“We’re at a point of inflection with our global network,” said BT Group CTO Colin Bannon last week. “How do we pivot?”
Bannon was speaking at the Layer123 event in London. While traditionally focussed on the physical layer and transport infrastructure, the focus of many conversations was rather on service delivery and operational issues. Revamping these elements is essential to the success of many current and future services.
For example, BT is going through a phase of “cloud chaos” in its digital transformation, according to Bannon. “I’ve moved 25% of my workloads to the cloud but I’m getting these very variable OPEX costs at the end of the month,” he frowned. “We’re paying a premium for this incredible flexibility and versatility but I don’t have any way to nail down what my costs are.”
That said, Bannon has a few predictions and demands for the industry as it develops cloud capabilities.
“Over the next couple of years, the modelling of where you put your workloads will become a lot more nuanced,” he suggested.
“I think we should get away from this dichotomy of private versus public, and admit that actually, it’s all distributed workloads. The WAN is acting like a datacentre LAN for these applications.”
This is where a cloud fabric would come in, to weave the disparate elements together and be able to deliver deterministic outcomes against SLAs. However, with that distribution of workloads and dynamism comes a need for more holistic thinking about service creation, assurance and delivery across providers and across a very wide area, rather than siloed operations within the telco.
“I’ll give you an example: the network department heads that I speak to often really won’t know what the app development teams or the business units in front have as network requirements. They’re still procuring in the old way, and I’m not going to be able to help unless we start looking at a different procurement model.”
This would include more nuanced processes for determining go/no go decisions within the operator, incorporating not just Finance teams or Procurement but both, along with business unit heads and potentially others. “We need to start to have a new language for a holistic calculation of value,” Bannon observed.
Connecting the Dots
The holistic approach was also in evidence from Netcracker. SVP Ari Banerjee was quick to point out that, while operators have focussed on replacing technology stacks for each line of business with a unified, converged platform, they are now looking at bringing together operational processes across different verticals and areas of business as a key part of their transformation.
“How do you define your operations environment not just for your legacy network but also for your next generation, for verticals, for cloud? Let’s be honest, it’s all brownfield out there,” Banerjee pointed out. “When it comes to inventory, it’s a mixture of legacy and non-legacy. How do you get a real-time, unified inventory to provide reliable resource management?”
Unsurprisingly, this is an ongoing challenge for the coming decade. Getting this right will underpin the ability of telecoms providers to leverage their assets and capabilities in a way that makes financial sense.
Similarly Netcracker’s Sue White was quick to underline that, while many companies already have automated business systems, in many cases it’s how you bring them together coherently which is the greatest challenge.
She gave the example of a situation where a cable might be cut. That should set up a maintenance workflow within the operator, but how does that relate to understanding what customers, if any, are affected and how? How does it relate to communicating the fault and the timelines for repairs with those customers, sharing updates, or managing SLAs and billing credits?
While many of those individual systems exist, having those tied together into a seamless system across different business domains is still rare. That seamlessness is a great way to not only save money and time on manual operations but also build strong relationships.
From Contracts to Customer Centricity
Seamlessness and simplicity of service delivery underpinned a talk by the MEF’s VP for Strategic Programs Daniel Bar-Lev.
“Automation is a must-have,” Bar-Lev pointed out. “Now we have to focus more and more on automation between operators and between operators and vendors.”
This reflects today’s value chains, which increasingly rely on open interfaces between buyers and suppliers. While APIs are a vital part of that – including MEF APIs – Bar-Lev highlighted the role of a blockchain system to manage both records and the distributed and self-sovereign identity of individuals and devices.
This performs a variety of functions. Using a distributed ledger can offer a verifiable “single version of the truth” tracking the flow of data across APIs and its relationship to master service agreements, cutting down on the disparities and queries that can arise between stakeholders simply arising from the use of different recording systems.
Furthermore, it removes the need for a central identity provider and decentralises identity services – decentralising trust and improving resilience.
While this seems fairly obscure, a panel consisting of experts from COLT, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone provided an example of how this can work in practice.
“One company typically doesn’t sell everything to an enterprise,” pointed out Chris Fleck, Vodafone Business’ Senior Global Transformation Manager.
As a result, while the enterprise may have one company to pay, behind the scenes settlements between providers was often complex and fraught with challenges.
Eduardo Perez, Senior Lead for Innovation and Strategy at COLT, pointed out that, in their experience, 40% of invoices generated included a query that would create a delay in payment. These queries would involve a manual process to resolve and, frequently, payment of the entire invoice would be delayed until the queried elements were resolved.
As a result, the three operators adopted the use of blockchain to record data and generate invoices. Not only did this reduce the number of queries, owing to the trusted ‘single view of the truth’ all three were using, but it even allowed the system to flag up where issues were that might become queries in a bill – allowing them to be resolved prior to the billing process.
This is clearly a good way to improve cash flow and reduce painful manual processes, but to the operators there was more to it than that.
“We’re talking a lot about finance, but this is a customer experience project,” Perez pointed out. “How much time is spent with clients on problems and not on leveraging your relationship?”
In other words, it changes the dynamic between operators. “The value we’ve generated is the ability to build something between competitors. It’s important that we reframe as an industry how we evolve and compete against hyperscalers in a different way. This is not something any of us can do alone,” Perez concluded.
Alex Lawrence is Managing Editor at 6GWorld. His mission is to bring together stakeholders from across industries, countries and disciplines to make sure that, as technology evolves in the coming decade, it’s meeting the changing demands of society, government and business.
He has been involved as a professional nosy person in the telecoms sphere since 2004, with short detours through industrial O&M and marketing.
If you’d like to talk to Alex about your ideas or projects he’d love to hear from you. @animalawrence or email@example.com.