The long-standing yearly prediction that virtualized or cloud-based managed services will take off in the next couple of years is now much closer to reality. While there are still challenges, many of the critical pieces have been addressed and are coming together as discussed in SDxCentral’s vCPE (virtual Customer Premises Equipment) and SD-WAN (Software Defined-WAN) webinar on Building the New Service-Defined Network.
- Open architecture with hardware, virtualized network functions (VNFs), SDN controller, and orchestration layers.
- Automation, analytics, and security across layers.
- Integration with OSS/BSS.
As a result, the list of CSPs (Communication Service Providers) launching market trials or commercially available services continues to grow.
Focus on Go-to-Market Approach
Although we’ve made some great strides, as an industry, we need to turn more of our attention to service creation, launch, and adoption. This isn’t just a service provider problem. Just as the technologies, processes, and ecosystem are industry challenges, so is the go-to-market approach for virtualized managed services.
In the past, CSPs launched more general horizontally-packaged services that met the needs of many customers to drive top line revenues but relied on the customers to determine where, when, why, and how to use these services. But nowadays, with built-in visibility and analytics at multiple layers, policy-based management, workflow automation, smart positioning technology, deeper insights into traffic types and applications, machine learning, and much more, the networks have gotten smarter. The smarter the network, the less smart users need to know about the network, and the more valuable the service becomes.
Customer- and User-Centric Offerings
CSPs can offer a myriad of virtualized managed services including branch connectivity offerings that package router, firewall and VPN services; advanced security; WAN optimization and application acceleration; load balancing; WiFi; unified communications; etc. It’s multiple services running on the same platform enabled by a variety of VNFs. But the idea goes beyond that. What if we took even just one of those VNFs and created multiple services targeting different markets out of it? Or created industry-, application-, or location-based offerings enabled by new network “smarts.” Also consider services that not only serve IT groups, but also serve the IT groups’ users or the company’s customers directly. Together, as an industry, we can truly redefine managed services to be user- or customer-centered without the CSPs losing their shirts.
In a digital world, the users and customers become central to the business. We hear so much about patient-centered healthcare, student-focused curriculum, guest-centric services, fan-based experience, user-controlled options, and other personalized offerings. Often, it’s less about the network and technologies; it’s more about the outcomes and experience.
Here a few examples that hopefully spark more and better ideas.
- R&D, Developer, and Collaboration Service Packages. Imagine an offering that compresses time, one that shrinks the world as if everyone’s working collaboratively in the same room. This value prop would resonate with companies that have R&D or developer teams around the country or the world that need to share large files and collaborate in real time on a regular basis. How about giving researchers or developers the ability to subscribe, schedule, or even turn on WAN optimization or application acceleration services when they need it (e.g., to share large design files, real-time collaboration, etc.), where they need it, in combination with SD-WAN? The service then negates the performance implications imposed by distance and bandwidth competition from less critical applications. Rather than simply offering a SD-WAN plus WAN optimization service, take 2-3 developer and researcher applications, for a specific vertical or across industries, and optimize services around those. Market how much better the performance would be for those tasks, in general. Share sample outcomes and case studies.
- Digital Transformation Vertical Offerings. In Education, particularly in primary schools, there’s significant effort to transition to digital learning where content, like text books, will be digitized and hosted in the cloud. Packaging a managed SD-WAN service that is specifically designed to deliver the best performance to and from the cloud and not disrupt the learning process puts the network in the heart of ensuring the best learning experience.Education is evolving towards personalized learning. Students and educators alike get constant feedback on how well the student is learning versus getting feedback primarily through results of standard tests. That data reflects individual student information as well as aggregate insights across many students to help educators improve curricula. With all this information being collected and the necessary real-time feedback, a more agile network directly benefits educators and students by enabling learning progression.In Healthcare, on the hand, the patient experience is at the center of digital transformation. Virtualized managed services can be packaged to provide the desired level of performance and security for video-based diagnosis and procedures, electronic health record storage and retrieval, and even access to cloud-based applications like scheduling, email, and health management and monitoring, just to name a few. A sample initial offering might be a service that offers a different level of service and security for a hospital system’s guest network versus the network supporting physician and other healthcare worker applications. The service could also provide physician offices faster and secure access to electronic health records. The network then enables improved physician effectiveness, patient satisfaction, and better patient care.
As a CSP, if you’re going down the virtualized managed services path, you’re already going through a pivotal evolution in delivering services differently—part of the transformation to a digital business. Similarly, your enterprise and SMB customers aspire to transform their business. Make the network more strategic–a platform for innovation–to help them become more agile and competitive, better meet the needs of users and customers, evolve business models, and successfully grow revenues. The examples above show how virtualized managed services can enable digital transformation for your customers.
We generally know what people buy but not necessarily what they use it for and why. Enabling a digital business will put added pressure on CSP product managers, marketers, and sales to get this right but enhanced network intelligence should alleviate some of that stress. Think about B2Me, not just B2B or B2C. Think about every user potentially getting his or her own personalized network.
Now more than ever, the idea of service co-creation plays an important role in the development, launch, adoption of virtualized managed services, particularly as we move towards B2Me. As an industry, if we go together (CSPs, hardware and software vendors, integrators, application developers, IT groups, users, etc.), we’ll go far. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and other ideas to help accelerate the adoption of virtualized managed services.