And small and fast is better than big and slow
IT transformation projects inevitably take time – both in planning and execution. And yet all too often the eventual outcome is disappointing. The TM Forum reported one large European operator as saying that large-scale IT transformation projects tended to run 150% over both the time and the budget allocated. What’s more, there appeared to be a direct correlation between project size and project success. It appears that when it comes to IT transformation projects, size matters and not in a good way. Size causes delay, and it also causes what Global Data Centers (GDC) - a division of the Japanese carrier NTT - termed ‘The Hesitancy Gap’. GDC’s study estimated that 26% of IT teams’ time was wasted laying groundwork for slow-to-start projects that then suffered longer term delays. GDC’s conclusion was that enterprises needed to turn IT innovation from concept to reality in a much faster timescale. This project disappointment or failure is all too easy to find within operator business support system (BSS) transformation projects. Some have stretched across many years and still failed to deliver. Most famously, Russian operator VEON’s 11-country, $1bn project was abandoned three years after it was commissioned with perhaps the most tangible outcome being the $350m the vendor was required to pay in compensation.
Slow and painful
Of course, an operator’s BSS solution represents both the heart of operator profitability and the brains of the business. This is critical business infrastructure that handles the operator’s product and service portfolio, the ordering process, revenue collection and customer satisfaction. This means that every time an operator wants to introduce a new business change, or launch a new service or brand offer, the BSS needs to be changed. The end result is that traditional BSS systems require constant and continual management to maintain all existing active business services, plus careful change to cope with new services and/or processes. Customization or reconfiguration creates risk in the system, and managing and mitigating against risk absorbs significant time and effort. It requires anything new to be fully integrated with the existing services, as a change or addition that is not thoroughly tested might have unforeseen consequences across another part of the customer base.
DevOps for the win?
That’s perhaps why many operators are interested in a DevOps approach to system and service evolution. DevOps is attractive because it offers an agile approach to launching new features, products or services and offers a strong, and fast, validation and response cycle. It helps to develop a customer-centric culture and a “fail-fast, try again” philosophy. To put it another way: DevOps never results in a slow death – an idea or need either brings success quickly or it is discontinued. But DevOps systems also come with an in-built dependency. They require the supporting IT infrastructure to be compatible with a DevOps approach, and that in turn requires the sort of long-term, large-scale IT and digital business transformation project that is the enemy of taking action today. Operators are caught between a rock and a hard place. Implementing service changes within current systems takes too long. Fully transforming IT to support a fast-action DevOps approach for the future takes even longer.
Meet in the middle with Metro
To overcome this impasse, we believe that operators should take a middle ground. They should keep projects small, but scalable, and adopt a dual-speed approach for a brief period. They should use parallel systems to minimise risk, whilst delivering new services to market now. We therefore created Metro, a cloud-based SaaS solution that can be virtually fired up ‘out-of-the-box’ in 12 weeks, complete with standardised integration points so that it can be guaranteed to operate without adversely affecting the main stack and the core business revenues. This overcomes the IT/OT manager’s caution and aversion to risk, while satisfying the marketing team’s drive for speed. Metro’s cloud nature makes it possible to quickly scale the stack if new services prove popular, and to quickly move on to the next initiative if not. It also supports an effective and elective migration strategy, moving customers away from an older BSS stack to a modern digital environment. Furthermore, its DevOps-style approach allows iterative adjustment and validation and, best of all, the economics of the ‘pay as you grow’ SaaS model licensing directly links costs to revenues. This approach will become even more important with the advent of 5G networks. With 5G, operators will need to go through a fast-learning process, offering different services, service levels, and capabilities - especially to their enterprise customers. Services and Service Level Agreements may vary according to different SaaS, PaaS and NaaS strategies, and also by how they cover link latency, speed, capacity and availability across a mix of environments, including IoT networks, private campus settings, manufacturing facilities or offices. A further complication for the BSS arises when specialist partners are involved with the service delivery, with the setting of tariffs, or in the determination of revenue share. Operators risk missing the boat on this developing 5G opportunity if they first need to commission a large-scale digital BSS transformation project, with its inherent risk and inevitable delays. The alternative of an immediately available, built-for-purpose, parallel system in the cloud provides a much faster, safer and more efficient route to new service launches. There’s no doubt that when it comes to launching new services and BSS transformation – Metro’s small, fast, and scalable approach wins over big, slow and complex every time.