Digital Transformation for Broadband Service Providers - ETI

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March 18, 2021

Digital Transformation for Broadband Service Providers

By Jeff Boozer, Director of Market Development, Utility and Municipal Broadband Sector, ETI Software

Digital transformation can be expensive and potentially disruptive.   This economics of this process, which can unleash new and emerging technologies, don’t work for many service providers who aren’t a Tier 1 network provider.

Can all service providers, regardless of size, realize the promise of the digital transformational vision?

While recognizing the opportunities presented by 5G and IoT, many non-Tier 1 (smaller) carriers are still learning about these capabilities and trying to understand how it impacts their businesses and customers. It’s not only a product solution, in terms of features and functions delivered via software or services, but it’s also education and evaluation of business plans and operations that need to go along with it at the same time. Digital transformation is not a destination but a journey and it’s a journey that service providers must go through to stay successful.

What are some industry drivers causing service providers to address transformation more aggressively?

There are two primary challenges service provider are facing in the next few years.

The first challenge is recognizing that broadband is an essential service or utility like water, electricity, and gas.  That as an essential service, broadband providers must be focused on availability, reliability, and quality of service. Therefore, service assurance becomes the core of the customer experience as opposed to customer service, as it has been for the last few years. This impacts the business in a few ways. You need a service-centric operational model that is focused in on the core requirements of availability, reliability, and quality. One of the most obvious impacts on the business is that call center operations and NOC operations must be merged.  Current network and service data must be combined with customer data and available to the agent when they answer the call.

The second challenge is presented by Next Gen digital services. While broadband access is still a focus, there are changes to the network environment to prepare for the future services that must be dealt with. Most importantly these changes include virtualization or dis-aggregation, where the network is defined by software, not by devices.  That requires a strong focus on automation – to handle the scale, volume and wide variety of capabilities that will exist in a software defined, cloud native network environment. To do this, you must have an open and agnostic architecture – not just for your network but for your enterprise as well.  See chart below.

Broadband as an Essential Service Next Gen Digital Services
Availability, reliability, quality of service Virtualization & Disaggregation
Service assurance is the core of Customer Experience Automation
Service-centric Operations Open, Agnostic enterprise architecture
Merge the NOC and Call Center Open Digital Architecture

Critical Requirements for Digital Transformation

There are four things you must have for digital transformation success:

1) An enterprise platform with a common database with the ability to provide analytics and accommodate intelligent automation, that is driven by AI and insights – at scale.

2)  The capability to collect and distribute data among disparate sources and destinations.

3) A mechanism that aggregates data in legacy silos that exist in the organization today and an intelligent tool that programmatically and rapidly integrates those sources of data without custom integration. This enables the introduction of new devices and/or applications quickly.

4) The platform must exist in an agile operating environment with CD/CI for the rapid deployment of new features and capabilities into the network.

Recommendations to break the transformation paralysis

Start with the end in mind

Digital transformation is a loaded word that can be big, scary, and risky. Digital transformation is a journey – evolution, not revolution.  To tackle it responsibly, you should first define what it looks like when you are done and what it must do.  There are framework architectures you can start with such as TM Forum Frameworx and ZOOM.  Then break it down and prioritize it in phases.

Focus on high value immediate business improvements

Consider first the short-term tactical needs that you need to solve today – you cannot wait for a complete digital transformation to be done to fix them.  Fixing these immediate issues, with the end in mind, allows you to make progress in digital transformation with each fix becoming a part of the final architecture.  Many service providers have a lot of new network infrastructure being built and new customers to connect. To do that efficiently you need automated service provisioning – which is a cornerstone to future operations in a digital services world. Focus on the deployment of automated provisioning that can scale in volume and variety for new digital services in the future.

Focus on the foundation for future business requirements

Within 12 to 24 months, it is anticipated that there will be millions of new IoT devices with 5G applications. The inability to manage all these devices will be an obstacle for service providers. Extending automated provisioning to Unified Device Management (UDM) will allow continued control of the core network, including software defined elements and cloud-based services, as well as provision and manage all CPE including IoT devices.  Taking a unified device management approach with an open architecture is critical to respond to customer demand for relevant services in the future.

A Unified Device Management capability should be deployed as an open platform with a common data model based on industry standards to easily accommodate future technology and applications.   This type of platform provides the foundation for transformation of the rest of the enterprise.

The platform should include a low code/no code tool for rapid integration with other sources of data and applications.  The tool can build integration from technical artifacts and translate it to the common data model so all data can be stored and accessed across the enterprise.  It should also include a data orchestration engine based on rules and policies that can collect and distribute data across the platform.

Leverage platform capabilities for operations improvements

Implement new processes to enhance customer experience, improve operations, and grow revenues leveraging real time data, analytics, and Augmented Intelligence (AI) capabilities of the platform.  Broadband as an essential service demands that the NOC and Call Centers are merged to provide proactive service assurance using current telemetry, performance and status metrics combined with customer information to quickly assess and resolve service issues.   GIS provides a map perspective of network assets and performance.  Intelligent, proactive, and self-healing capabilities enabled by virtualization and augmented intelligence make insights and decisions without human intervention.

Replace aging, high-cost legacy applications with platform native applications

A service centric operation replaces existing siloed systems with applications that are native to the platform. They are easy to deploy and manage in a common environment, enabling the use of automation tools, and the implementation of Agile methods and CD/CI to manage the entire environment.

What does a Service Lifecycle Management Architecture look like?

Future-proof your systems infrastructure the way you do your network

Choosing the right platform for digital transformation is a critical decision especially for service providers.  It is a long-term commitment that should provide carrier grade security, ongoing enhancement capabilities for function and scalability, and an extensive ecosystem of native applications.  In addition, the right platform should leverage the insights and tools provided by standards bodies, e.g. TM Forum, and ideally comply with them.

Adopting such a platform, can accelerate the digital transformation journey because you can avoid re-inventing the wheel – instead of creating these fundamental capabilities you can build on top of them – and implement a standards-based plug and play (auto-configuration) approach.

ETI’s platform provides many of these capabilities , enabling broadband service providers regardless of their size to start transforming into a digital service provider with Tier 1 capabilities without huge cost and complexity.

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