April 17, 2017 | Written by: Craig Farrell
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I made a mistake. I admit it. I have learned from it and will endeavor to fix it. What did I do? I let my customer down.
Recently, I received a Request for Proposal (RFP) from an operator to take over one of their legacy services. The time-division multiplexing (TDM) service relied on old network equipment built by a manufacturer that was no longer in business. The operator no longer supported the service because the personnel familiar with the equipment had retired and it was becoming increasingly difficult to source replacement components. Given these issues, the communications service provider (CSP) had decided to see if one of their vendor partners could do any better.
Our team conducted the due diligence and concluded that we had the same issues as the operator. Any staff familiar with this equipment had retired and we could not find a reliable supplier for components, so we were unable to provide a response to the RFP.
This is where I made a mistake. The right thing to do would have been to take over the service, migrate the workload to an equivalent cloud-based IP service and shut the legacy service down. Instead of using this RFP as a trigger for transformation, neither the operator nor the vendor community recognized the opportunity.
Industry-wide resistance to change
This example highlights a cultural problem pervasive in the telecommunications industry. While they may say they need to change, both operators and vendors are conservative by nature and tend to avoid or even resist the opportunity to transform parts of their business – even when it is the best route.
In fact, we often don’t recognize opportunities to transform. The urge to fix the problem, restore and maintain the status quo – all to protect short-term profits and margins – is very strong.
Yet, it also hurts our industry, making operators weaker and less adaptable to change.
Four opportunities for transformation occur when:
- Delivering a new service on cloud infrastructure using software-defined networks (SDNs) and network function virtualization (NFV) components.
- Operators buy and install individual components, devices or pieces of infrastructure that can be implemented in software, rather than as network equipment such as routers, load balancers, firewalls, etc.
- CSPs renew, prolong or otherwise invest in legacy equipment or services.
- An operator has multiple systems performing the same function in different stacks within the IT infrastructure.
From opportunity to change: a “start small and grow approach”
Once an opportunity is recognized, it is important to propose a “start small and grow approach” that allows for the migration to the new IP cloud equivalent services – meaning the operator is transforming their business processes and production workloads.
For example, an approach such as strategic redirection could have been used to start the transformation and migration process when maintaining a legacy service. Strategic redirection works by intercepting the incoming service orders and making an on-the-fly decision if the order can be fulfilled by the new replacement service in its current state.
If there is no coverage or required features are not yet available, the order will flow through to the legacy service as before. If the order can be fulfilled using the new service in its current state, then the order is redirected. Eventually, all new orders for the legacy service can be fulfilled by the new replacement service and the focus can shift to migrating existing customers to the new service before retiring the legacy service.
If the telecommunications industry is going to make successful transformations from TDM to IP, from legacy to cloud-based SDN/NFV or transform to become more like digital service providers, we must be diligent in identifying the trigger points to make changes and advance new services.
See also — What makes a ‘living network‘? Find out here.
Dr. Craig Farrell is the VP and Chief Technology Officer, Global Telecom Industry at IBM.