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How to minimize manual time and maximize time introducing new services

Telecom networks are complex structures. So complex that any interference in the current “status quo” is often met with an unwarranted resignation among telecom operators. Energy and focus is being invested in maintaining the networks and running them manually instead of taking steps towards automation leading to lower operating costs and increased robustness of the network.

But every other industry today would not have survived had it not taken steps towards automation of routine tasks in order to gain in profitability and time savings. In the telecoms industry, however, automation of network management is at best rare, at worst non-existent. It forces the operators to put a lot of energy and resources into just keeping the networks up and running. Too much resources. This is reflected in the general low number of new services and innovation level in the telecommunications industry today.

But we believe this scenario can be changed by attacking the many myths that still permeates the telecom sector today, such as:

  • “Our network is so complex that it is impossible to automate.”
  • “Changing our network would involve excessive risks”.
  • “The transformation of our network will take a very long time and cost significantly more than it tastes. We simply do not have the time to look over our network right now”.

The “too-complex-myth”

There is an understanding in the telecoms industry that automation is the way to go in order to make time available for developing new services. It should not take 18-24 months for each new service to be implemented, but it usually does that because operators all energy is occupied in maintaining the daily delivery, while they at the same time experience declining margins in the existing business.

To be able to reverse this situation, operators must become more innovative and agile in their service packaging. In this situation they cannot be limited by technology or structures. One important factor in releasing the innovation power is detaching the hardware from the service development and provisioning. That is a prerequisite for creating faster innovation cycles that operators need. This requires “network harmonization”, where an abstraction layer is created between the network and the systems above. The major benefits of this approach are twofold:

  • The abstraction layer isolates the overlaying OSS and BSS systems from the network structure. By doing this, the introduction of services is considerably faster as the systems in the OSS/BSS layer do not need to consider how new or changed services are realized in the network.
  • The automation makes network changes in minutes instead of weeks or even months. This is especially valuable in large and complex networks using many network technologies and topologies.

And this does not require that the whole current network structure needs to be abandoned in one swift “big bang” solution.

The “big bang myth”

One can understand that the belief of a need for a “big bang” approach creates a kind of paralysis, and a “wait-and-see” attitude easily wins. You know what you have, but not what you will get. The technicians, who are often busy keeping the networks up and running, raise their concerns and stall the process. This is usually done as a self-protective measure, but not seldom because they want to maintain their position as “the Masters of the Network”. Consequently the whole process easily comes to a halt.

However, we believe that the risk does not lie in the automation of the networks. The greatest risk is to continue to maintain time-consuming manual processes and allow competitors to get ahead with greatly improved profitability and innovation power as a result.

The “transformation will take a long time myth”

The key is to take into account the concerns that major changes raise and take small steps in the right direction instead of thinking massive overhaul projects. It is both possible and so much better to start “somewhere” than “nowhere”. But where to start then?

Step one is to start automating a small manual task in the chain of processes in a network. Such a task could be:

  • A specific service, for example a corporate or private client service
  • A part of the network, such as a geographic area
  • A specific network layer, such as MPLS nodes, access switches or end-user equipment
  • A specific function, such as the rollout of new hardware

Or perhaps a combination of several of these tasks: e.g. Automation of the access switch configuration for end-users in a particular city.

Conclusion. We believe that the technical staff should minimize the time they spend on routine tasks. They should instead use their valuable skills to defining the standardized components, which the sales organization can use to build their offerings upon. On top of that an automated network provides an opportunity to test new services ad-hoc to see which ones are appreciated by the end-customers.