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TeleManagement Forum members - customers or partners?

The TeleManagement Forum (TM Forum) is a non-profit global organisation providing leadership, strategic guidance and practical solutions to over 340 members companies worldwide to improve the management and operation of information and communications services. Martin Creaner, CTO and Vice President of Technical Programs discusses how the TM Forum fulfils this role and future developments.

Q. How do members of the TM Forum help drive and steer the industry? How does it achieve its, in a word, leadership?
A. Our membership leads the industry in publishing widely accepted technical and business strategies that protect and leverage their current and future infrastructure investments. They also comprise 90% of the top ranked service providers in the world. These and other leaders in the industry have established a common, industry-wide strategic vision for the advancement of Operation Support Systems and Business Support Systems (OSS/BSS). Work within the TM Forum has benefited members through improved business processes, more efficient and effective system integration and has driven the industry’s direction to align with members’ business goals.

Q. One of the TM Forum’s strategic goals is to provide members with the opportunity for business networking and to establish alliances. How is this done?
A. Members of the TM Forum are continuing to develop new relationships and nurture existing close working relationships between themselves and their peers, customers and suppliers. Many of these working relationships develop while working in collaboration with these companies on TM Forum projects. These relationships have led to the development of a number of successes in establishing strategic business and technical relationships between TM Forum companies.

The TM Forum’s ‘TeleManagement World’ is a key venue for this industry access. The event comprises workshops, seminars, planning sessions and product expositions, service providers and suppliers share ideas and “lessons learned” while making strategic decisions on key industry issues.

Q. Information is power. How do you work to provide members with market information and provide opportunities for members to work together for mutual benefit?
A. We work to provide our members with a number of benefits that include enhanced industry education and knowledge and advanced access to the latest technical developments. The work of the TM Forum is based on the output of the technical teams that have been operating for the life of the organization – the last 15 years. As a result, we have a large knowledge base, all freely accessible to members, which contains documents, guidebooks, and specifications for OSS definition and development. In addition, members also enjoy access to critical industry information and publications that can provide them with a competitive edge, keeping its members abreast of industry trends, topics, and activities.

The TM Forum leads many of the trends, and through its many industry affiliations, it also tracks the happenings of other standards groups, consortia and alliances involved with telecomms management issues. TM Forum has also established a special relationship with a number of the key industry analysts. Their research and reports are available through our dynamic website. In addition to the information offered on this web site, TM Forum members receive bi-monthly news and updates via email from this website.

Q. The high cost of licences and competition is pressurizing operators to maximise applications and service levels to maintain profits - What role does network management play? With more operators offering more services to their customers, what are the main problems that occur?
A. OSS is increasingly important for operators in their efforts to contain their current expenditure and make their assets ‘sweat’. OSS systems including network management systems, inventory management systems, service management systems and customer care systems help operators contain their current expenditure by allowing processes to be automated thus taking time and cost out of the process of managing a network and by providing the ability to be flexible in support of new technologies and service offerings. Systems such as inventory management systems can further help on the cost front by accurately keeping track of the inventory in the network and thereby allowing said inventory to be more effectively used.

The main problems that occur as operators offer more service to customers are threefold. Firstly the provisioning of these services - creating and turning on of services on a customer-by-customer basis - becomes a major challenge. OSS can help by providing automated provisioning systems that cut the time to provisioning of services by an order of magnitude. Secondly, with the profusion of services it becomes a greater challenge to manage these services in a cost effective way ensuring that customers are receiving the service they paid for in the fashion they expected. Finally, the billing complexities associated with these services is generally considered to be a major roadblock to the rollout of services.

Q. The market place is under more financial restraint than before. How can operators apply new technologies cost-effectively and efficiently?
A. Service providers are under intense pressure to minimize costs wherever possible, yet to also keep pace with demands for rapid deployment of new technologies and services to not get behind the industry. With such conflicting demands, service providers need a way to become nimble in their operations – including the way they add new services, activate customer requests, monitor network performance and provide customer care.

In addition, the OSS/BSS marketplace has presented service providers with a variety of process models, interfaces, and architectures on which their products and solutions are built. So, while great advances have been made, OSS/BSS implementation remains a custom project and challenging particularly as complexity increases.

To meet the needs of nimble operations using the multi-vendor, best-of-breed approach favored by many service providers of today and to reach success in this endeavor, a more standardized set of tools is required. This challenge is the driving force for NGOSS – the New Generation Operations Systems and Software programme.

The TM Forum is addressing these market and industry challenges with its NGOSS initiative. The aim of NGOSS is to provide the business process maps, common information model, architectural framework, analytical foundation and process methodologies needed for developing, deploying and modifying OSS components in an easy to integrate fashion. The NGOSS specifications and recommendations are practical deliverables that have produced a quantum leap forward in the state-of-the-art for OSS integration, and the emergence of an OSS component marketplace for the telecommunications market.

The key elements of the ongoing NGOSS program are the Definition of the Next Generation Business Process Map for the analysis of business processes, current and planned; the Definition of the Information Model, to provide a foundation for solution analysis and design and the Specification of a Contract Interface and Technology Neutral Architecture for common solution architecture. There is also the development of Compliance Tests. These certify solutions and products for conformance to the NGOSS Specifications.

Q. How is the TM Forum working to reduce members’ costs through collaboration?
A. The TM Forum fully understand how important it is to ensure that every dollar invested guarantees the payback being sought at a time of budget reductions and careful spending. Technical Collaboration teams provide the kind of tangible return on investment our membership demands. In this way, carriers, network service providers and their suppliers come together to resolve the technical and process challenges that face industry. This does not happen anywhere else.

The unique venue provided by the TM Forum Technical Collaboration and Catalyst teams offers members the ability, to develop OSS/BSS systems to their next level. This risk free environment promotes the trial and testing of ideas and solutions in a non-production environment. This is where the knowledge and experience of experts from all the segments of the industry come together to develop holistic solutions and reducing research and development costs. In this way we’ve seen TM Forum members’ products benefit from a faster time to market, faster time to deployment and a reduced integration "tax".

Q. What are the main factors involved in network optimisation? - Which approach is the most effective? - How much should future scalability affect today’s decisions?
A. Network optimisation is a multi-faceted problem. It ranges from the relatively simple problem of getting better utilisation of a pure Internet Protocol network to the exceedingly difficult challenge of optimising a third generation mobile network. There are multiple approaches and in many cases these are the proprietary domain of the network equipment manufacturers – particularly in mobile network optimisation.

Building scalability into networks is always desirable but there is often the regrettable trade-off between short-term cost and whole-life cost. In many cases scalability comes at a cost, which needs to be borne during the early stages of investment. In this climate such a business case faces severe challenges in being accepted.

Q. Which areas of network management need the most development and explanation of business case? - Where is this needed most, the boardroom or the technology departments? How much does it contribute to financial performance? Does this require a strategic shift in marketing/sales away from technical IT staff to strategic executives?
A. The business case for OSS must be understood in the boardroom before anywhere else. A Service Provider (SP) survey carried out by the TM Forum in Q4/2002 on the purchasing behaviour of SPs going forward into 2003 shows that purchasing decisions are increasingly stumbling at the door of the Chief Financial Officer.

Q. Do you feel that there has been too much technology hype rather than realism in the industry over the past decade? What is the Return On Investment (ROI) yardstick? Does this explain the slow down in investment in new technologies?
A. ROI’s are typically being set as somewhere between 12-18 months for an OSS investment. Considering the long integration time involved in many OSS implementations this can be very difficult to achieve. OSS suffered from technology hype in the same way as the rest of the telecommunications world over the past five years. There is, however, a strong culture of financial realism pervading the market as of today.

Q. Where do you see the future of the TM Forum?
A. We plan to strengthen the TM Forum’s existing position as the premier global industry body for telecommunications management by continuing to be relevant to our membership. This means having a mix of short, medium and long-term projects focusing on a broad swath of industry issues. Our premier industry event - TeleManagement World - which we hold twice a year, once in Europe and once in the USA, will be expanded to a third event in Asia Pacific. We are also focussed on making our www.tmforum.org portal, the premier source of information about the OSS industry pulling together a wide range of diverse sources into one location.

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