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Home | New Service Delivery | TeleManagement Forum, Keith Willets
 
Keith WillettsFinal Frontiers

Keith Willetts co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors talks to Intercomms about the expanding boundaries of the TMForum

Keith Willetts is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on communications management. As co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the TeleManagement Forum, he has been the driving force behind its continuous evolution.

Currently Managing Partner at Mandarin Associates Ltd. in the UK, he consults with companies on a wide variety of business development issues. He previously held executive positions at BT and TCSI.

A regular presenter and writer, he co-authored the highly influential book, "The Lean Communications Provider". His achievements have been internationally recognized, being honored twice in the Communications Week "Top 25" awards for industry visionaries, the British Computer Society award and the BT Gold Medal.

Q: The TMForum has to respond to what's happening in the telco space and beyond. But what in your opinion is actually happening?
A: The big thing for me is trying to figure out where different players are going to end up in the 'New World Order'. We see the telcos facilitating other players such as My Space and U-Tube making money on daily basis, but the telcos themselves are really only moving the bits for that and so they are not really participating in the value chain. Are they going to be significant players on the landscape or are they going to stay in bit transport? If not, who are these new players and what are they going to do? The interesting bit for me is that while the two ends of the value chain are very clear; consumers at one end and at the other you have a myriad of web based services but in the middle you have all sorts of players - content aggregators, loop unbundlers, broadband companies and increasingly device companies There are all sorts of powerplays and jockeying for position at the moment and all sorts of technologies that may hurt or hinder the process.

Answering that challenge is what the TMForum's Dallas event in November is all about. Since the TMF focuses on the creation and delivery of services, whether transport is via WiMax or fibre is an interesting debate but not terribly interesting to the TMF. What is really interesting to the TMF is who are going to be the providers of services and in what combination and in particular how do you drive services out that work first time very time. Once you have peeled away that layer of the onion, what are all the underlying enabling technologies and systems and processes that are going to be required to be put in place? A very big hot issue is the debate over service delivery platforms, what are they what do they look like how do put them together and manage them?

A lot of the applications and services out there are often brought out by small innovative companies that don't have a lot of money - the two university students that start the next Facebook for example. What the operators and service providers can do and should do in my opinion is to not just offer bit transport as a service but all the other thing they need in terms of authentication services or billing services. They should expose Web 2.0 capabilities and invite application service providers and media companies to use those facilities and they pay for them for them as they use them. Building an architecture that is effectively a set of exposed capabilities is what BT have done with the 21C programme. That is the whole basis of a Service Oriented Architecture. This set of capabilities then allows the telco a share in what is called 'over the top' revenues. This is the bread and butter business of what a telco has done for the past hundred years. Today they are simply providing a much richer set of capabilities to enable a much richer set of services. This seems to me to be an entirely natural act for a telecom operator. That view is not however, wildly endorsed right now. There are some companies with BT and their 21C programme that have really latched on to this and see it as a natural place to go. An awful lot more operators are chasing the dream of being the next Google or the next Disney. The two positions however are not mutually exclusive as the NTT iMode model, shows.

A Telco's ability to provide really innovative end user services themselves is I think somewhat limited. They have never been good at it in the past and I am not sure what is going to make them good at it unless they go into joint ventures with joint ventures with media companies or application companies such as BT Yahoo for instance.

Q: Could service companies become telcos?
A: Personally, I think that is as improbable as phone companies turning themselves into innovative new service companies. The infrastructure required and the barriers to entry are pretty enormous. There are an awful lot of competencies and skills you need to do that, particularly when you start taking money for the services.

Q: Given that wide ranging vista, how is the TMForum responding?
A: Given that backdrop and given that the vast majority of our membership is telecom oriented, fixed and mobile, the first thing we have done is to say that that we have to become more content, media and entertainment focussed. We are broadening our membership. Cable companies like Time Warner, Cox, Liberty and others are joining us as members. A lot of our members are themselves broadening their view of life so when you would once have talked to a VP of Telecoms, you now talk to the VP of Communications Media and Entertainment. Systems Integrators like IBM are similarly taking that broader view. We are also talking about who will provide the underlying capabilities to deliver these services. Will it be the telecom operators or will it be somebody else? The TMForum is taking a fairly agnostic view on that. We say that there needs to be processes for creating, delivering and billing services end-to-end so that what appears on a screen to users, works first time, every time. There need to be systems that enable that. Where those process and systems are going to be in the value chain, we can't predict but what we do know is that they have to exist somewhere.

Q: How does the pre-existing work the TM Forum has done prepare you for that?
A: We believe that the work we have done in the past, which is to develop business process models, information models and interfaces between systems still applies but just in a much broader contest. Broadening out the membership and broadening out the scope and application of the TMF's work will ensure that it appeals just as much to a cable company and to a Disney as it does to an AT&T. That isn't an overnight affair. It takes time and we started on this journey about a year ago. We are now well into that process and a lot of our work is in place. For example, just a very simple thing is that we are no longer the TeleManagement Forum but the TMForum. Change is at all levels, not just cosmetic. It goes all the way through the fundamental reengineering of our work, looking at end to end solutions that start on a content server somewhere and ends on a 42 inch screen somewhere and all the stuff in the middle. We are asking the key questions about how you ensure that services are created, delivered and billed for correctly across that increasingly complex value chain. The technology could be almost anywhere. It could be on your phone, TV, Xbox or PC.

One of the areas that we have hitherto never really engaged with is the home gateway, home networking and domestic devices. Simple things like being able to see that the service is working correctly - what AT&T call the Channel 5 problem. If Channel 5 isn't working properly on IPTV is that the fault of the TV, the set top box, the home network or broadband service, the content aggregator or the original content itself. Unless you can monitor each element you can't identify the contractual boundaries and then identify who rebates who, what are the contractual boundaries? You have to automate that capability.

Q: Where are the boundaries?
A: Where they are I really don't know. I don't think anyone does. We have rough ideas but which could change next week. What will be the technology we use? We are fairly clear on that. What will be the users needs and desires? We are fairly clear on that one two. The Telco industry has also done a pretty good job on thinking through these issues in terms of business process and technology terms.

The TMF are not only growing rapidly in membership, we are changing the way we run projects. We are running around eighty projects at any one time. Whereas they would often have been done on a volunteer basis, we are actually now having a programme where we have seconded professionals from different companies to work inside the TMF on a fulltime basis to lead some of this work. The TMF has see significant expansion in terms of the conferences we are doing and the training we are running and places we are doing them. We are gearing up and expanding to meet the size of the growing challenges.

Q: What are the TMF's goals?
A: We have set our sights on being the organisation that helps create the underlying enabling technologies that would deliver these converged 21st century services, whatever the service and whatever the sector. Telecoms services have expanded from just the phone company with voice to becoming a value chain and we have to be as inclusive of everyone .We have to drive a common vision across the value chain to deliver these services. This message is playing extremely well because our membership is accepting the kind of leadership that the TMF is putting forward. We have had three other organisations merge with us over the last year because they can see that this challenge is not one you can solve in small chunks. You have to have a fairly big organisation that has a lot of the right members and the right tentacles into the industry. It is all going remarkably well at the moment.

For more information visit: TMF website at www.tmforum.org

 
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