TM Forum announced the launch of its Open Digital Architecture (ODA) program Monday at Action Week in Lisbon, where more than 200 members from 84 companies are gathered to collaborate on communications industry management challenges. The ODA is envisioned as a more agile replacement for traditional operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS) architecture.
“The telecoms industry is at a crossroads,” says TM Forum CEO Nik Willetts. “There is a window of opportunity to move beyond connectivity and embrace new opportunities for growth. To succeed, the industry must radically simplify and automate core business operations to deliver the agility and efficiency needed to compete in today’s market.”
Indeed, business-to-consumer markets have been transformed by social media and commerce platforms, enabled by communications service providers’ (CSPs’) multi-billion-dollar investments in global communications networks. But CSPs’ piece of the pie is shrinking, as ubiquitous connectivity has driven down prices, eroded proﬁt margins and lengthened the time it takes for new infrastructure to pay back. This in turn slows the cycle of innovation.
How can ODA help?
The ODA promises to help CSPs compete. Developed collaboratively by the world’s largest telecom operators and their partners, which include software and infrastructure suppliers and systems integrators, ODA provides a common operations and IT management ‘blueprint’. It combines proven cloud-computing best practices with TM Forum’s work on zero-touch orchestration operations and management; digital ecosystem management; data analytics; artificial intelligence (AI) and a suite of more than 50 Open APIs in use today by over 600 companies worldwide.
The graphic below shows the business requirements that are guiding the work of the ODA program.
With ODA, TM Forum members are designing a way to enable constant cycles of rapid creation and experimentation with new services and business models that support open digital ecosystems, while also improving efficiency and flexibility of the core business to remain profitable. This is critical if CSPs and their partners hope to realize the full potential of 5G technology.
What’s different about ODA?
The ODA team has laid out a core layered approach to a future architecture which removes the separation of OSS and BSS functionality (see below). Although OSS and BSS may remain in separate operational domains, they are designed as part of a single architecture.
The key principles of ODA include:
- Layers – the horizontal layering of ODA contrasts with the typical vertical applications used in systems today. Key to this layering is the separation of concerns and loose coupling between layers.
- Common data architecture – this is required as a foundation to create a single view of a customer. Taking a strategic approach to the holistic management of data will reduce the number of systems required, simplify the overall architecture and reduce operational costs.
- Intent-based management – ODA will support intent-based management using closed control loops, policy management and autonomic computing. These capabilities enable development of an intuitive network and allow data from the network to be captured and exposed through APIs.
- Componentization – as with existing OSS and BSS, actualization of ODA will likely rely on multiple IT suppliers and systems integrators, and will need to integrate with a legacy environment. It will therefore be important for it to be componentized according to agreed principles, using a common language and standard approach for procurement and integration of new capabilities.
- API-based – fundamental to the concept of componentization and the multi- vendor requirement is that integration between components should be through standardized open APIs. Ensuring that the same APIs are used for both internal and external integration accelerates the partnership with digital ecosystems, with each party exposing its component capabilities through open APIs.
- Dynamic integration – components should be designed for dynamic integration or orchestration. As new services or business models are introduced, the system must be capable of chaining together the OSS and BSS components required to support each new service dynamically.
- Real time – although the term ‘real time’ has very diﬀerent meanings depending on context, this design principle requires that all components should act and report relevant data in whatever represents real time in that context.
- Catalog-driven – each component should expose its capabilities through a catalog, and provide enough information in the model for another component to interwork with that capability. This approach is key to the ’nonstop’ principle, avoiding the need for manual conﬁguration for new service chains.
- Security and privacy by design – security requirements and data protection must be included from the onset of system design, not as an afterthought.
- Agile governance – ODA will incorporate governance principles that allow rapid changes to be managed in a complex environment. Systems and operational teams are likely to be distributed geographically, with a mixture of centralized and local products and processes. The governance system should provide teams with the autonomy that they require to be agile in response to their markets, while maintaining consistency through centralized oversight.
What are members saying about ODA?
Speaking on a panel at Action Week Monday, George Glass, Chief Systems Architect, BT, said ODA creates a pragmatic roadmap for transformation.
“If you look at the (ODA) principles, every single one around governing the architecture, a platform-based architecture…all of those things apply to the architecture within BT,” he said, adding that applying the principles helps BT move into new markets, makes it easier to transform and grow the business, and reduces costs.
Dr. Lester Thomas, Chief IT Systems Architect, Vodafone Group, agreed, saying that concepts like open APIs, AI, platform business models, microservice architectures and digital ecosystems will help drive agility and innovation, but only if CSPs can successfully evolve away from legacy BSS/OSS architectures.
“We’re adopting these things but the pace is too slow; we need help to drive this much more quickly,” he said, adding that CSPs shouldn’t wait for 5G because collaborating to develop solutions on 4G networks can help address challenges that we are facing globally.
“These are things like climate change, or how do we support health in an aging population? How do we feed a planet of 10 billion people?…These aren’t insignificant challenges,” Thomas said. “We need shared platforms and digital ecosystems.”