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TMF Tackles Software Procurement

The TM Forum is making a big push to become more relevant to telecom operators by launching a new program called Prosspero (geddit?) that aims to make it easier for carriers to integrate multiple back-office software systems and enable them to interoperate.

TMF chairman and Shakespeare fan Keith Willetts, sporting a wispy beard and holding aloft a dog-eared copy of The Tempest, unveiled the initiative today at the annual Telemanagement World event in Nice, France.

In a simultaneous and relevant announcement, he also announced that the TMF is joining forces with the OSS Through Java Initiative (OSS/J).

That's relevant because the OSS/J group has been working for the past few years to develop open Java-based interfaces that enable OSS system interoperability, but, despite big-name members, has lacked the muscle to dominate the sector and persuade carriers to demand OSS/J interfaces in their software RFPs. (See OSS Firms Get Java Ready.)

And its struggle got harder last year when the TMF launched its own interface standards initiative, Multi-Technology Operations Systems Interface (MTOSI). (See TMF Unveils New OSS Standard and Vendors Create New OSS Standard.)

Now, though, the TMF is looking to unify the industry and make life easier for carriers. And, with OSS deployment and interworking such a tough task for operators, Willetts says the TMF's initiative has the support of some of the world's biggest telcos, including BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD).

“BT strongly supports the TMF’s Prosspero initiative towards producing truly implementable standards for Operational Support Systems interfaces,” states Mick Reeve, BT's Group Technology Officer, in an email to Light Reading. "Standard interfaces on our OSS applications can only help to lower the integration and configuration cost of implementing our service surrounds. BT has been deeply involved in this initiative as a way to move from the current frameworks in the TMF towards more specific implementable interface standards.” So there!

All well and good -- but where does the merger with OSS/J fit in?

"In the past, the TMF has concentrated on the big picture while OSS/J has concentrated on interfaces," says Willetts. "The two are complementary -- carriers want the big picture and the nitty gritty technical capabilities." The two organizations are expected to become one on July 1.

While the program is a joint development, the OSS/J's previous work still has to pass the Prosspero benchmarks in the same way as, say, a MTOSI interface does.

To achieve Prosspero status, an application programming interface (API) must have open source code, test tools and programs, a reference deployment, and the support of an online community of developers, say Willetts. And to start with, "only one or two OSS/J interfaces have passed. The Prosspero criteria lays down a very high bar, and it's not biased towards the OSS/J. On day one it will be a small number of interfaces that can claim to conform, but it will grow."

But have any MTOSI interfaces passed the test? "They have yet to meet the criteria," says Willetts. "I'm sure some MTOSI interfaces will get there in a few months' time." He says the vendors developing MTOSI interfaces, such as Cramer Systems Ltd. and Telcordia Technologies Inc. , are "working hard to achieve that."

Then there's the question of how they achieve Prosspero status. Is there an independent test lab or third-party certification group that awards Prosspero status?

No, actually. Carriers, initially, will have to trust OSS vendors that display the Prosspero badge. Willetts admits that the process is self-certifying. Then vendors will have to prove they are meeting the requirements, he says.

So will it fly? Shira Levine, senior research analyst at IDC , reckons this is "a good move for service providers, which have fewer people to implement and manage their OSS systems these days. This simplifies the approach for carriers in choosing the systems they need and knowing what will work and how. It will help them choose the technology they need."

But Levine notes that "it has taken carriers time to take standards on board, so this won't get accepted overnight. A lot will depend on how the TMF approaches and markets this. This won't get accepted overnight."

That leaves time to ponder the choice of name -- Prospero is the lead character in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Apart from enabling the TMF to implant OSS in the middle, is there any significance in bastardizing the literary name? "He sorted out his problems with the use of technology," Willetts claims.

And here we thought he used magic…

— Ray "Caliban" Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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