By Dr. Andy Tiller, Executive Vice President, Collaboration & Innovation, at TM Forum

The digital pie is getting bigger but communication service providers’ (CSP) share of it is shrinking.

Networks are getting more complex and, as such, the cost of managing them is growing.

Meanwhile, competition and the demand for ubiquitous connectivity is driving down data prices, eroding profit margins and lengthening the time it takes for new infrastructure to pay back.

This in turn slows the cycle of innovation.

Put simply, CSPs are at a crossroads and in desperate need of revenues to grow.

The good news is there is a window of opportunity open for CSPs to move beyond connectivity and embrace new opportunities for growth.

To address this, the industry is radically simplifying and automating core business operations to deliver the agility and efficiency needed to compete in today’s market.

This is urgent work that will enable CSPs to benefit from the myriad opportunities presented by the digital market.

As laid out by Horacio Gabriel Goldenberg, Group Chief IT Architect at Telefónica: “Change, until now, has been slow across the industry.

“This can no longer be the case, evolution is critical to any CSP that wishes to play a leading role in a burgeoning, global digital ecosystem.”

To do this, CSPs are in the process of reimagining the systems we currently refer to as OSS and BSS, adopting the latest cloud native practices.

A new architecture for IT and operations – designed as a coherent whole, across traditional boundaries between BSS, OSS and network – is needed for CSPs to realise the promised benefits of the game-changing technologies and methodologies.

These include virtualisation, cloud computing, DevOps, AI, 5G network slicing – the list goes on.

In the old days, building the network was something you did as a separate activity from operating the network. 

Once built, the capabilities of the network were pretty static.

The network provided a defined set of services that could be built into a set of products, and could then be ordered by end customers. 

The relatively static nature of the network allowed OSS functions such as provisioning and activation, and BSS functions such as order management and CRM, to be decoupled and kept separate from each other in neat silos.

Today, things are radically different. 

The virtualised network can, in principle, be continuously reconfigured and operated in a DevOps fashion. 

This means that the services offered by the network can be changed dynamically; for example, through on-boarding new Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and creating new network slices. 

Therefore, CSPs can create new products to sell on the fly. 

But to exploit this potential, the lifecycle processes associated with the network and services have to be automated. 

Manual operations are too slow and clunky, not to mention expensive.

In practice, this means that the boundaries between OSS/BSS and network management and orchestration must be removed.

That’s why TM Forum has launched the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) - a blueprint for an IT system to enable greater agility for digital service providers.

It represents a standardised way for CSPs to adopt agile, cloud-based technologies and operations practices to support their transformation.

A coherent whole system, ODA provides a common language, standard data models and open APIs for interoperability of component parts, not only within the discreet domains of network and IT, but across the boundaries between the two.

Developed collaboratively by the world’s largest telecom operators and their partners, including software and infrastructure suppliers and systems integrators, ODA provides a way to enable constant cycles of rapid innovation, automation and experimentation with new services and business models that support open digital ecosystems, while also improving efficiency and flexibility of the core business to remain profitable.

This is critical if CSPs and their partners are to realise the benefits of game-changing technologies and methodologies.

For example, typically today a new network capability would have to wait for a complete system release before it can be supported in every system and made available to end consumers.

With ODA’s nonstop automatic onboarding and catalogue-based approaches, new network services can be available to product designers in hours and days, not months.

Few of these techniques are in themselves revolutionary, but combining them in a standardised and open way enables the realisation of their potential

The companies working on ODA are excited about the architecture’s potential.

According to David Green, Lead Telecoms Partner for Technology Strategy and Architecture at Deloitte: “This is an important step for the evolving telecommunications sector.

“Having an industry standard for digital architecture will be crucial for organisations that are looking to modernise and simplify their systems and processes.”

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