Our recent research, to be published in a TM Forum Trends Analysis report at the end of this month, shows that platforms are the future for communications service providers (CSPs). Combined with internet of everything (IoE) applications and 5G technology, platforms will help operators automate operations, reduce costs and quickly develop new services.
In short, a platform strategy can have two key elements: a platform business model that sets up digital ecosystems or marketplaces, connecting consumers with producers of goods and/or services (like Amazon Marketplace); and an infrastructure platform, which supports an electronic marketplace and facilitates the digital business model (like Amazon Web Services) – for a backgrounder on platforms, see our ebook Platforms: How to join the revolution.
Most CSPs believe they need to offer both, but they’re particularly excited about the prospects for digital ecosystems, especially for IoE applications. More than a third of the CSPs we surveyed said their companies are already offering digital ecosystems/marketplaces, and another 40 percent intend to do so within the next two years.
Developing digital ecosystems is not easy, however. The stakeholders often come from different industries and ‘speak’ different languages. This makes it difficult for everyone to understand the requirements for collaboration. In addition, standard application program interfaces (APIs) are needed to facilitate communication between systems.
In May, TM Forum formally released its new CurateFx cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) tool to help companies design digital ecosystems. The tool, which is built on TM Forum’s Frameworx, Partnering Toolkit and Open APIs, provides step-by-step blueprints, information-based decision tools, visualization maps and other collaborative capabilities so that partners can quickly and easily develop business scenarios.
CurateFx has been developed in collaboration with TM Forum member company Tr3dent, which also helped develop the Frameworx 3D Model & Viewer. It is available to TM Forum members and non-members for a monthly or annual license fee (price dependent on membership).
The service consists of multiple steps or phases: define, design, enable and collaborate.
- Define – this phase sets up the business scenario, looking at what each participant needs to provide.
- Design – teams specify the relationships between partners and stakeholders using capabilities derived from the B2B2X partnering guide, looking at every facet whether operational, contractual, financial, etc.
- Enable – participants use Frameworx tools such as the Business Process Framework, the Information Framework and Open APIs to determine how to implement the ecosystem. This phase bridges the gap between the business view of product management, business architecture or business development staff and the implementation view of IT staff – which is needed to make a service come to life.
- Collaborate – this happens in all phases and allows teams to co-create, co-design, share and export.
Many TM Forum Catalyst proof-of-concept projects have been using CurateFx. Of the 32 projects demonstrated at TM Forum Live! in Nice, 28 of them used the tool.
To learn more about CurateFx, check out this video:
A project called Logical factory – virtualizing manufacturing for agility won an award for outstanding ecosystem design using CurateFX at TM Forum Live! in Nice. The team used the tool to create an industrial internet of things ecosystem – in this case a logical factory made up of several partners including: the Welding Institute, a research and technology organization focusing on industrial automation and robotics; CSPs (BT and Telecom Italia, who championed the project); EnterpriseWeb, which provided the application fabric dynamically connecting all the solution elements to the IoT and networking domains; Infosim, which provided a manager of managers portal; and Infosys, which provided IoT analytics to ensure the factory processes were operating smoothly.
The idea was to create an automated flow to support manufacturing of a custom robotics part, shipping it to multiple physical sites for additional steps such as heat treatment and testing, and then shipping it to customers. Using CurateFx, the team defined the various business scenarios including problem statements for all stakeholders, the value every participant expected and the roles they would play.
“There’s an interesting feature in CurateFX that allows you to visualize and represent the ecosystem,” says Cliff Faurer, Dynamic Services Architect, EnterpriseWeb. “We could represent those three different scenarios – the manufacturing process across three different factory sites and two NOCs that then are being managed by Infosim and Infosys – and also represent the dozen or so TM forum APIs we were using to make the connectivity open and agile.”
Watch participants explain how the Logical factory Catalyst worked:
Anything as a service
The Anything-as-a-service Catalyst also used CurateFx to develop a digital ecosystem, this one connecting Vodafone with drone manufacturers, operators, application developers and insurance providers for a precision-farming application. Participants in the project included Centina Systems providing assurance, Huawei providing orchestration, Infosys providing systems integration and Invercloud providing a customer-facing portal.
One goal of the project was to find out what IoT players – in this case, drone companies – think about telcos. Designing business models and user journeys in CurateFx helped with this.
“We asked: ‘Do you see telcos as a key part of your journey’?,” says Alan Byrne, Head of Innovation at Huawei’s Ireland Research Centre. “They didn’t.”
The drone companies were under the impression that telcos couldn’t bring anything to the table besides connectivity. But when they learned that Vodafone could offer a platform-based service capable of delivering guaranteed availability, the ability to scale on demand through network slicing and the ability to analyze (and possibly sell) data collected, they were interested.
Another key finding from the project centered around the importance of using standard APIs, such as the Forum’s Open APIs. IoT companies often operate in markets worldwide so they want a platform-based ecosystem in one region to operate the same way it does in another, regardless of who’s providing it. So, if they’re dealing with Vodafone in Europe, AT&T in the North America and China Mobile in Asia, they want each of those platforms to use the same APIs.
Small businesses and startups, in particular, are drawn to Apple or Amazon ecosystems because of their ease of use, Byrne says. By using TM Forum’s Open APIs, CSPs can connect with each other and with other platform providers like Apple and Amazon to deliver easy, seamless services that can be assured end to end.
Watch Huawei’s Alan Byrne explain the Anything-as-a-service Catalyst:
The Hyperscale IoT management – healthcare Catalyst used CurateFx to set up a platform ecosystem connecting the following partners: Algorithmic Intuition, a manufacturer of devices that monitor the heart rate and body temperature of patients; AT&T, the Catalyst champion; Microsoft, which provided blockchain identity management for the devices; Etiya, which provided automated trouble ticket resolution and a chatbot for problems that needed to be resolved manually; and Ericsson, which provided the IoT platform for onboarding all the partners and orchestrating the service.
The Catalyst was driven by AT&T’s need to manage a large number of devices from onboarding through to end-of-life, with automated resolution of problems. This is going to become critical for healthcare digital ecosystems – the cost of commissioning, maintaining, upgrading and decommissioning IoT devices overall is expected to be more than $28 billion globally by 2020, according to the Industrial Internet Consortium.
Watch participants talk about the Hyperscale IoT management Catalyst: