How Is Telco Transformation Like Soylent Green?

Mitch Wagner

LOS ANGELES -- MEF 19 -- In the 1973 scenery-chewing sci-fi classic Soylent Green, the titular foodstuff turns out to be made of people. And people are also a major ingredient of telco transformation.

Telcos transforming to take advantage of their enterprise customers' requirements for cloud, Internet of Things and other emerging technologies need to change their corporate cultures, business processes and training -- a difficult task, according to telco executives presenting Wednesday at a panel at the MEF 19 conference here.

"We either get better and transform to where we need to be, or we become dinosaurs," said David Hughes, PCCW's global VP of engineering.

That transformation depends on people, business process and tooling, Hughes said. "'People' is maybe the biggest leg of the stool." Changing corporate culture is difficult. People get used to doing things a certain way, and always want to return to familiar business methods.

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The simplest path to automation is to build automated processes that are identical to the manual processes they replaced, which isn't always effective. "If you look at how a car is made by hand, it's different from an assembly line," Hughes said.

Expediency becomes an obstacle to automation, Hughes said. Continuing manual processes can be faster in the short term, as opposed to taking the time to create an automated process, although in the long run, automation is faster. "When you're surrounded by alligators, it's hard to remember your original job was to drain the swamp," Hughes said.

Resistance to change can become a problem when providing customers with their own self-service portals while service managers continue to use their own tools, said John Isch, director of connectivity solutions for Orange Business Services. "The worst thing that can happen is that a customer sees something in the portal and the service manager is on a different tool and doesn't see the problem," Isch said. Service managers need to understand the value of using the same tools as the customer, he said.

Hughes agreed, adding that getting service managers to switch tools can be challenging. "They always go back to the old tool and you can't take it away from them."

At Orange Business Services, transformation needs to follow customer expectations. Telcos must understand customer needs and transform with them, Isch said.

"From a customer perspective, it is all driven by the cloud," Isch said. For Orange Business Services customers, 55%-95% of traffic on enterprise networks is destined for the Internet. These are multinational companies, who traditionally saw traffic going to the data center.

Erin Dunne, Director of Research Services, Vertical Systems Group (left); David Hughes, VP of Engineering, PCCW Global; John Isch, Director Connectivity Solutions, Orange Business Services; and Fernanda Mendez, Head of Service Management & Orchestration, Solution Area OSS, Ericsson
Erin Dunne, Director of Research Services, Vertical Systems Group (left); David Hughes, VP of Engineering, PCCW Global; John Isch, Director Connectivity Solutions, Orange Business Services; and Fernanda Mendez, Head of Service Management & Orchestration, Solution Area OSS, Ericsson

Managing pace of change
Change is coming faster, but still needs to be managed carefully, the telco operators said. Orange Business Services was on an 18-month to two-year production cycle in the past; now it needs to get new product in the market quickly as possible. The service provider can no longer afford to wait to get a fully baked solution from a supplier and put it on the network; instead, the suppler is adding features as fast as Orange Business Services does, and the carrier needs to test those features, make sure they work on the network, and introduce them to customers quickly. That requires Orange Business Services to communicate closely with supplier partners, and know what's coming before it arrives, Isch said.

Historically, a carrier could invest millions in a product, sell it for a decade and recoup the investment, Hughes said. "Now, you can make something and two years form now nobody wants it." Operators need to learn to follow the "minimum viable product" philosophy that drives Silicon Valley, while also understanding what the "minimum viable product" means to a network operator. "They produce something that’s buggy, they get away with it. We produce something that's buggy and airplanes fly into the ground," Hughes said.

What role does MEF play?
Hughes cited productivity expert Stephen Covey, who noted in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" that successful people begin with the end in mind. That's what MEF does, he said. "MEF is extremely helpful for guiding thinking. It's almost more valuable for guiding thinking than it is for standards," Hughes said, though he added that standards are important as well.

Additionally, MEF provides consistent methods for customers, and coordinates well with other standards bodies, Isch said.

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