IT leaders from BT, Telstra, Telus and Vodafone explain how TM Forum's Open Digital Architecture is helping their businesses change how they operate and deliver services.
Telcos detail the Open Digital Architecture’s role in driving business transformation
If you’re going to fundamentally change the way your business operates, you have to rethink IT architectures that entrench old models of working. That was a central message from telcos spelled out by speakers during TM Forum’s DTW23-Ignite.
“We need to operate in very tough conditions,” said Mark Sanders, Chief Architect, Telstra. “There’s an imperative that we look at different ways to run our organization.”
Telstra is one of a growing number of telcos using TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) to structure their move away from monolithic IT systems designed for siloed business units, and towards a more agile, horizontal, plug-and-play operating model.
The ODA is a component-based approach that defines standardized, interoperable software components organized into loosely coupled domains. These components expose business services through Open APIs, which are built on a common data model.
DTW speakers described ODA as a way to help drive deep-seated organizational changes.
“ODA transformation is a business transformation; this is not an IT transformation,” said Hesham Fahmy, CIO at Telus.
Telstra’s Sanders pointed out that ODA’s composable IT architecture has made it easier for the company to address “the challenge of getting everyone to think differently”. He explained: “There was a change to our organization. It meant that we had to think of our skills and processes, governance, decision-making, planning, investment cycles.”
It’s no secret that telcos are having to adapt to challenging market forces and low revenue growth, as we detailed in our recent report Telco revenue growth: time for operators to place new bets?
“We are compelled to invest in 5G; in some of the markets we have to sustain three, four versions of technology at the same time,” said Willie Stegmann, Director IT Strategy & Architecture & CIO Corporate Systems/VOIS at Vodafone. “And [customers] want more things faster and cheaper. And that's difficult.”
Stegmann was speaking during the same session as Sanders, Fahmy, Josie Smith, BT’s Chief Architect & CIO Core Platforms, Digital and Dr. Amina Boubendir, Head of Research and Standardization at Airbus Defence and Space, and which was led by George Glass, CTO, TM Forum,
It is particularly challenging in Europe, said Stegmann, where operators face a combination of intense competition and limited opportunity to gain revenues from new consumer services, such as the financial applications that are proving successful for Vodafone’s Vodacom arm in Africa. “And so, from a technological point of view, we are under a lot of friction to think how we serve that need and how we help the business to actually survive,” he said.
A recurring theme at DTW23-Ignite was that there is no simple answer to the question of how to generate growth. But there is consensus on the need for IT systems that greatly simplify service delivery at speed, while equipping employees to work.
“The skill set that is required in your operational teams is now changing” as a result of composable architectures, pointed out George Glass, CTO, TM Forum. Instead of each application requiring specific expertise for the database element, the operating system or the hardware “it becomes a common set of services, a common set of capabilities across multiple markets,” he said.
This move “actually simplifies and reduces costs, but also speeds up time to market for the deployment and applications that Vodafone is running," agreed Stegmann.
Vodafone, which pioneered the Open APIs and ODA, has developed a telecoms-as-a-service (TaaS) architecture. It is designed to make it easier for any market or business unit to both produce and source services.
“Our philosophy is really to remove friction and make it easy for our teams in the markets to consume and to participate,” said Stegmann.
A composable architecture “means that we can be adaptable. So, whatever our business team [needs] from these reusable building blocks technology [we can] assemble and recompose them for those outcomes,” said Sanders.
Attracting the right skills
Telcos have also found that deploying a composable architecture has helped retain and attract skilled employees by making their jobs more interesting.
“It’s changing the dynamic and getting people excited … They feel that they’re making a difference,” according to Sanders. “The fact that we can then move faster and [they’re] engaging customers has attracted more talent to the organization and [increased] our ability to retain that talent.”
Prior to adopting an ODA-based composable architecture, Telus’s IT teams “were finding that we had to implement something seven or eight times. And it was just insanity,” said Fahmy.
With an ODA-based approach the development teams “suddenly realized the pain is gone … It’s building once, and you’re good to go,” added Fahmy. “They’re all fantastic advocates for the whole decoupled, componentized architecture that's actually delivering reusable services across your lines of business.”
And because they are no longer building on multiple systems, IT teams are able to fulfill business requests much more quickly. “In the last 12 months or so … some of the biggest initiatives we've really been able to deliver in half to a third of the cost and time,” said Fahmy.
But communications service providers (CSPs) also need to get vendors onboard to ensure their software products and cloud infrastructure are compatible with ODA. Telstra, Telus and Vodafone are among a small group of telcos that have achieved “Running on ODA” status. TM Forum confers this award if an operator meets several criteria such as use of ODA as its default reference enterprise architecture and widespread deployment of Open APIs.
The Forum also has named eight telco software vendors as ready for ODA, having built products conformant with the ODA key principles and standards: Alvatross, CSG, Ericsson, Hansen Technologies, Huawei, Netcracker, Oracle and Whale Cloud. In addition, hyperscalers AWS, Google and Microsoft have all built cloud-ready ODA Canvases.
“It’s changing how we’re working with our … [systems integration] partners and vendors,” said Sanders. “We want them to now actively participate in helping us realize and consume and develop these IT domains.”
Certainly telcos have every incentive to persuade more vendors to get on board.
Many CSPs, for example, typically struggle with expensive and time-consuming upgrades of monolithic CRM and billing systems, according to Stegmann.
“Most of my colleagues [and] … other telcos would agree that … systems of record, that's where it's really tough,” he said.
ODA helps CSPs move “away from these large, big, very complex and risky programs to more incremental modernization”, based on components, said Stegmann. For example, he explained, a CSP might want to replace its product catalog, rather than its entire CRM, and work with an ODA-compliant vendor that can provide the relevant component with standardized interfaces based on Open APIs.
And what about the customer?
Every speaker stressed the importance of using a composable architecture to simplify and improve the customer experience from the network up – something that is difficult to achieve when working with complex, siloed systems.
Referring to customer order management and service order management, BT’s Smith said: “You can have the best front end in the world. But when you’ve got 50% manual handling … [and] 15-plus handoffs, the customer experience is pretty bad.”
Examples of how BT has used Open APIs and a component-based architecture to improve both customer experience and business operations include rethinking “broadband to a point where we have a 40% reduction in the steps whilst ordering broadband,” said Smith. “That’s massive from a customer experience perspective.”