The ship and the highway

Michele Caprini
In brief
Conversation with Fabiana Alcaino

Since graduating in management engineering at the Polytechnic University of Milan, Fabiana has built a solid experience across various strategic areas of the Telco sector. Over time, she dealt with the beginnings of mobile telephony, fixed network and broadband offerings, video communication and TV on demand, IoT, digitalization and automation of sales processes, artificial intelligence in customer care services. Since last November she is the Chief of the Digital & Data business unit of Retex.

Retex Looking at your professional history, it seems that for you ‘acquired’ and ‘traditional’ can’t exist side-by-side.

Fabiana Not an easy coexistence, that’s for sure. After all, the industry in which I’ve worked for so long represents the summary of how much and how our world has changed in the past decades. I was among those called upon to find a way to overcome the acquired and the traditional towards a satisfactory transition to the ‘after’. Transition, in fact, and not a new and definitive stability, which I don’t think even exists in the time of digital transformation.

Technology and ‘limits’?

Retex I can well believe it! Your experience with artificial intelligence seems to tell the story of the end and the beginning of your ‘before’ and of this ‘now’.

Fabiana Indeed. This piece of my story well represents the exploration of the future and the implementation of what is possible, without thinking that there is a limit to this and that innovation should establish definitive times and behaviours. AI conceptually represents the process of continuous learning, which inevitably corresponds to continuous improvement. That’s what I’ve always been asked for.

Retex Is this a common advantage? I ask you this thinking about the two main players of our world, the retailer and the customer.

Fabiana Yes, I believe it is. For the retailer, the areas of application and the achievable advantage from AI are unlimited in any typical internal or external process. But also for the buyer the advantages are concrete. If an evolved technology allows me to try on a pair of glasses online, my experience improves and my expectation threshold is raised to a higher level, to which the retailer will have to adapt. It is a formidable logic by all accounts.

The ship and the highway

Retex Well then let’s talk about ‘innovation’, avoiding the trivializations on which we often dwell upon when talking about it.

Fabiana I believe the best way is to think of those who haven’t implemented it, blindly sticking to tradition and the past. I’m thinking of brands that have made history like Blackberry, Nokia, Kodak. In the end, the fall or difficulties they went through have the same origin. I’m referring to the lack of perception of the new context in which they had to operate: getting on the highway is not the same thing as travelling on a ship.

Retex ‘The ship and the highway’ is an effective metaphor. At this point the question that arises spontaneously is: how is it possible to disregard or remove the changes in the path on which depends your own future.

Fabiana It can depend on many variables as, for example, the success you’ve had can act as a brake because it naturally pushes you towards preservation and restrains the will to change, or the radical nature of the new that calls into question your very nature: when Netflix appeared, it must have seemed crazy to Blockbuster that an established habit such as renting a videotape for the evening would be displaced. Or the fact that you may be aware of what is happening, but you’re too slow in adapting to the new needs and opportunities.

Retex And perhaps, some objective measures of reality are missing. Thinking by categories means keeping constant attention on what you are and not on what you should be. It’s about keeping things separate so you don’t get overwhelmed by their interactions. But then they are precisely those that make you lose control and decide the whole game.

Fabiana Indeed, I’m convinced that there is a determining factor, not always properly understood, that pushes you to stay on the highway when, instead, you should be getting on the ship. We have huge amounts of data from the most disparate sources, but what do you do with it if you can’t read it? The market today is characterized by impressive fluidity, we only need think of the complexity of the customer journey, where a logic, sometimes not ascribable to large groups, guides the behaviour and purchasing choices of a customer from the supermarket to Sky and to Amazon.

From communication to connection

Retex You can’t take the numbers and disregard the signs that say otherwise. A very difficult but necessary process.

Fabiana What matters is the transition from communication to connection. You can master analytics in the best possible way and the information you process can refer to different areas of knowledge. But if you don’t define, at least in part, the relationships between them and use them to reach the various target groups, you’re out of the game. The communicating vessels practice versus that of the silos in simple words.

Retex From what you say, it also follows that for companies it’s not just about changing the approach to the market, but also about organizations and leaderships.

Fabiana Yes, you can’t try to impose yourself by attributing or conditioning the many diversities to what you already are. If you have to create value for the customer, you need to start by increasing yours. Innovation is a continuous flow that must first qualify your operational structures and the way of being and acting of those who govern them. The premise is as simple as it is important: the digital transformation of the global market characterizes it, now more than ever, as a community. It is difficult to get results if you don’t feel part of it.

Retex An example?

Fabiana Look at sustainability: who can deny that it is now a long-term competitive factor or, even, the gateway to different groups of consumers? And yet, in most companies there is still a conceptual separation between those who do business and those who deal with sustainability, as if it were simply a tax to be paid to new sensibilities. For me, however, sustainability must be a native part of my budget, not an ‘adjustment’ of it.

Have a good journey

Retex Well, Fabiana, it doesn’t seem to me that you need good wishes. Tell me just to satisfy my curiosity: in Retex, ship or highway?

Fabiana From what I’ve found here, it seems to me that there are enough resources for one and the other. Indeed, even for the train, the plane and the bicycle, so dear to those who appreciate proximity retail.