What It Takes To Become A Digital Service Provider [Industry Content Every Operator Should Read]

You have heard the many industry buzzwords: Digital transformation, automation, MANO, ZOOM, zero touch, real time, self-serve, dynamic services, agility, digital operations centers, Dev/Ops, omnichannel, customer centric, cloud, web scale… the list goes on and on. You might be transforming your operations to be considered a Digital Service Provider (DSP), but, what does that mean exactly? Where can you learn more? What are the key takeaways and critical success factors? Moreover, where can you access them?

First off, being a DSP means:

  • Orienting your business around any individual who consumes your service, not just the customer paying the bill.
  • Simplified onboarding processes for users and prospective users.
  • Seamless access to all operator services, cloud services, or OTT services with a single digital ID that is unique to each user.
  • End-to-end support of household hierarchies and delegated user access, managed by the users themselves.
  • Recognizing that each user will have a unique service experience that is guided by the user’s preferences, as well as the user’s inventory of services and related devices
  • The ability of the operator to monetize services based on real user activity data captured across all services offered by the operator.

Most MSOs & CSP’s are on the road to becoming a DSPs already, but they want to do so efficiently and effectively. And there are a lot of organizations, standards bodies, publications and industry groups publishing frameworks, guidelines and white papers on what to do and how to go about transforming.  

I am going to sum it up for you. In this post, I will provide an overview of the main ‘talking points’ and approaches being taken to become a DSP (capable of managing legacy, virtual/cloud and emerging infrastructures and technologies), where to go to access DSP information, and which standards bodies you should be paying attention to.

Essential Sources on Becoming a Digital Service Provider

I recommend these six content pieces to get you started:

Think of this blog post as the “cliff notes” version. I will summarize each of the sources and conclude with the main takeaways. These six articles will position you to lead discussions and help define your organization’s roadmap to becoming a DSP.

Heavy Reading Composable Telco

To remain competitive, MSOs & CSPs must be more agile and embrace the skills and attributes of ‘Web-Scale’ organizations. Software driven automation will be essential to long-term success and to create valuable digital services. Every company is building software that augments or replaces their physical products.  

The key findings of the report are:

  • Software composability is rapidly becoming a critical business capability
  • Network virtualization is obliterating the distinction between a network service provider and an IT (digital) service provider
  • Service-oriented software development, integration mechanisms, and service management are interlinked
  • A composable telco should have total freedom to integrate software components from any source
  • Open APIs have shortcomings that make them insufficient on their own to realize a composable telco vision
  • A metamodel that can make all software components look alike is key to composable integration
  • The metamodel landscape is highly fragmented

The main benefits of behaving like a ‘Web-Scale’ company are:

  • Greater flexibility and speed in executing business decisions
  • Faster customer-facing service creation
  • Incremental revenue through greater market reach
  • Provision of on-demand, personalized customer experience
  • Participation in the digital economy
  • Ability to support emerging dynamic value chains

The primary building blocks & enablers are:

  • To build or acquire software components that use a service-oriented approach
  • Having a method to integrate software components quickly and easily
  • Being able to manage compositions dynamically as they evolve
  • Micro-services software development paradigm
  • Open APIs
  • Meta-models
  • Standard/open source data modeling languages

ETSI MANO

NFV decouples software implementations of network functions from the computation, storage and networking resources they use. The decoupling exposes a new set of entities, the Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs), and a new set of relationships between them and the NFV Infrastructure (NFVI).  VNFs can be chained with other VNFs and/or Physical Network Functions (PNFs) to realize a Network Service (NS).

The Virtualized Management and Orchestration (NFV-MANO) architectural framework has the role of managing the NFVI and orchestrating the allocation of resources needed by the NSs and VNFs.  Such coordination is necessary now because of the decoupling of the Network Function software from the NFVI.

NFV-MANO alone cannot deliver all the NFV business benefits; it needs to integrate and interwork with other management entities for this purpose (e.g. OSS, BSS), using interfaces offered by those entities and providing its interfaces to be used by external entities.

For service providers to take full advantage of NFV, NFV-MANO solutions should be considered holistically alongside OSS/BSS integration and management requirements. Efforts are needed to ensure and support:

  • Open and consistent interfaces
  • Adaptive automation
  • Orchestration
  • Personalized services
  • Technology-driven innovation

End-to-end services management by OSS/BSS requires convergence on a standard approach to presenting management services and management information from both legacy network systems and NFV based systems. With this, accurate end-to-end management views can be derived.

AT&T ECOMP

AT&T’s Domain 2.0 (D2) program focuses on leveraging cloud technologies and network virtualization. This enables it to offer services while reducing Capital and Operations expenditures and achieving significant levels of operational automation. The ECOMP Software Platform delivers product/service-independent capabilities for the design, creation and lifecycle management of the D2 environment for carrier-scale, real-time workloads. It offers an enhanced customer experience by allowing near real-time reconfiguration of their network, services, and capacity.

At the heart of the capabilities enabled by the ECOMP platform are diverse workloads. The service design and creation capabilities and policy recipes eliminate many of the manual and long running processes performed via traditional OSSs.

The ECOMP key components and attributes are:

  • Closed look policy driven
  • Metadata driven
  • Layered architecture – Customer, Service, Resource
  • Real-time instantiation of VMs
  • Dynamic assignment, movement & control
  • Standards driven

Gartner Competitive Landscape: Digital Multichannel IT Solutions for CSPs

The key findings of Gartner Key Insights are:

  • The need to manage, create and bundle sophisticated digital services across multiple internal and external channels triggers CSPs investments in agile IT solutions that enable new revenue streams, accelerate time to market and drive significant operational efficiency.
  • Technology providers are responding to the complexity in both the digital enterprise and consumer services domains.
  • CSPs CIOs consider real-time, agile, digital IT solutions as pivotal strategic investments enabling effective product design and sales. The closed-loop operational tools are used to overcome traditional boundaries between CTO, CIO, and CMO.

Some recommendations for strategic planners are:

  • Positioning yourself as a CSP business and technology transformation enabler
  • Unifying cross-channel architectures for CSPs to offer flexible, on-demand based customer experience.
  • Helping CSPs reuse enforcement logic and dynamic service modeling across all customer channels.
  • Providing holistic, digital customer and service layer transformation solutions

Because products and services are more complex and often involve multiple touch points outside traditional organizations and functional boundaries, solutions will need to be composed and orchestrated.  

TMF Zoom

TM Forum’s ZOOM (Zero Touch Orchestration, Operations, and Management) addresses the complexities of VNF management and prescribes the application of DevOps principles to NetOps.  The primary attributes that need to be adapted to be successful in this are:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Automation
  • Integration

ZOOM outlines how to transform the current NetOps model to an enhanced one that drastically reduces the time and resources needed to introduce new services, and also improves a service provider’s ability to compete in the digital world.

The key focus areas of the ZOOM project are:

  • Establishing requirements for the vision – focusing on the strategic issues around NFV/SDN adoption.  
  • Planning the transformation and building the digital operations center of the future
  • Increasing agility – applying methodologies like DevOps to network operations
  • Developing the foundation – continuing to build on a solid framework (eTOM, customer, service and resource domain) and incorporating information, data and metamodels for end-to-end management.

ZOOM promotes standards, catalog-driven APIs and draws heavily on existing TM Forum assets like Frameworx, Digital Services Reference Architecture, and Digital Services Toolkit.

MEF 55 LSO

According to MEF’s Wiki, “Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) is an agile approach to streamlining and sustainably automating the service lifecycle for coordinated management and control across all network domains responsible for delivering an end-to-end Connectivity Service.”

MEF 55 defines a reference architecture that “describes the functional management entities needed to support LSO, and the Management Interface Reference Points between them.”  Included are design, fulfillment, control, testing, problem management, quality management, billing & usage, security, analytics, and policy.  

LSO uses TM Forum’s eTOM framework and positions the LSO functionality in the Service Domain. It is cross-referenced with the efforts of Standards Development Organizations and open source projects (e.g., ONF, ETSI NFV, IEEE, ITU-T, TMF, OPNFV, ODL, OpenStack, among others). The key attributes and principles of LSO are:

  • Agile approach
  • Reference Architecture and Framework
  • Functional management entities
  • Interface profiles and APIs
  • Automated & orchestrated
  • Common product, service, and resource abstractions & constructs

Intraway adapted MEF 55 LSO and applied much of the functionality and attributes to their Symphonica orchestration platform.

To sum it up

There you have it; six sources that give you a pretty complete overview, direction, and industry thinking on DSP, digital transformation, deploying and managing NFV/SDN and orchestration. I wholeheartedly recommend reading each one. When you triangulate all the content, you will agree with me when I say: The key to success as a DSP is defining guiding principles, agreeing on the objectives to pursue, and making sure the critical success factors follow (all outlined below).

As shared on the Intraway webinar, The Key to Monetizing Ethernet, the guiding principles of DSPs are:

  • Being customer centric
  • Delivering and supporting dynamic services
  • Automation
  • Zero/minimal touch
  • Self-serve, self-healing, managed
  • Real-time
  • Portal for all Stakeholders
  • The metrics/KPIs must be a byproduct of every transaction
  • System reliant vs. people reliant
  • Indisputable source of truth

DSP Objectives:

  • Ease of use
  • Improving efficiency per transaction of the fulfillment process or, in other words, the cost per transaction.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of the fulfillment process: attain higher throughput & quality at the Service Delivery team (error rate/reworks).
  • Reducing YoY operation cost growth (to cap and reduce operational costs)
  • Implementing a framework that allows increased agility in deploying new services (future IP & dynamic services) and making changes to existing ones.
  • Improving customer experience during the service lifecycle, setting the framework to support future operation models such as self-care, self-provisioning, and APIs for easier integration into analytics and advanced diagnostic tools.

DSP CSF’s

  • Embrace DSP philosophies
  • Define guiding principles
  • Adopt a framework (e.g. TMF eTOM)
  • Optimize processes
  • Define & deploy orchestration (LSO) platform
  • Define & deploy field tech/self-care tool/app
  • Choosing the right technology partner

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