Getting support from top management is the biggest challenge for operators in implementing a platform strategy according to our report, 5G: Is platform the killer use case? Through our research, which included an online survey of 61 telecom professionals from 52 companies, respondents ranked their top three main challenges, and the biggest one (struggles with leadership support) reinforced the findings in our recent report Digital transformation: Navigating the way to success. In that report, operators picked management support and culture as the most important challenges and critical success factors.
So what else did our survey (5G: Is platform the killer use case?) find?
The importance of standards
For CSPs, lack of standards for and consensus about how to handle management is a real concern when it comes to delivering platform services. Not only did almost 40 percent of operators put it in their top three challenges, but overall when all the rankings were averaged, it was their #1 concern. By contrast, only 15 percent of suppliers ranked this as a top concern.
CSPs see end-to-end orchestration as a key component of their strategies to become platform providers: Multiple orchestrators in multiple software platforms must communicate with each other through APIs and with other network and infrastructure components to deliver and assure services. In many cases, these components will be in someone else’s domain – another CSP’s, a supplier’s, a platform partner’s or an enterprise customer’s.
CSPs must agree to use the same information and data models along with standard APIs so that orchestrators and other components in different domains can communicate.
This, combined with intent-based management, is how service providers will automate service provisioning and management end to end – the intent-based management abstracts the complexity of the network at a high level, then uses a customer’s intent along with assurance, analytics and policy to manage it.
It’s challenging to get agreement on common information models that allow for zero-touch, end-to-end service operation across partners and technologies, while still allowing for innovation in API data models. TM Forum’s approach is to use an information model to provide a skeleton framework, which can then be augmented with patterns and best practices to support automated generation of API data models.
According to our survey results, suppliers are much less concerned about management standards, which is a bit surprising given that many suppliers talk publicly about their commitment to standards and open source. But if standards really are a lower priority for them, it could signal their preference to continue selling proprietary solutions to CSPs. This is an unrealistic expectation: Operators have made it clear that they want to eliminate vendor lock-in. Ultimately, successful ecosystems must deliver value to all participants. The challenge for 5G is to define standards for management in a way that avoids lock-in, while at the same time providing an agreed framework for suppliers to add value.
Lack of skills
Overall, there is a shortage of software skills, and when you add familiarity with telco networks as a requirement, it’s even more difficult to find talent. The CSPs we interviewed said they are trying to reskill employees but it’s not easy, especially when so many new skills are required.
“We as operators just have too much on our plates, from SDN and NFV transformation to DevOps to IoT platform,” says one respondent. “The whole business is changing – and this is too much at once.”
Regulation is also a concern because CSPs are operating in a highly-regulated environment, whereas their competitors, the digital natives, are not. Most telco regulation is based on a set of well-defined services but it’s unclear how regulation might affect platform-based services.
“We have strict rules about what we can offer and even what price we can ask in many cases,” explains Diego Lopez, Head of Technology exploration and Standards, Telefónica. “The definition of platform services would be complicated under current regulatory rules. I’m concerned that this could translate into trying to regulate things that can’t be regulated or that can be very difficult to verify.”
Want to learn more? Download our Trends Analysis Report, 5G: Is platform the killer application?, which was published by TM Forum in June. It is free for members to download. Non-members can access the Executive Summary free of charge.