Becoming the tigers of tomorrow
Earlier this year during a CXO Summit at Digital Transformation World in Nice, we asked a room of telecoms C-levels which animal they would choose to describe the telecoms industry today. Their answers included elephant, sloth, whale and hippopotamus – all large, slow-moving animals. When asked which animal the telecoms industry should be, the same executives chose tigers, cheetahs and foxes – all agile creatures known for speed.
This creative way of thinking about the industry is a damning but not surprising indictment. For longer than we would like to remember, the telecoms industry has been viewed as the “dumb pipe” – letting more nimble players get rich from users accessing their services on wholesale mobile networks, says Mark Newman, chief analyst, TM Forum.
Thankfully, times are changing – and CSPs know they must change if they are to survive in a 5G world. Today, the relationship between CSPs and suppliers has never been closer. Vendors with the technical know-how are collaboratively working with CSPs to bring about the profound transformation needed to improve agility and support deployment and monetisation of 5G.
But despite tightening relationships, CSPs still feel that vendors need to work harder to help CSPs’ customers succeed. In fact, according to a TM Forum’s CTIO Outlook Report which analysed results of the survey taken at the summit, 56% of attendees admitted to feeling as though vendors are only interested in winning business and do not care about CSPs’ success.
This sentiment must change – CSPs and vendors need each other’s business today and increasingly for the future. What must both sides do to initiate this change?
Agile with 5G
The telecoms industry is united in its enthusiasm for 5G – but when it comes to monetising and delivering 5G services, the industry is divided. One widely held belief is that revenue growth opportunities with 5G will come from the enterprise market, rather than from consumer services.
To make the most of these enterprise opportunities, operators must go beyond simply deploying 5G network elements, and focus on building 5G ecosystems to help them monetise services and engage with customers and vendor partners. This need to establish ecosystems has generated considerable industry buzz about platform-based capabilities and agile DevOps working practices.
As the telco industry embraces virtualisation and software defined networking (SDN), the lines between networks and IT continue to blur. It’s no wonder that CSPs want to adopt DevOps approaches to reduce costs, increase automation and accelerate time to market.
Despite this willingness, making agile software development a success for the telecoms industry is easier said than done. 57% of attendees at the CXO Summit cited legacy systems as the biggest hurdle for agile software development. This isn’t a surprise, telcos are notorious for their hodgepodge of siloed legacy IT systems. Success with DevOps happens with agile IT systems that are interoperable enough for the entire workforce to use – the antithesis of the siloed and complex telecoms networks of today.
47% of attendees also cited a lack of software skills as a significant hurdle to agile development. This hurdle is somewhat of a catch-22. Many operators view implementing DevOps as the golden opportunity to improve expertise and capabilities internally, to an end where CSPs can install and operate their own end-to-end systems without relying on a vendor. But, rather ironically, IT-savvy vendors are indispensable in helping CSPs get to that autonomy.
Cracks in close partnerships
The single biggest hurdle standing in the way of agile development is the nature of today’s vendor and CSP partnerships.
CSPs enthusiasm for agile software delivery isn’t always shared by vendor partners. Legacy vendors, with product portfolios created before the cloud computing era have difficulties catering to modern networks. This results in frustration from CSPs wanting to abandon old ways of working.
Even when vendors can offer help in agile development, some CSP partners dismiss it. The recent TM Forum Time to kill the RFP? Reinventing IT procurement for the 2020s report found that some CSPs do not even consider working with third-party vendors for agile development.
Strains in the relationship between vendors and CSPs can often be traced back to the flawed – and outdated – procurement process typically used throughout the industry. The process can take up to two years and entails lots of commitment and effort to draft strategy documents and RFPs – this creates tension and frustration.
The competitive nature of the procurement process, combined with the lengthy requirements of CSPs, often forces vendors to describe their capabilities in general and inadequate ways. This comes back to haunt relationships after contracts are signed as vendors are found to be ill-fit for purpose, and incapable of meeting the real needs to the operator.
The gradual evolution
Operators understandably want to start embracing agile software development – doing so will be vital to 5G’s success. But they shouldn’t try to walk before they run. CSPs need to work with the right vendor partners, which means they need to have a clear vision and understanding of what must change and the kind of partner that will help them transform
The future for CSPs looks bright. 5G, IoT and other new opportunities will help them become the tigers they want to be – but a sloth can’t transform into a tiger overnight. Continually building and strengthening relationships with vendor partners will be the ticket for CSPs to reach their transformation goals.
The author is Mark Newman, chief analyst, TM Forum