20 Jul

TM Forum: Use it, or lose it

Early in June, I donned my sunglasses and made my annual trip down to the sunny South of France to join colleagues, competitors and others at the TM Forum Live event in Nice.

TM Forum NiceLike many of my peers, this event provides a valuable opportunity to get together with those from a similar business background and talk about the things that interest us.

In fact, if you think about it, this is the only event where we can talk about precisely what interests us: “software needed to run a telco”.

Nowadays, such discussions have taken on a whole new dimension, because software is everywhere. It’s now impossible to talk about communications and telco networks without talking about software in one form or another.

In her blog post after she attended this year’s TM Forum event, Nancee Ruzicka from ICT intuition said that “a very wise man” once described software as being like natural gas.

You can’t see it or smell it but it can quickly blow up and kill you. There is no longer just a physical connection to worry about, but applications and data and other amorphous stuff and operators have to deliver and manage all of it,” she said.

To me, this resonates well in terms of what software means to telcos. And because TM Forum is one of the few places where telco software is the sole focus, this event is perhaps one of the most important dates on our calendar.

But I see danger signs. Vendors and carriers should both be paying attention to TM Forum, but vendors are increasingly taking the leadership here. Carriers are not putting their best foot forward, and the situation is getting skewed. The importance of TMF does not resonate well with the carriers and justification for attending will become even more difficult with constrained budgets.

At least, that is my perception – perhaps you disagree, and I’d welcome your views on this. My fear is that if we don’t make good use of TMF, we could end up losing it altogether. It would then be much harder to get it back.

The TM Forum is also changing meanwhile, but on the whole I think it’s doing what it needs to do. We cannot keep doing what we did 20 years ago. Things move on.

Some of the biggest indicators of change are the types of companies that are now taking part. Facebook is now a member of TM Forum, for example. What does that mean to telcos? We have talked about OTT players and unfair practices over the years. Maybe there is more we can talk about now, such as shared revenue streams. That OTT players have had a huge impact on telcos is now overwhelmingly clear.

The U.S. retail giant Walmart was also there. Why? I was told TMF was trying to inject new thinking and that telcos could learn a thing or two from other verticals. Not a bad idea for sure.

In general I think carriers need to show more leadership and continue the mindshare back home on the importance of TMF. When it comes to the TM Forum, we should use it and guide it, or we risk losing it.

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30 May

Is it business transformation or just another Frankenstein?

I am going to say it again: business transformation within telecoms as we understand it does not work, has not worked so far and will not work unless we fundamentally change what we want to do.
I have already discussed some of the issues that telcos really need to think about in my previous blogs. For example, customer experience may be at the heart of everything that a service provider strives to do, but this is not reflected in their personal interaction with customers. This is partly because telco back office systems are in chaos and have been for some years. That in turn has a dire impact on the quality of customer support that telcos can provide.

Let’s continue to dissect the transformation stories we have heard to date. A common belief is that looking for a new set of systems must be the right answer. “Our favourite brand vendors have a selection of them with many ‘established’ customers so it must be good,” you think. “Let’s get the best of the best and see what a great ecosystem we can build.

What you are actually doing is giving life to a new Frankenstein – in some cases replacing a former but at least familiar monster as you bring these new systems together.

Don’t get me wrong: I am on the vendor side, and getting the service provider to buy a new version of the same hammer is at the heart of what we are trying to do. But if I am going to get you to buy another hammer, it should be a different hammer, right? One with maybe a built-in GPS or so
mething and not a red hammer for a blue hammer. I know, I know US politics had to come in and give their two cents here ….

Next we have the idea of abandoning the legacy systems so it won’t interfere with our new ecosystem. But again: you are getting money from your legacy system; all your customers are on it. What makes you think you can ignore it while this is going on? Ignoring it until it goes away is never a good answer, I would think.

In fact, a coexistence strategy is a must as we introduce a new platform into the overall existing ecosystem, and we must be prepared to handle all of the ripples this will create.

Here is one possible key: why not introduce one system at a time into your current ecosystem and effect true innovative change? Assume it will take longer than the ROI you think you need to meet, or which the integration vendors have promised to achieve. Instead of focusing on the ROI, you have to prove that this core change will create a new pillar that can act as an anchor for the new ecosystem. It will provide a future where change is easier and faster to achieve, and drive new processes into the work place.

But Stop listening to the sales pitch. Prove it instead before you bring a new change. New processes in the work place? Now there’s a thought…

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