Telcos are well aware that they need to be agile like the web-scale companies. They can enable that agility through various digital transformation approaches, according to the TM Forum's Barry Graham.
Telcos are poised to compete with web-scale companies bolstered by increasing automation and accelerated speed as merged systems, interconnected resources and consolidated applications reduce friction. Graham, director of product management, TM Forum talks about the digital transformation roadmap for telcos in this Q&A.
Telco Transformation: What is the value TM Forum brings to carriers in regards to their digital transformation efforts?
Barry Graham: In today’s context, web-scale companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc., implement digital processes like open APIs across the world. By contrast, regulation fragments telecom companies; they do not have a global footprint. When telecom companies work together on a project, they wrestle with multiple standards for each of their partners, which createsg an opportunity for companies like Google to serve as intermediaries to interlink them and take value away from them. TM Forum facilitates common standards that telecom companies use to work collaboratively for projects such as smart cities.
TT: The transformation of telecom service providers to digital service providers seems like a tall order with all the changes in BSS/OSS, the need for platforms and ecologies, more automation and the multi-touch customer relationships that are familiar to the technology industry but unfamiliar to most operators. What are the methods that enable this transition?
BG: Most of our members view the transformation of the OSS and BSS as a fundamental plank for enabling digital transformation, but these systems cannot change quickly. Many of them first combine the thousands of their applications into a few well-defined common platforms, integrated with the TM Forum Open APIs. These common platforms bring together related functions that are reusable across the entire business. It is much easier to innovate within the platform and share its benefits across the business, without repeating the same processes, with demarcated boundaries of the platforms and marked integration points. Open APIs, moreover, enable ecosystem integration -- an open API is easy to expose as an interface to partners.
We see many of our vendor members bringing the best concepts from the IT industry into the telco domain. To succeed, common frameworks and interface standards are needed to allow for multi-vendor, multi-generation deployments without incurring inordinate integration costs.
TM Forum's Frameworx provides common models and our new Open Digital Architecture program is an overall blueprint for the design of the next generation of converged OSS and BSS solutions. Until recently, the OSS/BSS systems of telcos were largely manual. Today, the OSS/BSS systems of telcos are automated but they cannot onboard new services in minutes or less. In the telco world, a new service has meant a new box with a tedious routine of installation, commissioning, billing, configuration, etc., spanning days or weeks.
By contrast, web-scale companies activate new services thousands of times during a day. Cloud-native architectures and virtualization allow the delivery of new functionalities quickly by accessing resources from several different platforms integrated with APIs. Telcos realize that they can be more agile if they merge their OSS and BSS systems hitherto managed by separate departments. Additionally, Telcos are moving from vertical integration of a plethora of applications to a horizontal integration of layers -- the hardware abstraction layer, the resource layer, the service layer and a product layer -- all within a modern componentized architecture.
The sub-groups of players in this modern telecom world have widely differing views on the shape of the future world of telecom, albeit within the rubric of cloud-native architecture, at this point. That entails the risk of fragmenting the supply chain.
TT: One of the ways the TM Forum is working to bring the various entities together is through its Open Digital Architecture (ODA.) Can you tell us about it?
BG: Open Digital Architecture creates a common blueprint and a language and uses it as a yardstick to compare the practices of multiple vendors and carriers and find means to fuse them consistent with an agile cloud-native architecture. We got together some of the leading Tier 1 carriers and laid down the key requirements. Thereafter, we invited vendors to describe their products in the common language of the ODA to reduce friction among the vendors.
TT: How much has been achieved by way of consolidated platforms?
BG: The most publicized example of this is BT who, the last time I heard them share numbers, had reduced 4,500 systems down to 26 platforms. Many operators will also tell you they have made considerable progress in this respect.
A key enabler for this has been standardized APIs. The TM Forum’s Open API program has published a suite of over 50 APIs. Our API Manifesto has been signed by 28 companies, and more are joining, with over 23,000 unique downloads and deployments in 24 countries.
TT: How does the Open Digital Architecture create a blueprint for the next generation OSS/BSS solutions.
BG: Many leading CSPs now have their own top-level architecture of a future state for OSS and BSS. Vodafone Ocean is the best known. The Open Digital architecture draws on the best features of several of these to craft an industry standard blueprint. So, it covers the top-level layering and abstraction, and a number of key design principles that span all layers. As an example, ODA shows how we expect ecosystem integration to work architecturally.
The key benefit of a standard blueprint is that CSPs will align their requests to vendors, which in turn enables them to invest development in solutions that fit all of their customers’ architectures better.
— Kishore Jethanandani, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation