ITW 2020: Taking action on automation

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Discussing the drivers and barriers of intercarrier automation, Elson Sutanto, principal analyst at Juniper Research, led yesterday’s discussion on how to solve the convergence conundrum.

When it comes to enterprise architecture, the move to cloud centricity is driving an ever-increasing need for carrier automation. It has been for years and the resounding call from all involved is that, for the modern telco, automation is survival. However, despite the growing business case, adoption is behind the curve.  

As confirmed in a poll conducted during the Convergence Conundrum session yesterday, 31% have yet to take any action at all.

Panellist Mahesh Jaishankar, CEO of Arc Solutions, said: “The ability of carriers to seamlessly provide service will become much more relevant because cloud brings so many features, lower costs, scalability and flexibility. Right now, it provides what our networks don’t offer and that is the weak link in this chain.

“For carriers to remain relevant we believe the service and flexibility needs to be there. That is the biggest driver for intercarrier,” he continued.

Speaking from the telco perspective, Artur Ostrowski, CCO of Enxoo, said: “In telco we are forced into change we are not the drivers of change.

“Telcos are not disruptors. They need time. They invest CAPEX into their network and pray nothing changes for five years while they achieve their return on investment. Cloud is a huge driver for this change, but I still think telcos do not see this as a way to harness disruption. They see it as being forced to change,” he added.  

In examining the reasons for telcos being left behind, Louisa Gregory, CEO of the Communications Business Automation Network (CBAN), cited complexity, lack of digital depth and interoperability between old and new technology.

“When carriers and service providers innovate on their own it’s a resource intensive and slow process that requires large capital investment,” Gregory said.

“Sometimes there isn’t the return and they end up with this repeating scenario where they have proprietary systems that don’t serve them well,” she added.

Assisting carriers in the task at hand, CBAN’s is working on automating inter-carrier business processes, reconciliation, and settlement to deliver new growth and revenue opportunities for communications providers.

Initiated by the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum in 2018 and spun off as an independent entity in January, it also facilitates collaborations in distributed ledger technology (DLT) between telcos and start-ups.

As Gregory explained, the intent is to “procreate solutions to share the cost and ROI across the whole ecosystem” and move away from the band aid culture that has been adopted when incorporating new technology in the past.

“Automation is about reducing complexity but doing it for automation’s sake won’t achieve anything; without understanding the purpose you won’t provide value or unlock future sources of revenue.

Instead she advised: “Fix what you can now and take advantage of what is coming.”

The transition

Advising telcos on how they can potentially address their challenges, Ralph Santitoro, head of digital services, Fujitsu Network Communications, said it isn’t just about the tech, but the people and processes, too.

“I always believe in fail fast or take an agile approach. You want to have a vision of what the architecture is, but more importantly you want to get something done,” he said.

It was a point Ostrowski also agreed on.

“Look at your internal processes, mindsets and people – do they require transformation? There is no carrier to carrier transformation without internal transformation,” he said.

However, Jaishankar warned that resistant mindsets tend to persist.

“There is still resistance at the operational level; At a salesperson and marketing level there is a reluctance and resistance. It needs a drastic push to create a change inside the carrier organisations,” he says.

While Jaishankar attributes the resistance to change to the industry’s social and collaborative culture, for Santitoro that underlines the importance of automating for the customer experience.

“When you look at automation in the guts of the network it doesn’t create value to the end user customer who is buying your service,” he says.

Using SD-WAN as a case in point, he said the popularity of cloud and OTT security services is due to their intuitive user interface and functionality… an automation that provides an immediate return on investment.

“They bypass all the lower level constructs that we are talking about automating,” he said.

“When you look at automation, look at where you can automate for a high return rather than the further down where you may not ever see the impact,” he added.

The advice isn’t set in stone: the Covid-19 pandemic could still change things again.

Santitoro continued: “We’re at a critical moment with Covid-19 where you will have until year end, and probably beyond, a lot of people not going back to their office. That will change where automation needs to occur.”

Providing automation

For Pascal Menezes, chief technology officer of MEF, there are a few reasons why 31% are currently taking no action on automation and in response MEF has developed open APIs to simplify the first steps.

“I think open APIs are critical. Why reinvent the wheel,” Menezes said.

While Open Source and various commercial entities are busy writing their own code, MEF is developing APIs. Its LSO Sonata APIs enable frictionless inter-provider service automation, with proven use cases in serviceability, quoting, product inventory, ordering, trouble-ticketing billing, and contract and catalogue.

“We at MEF have looked at this and spent three years on inter-provider automation and we looked at it from the provider-provider level because they already have the data planes connected. We have come up with Sonata and it’s a reference point between two providers at a commercial level,” Menezes explained.

The work complements that of CBAN and the Global Leaders’ Forum around DLT and, as Menezes highlighted, “this will enable the ecosystem to be robust and agile and enable the end to end transport.”

As well as open APIs MEF’s more than 200 member companies collaborate with industry partners to produce service specifications, lifecycle service orchestration frameworks, and software-driven implementations of orchestrated services.

“We have been through lots of automation principles in building the use cases as we developed and evolved and I think that is where the world has to go to,” Menezes told the panel.

The next step is a complimentary automation between the APIs and DLTs. As Menezes said: “That will enable the ecosystem to be robust and agile and enable the end to end transport.”

Industry-wide collaboration has brought many benefits and Gregory reports that CBAN’s blockchain applications have created some “trusted commercial relationships that may not have existed before”.

“It’s not just about automation but making sure we are creating interoperability between the different legacy systems to facilitate settlement of processes,” she explained.

However, sharing the telco perspective, Ostrowski said there’s one final factor to consider: in the telco world, the only place that matters is first.

“The nature of the carrier industry is that you have to be one of the first to react to be relevant,” he said, continuing to be troubled by the 31% of survey respondents who are yet to embark on their automation journey.

“Carrier to carrier is changing but the mindset is not, and we need to make that happen, because 69% are doing something.”

He added: “If you see a desire for change look at the quick wins. Partner with people who know how to help. Look at your internal processes, mindsets and people – do they require transformation? There is no Carrier to carrier transformation without internal transformation.”

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