May 2018 saw the launch of Digital Transformation World, the industry event formerly known as TM Forum Live! As you would expect from an event focused on digital transformation, key themes monopolizing conversations included: How to enable digital partnerships and ecosystems and support platform-based approaches; open APIs; automation, especially in the context of SDN/NFV; and the role of AI and data analytics in supporting pretty much everything.
The future is already here – but not every CSP has grasped it
Digital Transformation World was less concerned with product or service announcements than it was with highlighting collaborative proofs-of-concept (PoCs) and hands-on examples of communications service provider (CSP) implementations. This focus makes sense given that Ovum research suggests that almost 75% of CSPs have digital transformation projects in progress or already completed.
At this year's event, a significant number of case studies and catalyst projects addressed AI-driven customer-centric operations, automated or autonomous network and service operations, and the use of open APIs to help abstract CSP platforms and services. Reliance Jio, for example, attracted a lot of attention for a presentation on how it is taking advantage of open APIs and open source-based architecture to transform operations. Although, of course, not every CSP has the advantage of Reliance Jio's greenfield starting point.
There was also a strong cultural transformation and collaboration theme to many of the service provider presentations and conversations, neatly summarized by the Verizon CIO's insistence that operators have much to "unlearn" about the way they go about things. Significantly, several CIO/CTO conference keynotes stressed the need for partnering and collaborative approaches.
It was noticeable that 5G monetization and network slicing also figured in considerably more conversations this year, and there was also a 5G Intelligent Service Operations catalyst project that demonstrated slice-based services using a Tour de France use case.
Probably the most talked-about catalyst at this year's event was the catchily-titled Blade Runner project championed by AT&T, BT, Du, NTT, Orange, TIM, Verizon, and Vodafone. Although no replicants were involved, the project is a PoC of end-to-end orchestration and closed-loop assurance of cloud services across diverse ecosystems, something that is arguably futuristic enough to justify the use of the sci-fi title.
Like Blade Runner, several of the catalysts had a network or service automation element to them, but there were also a large number focused on more customer-centric use cases, as well as a Blockchain Unleashed catalyst demonstrating distributed ledger technology use cases. Looking ahead, we can expect to see more media and entertainment-related catalyst projects in future, due to the collaboration agreement the TM Forum has just signed with the IBC.
Disappointingly, the TM Forum did not provide any major updates on the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) initiative it unveiled in February. The TM Forum clearly continues to do good work, especially with its open APIs program, but will need to make more public announcements to show there is momentum behind the ODA initiative.
NFV, MANO, and Next-Generation OSS, SPT002-000075 (April 2018)
Applying AI Technologies to Improve CSP Network Management, IT0012-000206 (July 2017)
"Telco open source MANO initiatives multiply, but expectations must be managed," SPT001-000020 (April 2018)
Kris Szaniawski, Practice Leader, Telecom Operations and IT