For communications service providers, the future lies in software platforms that enable true business transformation, not just technological change. That’s the message from TM Forum’s Innovation InFocus, where members are demonstrating 11 projects ranging from development of a metamodel for platform ecosystems to a discussion about how to deliver drones as a service.
“We as an industry have connected the planet – we have connected industries and made digitalization possible. But that doesn’t mean we get to ride the wave and not change ourselves,” said TM Forum’s Nik Willetts during his keynote presentation here in Dallas. “We have to change dramatically as well. We’re shifting from being a traditional telco, in some cases 100 years old, to becoming a digital service provider or digital service enabler.
“It’s not about being nice and charitable,” he added. “It’s about understanding that you will grow as a business faster if you understand this principle and approach the market in this way. If you look at the majority of unicorn company success stories, they are built on this principle of being a platform business.”
BT builds platforms
In his keynote, George Glass, BT’s Chief Systems Architect, echoed the need to move to a platform business model and explained how BT has been working over the past several years to create a platform architecture. The company has been consolidating operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS) such as customer management, billing and service management systems with a goal of getting down to just 700 systems.
“When we started this we had about 4,500 systems in BT – and those were the ones I knew about or that people would tell me about,” Glass joked. “Every year there were discoveries that would come along as people came to tell me about what they were building under their desks.”
BT partitioned its IT functionality into a set of cooperating IT platforms with reusable common capabilities (called SDKs, or software-development kits). Today the company has divided its entire architecture into 26 platforms, each with an associated set of applications and data stores, and has reduced the total number of systems so far from 4,500 to 1,798.
“Each platform exposes business services that the marketing or sales department would recognize as useful functions,” Glass said. “We matched up each system to only one platform, and we did this through rigorous enforcement through the architecture team – sometimes a system would sit between two platforms but we gave it a primary platform and mapped it to that platform.”
Using the Information Framework
Then the team defined a set of business services it wanted the platform to expose and exposed them in a way another system could understand. Eventually, using TM Forum’s Information Framework, BT developed a platform access layer that allows the company’s systems to communicate with partners’ systems.
“[Using the Information Framework] gave us a standard process to rally around whenever we’re talking to partners about how you define customers, services, partners, party IDs, etc. – it gives us a common language to start from,” Glass said.
One of BT’s goals with moving to a platform architecture is faster time to market. “I don’t want to be writing code every time I want to launch a new product,” Glass explained. “So we wanted a set of data-driven capabilities that would allow us to drive the changes.”
Through the platform access layer, BT is able to expose business services to a product catalog that includes the definition of the services and allows product managers to manage them without any involvement from IT. This allows BT to offer bundled promotions for broadband, voice and TV services without the involvement of IT.
And customers can order the services using self-service capabilities. “We enable self-service so that the customer can order, configure and use the services without us being involved because that’s a more efficient way to deliver services to customers,” Glass said.
Now BT is adopting TM Forum’s Open APIs – the company is one of nine network operators that is formally endorsing the APIs. “Last week I had email from one of my team members who is working on our product catalog and I pointed him to the Product Catalog API. That’s given him a three- to six-month head start,” Glass said.
Winning Catalyst enables platforms
Platforms and APIs also took center stage at the InFocus event’s awards ceremony, with an important project called Enabling the digital service marketplace with automated onboarding taking the Best in Show award.
The project which is championed by AT&T, China Mobile, Orange and Verizon and includes Amdocs, Bristol is Open, Cloud Best Practices, EnterpriseWeb, Huawei, IBM and Oracle as participants, is building a platform prototype for network operators. It is a merger of several award-winning projects and is aimed at automating the entire lifecycle of a virtual function from procurement and onboarding to testing and validation, deployment, configuration and assurance.
To do this requires development of a common standards-based metamodel, so the team has been working with other standards-development organizations such as OASIS and ETSI and with open source groups like Open Platform for NFV to build one. The Catalyst has started by looking at how to onboard virtual network functions from supplier partners, but the marketplace the team is developing can be extended to include all kinds of virtual functions, for example, Internet of Everything services and applications from partners in a digital ecosystem.
In presenting the Best in Show award, Laurent Leboucher, Chairman of the Forum’s Collaboration Sub-Committee and Vice President APIs and Digital Ecosystems, Orange, said the decision was unanimous and that the project represents a “breakthrough from the software engineering standpoint.”
“This may be the best Catalyst we’ve seen in the last five years,” he said.