Service providers want to leverage the benefits of network functions virtualization (NFV) and more broadly, cloudification. But doing so means more than embracing new technologies. It means changing how they work, how they organize, and how they train and hire.
New Ways of Working
Over-the-top players display service innovation with amazing speed and volume. This agility threatens traditional communications service providers, and they must respond by changing how they work. Some examples of change include:
- Agile development: this approach replaces the traditional waterfall model of specify, code, unit test, system test, field test, and mass deployment with a shorter and cross-functional approach. In its ideal implementation, agile development includes both the service provider, their suppliers, and their customers.
- DevOps (short for development operations): DevOps is the machinery that ensures that rapid and cross-departmental development and deployment of software is mechanized and repeatable.
- Fail Fast: The application of agile development and DevOps reduces the time and cost of developing new services — all of which reduces their implicit risk. Service providers can now be more aggressive in developing services. They can take more shots at the market, feed the winners, and kill the losers. Moving to this model means changing from the old mindset of having to get everything right, to one that embraces a reasonable amount of failure.
New Organization and Behavior
The workflow changes described above are necessary, but they are just a start. The larger organization must also change:
- Partnering: The old view of a supply chain is gone. Now there must be a cooperative win-win partnership between the service provider, their suppliers, and their customers. This collaboration includes development of features as well as new commercial models such as revenue sharing and pay-as-you-go.
- Cross-functional teams: Agile development, DevOps, and partnering all require that operational silos be broken down. Operational groups have to cooperate to ensure that the service provider can move quickly enough to remain competitive.
- Openness: In the new cloud-centric world there is an expectation of transparency and openness. This openness needs to include specifications, pricing, service application program interfaces (APIs), and software in the form of open source efforts.
New Skill Sets Means Training and Hiring
New ways of working and organizing require new skills that may be not be present in a service provider. What skills do service providers need, and how do they go about acquiring those skills?
- Software is king: Software is what enables the change from slow and steady to rapid innovation. Service providers need to ramp up their ability to develop, test, and deploy software using modern development tools and languages.
- Fresh thinking is needed: A key part of any innovation story is hiring new talent to help implement new technologies and methodologies. However, new staff may not fully understand the requirements of communications networks.
- Old dogs can learn new tricks: The goal of embracing cloudification is to improve the delivery of communications services. Nobody understands the customers and the services they need better than the current employees. Investments in training those employees preserves that valuable domain knowledge so that it can be applied to the new world of cloud-centric services.
Change is Happening Now
The changes described above sound daunting. Even so, they are achievable, and innovative service providers are already tackling them. Are you seeing these changes too? Talk to your peers in the industry and you’ll get an idea of the challenges and the work in progress to address them.