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Beyond NGOSS – leaner operations

InterComms talks to Martin Creaner, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, about recent progress the TeleManagement Forum (TM Forum) has had with its programmes.

Martin Creaner has been working and advising in the communications industry for 18 years and is presently Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of the Telemanagement Forum. Prior to joining the TeleManagement Forum, Martin held a number of executive positions with BT, the major UK based European Communications Service Provider, and with Motorola, the global Wireless Networks Equipment manufacturer, where Martin led the 2.5G and 3G OSS solutions development activities. Martin sits on the board of a number of telecoms companies, and is the Chairman of Selatra Ltd., which is a java games applications service provider for the mobile marketplace.

Q: Where did the TM Forum come from?
A: The TM Forum was set up about fifteen years ago. We were originally called the Network Management Forum and set up initially to standardise some of the work that was going on in the area of network management. BT, AT&T, NTT, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom set up the organisation. At the time they each found they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on in-house network management and figured if they coordination and standardised their actions, they would save money. Over the years they achieved this standardisation and it was realised that the whole OSS arena had the potential to be standardised. Members wanted to look at issues such as how new customers are provisioned, how customer care is implemented and how inventory and work force management is undertaken. Gradually the companies realised that this was a very large area to tackle and, over the years the TM Forum has grown to about 350 member companies. At the moment our membership consists of the vast majority of the major service providers and major equipment and software vendors across the whole OSS and billing space.

Q: Can you outline the technical role the TM Forum has undertaken?
A: The role of the TM Forum is two-fold. One is to act for the communications industry, as a body that undertakes standardisation issues the industry thinks are important. We do this through a series of technical standardisation activities. At any given time we have about twenty or so teams running. Each could have from ten to one hundred companies participating. They try to standardise all aspects of interface in the OSS are including service management, inventory management and billing etc. The other side of the TM Forum is running large industry events where people can come and do business. We have run our TeleManagement World event twice a year; one in North America, one in Europe and we have just instituted a third annual TM Forum event for the Asia-Pacific – launched in Tokyo.

Q: Where are you with NGOSS today?
A: The NGOSS activity was essentially kicked off by the TM Forum three years ago. There was a realisation that over the last few years the vendor market for OSS and BSS software has grown enormously and a huge number of companies in every aspect of network management have all emerged. That is great. However, plugging them together is a nightmare. There is an industry metric, which says for every dollar you spend on buying OSS software you spend another dollar integrating it into your system. Service providers started looking at this as an integration tax. As members of the TM Forum they realised this was a top priority for the TM Forum to solve. There is no easy solution. The management systems of telecomms operators are potentially the most complicated systems in the world. We certainly want to reduce the integration tax and the time taken to plug in new applications but we recognise it will never be simple ‘plug and play’.

Q: How did the TM Forum approach the problem?
A: We looked at the broad problems of the integration tax and then tried to tackle the issues through a range of structured programs called the NGOSS program. Initially we thought the main problems were the interfaces between the software applications – that is partly true. But the problems for telecomms operators and those in many other industries too, were more complex. In order to tackle these problems, we had to learn how to describe the problems in a generic fashion, understand what processes to put in place, what systems to you use to meet that need and how do you put those systems together.

Q: How have you split the work up?
A: There are three main elements to NGOSS. One is standardizing how the network operators and carriers organise and implement business processes. This element has mainly been implemented in the TM Forum through the eTOM (Enhanced Telecom Operation Map®). The eTOM is pretty standard across the industry now. The ITU approached the TM Forum last year to submit the eTOM whole into the ITU and to make it a formal ITU standard. That is very important to us. For the ITU to come to us was a great vote of confidence in our organisation and its abilities.

We formally submitted eTOM in October. It was endorsed from a technical point of view in November. It is now going through a number of internal review processes. We expect it to become formal standard in the second quarter of this year.

The second component of NGOSS is the Shared Information and Data Model (SID). One of the biggest issues, which became apparent early on, is that in integrating systems it is not the incompatibility at interface level but incompatibility at the data model level that causes the most problems. Converting the data models takes time and effort. The SID is being gradually accepted across industry, it is on release four now. It is almost complete in a technical sense in that it is implementable, usable and covers all of the important areas.

The third aspect of NGOSS is the integration architecture – this is called the Technology Neutral Architecture. This component seeks to deal with issues such as: what are the standard APIs used? What communication mechanisms are used between the systems? And what framework services? These are the deep architectural issues.

In short, eTOM covers the business process issues, the SID covers the information and data model issues and the Technology Neutral Architecture covers the integration architectural issues.

Q: NGOSS is a substantial part of your activities. What else are you concerned with?
A: NGOSS is our flagship programme and probably represents 40 percent of our standardisation activity. We still have a very large number of teams. NGOSS is trying to produce the framework on which all future OSS work can be built for the next 20 years.

Lots of companies have short-term individual problems. They have issues in service management for example, or problems with the interface between the element management layers and the network management layers. We have lots of teams tackling individual issues. Each of these teams are trying to use NGOSS as it has been defined, but they are only trying to produce a short-term result to help perhaps 10 to 30 companies.

Some of the major programmes we have running are applications of NGOSS such as the Multi Technology Network Management (MTNM) activity. This is a standardisation between the element management, and the network management layers. The element managers tend to be have been developed by the vendors of network equipment and the network operators tend to have network wide network managers with which they are interfacing. MTNM is addressing how to standardise the interface between these two layers. This has received a huge amount of adoption and buy-in and is now at its third release.

Q: Once NGOSS is completed, what next?
A: We have completed NGOSS in terms of the technical specification. We can always add to that, but it is at a level of completeness that is implementable. Most of the work during 2004 is going to be focusing on making it easy for people to use NGOSS: cook books, user guides, methodologies and tools showing how to use NGOSS rather than defining it.

The focus is then going to shift on to what we call ‘Enabling The Lean Operator’. This is basically an extension of the challenge that was put to us when we began the NGOSS project three years ago. It is all about making an operator efficient and looking at the challenges above and beyond the technical issues that have been addressed in NGOSS. There are many issues involved such as the speed of roll out of services, the level of business information and business intelligence available.

The whole programme embraces NGOSS but is bigger than NGOSS. The challenge now is how the TM Forum should help operators to be more efficient with their business. We are going to be talking at lot more about Lean Operations during 2004 in terms of defining what it is and understanding what are the ‘points of pain’.

Q: How is this changing how operators see OSS?
A: One of the biggest issues that operators have at the moment, in a business sense, is making the case for OSS investment by understanding what the Return on Investment is.

Traditionally a company will look at spending money on an OSS that will cut costs. With substantial savings, the case for OSS is already made. The realisation is that OSS aids not just the operating costs but also business agility. Spending is necessary to adapt to changes in the market place and determines your rate of implementation of new services – this understanding is really a shift in the mindset in operators today. The ability to deliver new services at speed is absolutely essential.

The real focus over the next twelve months is going to be how we build on NGOSS and make an operator lean. This involves getting in to the mind of the deputy chief financial officer as well as the operations director. It is all about really understanding what they need and the relevance of those needs.

For more information:
Please contact: Martin Creaner, mcreaner@tmforum.org
Or visit: www.tmforum.org



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