How to create competitive advantage through telco-wide automation

How to create competitive advantage through telco-wide automation

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Service provider businesses are becoming more complex as they deal with increasing demands of an expanding customer base while needing to provide new and compelling digital services. In addition, they must find effective ways to streamline their operational costs to remain competitive.

Automation – the use of software to replace or reduce human interaction with managing and adapting IT and network infrastructure – is playing a fundamental role in helping to achieve efficiencies, dealing with increasing network complexity at scale and using the latest technology innovations. Automation done well lets service providers reduce the burden of repetitive, manual tasks on technology and development teams, promoting faster decision-making, improved control and compliance, and process efficiencies that lead to cost reductions.

Focusing on domain-specific network configurations and service deployments is no longer enough. Organisations need to expand automation across organisational boundaries, away from task-based actions towards a more holistic approach. This involves automating everything seamlessly from the infrastructure to the network and business applications.

Why holistic automation?

Gartner recently coined the term ‘hyperautomation’. This refers to rapidly automating as many business and IT processes as possible to achieve economies of scale and optimised business efficiencies. IT automation is a core pillar of this. Specifically, a declarative GitOps software-based approach to automation can unlock huge benefits across a service provider organisation, including improved efficiency, security, speed, agility and competitiveness across business operations. It can enable development, operational and security teams to become more productive while eliminating errors in tasks such as monitoring and reporting back on legacy systems, cloud services and AI models.

So, what are the key areas that service providers must consider for a successful organisation-wide automation strategy?

  1. Lay the ground for secure automated infrastructure

First off, service providers need to embrace a dynamic software-driven model. This enables continuous innovation through accelerated deployment and lifecycle management of applications consistently and reliably. Instead of manual processes, infrastructure is operationalised through a collection of declarative software commands and open-source tools that can automate any aspect of the business.

Zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) helps with this shift. It involves automating infrastructure configuration and management, without physically interacting with devices. This is particularly useful for addressing the scale and complexity of evolving network infrastructure - for example, the bandwidth, scale and latency demands of 5G and radio access networks (RAN).

ZTP increases the frequency and reliability of network provisioning and deployment, simplifying the process and making it faster and more secure to scale. This sets service providers up for further success across their infrastructure, network, cloud, edge and business applications.

  1. Embed security into everything 

Security needs to be embedded, not an add-on. It’s important that the automation process itself is built to minimise risk. Security solutions need to be implemented earlier in the development process, across the entire infrastructure and application stack and all through the software lifecycle. Integrating security into development workflows (DevSecOps) is fundamental for end-to-end automated security.

At the same time, automation can support a zero-trust approach to security, whereby all actors – inside or outside the network – must be authorised and continuously verified before receiving access to anything within the network. A zero-trust process begins with everything being locked down. Then, based on business policy, the network, infrastructure, applications may be opened up to authenticated users. Automation can support the implementation of policy here, streamlining the process of giving access to verified employees and reducing the risk of human error. Key considerations will be whether the network has vulnerabilities and which roles require access to make changes to it.

Applying ZTP in conjunction with a zero-trust practice enables service providers to deploy software and network upgrades automatically and securely at the edge across numerous sites at scale, without the need for human intervention - something that isn’t easy to achieve with traditional deployment processes.

  1. Expand automation across the enterprise

While service providers are already automating how they provide connectivity services, they now need to apply it at an application level to improve the operational side of a customer’s business. This is part of taking a holistic approach to automation, one that not only factors in the network and infrastructure, but also a third layer: the business applications.

It involves thinking about applying automation more broadly to enterprise offerings, whether that be how orders are processed, how a service is used, or how organisations extract data from a system at a certain enterprise location. In many ways service providers are already doing this within their own businesses, so it’s about considering how the automation of business applications can be applied to other organisations.

In practice, this could include automation of an enterprise portal to select and request services to automate the deployment of their infrastructure, the associated security and network configuration and their application software.

Choosing a single platform that can scale consistently across the organisation can improve overall efficiency and productivity, enabling different teams to collaborate and work together rather than in silos. An integrated platform with lifecycle support can also reduce the time spent on management and maintenance.

  1. The future of automation: AI and event-driven technology

Applying AI to automation is like giving automated functions a brain. AI-powered insights and predictive event-driven actions drive even more efficiency, security and resiliency.

For instance, in the network, AI can help automation intelligently predict optimisation needs. Based on these predictions and previous data, improvements can be automatically made to provide better performance and thus end-user experiences.

As such, additional and laborious tasks that require time and attention can be passed on from employees to the automated systems. IT teams can then focus on value-adding activities, using their specialist skills to address business needs.

Automate now for future success

Automation is no longer a nice-to-have for service providers. If they’re to remain competitive against today’s uncertain economic backdrop and continue innovating while managing business costs and time efficiency, it’s a necessity.

Rather than focusing on single areas of a business, success can be scaled by automating across an organisation as a whole, connecting the dots between infrastructure, network, enterprise edge and customer-facing business applications. In doing so, service providers can take a holistic approach to automation and use it not only to cut costs but also to create competitive advantage.

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