Eva Ulicevic, Director of Architecture, Strategy and Analytics at Telefonica Germany, discusses cultural change, partnership and training as the CSP creates a highly modular, cloud-native, and digital BSS.
Cloud native tech and can-do culture drive BSS transformation at Telefonica Germany
It is often said that cultural change can be more challenging for digital transformation projects than the implementation of new technology. But not everyone has an aversion to learning different ways of working. For Eva Ulicevic, Director of Architecture, Strategy and Analytics at Telefonica Germany, embracing change is essential and exciting.
There is a “spirit of reinvention” in digital transformation that energizes Ulicevic and reminds her of when she was involved with starting one of the first mobile operators in Europe 25 years ago at the beginning of her career in Montenegro.
“Cultural change is positive … It feels like being in a new business again. For me, it is not hard, it is actually very important,” she says.
Telefonica Germany is in the middle of an IT overhaul aimed at changing the way it delivers services to meet customer expectations for a steady stream of new features that are relevant to them. It is a fundamental shift that requires not only new digital skills but also an open mindset among the IT teams and business team who are implementing the business support systems (BSS) that will enable the strategy. Such programs need company-level changes apart from technology functions. Tech teams need to learn business and business teams need to understand tech.
That’s why Ulicevic prioritizes the development of her team’s soft skills, along with the required digital competencies, as they adopt DevOps and agile ways of working. The traits she looks for include being open to change; the ability to share and learn from others; and a willingness to challenge the status quo.
Above all, she hopes her team lives by the company’s motto, “We can do”.
To help the team along this journey, team leaders need to create an environment where people can learn together and are motivated to develop themselves so that cultural change becomes a natural process and “not something to be feared,” she said. This is especially important now as the industry struggles to attract and retain people with both digital skills and telco experience.
Leading by example, Ulicevic said she has not lost the impulse to keep challenging the status quo and is more open to different perspectives and ways of achieving outcomes.
The operator’s transformation program started about two years ago and the soft skills appear to be developing well.
“We are a very good way to achieving a ‘can-do’ mindset, which is also a growth and self-driven mindset. We are also focused on bridging traditional telco ways of working with the opportunities that new technologies bring. Currently, about 20% of our IT delivery uses agile processes,” she said.
There are three strands to Telefonica Germany’s transformation program: building strong data platforms supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities; adopting a cloud-first approach and microservice architectures for applications; and “industrializing integration,” which involves following the TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) and Open APIs, complemented by event-based integration.
A core part of the strategy is the Radical Architecture and IT Transformation (RAITT) program, which will create a BSS that is “highly modular, cloud-native, and truly digital” and will reduce the number of BSS stacks from six to two – one for business customers and one for consumers & wholesale”, said Ulicevic.
Telefonica Germany decided that the fastest way to achieve this is to rely on its partner ecosystem and to re-use standards and best practices that have been established by the TM Forum so that the operator is not reinventing the wheel.
The high-level goal is to deliver more innovative and relevant services to customers faster. The TM Forum’s ODA and open APIs are expected to help by providing a standard framework that will allow Telefonica Germany to minimize the amount of integration work it does with multiple vendors.
The integration of all the many BSS components is a huge effort that is costly and slows time to market. “Each component creates its own data models and APIs and requires integration. Every time we want to launch a new service, we need to integrate in an integration layer that we must build … and the customer does not see this effort,” Ulicevic explained.
The biggest benefit of the TM Forum’s Information Framework (SID), open API specifications, and ODA is that they enable the operator to “redirect a lot of integration effort to [delivering] services that are visible to the customer daily in their [Telefonica] app,” she said. That means through standard integration, Telefonica can improve service quality and deliver new services more quickly.
Following the ODA and SID data model also establishes a “common language” that helps different groups work together better, both internally (such as between IT and network technology or between IT and business units) and externally between IT and partners for systems integration and BSS products, she explained.
Ulicevic has approximately 30 people in her team, but with the Telefonica Germany delivery teams and involvement of the operator’s vendor partners, there are few thousand people working on the transformation project. “It is not only about us. It is equally important that our partners share the common language … otherwise the program will take much longer,” she said.
Getting more vendor partners on board with the TM Forum’s work is a priority for Telefonica Germany. She said that it noticeable adaptation and commitments of some partners to these initiatives and approach, starting with integration partners: Tech Mahindra, Wipro , but also software product vendors: Nokia, Hansen, Matrixx, CompaxDigital just to name some of them. Ulicevic said she hopes to see more companies adopting the API specifications to reduce integration work.
While having an open, can-do mindset is important, learning new technology is helpful too. Last year, 50 Telefonica Germany employees from the architecture and delivery teams completed more than 100 training courses offered by the TM Forum to have a better understanding of ODA and Open API initiatives and their role in the operator’s transformation program.
Notably, some of the operator’s vendor partners also joined the training courses.
“We wanted to create ambassadors for this common language of standard IT capabilities based on ODA within our company and with our partners, and that's exactly what we achieved. The training paid back immediately. All the discussions were much more fluent, and it was easier to reach agreement,” she said. She added: “The impact was what we were hoping for. By reusing what already exists, we can save time in implementation. And this is what is happening.”
After less than two years, Telefonica Germany has integrated 70 components using TM Forum APIs and has launched the first digital products for business customers on the new systems. It is also ready to start migrating the first consumer brands onto the new consumer BSS stack.