In this interview Niall Norton, the chief executive of Openet, tells George Malim, the managing editor of VanillaPlus that, as 5G and virtualisation begin to emerge, communications service providers (CSPs) should already be approaching their vendor relationships in new ways. There’s no need to wait for these technologies to be widely deployed, a new relationship based on openness rather than the closed room of a super-sized deal can be fostered right now
George Malim: With all the attention either on 5G or virtualisation investment, how difficult is it for Openet to get attention from CSPs?
Niall Norton: Getting the attention isn’t too bad. You’ve just got to focus on delivering value and fixing short, and medium term, problems and that’s what we do. 5G is all well and good, and it’s an area that we’re investing in, but it’s not top of the list when we talk to CSPs. We talk about fixing current problems – such as maximising the return on the investment that CSPs have made on 4G. We talk about how CSPs can be more relevant to their customers, how they can quickly and cost effectively roll out new offers and adopt new business models. As for virtualisation, we were the first vendor to fully virtualise policy and real-time charging. It’s pretty much table stakes now, providing virtualised solutions is expected of all vendors.
GM: Do you think the arrival of these technologies presents an opportunity for the traditional vendor/CSP relationship to be broken, especially as commodity hardware becomes the norm?
NN: If the telecoms industry needs to wait till 5G is here to fix the traditional vendor/CSP relationship, then that is a sad state of affairs. The rate of change enabled by 4G is staggering. In the last year, we’ve seen CSPs becoming entertainment companies, banks and much more. A few years ago we supported about 30 use cases – now that figure is above 100. The change, and the speed of that change, that CSPs are going through can’t be supported by the old change request fixated, long and hugely expensive BSS transformation projects. Vendors need to more web scale – not just in their technology but their business processes and attitudes when dealing with CSPs and enabling them to change their businesses. Change is needed now. The CSPs cannot afford to wait for 5G to force the vendors to change.
GM: Is there a risk that the old model – and even its operational siloes – will be replicated in the new telecoms arena?
NN: That is the very risk we are trying to warn against. For far too long, the larger IT vendors have effectively locked CSPs into a system of super-sized deals. These deals are delivered over a number of years and see constant upgrades, and patches on a legacy systems regardless of historic faults, or suitability for the changing network environment. This is a circle of despair for the CSPs, their customers and those innovative companies that are trying to revolutionise service provision and CSP return on investment.
GM: How can CSPs get better value from their software vendors, especially as software is where the value now lies?
NN: By looking to change the dynamic and put the needs of the customer ahead of the ease of the vendor relationship. Instead of long running service contracts, operators should look for agile business partnerships that use internet-style pricing models and service provisioning. They must encourage a fast-moving culture, rather than settle for transformation projects that move at glacial speed. The internet market operates at a far greater pace than telecoms – so embrace that and don’t settle for second best in terms of speed, or quality of service delivery.
GM: Do you see new entrants with new models serving the new needs of the telecoms market or are there already too many players chasing too few opportunities?
NN: There is always room for new agile players to break into a market. But the hard truth of the BSS market is that the current vendors, and I include Openet in here, have failed to fully address the changing business needs of the CSPs, and have been slow to adopt new technologies that will allow them to offer better solutions.
We’ve committed to changing that. We’ve committed to a five-point plan to change the game. We’ve committed to being the change we believe the market needs, and to issuing a rallying call to CSPs and vendors alike to embrace the new reality, and make the leap to a new way of doing business.
GM: Do you think telecoms has become unattractive to innovators? Is R&D effort that might once have been directed at the telecoms industry being soaked up elsewhere?
NN: The telecoms market remains attractive to innovators and remains open to innovation on a grand scale. However, vendors and CSPs need to fully embrace innovation throughout their business model. This is about more than simply adopting new technology – it is about innovation in service delivery, relationship management, business practices and operational processes. It’s about embracing a change of thinking, not just a change of technology.
GM: How is Openet transforming to meet the needs of your customers as they adopt different modes of operation for the new era of telecoms?
NN: We’ve taken a fresh look at our business and how we interact with our customers. We are embracing a cultural, commercial and deployment model change. We changed our suite of services to offer greater degree of flexibility – a modular approach that allows operators to tailor solutions to their specific needs, and embrace an open source or open architecture environment, and integrate with legacy proprietary systems via open API (application programme interface) exposure. We say “no thanks” to vendor lock-ins and “yes please” to CSP choice. We’re looking to enable simplicity and provide agnostic expertise that can drive business insight. We want to change the game – and we want to help CSPs to move from a closed room to an open environment.