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Earlier this year, the TM Forum launched its Open Digital Architecture approach. It seeks to encapsulate a lot of the good work that has already taken place on operator digital transformation and set out a blueprint for the future of BSS and OSS systems. And when you are looking to create something new, having a blueprint in place is an enormous help.

Because one of the challenges facing service providers is that many BSS/OSS systems have effectively been around since the start of the cellular businesses some 30 years ago. Of course, they have been upgraded and improved immeasurably over the years, but they are beginning to resemble highly modified cars. It is highly unlikely that the best way to get the car of your dreams is to try to fit a new engine, wheels and chassis to the car you already own.

Today’s service providers recognize they need to change their business support systems if they are to keep up with the pace at which the industry is moving. And what the TM Forum’s work does is help them understand and have a clearer picture of what the OSS/BSS needs to achieve.

This is vital work, because as IoT and 5G networks combine to soak up much of the available investment, and ARPU continues to track downwards, service providers don’t have the time, the resources or the cash to embark on a lengthy and hugely expensive program to overhaul and effectively rebuild their current BSS and OSS stacks to make them fit for digital business transformation purposes.

Instead, they need an API-driven open architecture that enables them to get away from vendor lock-in and start to focus on money making digital business models they can deliver now. This means reducing their reliance on current systems and overcoming the issues of dealing with large, often inflexible, vendors who will deliver projects and upgrade software on their terms and at their own pace.

Because, make no mistake, the pressure is on and increasing. The bleak reality facing service providers, in the face of rising competition from web-scale companies, is that it is now or never to make that change happen. The alternative is a slow, lingering death wedded to existing ways of working and outdated business models.

Moving to a new model

To transform OSS/BSS systems service, providers must first look at their commercial and delivery models.

Operators need to completely rethink their traditional commercial models — these have become too inflexible to meeting new demands, too slow to change and too expensive to manage. These models are no longer fit to serve the market even adequately in an agile digital world where subscribers want everything to be instantly available on-demand. And adequately is a pretty low bar to set when customers expect excellence.

Today’s operators need new commercial models that can respond quickly to short-term goals and initiatives, and that can remove a reliance on never-ending service contracts that look at transformation projects in terms of years, rather than in months or even weeks.

Successful transformation also requires new delivery models. Currently, the web-scale companies possess an agility that is beyond that of the traditional telco service providers. This needs to change. By harnessing new processes such as DevOps and embracing the concept of microservices, operators can begin to replicate the agility of Internet companies.

By adopting these new commercial and delivery models, operators will not only be able to boost their rate of innovation, but they will also help consign to the past the industry-wide issue of vendor lock-in. By moving towards technologies which proliferate the use of DevOps and Open APIs, fewer vendors will be able to tie service providers down to lengthy contracts that actually serve to stifle and slow down innovation and experimentation.

Adopting a platform-based greenfield approach

Adopting the correct technologies is key to unlocking the rewards that digital business transformation can deliver today. And with that TM Forum blueprint of the future in mind, operators should approach transformation with a greenfield attitude; start afresh and remove the restrictions of legacy systems or culture in order to adopt a “digital first, customer first” approach.

Naturally, this does not mean that existing large-scale transformation projects should be abandoned, or systems switched off. Instead, new greenfield approaches mean operators can run these in parallel to the transformation of the legacy stack.

This greenfield approach drives the transition from a hardware and software stack environment to a world of real-time, automated digital platforms. These platforms deliver a best of both worlds in which operators can launch new services in as little as 14 weeks while still going ahead with longer-term transformation projects. This means operators can take advantage of a modular, API-driven approach and select which service or “platform component” they need on an ad-hoc basis. This not only enables much faster service delivery; it also significantly reduces the cost attached to digital transformation.

Perhaps most important of all, though, this open, best-of-breed, platform approach is the antithesis of big vendor lock-in. By embracing open technologies, and the use of open APIs, operators will be much better-placed to encourage partnerships, collaboration and technology-sharing opportunities. Ultimately, it is this open approach that will help create the innovation required in the telecoms industry.

5G and the IoT — the opportunity and the distraction

Making these changes though is as much about challenging the mind-set as it is about solving the technology challenges. The race to develop and deploy IoT and 5G networks — in order to reap that expected pot of gold — is capturing so much attention it is effectively reducing the focus on the transformation of BSS/OSS systems. That is a mistake from two perspectives.

Firstly, transformation using the greenfield, parallel platform approach can drive new revenue now. There is a pot of gold here already. Secondly, digital business transformation of OSS and BSS systems is must-have for operators if they are to really reap the benefits of their investment in IoT and 5G networks.

To be clear — there’s no doubt that digital transformation is hard, and it’s also clear that many operators are struggling with knowing where to begin. But the solution lies in adopting a greenfield attitude and removing the obstacles of traditional ways of working. By starting anew, with no pre-conceptions or notions in mind, operators can adopt the platforms, technologies and open APIs needed to innovate and experiment. They can roll out new services that may have otherwise taken years to deploy. What’s more, they can consign the issues of legacy systems and approaches to the past, and deliver today against the blueprint of the network of the future.

Tony Gillick is VP, Solutions Management at Openet.

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