Operators and vendors build collaboration capabilities to ease digital transformation

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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At the recent TM Forum Live! event in Nice, France, Huawei hosted a lively discussion involving operators, technologists and industry experts on the theme of building up digital operations and the ecosystem

Huawei logoEarlier this year, Huawei defined its ROADS experience model, which sets out a vision for users’ future interaction with and demands of operators. ROADS, which stands for “real-time, on-demand, all-online, DIY and social”, encompasses the technologies and skills operators will need to transform their operations for the digital era.

“The industry has been trying to build a digital operational framework but a framework alone won’t be sufficient,” Sean Liu, the chief branding officer of Huawei’s Carrier Business Group, has said. “What is needed is one open platform to integrate global resources for operations and we see that as addressing not just the obvious surface issues but all the capabilities operators need to run their businesses and serve their customers effectively.”

Liu has described the transformation journey as being composed of transformation of the business, operation, architecture and network and has suggested that operators start with five large initiatives focusing on video, IT, architecture, operation and their networks.

“Digital operation is the core of telecoms operations transformation,” Liu has explained, pointing out that Huawei is open to the digital ecosystem and is willing to enable it by enabling the sharing of telecoms operating systems as a platform for digital economy by adapting upstream applications and downstream infrastructure so it works in harmony and efficiently for all the partners involved.

Dr Sun, Huawei

Dr Dong Sun, Huawei: transformation is end-to-end and 
must be led from the top down

His colleague, Dr Dong Sun, the chief architect of digital transformation at Huawei, sees the building up of digital operations and the ecosystem as having impacts across the entire business.

“This transformation is end-to-end and must be led from the top down,” he said, speaking at TM Forum Live! “For that reason we look to partner with the senior leaders – normally chief executives – who have the financial and operational capabilities to drive exciting transformation throughout their businesses.”

Dr Sun sees the need for greater partnership between operators and their suppliers and hosted the event at TM Forum Live! to explore what goes in to making digital operation effective and what is involved in making the digital ecosystem work.

The first speaker to take the floor was Dr Haiping Che, the chief technology officer and vice president of the carrier software business unit at Huawei. Dr Che said that Huawei is focused on being operators’ partner to help them have a successful digital transformation.

“To make this digital transformation journey a success, we work together with partners to build guidelines,” he said. “It’s very important that telecoms companies do self-assessment on the maturity model and define benchmarks and we are working with TM Forum to create a new generation digital architecture.”

Dr Che emphasised the value of the TM Forum’s API manifesto, launched at the show. “With such APIs, the whole ecosystem can be developed in future,” he added. “The API sandbox environment should mean that more partners come in.”

Next to speak was Pascal Viginier, the executive vice president and group CIO of Orange. Viginier said that Orange has chosen two key verticals to deliver growth – mobile banking and internet of things (IoT).

“In both verticals we need to be a more powerful ecosystem than our competitors and we expect each are to be generate €0.5bn by 2020,” he explained. “That’s why we’re investing both in people and here at TM Forum Live! We’ve participated in 29 catalyst projects in the last few years and IT is now at the heart of our company.”

Continuing the operator theme, Cristina Álvarez, the CIO of Telefónica Spain, spoke of the operator’s aspiration to be an online telco. “In trying to increase revenues we don’t distinguish between traditional and digital anymore,” she said. “Cost saving takes up much of my time today because if you can’t increase revenues, you have to address costs but we’re transforming how we work and we are re-assessing how to change the minds of our 30,000 people.”

“Our priorities are defined in a customer view but another lesson we have learned in the last two or three years is that you don’t always need to have perfect technology,” she added.

“For example, three years ago we decided to launch a quad play offer, but we didn’t have convergent systems even though we soon had more than four million convergent customers. Instead of us as IT saying no, we changed our minds and made the decision to bring the convergent offering to market within four months. It’s not perfect but we can address the issues with incremental improvements.”

Critically, Telefónica was able to address the market’s thirst for convergent services without going through a complex multi-year convergent systems deployment which may well have been cost prohibitive as well as too slow to cater for market demand.

“We have a huge legacy and we can’t afford to say forget about it and ask the board for €100m,” she said. “The reality is that my budget is flat for the next four years so let’s see what we can do within the constraints.”

The next operator executive to speak was Jenny Huang, the head of the OSS/BSS standards strategy group within the standards and industry alliances group at AT&T. “Our mission is to do digital transformation better than anyone else,” she said. “Two years ago we announced to the world that we’re becoming a software-based company using cloud, SDN and NFV. To do that, we’ll go multi-vendor, especially with virtualisation, because we need not just a handful of vendors to bring innovation to us.”

Vodafone is another operator that is pushing forward with its transformation, moving to a purely virtualised network and deploying a truly cloud native OSS. “Our Vodafone Ocean digital transformation [programme] is an open, multi-vendor, iterative approach to NFV and SDN,” explained Lester Thomas, the chief systems architect at Vodafone Group.

“We’ve started with the infrastructure layer and underpinning services on our biggest operators are running on virtualised network elements. The feedback is that it’s ready, robust and reliable.

“In our BSS layer, we’re building cloud native BSS,” he added. “At the moment we have systems that are tied to physical infrastructure but you don’t get the full benefits by just virtualising a system, that doesn’t make it elastic or self-healing. The target is that systems will be built from the ground up to use cloud services and we’re doing a lot of work here with our friends in Huawei.”

The discussion then turned to the organisational and cultural challenges operators face in their digital transformations. For some, these will be at least as difficult to solve as the technical issues.

“Digital disruption creates a revolution in customer jobs and a fundamental re-orientation of existing value chains,” said Christian Kelly, a managing director with Accenture. “Different people will be required in different configurations to do customer jobs.”

Dr Sun agreed with Kelly and anticipates increased collaboration between operators and suppliers. “We have to build capabilities together to move forward,” he said. “Operators have to share the same will to transform and be serious about change in their company. I would advise starting small to ensure the whole transformation is agile and that results can be achieved quite rapidly but each partner operator has a different strategy and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Huawei is planning to focus its attention on 200-300 initial partners as it seeks to develop a new model for operational transformation. “We don’t want to talk at this point about working with all the operators,” he said. “That will follow in time but we have to be concrete on the starting point and that will involve creating near-term business benefits, results have to be shown very quickly and it certainly can’t take three-to-five years to get a result.”

Dr Sun also thinks that transformation should be led from the top down because of the level of disruption to the skills base and personnel resources of an operator that it will involve.

“The most important part is the people,” he confirmed. “It is very important we have this joined environment that brings together communities of skills. Huawei is very familiar with the new technologies but operators are more familiar with their operations so we have to bring the new technology and combine it with new processes.”

Commenting on the discussion, Dr Sun said: “We see three key things as vital to successful transformation. One is to look at transformation from an end user perspective. Understand what is the root cause or the driving force for the transformation; it’s not only about the operator’s needs but also about user experience aka ROADS in the digital era.

“Another aspect is in how to develop a new system by changing and updating the operational model. That’s an essential part of the organisational challenge. Finally, the ecosystem is critical to the success of the business. The whole transformation is being worked upon in order to enable the digital ecosystem and we should not lose sight of that.”

Learning to work more closely together to create that ecosystem is both the goal and the challenge facing operators and their vendor partners. “I don’t think operators, even if they start small can do it all themselves, they need partners to help them get going,” Sun added, highlighting the collaborative, partnering approach that efficient digital transformation demands.