The most successful telecommunications enterprises are those that embrace new technologies, and think about ways that new business models or approaches can drive revenue gains while reducing costs. Such companies emphasize not only building network “plumbing”, but also offering real connected solutions to their customers. In short, successful telecom companies understand that continuous innovation is imperative to their success.

However, while telecom companies may aspire to work and think dynamically, many are discovering that they do not have the right in-house talent to address evolving industry developments. The desire for network engineers who can climb poles and install equipment has been replaced with a need for software developers who can develop media and content distribution strategies, and many telecom companies are struggling to fill this talent void.

And, as hiring needs have changed over the past decade, so too has the way consumers access cable and phone services, given rise to developments such as the proliferation of consumer-generated content and advances in Massive MIMO systems. In light of this rapidly changing landscape and the talent void currently in place, telecom companies need to develop a more flexible workforce model that will enable them to quickly and efficiently bring in the right skillsets to address advancing customer needs. Enter the “gig economy”, or hiring workers for a specific task and period of time.

No longer confined to consumer-facing models like Uber and Task Rabbit, the “gig economy” is moving up market and into large enterprises, many of whom are tapping into specialized independent talent via cloud-enabled talent-access platforms. These platforms allow telecom companies to engage the right external specialists as needed on a project-by-project basis, ensuring that those with defined knowledge areas — everything from IoT to 5G — are brought on to tackle projects that best align with their subject matter expertise.

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As of 2015, almost 90 percent of U.S. businesses relied on gig workers as part of their workforce. For telecom companies, this model offers financial and operational efficiency, which ultimately frees up time and resources. For skilled telecom experts, the freelance model offers the freedom to work on what they want, when they want, potentially leading to a more dynamic work experience and higher take-home pay (it follows that nearly one in three American workers earn some form of income through independent work).

As the U.S. workforce increasingly embraces the gig economy, telecom companies are adapting as well.  Here’s an example: One global company with roots in traditional telecom used a talent-access platform to gain leverage in a fast-paced mergers and acquisitions deal. There’s a limbo period in most M&A deals during which a company needs to learn what it will be like to own and operate the newly acquired company, but performing this due diligence is often overlooked in favor of focusing on the financial and legal aspects of the transaction — this oversight is why more than half of M&A deals fail to generate revenue. Rather than remain tied to this tired model, the company decided to rely on external expertise with deep operational knowledge to help it get up to speed on the new company. Today, this telecom company goes into acquisitions on much better footing, having investigated every possible question and angle regarding growth opportunities and other business aspects.

From upheavals to internal business processes to change in consumer content consumption preferences, the telecommunications industry is in the midst of radical change. The companies that will best navigate the current and future challenges that result from this dynamic shift will be those that leverage the gig economy, as doing so will allow them to address industry shake-ups in real-time and at lower cost.

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Chris Collins_CatalantChris Collins is the general manager of the technology, media and telecommunications practice at Catalant Technologies. He frequently advises innovative technology, research and advisory services companies on driving dramatic growth and navigating change. Prior to Catalant, Chris served as the vice president of the technology and telecom practice at Millward Brown Digital.

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