Rapid assembly of services will be the key differentiator for telcos striving to beat out cable, entertainment and Internet companies encroaching on their customer bases says Brian Naughton
Telecom carriers will have to go through a significant metamorphosis as the lines blur among telecom, entertainment, retail, and Internet domains. In hotly contested triple- and quad play markets, carriers must become customer service providers (CSPs) capable of making the transition from me-too services to truly converged, on-demand services that differ from those offered by MSOs and non-traditional competitors.
To achieve that end, CSPs will have to work with third-party developers to create scores, if not hundreds, of niche services that leverage their substantial investments in IP networks. After all, they laid the fibre to enable voice, video and data to come together over the same connection in very short time frames. That unique ability should enable CSPs to create prodigious catalogues of converged services without disrupting the underlying architecture.
The goal should be the rapid assembly of services. To that end, a mindset change will be necessary. Carriers will have to move away from the staid and stodgy belief that service launches must take months or years, to a mindset that products can be rolled out in hours, if not minutes.
That will require CSPs to move into a manufacturing mindset, where the concepts of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) come to fruition. The marriage of the two enables hundreds, if not thousands, of services to be rolled out in an “assembly line” fashion.
In the same way that the car manufacturing industry illustrates components for new products in CAD systems, carriers can illustrate the components of new products and move service “components” along an “assembly line” to CAM systems, where coding, rules and algorithms can be determined automatically.
The lifecycle management enabled by the CAD and CAM principles is now beginning to burgeon in telecom. In other words, the knowledge of bundling will be removed from existing systems and centralised in a location in which all service and product building blocks can be modelled within a “workbench” environment.
That reflects somewhat the precepts of service-oriented architecture (SOA), which promulgates the interchangeable use of building blocks among applications.
“While SOA has been hyped for many years as a common framework for segmenting operations and coupling services, the reasons for it are far more compelling now,” says Larry Goldman, co-founder and senior analyst with OSS Observer. “The Internet has created an expectation of immediate gratification, so carriers have to figure out how to roll out services at the time of demand.”
After heavy investments in IP networks, Goldman believes operators have to concentrate on the software side of the equation. “CSPs should focus on re-use within their execution environments. That means services must be decoupled from networks for integration with business processes.”
Goldman says carriers can then begin to drive re-use –not only of common data models, but of formats, naming conventions, interfaces, and design processes across the organisation.
To galvanise the concept of ‘re-use’, CSPs must break back-office silos down into components that represent operational elements of network and IT systems, as well as product, service and resource specifications. These components can ultimately be turned into loosely coupled “building blocks” for interchangeable use across different services and products.
As carriers create a library of building blocks, SOA environments become true service delivery platforms (SDP) from which new functionality can be driven (i.e., SIP capabilities around presence, location and more advanced voice mail services that can be used in creative product bundles). By implementing common SIP servers for applications needing connectivity over IP networks, carriers can procure data from disparate sources so that billing authorisation and billing detail are consistent across the organisation.
As new services are created through increasingly agile SDPs and execution environments, CSPs will have to simultaneously orchestrate changes within OSS/BSS applications. The complexity of orchestration for dynamic services will require full automation of activation, ordering and billing processes so that fulfilment and assurance processes can seamlessly work for new service rollouts.
Within the TeleManagement Forum’s Product & Service Assembly (PSA) Initiative, an independent consortium of leading telcos and vendors has been working to develop a revolutionary IT reference architecture to satisfy the burgeoning need to standardise and simplify the way that products and services are designed, assembled and delivered. This reference architecture incorporates the CAD/CAM manufacturing approach by enabling the creation of “building blocks,” which carriers can assemble into service or product offerings.
At the heart of the IT reference architecture is an active catalogue that is a design-and-assembly environment within which service components can be defined and configured without any need for writing code. This catalogue aligns service design and creation with service execution so that product managers can decouple management of product lifecycles from OSS, BSS and network engineering.
Within the building-blocks lies is a rich library of components and products through which product managers and architects can drive dependencies, prerequisites, exclusions and visual metaphors about service components.
“We have leveraged our deep understanding of the fulfilment process as well of that of our customers and partners to define components that could be used interchangeably across services and functions,” says Simon Osborne of Axiom Systems, one of the founders of the PSA Initiative, noting that Cable & Wireless, BT, TeliaSonera, Atos Origin, Huawei, and Oracle have worked to define the building blocks.
To simplify the definition and configuration of services using those building blocks, a visual and intuitive GUI has been created for product managers to view loosely coupled composites or aggregate services, as well as for IT to create, test and publish components for re-use across the organisation.
The essence of the IT reference architecture is that it has been designed with a “bilateral” top-down/bottom-up approach in mind.
“This IT reference architecture empowers marketing professionals to define service components without having to go through IT departments, and enables IT to use pre-tested business options and variants to drive component use across the organisation,” comments Osborne.
For example, ringtone downloads, VoIP, VoD, and find-me services each require their own sets of fundamental parameters around availability, order-taking and activation. However, there inherently exists overlap in what each service requires. The active catalogue helps carriers to leverage that fact by establishing interchangeable building blocks in one catalogue that can then be rearranged to support other services as well. Rather than having to write new code to launch each new service, carriers can specify necessary attributes in reasonably basic forms so that one catalogue and order-handling system can handle many different services.
Simon Farrell, IT Architect, Cable & Wireless comments: “We can define residential VoIP and the prerequisites for broadband DSL, and are able to stitch together relationships among end points to execute on fulfilment request” - demonstrating that graphical representations, such as a ‘green light’ for ‘it’s a go’ or ‘red light’ for ‘outstanding dependencies’ enables C&W to assemble end-points that must exist on the enterprise service bus (ESB).
In other words, there are distinct interfaces, order types and end points specific to any services that are to be fulfilled. Through the interface, the active catalogue provides an environment for modelling end points into an assembly landscape that defines relationships and polices exceptions or dependencies.
“A residential home triple play service that requires a broadband and VoIP server, as well as IPTV server, will rely on rules around what third parties must be called upon to provide that hardware, and in what sequence those systems should be called upon,” explains Osborne. “That sets the stage for how data travels interface to interface as the service transitions through the lifecycle.”
While the active catalogue does not run every task, it calls the service end points that, in turn, run the processes externally. “This active catalogue provides a way of defining the end point and rules around those endpoints, so fulfilment dynamically figures out what end points to call upon,” he says.
As orders are fulfilled through the active catalogue, the software creates an inventory of pre-existing capabilities for end users. The software records against every instance of an order, using the same language that was modelled at service end points. Ultimately, that means CSPs end up with rules sets that are usable for up-sell and cross-sell capabilities. “If 35 per cent of customers have a certain type of access, CSPs can target them with new services that tie to that type of access,” notes Osborne.
In the long run, that ability drives versioning and lifecycle management. “If a service is to be deployed for only six months, there can be published rules stating that the service will be decommissioned in a certain time period, and warnings can be issued at the end of the period to those parties with bundled components.”
That can be particularly important among partners who are re-branding wholesale offerings, or for inter-departmental strategies at large telcos, where orchestrating processes can be complex. “Ultimately, you get a federation of catalogues with clear demarcation of where the SLAs are among different departments,” Osborne explains. With a federation of catalogues, CSPs start to create a topology through which all catalogues and associated end points can be referenced for more intelligent cross-sell and up-sell actions.
To ensure there is an accurate model of infrastructure, this revolutionary IT reference architecture has been designed to sit on top of most major network resource management systems (inventory) that serve as databases of record for carriers.
The architecture can serve as the foundation for collaboration among product managers, service and network engineers, as well as operational communities. By creating a central point for standardising multiple vendors' products, carriers can move closer to the SOA principles they strive to embrace.
As carriers continue to expose their design environment to different departments and customers, they can begin to truly “mass market” the configuration of products. That sets the stage for commonality in how components, access controls and security measures are employed across the enterprise and partner environments.
As that commonality grows, carriers can get closer to self-service in management of product and service lifecycles. Then, they can be better positioned to create value-adds in their IP services domain—especially if they can roll out sophisticated services in a matter of hours, or even minutes.
For further information about the IT reference architecture and the active catalogue, please visit www.psainitiative.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Naughton is VP Strategy & Architecture, Axiom Systems