As we approach Action Week, Laurent Leboucher, Vice President APIs and Digital Ecosystems, Orange, explains to Annie Turner how his company is using TM Forum as an external R&D resource to improve agility, how this has changed Orange’s thinking and how he would like to expand the whole approach, within Orange and the Forum.
AT: Orange is concentrating on bringing the work it does in TM Forum into its own R&D activities and the wider organization. Why? Can you give us some examples of your success with this approach?
LL: Yes, one example is we have been working on open APIs [application program interfaces]and the partnering guidebook. Our work is organized in a way that our internal program can then deliver solutions direct from the Forum work, which will be used in France, and perhaps other countries this year.
APIs are not only about partnerships with external providers, but also about promoting the same standards internally for our own network and services. This is a new approach, but we believe that the work done in the API program can be used to increase the agility of internal projects for our core business.
For this reason, we engage the same internal team involved in internal Orange API projects in the Forum’s corresponding Working Groups projects – for example, Eric Simon and Jean-Luc Tymen in APIs. This makes it easy to get fast feedback about the APIs straight into our organization from Pierre Gauthier [TM Forum’s Chief API Architect]. We can also provide feedback to Pierre and the Work Group, in very short cycles of no more than two weeks. With the newest API, we have been able to take it and use it as it is, without modification.
By working with others on APIs, we get a more rounded, robust result and by working directly with vendors, we can tell them exactly what we want in their products.
Clearly management APIs are an official requirement for Orange Group across all the countries. We have to find a route to implement them and the effort takes time, but the direction is very clear. This is useful for work with business stakeholders and potential partners: Our agile working ethos is ‘modify, prepare, react’.
AT: Are there other advantages from this approach to R&D?
LL: Sometimes if you need to create momentum, you need to generate it first outside your organization. At the very beginning, the Forum’s ZOOM [Zero-touch Orchestration and Management] NFV project wasn’t really registering with the stakeholders in Orange.
But then, TM Forum started to get a lot of traction from service providers and vendors, and awareness in Orange has progressed a lot. NFV is very important to us; we believe it is the most important transformation for the industry in the coming years. With ZOOM we can share our priorities and how to do the transformation and define the OSS/operating model with other members. This is critical for us. Now within Orange there is a good understanding in terms of organization, iteration and scope, through feedback from different colleagues and their interactions with vendors.
Between now and TM Forum Live! in Nice in June, we have to make huge progress, in a very interactive mode. There was a feeling in the past that this was not always such a directed process, but now it is a good example of very agile R&D.
AT: How important are business sponsors to your work in the Forum?
LL: That’s how we try to work in all the TM Forum projects – to identify one or several business sponsors. We want people who really represent the business requirements and are committed to using the results, such as from Catalyst projects. We always have a key stakeholder, such as a VP, on the business side who wants the project to help them and is part of the team, the plan and the efforts.
A good example is a new initiative started in October with Chris Stock [Director, Security Management Programs, TM Forum]. We defined the requirements at the end of July and agreed to talk to the leadership within Orange, but before we did that, we wanted to be sure the challenges and requirement were compatible with those of the market.
This is why is it so useful to do it in collaboration mode and not just to fit Orange’s requirements – we need to remember the hierarchy of needs [see graphic below]and remember the commonality of the bottom three layers which we need to work on together. The differentiators are the layers above them: We have changed our thinking a lot over the last two years.
The hierarchy of digital business needs
AT: How has your thinking changed?
LL: We have big debates internally but recognize we need the industry to move forward together. This is a massive issue for Orange. In the past, we did not really make the distinction between the layers and were reluctant to share, but now we have evolved to realize that requirements for the whole industry/ecosystem can and should be shared, whereas differentiators are our own business.
We want to change how we think about these things because in many places there is a big risk of disintermediation by other players to our relationship with our customers, turning carriers just into pipes.
We have a strong belief that we need to work at an industry-wide level on our common requirements, and that if we move together on these common requirements it benefits all carriers. For example, privacy was previously seen internally as an Orange specialism, then we had a debate and decided we wanted to share our requirements, as I mentioned in the new initiative with Chris Stock. It will make us stronger from an industry standpoint if we can share.
AT: How has this affected your approach?
LL: Short cycles and iteration are critical, working with peers and competitors. Two to three years ago we didn’t want to share our thinking on APIs as they were a key part of our strategy, but it’s very different now and we’re probably ready to share, with vendors and other carriers. We understand that if we don’t do this, we can’t create a strong industry position. That’s why it is critical that in 2015 we work in this very open mode.
AT: What other changes do you foresee and how could it work better?
LL: We consider being in TM Forum a good way to expand our R&D IP and find Catalyst projects a very efficient way to showcase new initiatives and sometimes make collaboration work much more concrete. It’s great commitment to have key stakeholders in three Catalysts, as we have now.
The Catalyst program could be developed to increase our executive leaders’ engagement in the Forum community, for example, CMOs, CDOs, CTOs as well as CIOs (see this article on the importance of these roles within digital businesses and during transformation to becoming digital). If we can get these executives involved from different operating companies in Orange and at corporate level through a selection of Catalysts, it will be much easier to increase adoption of TM Forum frameworks and standards.
We plan to use Catalysts as an internal way to create adoption. It is a new way to do collaborative R&D at a shared cost.
The video coverage from the event at San Jose (see here and here) is a very helpful way to share with VPs and a good way to bring work into the ecosystem. At the Forum in general, we need to progress commitment from business stakeholders beyond CIOs and their teams – such as add more marketing and operation leaders to the TM Forum board because it is they who will lead digital transformation.