kevin, we’re talking about 5G and I know we talked about this before. Is the vision of 5G different than it was years ago? We’ve been through COVID. We’re still going through COVID. There’s new technology, new solutions, a lot of things have changed.  

I would say yes and no. The vision is largely the same in terms of how 5G can be verticalized, become valuable and useful to industries themselves. Edge computing plays a key role in that transformation of organizations to be able to get to a higher level of automation. More programmability around the network plays a key role in that. Being able to use data to deliver new customer experiences plays a role in that. In that regard, 5G is still largely the same from a vision perspective. We underestimated the complexity of getting to that vision. Not because the technology wasn’t ready. Don’t get me wrong. The technology wasn’t ready. Fast forward, it’s more than technology that takes us down that journey. How do we transform sales organizations to be able to sell these vertical offerings, be able to align around industry expertise and bring value to those industries?  

How do we transform business development organizations and product management organizations to think vertical rather than horizontal platform? How do we help engineering teams inside of telecom with the skillsets they need to be data-driven to be able to handle the higher degrees of automation? To be able to learn the skillsets needed for AI and feel comfortable that the decisions that AI will make are the same ones that the humans interoperating with the network itself would have made. Lastly, this new focus on customer experience across the board. How are they learning about the products and offerings that can be delivered over 5G? How are they getting access to it? If nothing else, during COVID, that shift the digital supply chain has been massive. How are they buying and consuming that technology? How are they getting support? How do you make that a unified customer experience from an end-to-end perspective?  

[bctt tweet=”Big organizational transformation starts with success points and quick wins. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

Kevin, I know that you know this well but another reason why the actual implementation of 5G and deployment of 5G is different than the vision is because of the workforce people and our talent shortage. I know we talked about that before and I know that still exists. 

The talent shortage hasn’t changed. It’s almost systemic in some ways. It’s systemic because there’s not enough talent coming out of college with the skillsets that are needed. It’s systemic because those people who are coming out of college with the right skillsets are looking for experiences that aren’t typically offered in the telecom organization. It’s systemic because those organizations have not been transforming as fast as they should. We encountered this on a regular basis. In this world, we’re becoming more comfortable as a society with moving before we have perfect information.  

Organizations that are successful, especially startups to the ones that are taking risks and making smart decisions about how to reduce risks through their entire implementation process rather than waiting for perfect market information before making a move within the industry. Telecom hasn’t achieved that yet. As a result of that, you see a little bit of stagnation and a little bit of reticent to move as fast as it needs to be as the industry is moving or as fast as the desire to move is. The net result of that is that when you’re being pushed to move faster than your organizational processes allow, it’s almost paralyzing.  

Not only that but the young talent. People coming out of college, they’re looking at this and saying, “I want to be with an organization that’s innovative and moving forward in the future.” That could be a distinct challenge there. We’re trying to recruit new talent. I can see exactly what you’re saying. When it comes to business, connectivity is a force that drives business. Leaders have to make sure that it’s done right and at the right speed because they have the vision or maybe they don’t have the vision and they need you to help them with that. How can enterprise leaders build for the future now and do it smartly?  

Telecom Transformation: Successful organizations make smart decisions about reducing risks before making a move within the industry rather than wait for perfect market information.

There’s a lot of innovation and talent that exists inside of any large enterprise organization. The opportunity in front of all of these organizations is to find those change agents, to latch onto those change agents and to start small. Big organizational transformation starts with success points and quick wins. When I think about the transformation for any large enterprise, it starts with people. Technology is an enabler of what the people are trying to do. What you tend to find sometimes is that while there is this desire to transform, there is this desire to improve processes.  

There is this desire to get to the speed of industry. The challenge in doing that is that processes and strategy don’t align to it. When you think about the vision of speed, what you tend to find is that when you latch on to those change agents, when you use the change agents to help accelerate transformation, listen to them. They see where the processes slow them down. They see where the strategy doesn’t align to the vision. Listening to those change agents, latching onto them, using them to get the proof points that this can be done has almost a snowball effect within a large organization.  

Speaking of transformation in a large organization, let’s talk about these service operators. What does digital transformation look like for service operators?  

There are lots of different components to it. It starts with realizing that there’s a growing set of opportunities to go to market differently. Especially with 5G and the service provider space, we can look at the opportunities in various vertical industries. I mentioned a lot of them. I mentioned healthcare, agriculture technology, aviation, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, etc. All of those are industries that are looking for service providers to play a different kind of role and they’re looking for service provider’s support in their transformations. That’s number one.  

[bctt tweet=”Technology is an enabler of what people are trying to do. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

Number two I would say is that if you work backward from that and you look at the opportunities, they‘re either going to be opportunities to differentiate yourself where you’re not differentiating yourself or they’re going to be opportunities to create markets that don’t exist. It’s important to understand the nuances between the two. Some of them are innovating on incremental capabilities that you already have. Some of them are long-term innovations to divine things that don’t exist. The customer user journeys in those two particular instances look very different. That’s at the start of it. How do I use technology? How do I think about go-to-market?  

Second is people transformation and cultural transformation. I don’t think that any large telecom or any large service provider would say that their culture is wrong, poor, not something that’s near and dear and important to them. How do you use that culture to start to drive transformation, to start to drive new strategy, to try to drive innovation? Start to turn innovation into a cultural asset versus a one-off implementation or process. Part of both of those are using data, understanding customer, operations, network and vendor technology using data to drive decisions at a faster rate. Lastly, understanding your customer user journey and customer experience is so important to getting transformation right. Having that maniacal focus on what is the customer experience that you want to deliver. What is the customer experience that is expected? The customer experience that you’re delivering will identify the gaps for how you accelerate innovation in the right ways.  

There is so much in what you said. I hope everyone is reading closely to all of these golden nuggets here for leaders. I know that monetization of 5G is something on everyone’s mind, especially service providers. How can telecom companies monetize 5G using the cloud?  

It’s early days in thinking about these new monetization models. When you think about what the cloud brings, first and foremost, the cloud brings a robust set of resources that are scaled into centralized locations. It brings robust network conductivity. It brings a strong application developer ecosystem that has learned how to develop at a very rapid rate using well-understood APIs that make development easier. If we think about the next evolution of the cloud, it’s that first off AI is increasingly important and AI is not a tool that’s meant to be or could be used on-premise at a very efficient rate because of the amount of computing power that’s needed to train models. That’s number one.  

Number two, the cloud is becoming verticalized. The same way the telecom and 5G are going after a set of vertical industries, so is the cloud. Number three, I look at it and I say that the next evolution of the cloud is also more real-time, more interactive, more driven by latency expectations because it’s more business-critical. As a result of that, you see the cloud starting to decentralize. Decentralization looks strikingly like edge computing. If we think about 5G and edge, edge play is the intersection of telecom networks and cloud technologies. It’s an opportunity not for telecom to use the cloud but to partner with cloud providers to go explore what these new monetization models look like.  

Telecom Transformation: The customer experience you’re delivering will identify the gaps for how you accelerate innovation in the right ways.

There’s data everywhere for telecom company service providers. What are the challenges that telecom companies are going to face with managing all of this data and analytics as we move toward this convergence, with the virtualization and all of that? It sounds to me like this is going to be a massive problem soon.  

It’s a massive problem for a couple of different reasons. One is because of regulation. There’s uncertainty in the telecom industry in terms of how they can use data to go drive new business opportunities and what regulation will allow them to do. Number two, there’s fragmentation and silo of data that happens. It happens because data sits in lots of different operational systems. OSS systems, BSS systems, vendor network, infrastructure in different operations teams inside of the telecom organization. Bringing that data together is a huge challenge. Number three, it’s a top-down understanding that data is not a whole bunch of information that’s useful to individual organizations but data itself needs a strategy.  

It needs a strategy from understanding customer, network, operations, services, systems and availability across the board. Understanding and gaining insights from data is a top-bound strategy. A lot of times, what happens in telecom is that the sales teams, the go-to-market teams, the product teams feel like they have enough data and try to jump from solving one problem to another with data, rather than having someone at a very senior level within a telecom organization thinking about data first as a strategy for all organizations.  

This sounds like an amazing opportunity for professionals in the data world to enter into telecom. I know that’s happening but we’re going to see more and more of that in the future. Let’s talk a little bit about the workforce. Telecom needs to build a workforce that can lead the way in this converged era. Are the lines blurring between tech and telecom when it comes to the workforce or are we going to see a lot more of that in the future? Another question is do telecom professionals need to be more tech-savvy to have a future?  

There are probably a couple of different answers to that particular question. They’re converging. Convergence is not nearly what we can expect to see in the coming years. Those countries are blurring. You see that blurring in terms of watching technologies that were born in the public cloud, technologies originally like Hadoop, Kubernetes, software-defined networking and other instances that are making their way into the telecom network. There’s always an aspect of telecom that is indeed new, unique, different from operating a public cloud, a wide area network, an enterprise IT organization or an IT network.  

With that, there’s domain-specific knowledge that will always exist in telecom and a level of domain-specific processes that will always exist. However, what we’ve been seeing in cloud from a technology perspective is that the ability to abstract the domain-specific pieces is what’s important to enable automation, to enable programmability of the infrastructure. Those systems and means to handle that abstraction in telecom are the same as those that are used in the public cloud. The more you can apply domain knowledge and not reinvent the tooling, that’s the important piece.  

Transferable skills will come into play here for sure as we upscale, reskill and retool. Kevin, thank you so much. Every time I talk to you, I learn so much. I know how busy you are. I want to say thank you for coming to the show. It has been truly awesome.  

It’s my pleasure. It’s great to catch up with you. 

One other thing, there are people reading that are thinking, “Where do I go?” It’s very obvious where people go to look for jobs at Google but do you have a website, a jobs page that you can mention or something where people can go to look at open jobs?  

Telecom Transformation: Edge play is the intersection of telecom networks and cloud technologies. It’s an opportunity to partner with cloud providers to explore new monetization models.

What’s interesting and simple about Google is that you have to Google it. If you Google Google Careers, you’ll find your answer.  

Kevin, thank you so much. Let’s stay in touch. I’d like to have you on again.  

Thank you so much.  

You take care.  

You too.  

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About Kevin Shatzkamer

Kevin Shatzkamer is currently Digital Transformation Officer for Telecom at Google Cloud. In this role, Mr. Shatzkamer brings industry credibility, experience, and expertise to one of Google’s strategic industry verticals. Mr. Shatzkamer plays an integral role in helping the largest Telecommunications Providers in the world through industry-defining transformations, from beginning to end. Mr. Shatzkamer provides strategic leadership throughout customer transformation journeys and acts as a thought-partner on both technical and business objectives to the CxOs of Google Cloud’s customers, leads the delivery of complex transformations, and brings together Google’s technology, capabilities, and ecosystems to help Telecommunications customers differentiate and win faster.

Mr. Shatzkamer’s current areas of focus related to 5G include Cloud Native Telecom, closed-loop operations (automation to AI/ML to autonomy), edge computing, and vertical industry use-cases. Mr. Shatzkamer has been recognized by the Telecommunications Industry in various capacities, including being named as one of Fierce Telecom’s Rising Stars (2019), and one of Informa Telecom’s 100 Most Influential Voices in 5G (5G100, 2020). Mr. Shatzkamer is also a regular speaker at many Telecom Industry events. Mr. Shatzkamer holds a Master’s of Engineering Management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Indiana University, and a Bachelor’s of Engineering degree from the University of Florida. Mr. Shatzkamer has more than 50 patents for his work in mobile networking and has published two books related to his work.

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