I like a conference that’s “Live”. Not just a lively crowd coalescing together to passionately discuss and debate matters of common interests, but more so in the sense of physical presence: things you can feel and touch. In the case of the TM Forum Live! 2017 event, held last week at Nice, France, it’s the Catalyst Pavilions where innovative solutions, best practices, and even exploratory experimentations were on full display.
Do I mean that for an IT Operation Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS) trade show, you can touch it? Yep.
“Touching” in the sense that you can see and interact with real tools, platforms, and live demonstrations from live telecom networks, in real life deployments. You can see how concepts are developed into operational tools; you can touch tools that became operational platforms powering network and service convergences for service providers; you can come and visualize how disparate, siloed processes and manual work are being automated and integrated; and you can interact and even challenge why innovations haven’t delivered the results promised.
“Hands-on” is what really grabbed my attention.
IT operations optimization, data analytics, service quality improvements, customer-centric processes, interfaces, APIs — you can touch them all under one roof. That “hands-on” engagement is what makes TMF feel close: touch it, play with it, see how it would apply in your own world. Demonstrations and examples range from IT operation process automation, Quality of Services (QoS) for customer-centric operations models, to the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, platforms, and APIs.
So much has changed and evolved from the traditional OSS/BSS to what is now the OSS/BSS of the Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) landscape. The stodgy old OSS/BSS is challenged to go through a transformative change, which is driven by the demand for business agility.
Business agility is a reality for any IT department and for service providers who need to survive in a world quickly transformed by increasingly interactive service provider/subscriber relationships. Consumer demand for access is high, leading to fierce competition amongst providers for subscriber loyalty and creating business drivers for fast new service launches, targeted and personalized service packages, easy and on-demand self-service and self authentication of services, and promotional sign-ons.
As a result, the collaboration between the Chief Marketing Officers’ (CMOs) department, Chief Information Officers’ (CIOs) department and Chief Technology Officers’ (CTOs) department has intensified. IT is no longer satisfied with being handed down business requirements by business groups such as Sales and Marketing and Product Management. IT has to strive to be a business partner. Service providers aligning their organization to achieve business agility are merging their traditional Network Engineering functions and back-office IT organization all under one executive branch of the CTO. The goal is to drive DevOps agility and faster time to deployment.
Leveraging technology to create business agility is easier said than done, as often lamented by people working in the trenches. A lot of it has to do with integrating legacy systems, but it’s also related to what I would call “self-inflicted” processes and workflows built for yesterday’s market and subscribers. Today, the combination of 4G LTE fast speed broadband connections, Google searches that put information at consumers’ fingertips, the omnipresent and accessibility of information as organizations digitize their assets, and the power of video from companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are changing our lives. This reflects and changes the way service providers interact with their target audiences. Business agility is not simply a buzzword, but a matter of survival!
How do I create the stickiness with my existing subscribers? How do I acquire prospective subscribers? How do I entice subscribers to spend more with me? Service providers need solutions to these questions. They need to access data, such as subscriber usage patterns, which turns data into intelligence. Then they can turn intelligence into service packages, show that service package to the most profitable customers, and activate and provision that service package fast, reliably, and securely. Even more, the services need to be available anywhere; when the subscriber is at home, in the car, on the train, in a stadium, or at a concert hall.
Service activation, service provisioning, and automatic provisioning which allows a subscriber to self-authenticate, sign in, or sign up, is at the center of this OSS/BSS transformation.
Over the years, trade shows and presentations are getting more and more colorful charts and diagrams — models updating themselves before we can digest the previous ones. Flow charts and puzzle pieces fly off the wall. What we need is simplification. What we need is a common sense approach to good old fashioned problem solving:
- Establish the goals
- Map out roles and responsibilities
- Identify obstacles
- Set up checkpoints of the strongest and weakest links
- Articulate risk mitigation measures
Before we can achieve service orchestration agility, we need to retool our human processes, workflows, and interactions; our “workforce orchestration!”
As I observe and participate in this industry as a technologist, I explore, first and foremost, the role of technology in changing human behaviors and interactions. Technology is a means to the goal instead of the goal itself. It helps facilitate change. Digitization helps drive business process transformation and delivers agility only if human behavior changes. We need to put transparency and collaboration to one of the legs of the success stool.
One has to feel energized coming out of the conference, armed with all of these lessons. The event has always been in a perfect setting, and this year, Nice delivered — four perfect, sunny days. I couldn’t help but sound out “#ILoveNice”, as I took full advantage of the beautiful French Riviera seaside scenery for my daily morning runs.
We’ll be back next year!