Features and Analysis

TM Forum adopts platform strategy

TM Forum announced a major strategic shift to embrace the platform economy today at Action Week in Vancouver.

“TM Forum is its membership, and we will be going through the platform transition together,” Ken Dilbeck, Vice President, Research & Collaboration, TM Forum, told members gathered here for our second Action Week of the year, where members collaborate on standards, best practices and proofs of concept. “You will help us decide the best way for our assets to consumed and how we match producers and consumers to become ecosystem curators,” he said.

He continued: “This is a fundamental shift in the way we do business and we’re looking at how to adapt the assets we have and move forward. We have to re-imagine our role in the revolution the industry is undergoing; Platforms may become the identity of TM Forum going forward.”

Inspiration and aspiration

The Forum is taking its inspiration from work by The Center for Global Enterprise and Geoffrey Parker’s seminal book on the platform economy, Platform Revolution, as well as platform providers like Airbnb, Amazon, Google, Netflix and Uber – companies that have achieved billion-dollar valuations seemingly overnight simply by providing an interface between customers and sellers. They don’t own anything except infrastructure – they build their businesses by curating ecosystems that link together end customers or users with producers of goods and/or services.

“These companies are powerful and have completely disintermediated others in their industries,” said Laurent Leboucher, Vice President of APIs and Digital Ecosystems, Orange, who spoke on a panel of service providers that also included executives from BT and Vodafone.  “They represent $4.3 trillion in market capital and hundreds of billions of dollars in global commerce.”

He added: “It’s infrastructure that’s an enabler to create value by interactions between producers and consumers. This unleashes a lot of new opportunities – there are many different ways to trade value based on assets…Infrastructure is the enabler, and users create their own value and experience.”

Escaping the past

Until now, communications service providers could not match their digital native counterparts when it came to delivering what customers want, when and where they want it. Now they see real opportunities to close that gap through a number of interrelated, big trends that are happening in parallel.

This includes transforming their infrastructure through network functions virtualization (NFV), software-defined networking (SDN) and cloud technologies, and transforming their business processes and back-office operations. The next step is making those internal support system platforms available to partners and customers in a dynamic, on-demand way capable of supporting almost instant mashed-up services.

This revolution within service providers’ organizations is behind the Forum’s strategic shift in direction. BT, for example, has been working to consolidate operations and business support systems during the past six or seven years, reducing the number from 4,500 down to 1,798 today.

“We started this work to transform ourselves internally, but then a few light bulbs went on and we realized it could be useful to our customers too, who were trying to manage their services through self-service portals,” says George Glass, Chief Architect, BT.

The company decided to partition its IT functionality into a set of cooperating IT platforms with reusable common capabilities (called SDKs, or software-development kits). The transformation includes reusable process blocks, which provide consistent customer experience. Today BT has about 15 platforms in place.

The importance of APIs

Vodafone is also undergoing major transformation and adopting the platform approach. The company recently made its NFV and SDN transformation, dubbed Ocean, its top priority, as David Amzallag, Head of SDN and NFV, Vodafone, explains in this video.

The idea is to take a “black box platform” approach, so that what’s inside the platform can be vendor- or operator-specific to allow companies to have their own secret sauce that sets them apart competitively, said Dr. Lester Thomas, Chief Systems Architect, Vodafone Group.

“We’re not setting out to standardize what’s inside the platform, but open APIs will make them interoperable platforms,” he said.

Indeed, APIs are key to the success of platforms, which operators made clear in May when nine of the world’s largest – Axiata, Bharti Airtel, BT, China Mobile, China Unicom, NTT Group, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone – officially adopted TM Forum’s suite of Open APIs for digital service management. As key visionaries and contributors driving the Forum’s API and platform capability programs, these service providers have committed to adopt TM Forum Open APIs as a foundational component of their IT architectures; to promote global adoption of the API suite by their partners; and to expect technology vendors and systems integrators to support these APIs in their products and cloud-based services.

At the end of the panel discussion today, BT’s Glass had some advice for suppliers looking to do business with BT: “Read the API manifesto,” he said. “We will be publishing those APIs in our RFIs and RFPs. Your job as vendors will be easy if you conform to the APIs.”

Examining assets

The Forum’s digital platform work will include developing a platform framework and APIs for service providers and other enterprises to use. It will draw on many existing assets such as the Frameworx suite of standards-based tools and best practices.

“We are going to have to look at our existing assets and decide if they have to be repackaged,” Dilbeck said. “Just as our members have a portfolio of existing systems to transform, TM Forum has to go through exactly that. We need to reassess all elements – what’s the strategy, culture and how do we add value?”

The Forum plans to hold webinars to share information about the transition to platforms and will hold a face-to-face platform workshop for all interested members in London, in September. For more information, please contact Ken Dilbeck directly.

“This is not a green field,” Dilbeck said. “We recognize that we need to be open – very open – to change.”


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called tele.com, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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