Efficiency as a service

13 September 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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As telcos refine their procurement processes, automation is taking on new importance. Ahead of her day three session, Ruth Welter, VP of global strategic alliances at Colt Technology Services, tells Melanie Mingas what’s happening

As the age of automation dawns, carriers are looking for new ways to deliver services, both old and new. It isn’t just a Covid thing – although that has helped speed things along. Ruth Welter, VP of global strategic alliances at Colt Technology Services, says that the real draw comes down the fact that, in the current environment, it’s the fittest who thrive. Essentially, automation is a case of digital Darwinism.

“As businesses were forced to quickly adapt to the wider impact of the pandemic, those who had embraced software-defined networking were able to adapt better. What we have seen since then is a greater focus on flexibility in the network, how to become more efficient and the overall customer experience,” Welter says.

That said, the past 18 months have emphasised that the benefits of automation – for example, the flexibility it brings – have extended beyond technical differentiation to revolutionise procurement.

Welter says: “[It’s] critical to the procurement process and to ensure effective cost management, given the uncertain environment. It can also help improve time to market, another area of attention for many businesses.”

For Colt, automation means greater efficiencies, both internally and for its customers. The firm has continually assessed and evolved its strategy, starting in self-service capabilities, price checks for wholesale partners and online ordering, then moving into intelligent automation – in short, IA built on AI. It combines software-defined control and orchestration with big data analytics on networks, so communication service providers (CSPs) can adapt services and operations based on what they have already experienced. And as with all AI, the more you use it, the better it gets.

As Welter says: “We are not using automation for the sake of it.”

“We are looking at how we can further improve customer experience and the role of technology within that. So if we can speed up common tasks through automation, that gives time back to our customers and our people, who can then focus on helping customers in other areas. It can also give our customers greater flexibility in how they interact with us and provision services. We are looking at the role for automation across the complete life cycle, from that initial interaction and quote through to service delivery and the in-life experience,” she continues.

Adding AI and ML

When it comes to managing cloud infrastructure, automation can make distributed architecture far more coherent – particularly when combined with AI and machine learning (ML).

Welter says: “We are seeing customers adopting new cloud technologies to address business challenges, but managing this new distributed infrastructure is not simple, particularly when these applications have stringent location-dependent requirements such as low latency, regional data compliance and resiliency. It’s here where automation, AI and ML can play a key role.”

These applications, particularly in IoT, are highly dependent on low-latency reliable connectivity, “so adding AI and ML into network automation enables us to move towards a more predictive monitoring and maintenance,” Welter explains.
“That means constantly monitoring the network for any event, learning from this and using AI with massive data lakes to predict when faults might occur based on the weeks before – which might be displaying some innocent-looking, but highly predictive behaviour,” she says.

“The other thing we are hearing from across the industry is the need for consistency. Colt works very closely with industry bodies such as MEF on the development of standards and these are going to be critical for automation to succeed – between carrier partners and between vendors,” Welter says.

In her session today, Welter is set to elaborate on all these points and more, discussing the link between automation and customer experience. She says: “A key part of this is agility – enabled by on-demand, software-defined networks. This is something we see growing in importance as companies embrace hybrid working and the flexibility of the cloud.”

The session assesses how automation architecture can be transformed into revenue streams, as well as how CSPs can use it to create advantages in the marketplace. Part of Welter’s expertise lies in the growing network ecosystem, the opportunities for and benefits of new technologies, and the importance of collaboration and consistency.

She concludes: “These are really exciting areas, and they all have great potential, but to deliver the greatest value we need to ensure that we are working together.”