Who? AT&T, the largest mobile and fixed-line network operator in the U.S.
What? Major transformation of the company’s operations support environment to improve speed, efficiency and productivity internally, and time to market and quality of service for customers
How? Used Frameworx along with its own frameworks and processes to support the entire software delivery lifecycle from concept to measuring success
Results? Savings of $159 million, plus 21 percent shorter time to market by 2017 and built a foundation for further transformation and savings
Winner of TM Forum’s 2014 Operational Excellence Award, AT&T is tackling a major transformation of its operations support environment that is increasing speed, efficiency and productivity internally – improvements that are translating into reduced time to market for new services and increased quality of service for end customers.
The results of the transformation are impressive: So far AT&T has saved $95 million in capital expenditure (CapEx) and another $64 million in operational expenditure (OpEx), and the company anticipates it will reduce time to market for new services by 21 percent during the next three years.
AT&T is implementing an innovative initiative called the Service Realization Excellence (SRE) platform. Using TM Forum’s Frameworx suite of standards-based tools and best practices along with some of its own internally developed frameworks and processes (see below — Putting Frameworx to work), AT&T has developed 64 new tools to support the entire software delivery lifecycle from concept through to measuring success. The SRE platform now serves as the foundation for all of AT&T’s network operations, including its network of the future.
Issues, goals and iteration
As AT&T grew through mergers and acquisitions, each legacy business brought its own processes and development principles.
“As one AT&T we realized we needed to put together a strong and unified process,” says Sorabh Saxena, Senior Vice President, Software Development and Engineering, AT&T Services, Inc. “We did that, but we also realized that process alone doesn’t solve it. It was becoming clear that for IT, as a service provider to our various internal business units, our cycle times as well as our cost structures were not trending in the right direction.”
AT&T’s first step on its transformation journey was to choose pilot projects by consulting with business stakeholders. “We included the user perspective right from the start, and that was really important,” Saxena says. As soon as the pilot projects started to show positive results, the IT team communicated with executive leadership at AT&T asking for support. “Once they were convinced of the benefits, a program for transformation was launched,” he says.
AT&T adopted a multi-step process Saxena calls “360 degrees of transformation,” which involves building the business case for changing the way things are done, getting funding, establishing teams, using frameworks and processes to develop the tools, communicating to stakeholders why the change is needed and then providing them with training on how to use the new tools.
“We drove success stories into the limelight and those helped gather momentum,” Saxena says. “Then you produce metrics and results, and go through it all over again with the next set of tools, processes and frameworks.”
Interactive simulation, not bullet points
AT&T achieved savings and increased efficiency by targeting five software service delivery domains for transformation: portfolio, program and project management; requirements; development; testing; and service delivery. One of the first tools the company introduced was a web-based, requirements visualization tool.
“We started with our pain points,” Saxena says. “For example, we had a cascaded set of requirements – we had to go through ten different requirements documents before we ever got to writing the code.”
The IT team decided to replace those cumbersome documents with a visual tool that allows product managers and other business stakeholders to actually see how a service operates.
“The tool allows you to build an interactive high-fidelity simulation so that you can click and see how things behave,” says Dr. Elven Chern, Lead Principal Technical Architect, UX/Requirements Visualization Center of Excellence, AT&T. “Then everyone agrees on how it looks and functions before it’s handed off to a coder or developer.”
In the past to develop a service a product manager would create a static PowerPoint or Word document with a “bulleted” list of requirements, Chern explains.
“But from quote to cash there are so many parts – maybe a customer needs to move or needs a bandwidth upgrade or a provider needs to move to a faster network. In all scenarios, it’s hard to articulate what’s needed in a bulleted format,” she says. “Using a tool with defined best practices and patterns gives us the capability to show the scenarios and visualize the future state of a product or a service during collaboration among business, operations and technical parties.”
The new tool allows product managers and business analysts to develop a storyboard to lay out the scope of the project. Then in an architecture and solutions phase, more visual detail is added. This might be in the form of network diagrams or screen shots, Chern explains. In the end, all project team members can use the tool to simulate the customer service scenarios (for example, adding a new feature to an existing service) and the associated software behavior in an interactive environment.
In the requirements domain alone, AT&T realized significant savings by automating traceability reports and document uploads, avoiding change and modification requests, and improving business process model creation and maintenance. The company looked at such key indicators for all five software development domains to quantify its overall CapEx and OpEx savings.
Setting users up for success
As most companies that have undergone transformation know, deploying new technology is easier than changing the culture within a company and getting humans to adapt to the changes.
“You have to set the users up for success,” says Chern. “The user support/human side is a critical part of SRE.”
To increase the likelihood of success in transformation, AT&T created a hub of internal IT experts to help business stakeholders use all of the new tools that are being created.
“Many of the practitioners feel they are too busy to learn how to use the tools or inject it into their day-to-day work stream, so to jumpstart their efforts, we created the Center of Excellence,” Saxena says.
The Center of Excellence is staffed with IT specialists who are experts on process modeling, using the Business Process Framework (eTOM) and requirements visualization, for example, and they help business stakeholders use the tools, initially doing it for them and eventually training them to use the tools themselves. The hub is offered as a service at no cost to the users.
“We promoted the service by giving users incentives to get trained themselves,” Saxena says. “And then over time we let the new experts developed within each business unit run with it.”
ZOOMing toward the future
Although AT&T’s transformation is well underway, it’s far from complete.
“The next phase is to develop a platform-based approach so that these are not just disparate tools with some loose coupling but they’re standing on an open platform with a lot of communication across each so the end user feels a very seamless experience,” Saxena says.
AT&T is also looking to the future of operations support as well. Saxena says additional savings will come in the area of virtualization.
“As we move to the software-defined network, we need more frameworks. We need prebuilt process models, prebuilt defined interfaces and roles for the various building blocks,” Saxena says. “We could use the same thing for high-level digital commerce. Those are very important things for us in my opinion.”
Although IT transformation benefits internal business stakeholders and reduces costs, ultimately it’s about the end customer.
“The goal is to provide reduced cycle time to the end customer with new market offerings,” Saxena says. “More than anything else, it’s about providing them features and services – fast. A lot of the work we’re doing internally is to automate provisioning, service assurance efforts, ticketing, fault detection. Those are all software IT projects. If we can do them faster, we can actually provide the end customer reduced cycle time for obtaining services from AT&T.”
Putting Frameworx to work
AT&T is using TM Forum’s Business Process Framework (eTOM), Information Framework (SID) and Application Framework (TAM) along with some of its own frameworks and processes to accomplish transformation of the operations support environment.
The SRE platform uses the Business Process Framework to improve the collaboration between business and IT and explore the impact requirements will have on the business process. It provides a standard way to define and convey the organizational aspects of business process models, which in turn helps teams understand how and where documented processes fit. This standardization of business process modeling and requirements management reduces time to market, change requests and production defects.
AT&T uses the Information Framework for business architecture lifecycle management. Using the Information Framework within its delivery architecture allows the company to trace shared services, application program interfaces and associated data to business and operational support systems (BSS/OSS) and processes.
The Application Framework is used to support BSS/OSS rationalization. “TAM is used to categorize literally thousands of systems by function and drives a number of standard enterprise architecture deliverables,” says Elven Chern, Principal Technical Architect, AT&T. “Several dozen architects across IT and Enterprise Architecture work collaboratively on this effort, with results being visible to IT and the business via a number of mechanisms. Outputs are used as part of application enhancement and retirement projects.”
Using Frameworx also helps AT&T categorize processes and systems so that duplicates can be eliminated, which helps the company become leaner and more agile.