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Open Source Innovation, 'Holacracy' & Celebrating Failure

James Crawshaw

The Service Delivery Innovation Summit kicked off today in London with Antonio Jose Elizondo, head of network virtualization strategy and technology for Telefónica R&D (CTIO office), talking about the difficulties telcos have had innovating in the past and how with NFV, and more broadly the move to open source, it should get easier.

One example of past innovation being stifled was Telefónica 's Agave project on Multipath Routing with Dynamic Variance. The router vendors weren't interested in implementing these features unless they were desired by telcos globally. And trying to push Agave through a standards body such as IETF would be too slow, and costly, for Telefónica. The project died on the vine.

Another example is Telefónica's home-grown IPTV platform, Imagenio -- now rebranded Movistar TV. Telefónica turned to Alcatel Lucent (now part of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)) to take over the maintenance of the Imagenio platform but it remains a custom solution and therefore lacks the economies of scale of commercial platforms sold to many operators. If Telefónica had open sourced Imagenio back in the early 2000s they might have seeded the market with a solution and spawned an active developer and support community. Instead they are locked in to a single vendor support contract.

Elizondo thinks telcos need to take back control and not rely blindly on vendors for innovation. He sees NFV and in particular the OSM project, of which Telefónica is a key member, as an enabler of innovation and, more importantly, differentiation for telcos. No longer dependent on incumbent equipment vendors, telcos will be able to experiment with new VNF vendors, develop their own VNFs and generally be more agile in new service creation and delivery.

Elizondo was not on a mission to brainwash the audience into adopting OSM, the next release of which will be out in the next fortnight. Not everyone needs to use the same architecture; the important thing is interoperability. To that end, Elizondo sees the need to agree on a common information model. Handily, OSM has published its Information model here. It runs to 159 pages.

Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM)'s head of event and media solutions, Stefan Rupp, talked at the summit about how he had transformed his unit from a loss maker when he first arrived in 2012. An outsider to the telecom industry, Rupp has done such a good job he has made himself redundant and will step down next year as he believes he is now more of an obstacle to autonomous transformation than an enabler. Rupp has also introduced me to a new word, "holacracy," which is the decentralized management approach he brought to Swisscom that empowers employees to be autonomous and more accountable.

Celebrating failure
The choicest expression of the day, however, goes to Thomas Neumann, principal manager for digital products with Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). Although Neumann's presentation was mainly about how they had boosted click-through rates and uptake of promotions by moving from SMS to in-app messaging and other rich forms of notification, he noted that Vodafone was not afraid to experiment, with failures celebrated at Vodafone Bungle [not the actual word used] Nights. See here to get an idea.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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