Features and Analysis

Agile IT takeaways: Our top 13 Live! talking points

As TM Forum Live! drew to close, here’s what a lively discussion group of around 40 pros felt we learned this week – and what we still want to know. Oh, and our favorite animal quotes.

  1. Open source“Open source isn’t like free candy – it’s like a free puppy!”, Shahar Steiff, AVP New Technologies, PCCW Global*, said – as in the animal/software itself might not cost anything, but its upkeep over a lifetime will cost plenty. So far, it’s proving a lot more expensive than we thought, apparently, and it’s not clear which of the various open source initiatives will prevail to meet evolving telco needs, which is a concern. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that open source accelerates innovation and offers community support. One person from a large operator also said using open code was about managing risk.
  1. Automate the automation ­– the cost of serving customers while meeting their expectations just has to come down, and things are now reaching the point where operators are looking at using machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate and refine existing automation mechanisms and add more. Previously operators have been very conservative about their networks, but they will not have the choice for much longer.
  1. It is not the tech that’s sexy, it’s the business model: You have to do red ocean stuff [that is, do what you do already a lot better to remain competitive in the established, fiercely competitive market]to survive. That’s clear. It’s much harder though to make the business case for new uncontested markets [blue ocean]. The thing is it has to work today and prepare you for tomorrow, so IT and operations must work with and for legacy and digital business. There’s a lot to think about here. For example, take pricing and business models. If telcos increasingly move away from flat fees, handling that, as the Forum’s Barry Graham noted, “has to flow all way back, because if the infrastructure was bought on flat-fee basis, it won’t support new models, and there are big implications for software licenses too.”
  1. What’s the outcome? Intent-based operations have really caught on, from being a discussion point a year ago. We don’t want to have to tell systems how to do something, but what outcome we want and leave it to the automation to figure best way to do it.
  1. Hide the tough stuff ­– last year BT was talking about how things are much too complicated – that they just want to be able put new equipment into their networks and have it working in hours, not months. Microservices are playing a bigger role in managing complexity along with APIs which hide the complexity and allow a plug and play environment. All explained so well by BT’s George Glass in his presentation on Wednesday.
  1. Transformation should be holistic – if change is not right across people, processes, design, operations, systems and everything else, it’s not transformation.
  1. Networks don’t drink coffee. Onboarding and procurement continue to rise up the agenda. Graham pointed out that when Android does an upgrade, all the apps on his phone add a wrapper or whatever they need to do to accommodate it in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. But as he notes, networks don’t drink coffee, nor is the analogous situation simple and quick for operators’ networks – and of course they can’t have any downtime either.
  1. Culture is the killer – lots of companies have adopted agile methodologies but actually the agility they’ve gained allows them to do “business as usual” better, rather than adopt new business models or ways of working. Indeed, in a session during the week, Oracle’s Todd Spraggins suggested that Conway’s law held – that is, companies’ output is constrained by the way they are organized. We need less hierarchy, easier collaboration between people in disparate parts of the organization, and everyone in at the design stage which leads to much leaner process management. Instead we’re struggling with command and control cultures when we need something that’s a lot more like social networking.
  1. APIs are not magic – one exec from a Tier 1 operator said their company was putting APIs around the edge of their systems to enable better, faster, easier integration. Another person suggested this, in fact, simply reinforced the silos. A number of people also observed that APIs, like puppies and open source software, are not ‘free’ to run.
  1. Riding many horses at once is how one delegate described what network operators are trying to do with analytics. She said that although operators use analytics so much in their networks, they are often for internal projects and not outcomes-focused. She argued much more could be achieved through big data analytics. It was suggested that analytics-based customer experience is really difficult for operators and perhaps partnerships with vendors were the best way forward? However, there was some doubt expressed that vendors had the right skills either.
  1. Don’t code, configure – just as flexible car design is not about sophisticated, automated assembly on the factory floor, so operators must move away from code-first to configuration to embrace platform-based business models – and increasingly operators are using platforms within their IT estates for easier integration, etc., because platforms with well-defined exposed services enable assembling and configuration without coding.
  1. Vendors need to improve their listening skills and solutions – this is clearly a very big issue for many. Some delegates said that vendors are promoting “business models with a 25-year history”. And, “They are not offering a route to the blue ocean [new, uncontested markets] – we are seeing vendors selling us the same billing systems, CRM, etc., but we want to get to platform-based business. Amazon.com operates without a billing engine. We want to go into new areas like financial services or health, so defining the platform architecture needs to be flexible and we need them to support us in that. Software vendors update, not reinvent – it’s all about getting better in the red ocean, not a route to blue ocean.”Or as another person put it, “Compare [what we want to do]with Google and Amazon and how they use microservices. That’s the way forward for operators; to move into IT-driven ops rather than traditional formats.”“We’re looking for a roadmap from where we are to where we want to be, and the implications for going down this route, including cost implications.”
  2. A journey without a destination? Transformation is often described as a journey, but there is no end destination because transformation will never be complete – things change all the time. The Catalyst program approach was applauded as a great model for collaboration because the participants “put aside commercials which gives players the ability to deliver to outcomes – and we want to bring more of the developments back into the business.”

*This article was updated by the author to attribute this quotation.


    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.


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