TM Forum’s Joann O’Brien, Vice President APIs and Ecosystems, participated in Telco Transformation’s On-the-Air Thursdays show last week where she gave an update about the Forum’s Open API Program. Following is an abbreviated version of her conversation with Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation. You can listen to the full conversation on demand here.
MR: Can you define for our listeners what APIs are?
JO: I like to think of the API as the digital pattern of communications between two digital assets. In the context of TM Forum, the Open APIs are really what allow companies to expose capabilities to the outside world – to partners, to other parts of the business and other kinds of telcos.
TT: Can you talk about how other industries have used APIs?
JO: APIs have been the cornerstone of some very successful businesses in recent years. Twilio is a good example of a company that recognized that by providing a single simple messaging API that they could hide complexity from developers to enable them to create lots of their own messaging applications… Uber would be another good example… And there’s one I particularly like which captures the strategic opportunity from the retail space and that’s Burberry. By exposing their assets through APIs, they massively increase footfall.
TT: What’s the role for open APIs with regards to telcos’ digital transformations?
JO: Service providers are looking to put customers are the heart of the business. They’re looking to automate across their businesses; they’re looking to essentially become a digital services enabler by exposing infrastructure and capabilities. But ultimately they’re on a journey to become a software-defined business over time… You won’t get large-scale automation without an API strategy.
TT: Last year TM Forum announced its Open API initiative. What’s been the feedback since then?
JO: In June of last year, nine global operators signed a manifesto which stated that they would not only use the APIs as part of their systems but that they would mandate it across their business… They also indicated that from January 2017 they would be demanding the APIs as part of their RFP [requests for proposal]processes. Following that announcement, there was a similar announcement from the ecosystem partners or suppliers and systems integrators…
While it’s that core set of companies who are really driving it and have committed to taking on the APIs in a strategic way, that’s not to say that there aren’t loads of other companies using the APIs. We have evidence of well over 600 unique companies regularly accessing and using the APIs and up to 4,000 professionals using the APIs.
I run some proof-of-concept projects in the ecosystem space where we partner with different industry verticals and explore not only the APIs but the business opportunities for telcos in that space. An example is a proof of concept for industrial manufacturing robots as a service… There we proved that using the APIs can significantly reduce the downtime of robots, which was costing billions of pounds every year in the UK. We’ve also created some projects in the smart city space, where we’re using the APIs as part of a smart city platform. We’re working collaboratively with a group called FIWARE in Europe.
TT: Has that number of nine operators gone up?
JO: We will be adding to that list at our event in Nice.
TT: Can you talk about some of the Open APIs that have been released so far?
JO: The first suite of APIs were the key APIs you need for partnering, so onboarding, for example… Others include product ordering, product catalog and product inventory. Another relatively new API that’s beyond our traditional space is the Privacy API, which leverages the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] privacy requirements coming out of the European Union which will be mandated as law in 2018.
TT: At Mobile World Congress, collaboration between Colt, AT&T and Orange identified a set of APIs. What was TM Forum’s role?
JO: With the LSO [Lifecycle Service Orchestration] architecture from MEF, some very specific APIs were needed to manage Ethernet services. To move quickly for that project, they analyzed what was available in the industry and recognized that the TM Forum Open APIs provided a significant amount of capability that could be leveraged for their project… So we are working very closely with the MEF team on that with a view for the first three of those APIs to be delivered in the July timeframe.
TT: This is a great example of how the industry can collaborate to move forward, which is something that we’ve all been waiting for or hoping would happen.
JO: Exactly. While we have a lot of members who are different, we also have a lot who are the same. We need to collaborate… It makes sense to collaborate on operations and business management APIs so that you can focus your engineering resources on the places where you should differentiate.
TT: What else does the industry need to do to further develop and embrace open APIs?
JO: We’re not completely there yet with regards to a wholesale realization that adopting Open APIs can be a strategic and valuable initiative across the entire industry. We still have a ways to go on that education and sharing. We need to continue what we’ve been doing around RFPs to ensure that the ambitions are realized right into the ultimate products deployed…
But I think we need to go further than that. We’ve laid the foundations regarding proofs of concept with other industry verticals. We need to bring that to realization and commercial deployment with some examples to prove you can get the level or reuse and the level of speed you need to be agile and to be able to adapt in this kind of digital ecosystem that we operate in today.
TT: What’s the role for standards?
JO: If everyone is using something, then you are a de facto standard. That’s how we operate and generate and get the APIs out to market… Different standards bodies focus in specific areas, but at certain times it may make sense for them to adopt each other’s work. We just need to make sure that as a collective that we don’t reinvent the wheel.
TT: What’s on the horizon for open APIs?
JO: In the shorter term, we are prioritizing the Open APIs for external exposure of network slicing capabilities. We’ll have a couple of examples of that in Nice this year. We have industrialized our crowd-sourcing capabilities. In the last six months, we’ve accelerated that significantly. We have 31 API specifications now whereas we had 18 in June of last year, so we are industrializing and scaling up that crowdsourcing capability. We want to keep that momentum going…
We also want to ensure that we expose the reference implementations and compliance test kits to allow our members to be able to self-certify that their APIs that they’re developing are aligned with the TM Forum Open APIs, so we’ll do a beta launch of that capability at TM Forum Live! in Nice this year.
The other thing is to really accelerate the outside-in innovation… To facilitate that we host enterprise open hacks regularly. The next hack will be at TM Forum Live! on May 14. There for the first time we will be exposing network slicing capabilities, IoT, big data and customer centricity-type features to get the create juices flowing.