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Martin Creaner, the TM Forum's president talks to Intercomms about how growth in the Forum's activities and membership are being reflected at TeleManagement World and in other events around the world

Martin Creaner has been working and advising in the Communications Industry for 18 years and is presently President and Chief Technical Officer of the TM Forum. Prior to joining the TM 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.

Martin is an accomplished speaker and regularly is asked to chair or give keynote talks at leading telecommunication industry events.

Q: How has the TM Forum grown in recent years?
A: The TM Forum has gone from strength to strength in recent years in terms of membership, collaboration scope and numbers of events. At the moment we have about 670 members companies and are beginning to head towards 700 member companies, in 70 different countries. That's a doubling in the size of the organisation by any measure in the last three years. We also absorbed a number of industry bodies in the process, OSS through Java Initiative (OSS/J), and the Global Billing Association (GBA).

Q: Is the growth due to the incorporation of these new bodies or organic growth?
A: Even though we have brought these other industry bodies on board, the reality is that the vast majority of the members of those other industry bodies were already members of the TM Forum so they didn't provide any great boost in membership. What they did provide was an injection of expertise in areas where the TM Forum was lacking. All of the growth the TM Forum has experienced from its 350 members three years ago to nearly 700 members now, has been organic growth.

Q: Why are they joining?
A: A lot of companies are joining us because they want to use the TM Forum standards. You can use the TM Forum standards without being a member, but in order to get real value out of the standards you really need to be part of the community. A lot of service providers, systems integrators and vendors out there, have found that the best way to get value out of the TM Forum standards is to join, attend our events, participate in our webinars and participate in our discussion communities and the actual teams that are defining these standards. The cost of membership is a drop in the ocean, compared to the amount of money they are ploughing into the integration projects and process re-engineering projects.

Q: Events are where these communities are formed and solidified, how are the frequency, themes and content of these events evolving too?
A: We are moving to have perhaps a dozen events this year where just a few years ago, we essentially had two. Our membership has grown so strongly in the Middle East and Asia that we are going to be running a number of events there. We also plan to run events in Russia, Europe, the Americas and our first ever event in Africa in July. Our big event is always TeleManagement World in Nice. Last year we had about 3,000 people there. We expect 3,500 at this year's event. The central topic of the event is really all about the next set of challenges the industry is facing. Of course, the existing challenges that service provider face are really important, but I think that most service providers can see a way toward solving those problems by utilising TM Forum frameworks, Guidance and standard interfaces.

From my point of view what interests most service providers now is how they take advantage of new service revenues in this rapidly changing, rapidly converging market place. There is a lot of discussion in the market place about Web 2.0 and Telco 2.0 and service provider exposing their service capability to third party content providers and rapidly changing value chains. It is all boils down to the very simple desire of service providers to be a major player in the delivery and creation of the new services to their end users, regardless of whether these services happen to be video, IPTV , music downloads, online games or online information & content services. Whatever the 'killer' services emerge to be, they want to be major players. Increasingly, service providers are seeing the emergence of services where the content provider is working directly with the end user or the device supplier, in order to offer services directly and cutting out the service provider. Apart from the fact that the service provider might provide the broadband upon which the service gets delivered, they aren't getting any of the incremental new service revenue. Service providers want to avoid that scenario in the future. How they do that is quite a complex thing, but really is all about becoming increasingly valuable in the value chain and delivering sets of capabilities to both the end user and the content provider that are indispensable.

Q: How do the themes for Nice and other events reflect these new challenges?
A: Although the Nice event will inevitably cover the whole industry, in our other events we are going to focus a little bit more on specific issues. We are going to have about a dozen event in total this year and half of these will be topic specific events, where we are going to focus down on a few key topic of interests, like service delivery platforms or revenue assurance or benchmarking or the challenge of managing devices. We will focus the whole event examining different aspects of one key topic. We are rolling out a series of topic specific event to explore the specific challenges in depth and likewise we also have number of regional summits. We did one in Dubai in March, where we had 150+ people attend to spend a day taking about the OSS/BSS and management challenges specific to the Gulf region.

Q: To what extent is there regional differentiation between the Nice and other events?
A: There is an element of scale although sometimes the scale of the regions is larger than the scale in Europe and US. The differences are largely in terms of where people are in the timeline of thinking. In regions like the Middle East and Africa and some parts of Asia, they are where the European and US industry was in terms of OSS/BSS was three years ago. The topics that generate most interest there concern configuration management solutions, inventory management solutions and network management solutions. People are very interested in getting the basics right. Whilst they appreciate the concepts of Service Delivery Platforms and IPTV and can see their relevance, they are further down at their priority list, whereas in Europe and in the US, I suspect those topics are first or second in their priority lists. So there is a slight difference in priorities and timing but certainly no difference in terms of the sophistication of the technology employed.

Q: Several catalysts are planned for Nice, what issues will they address?
A: We are delighted with the number of projects we have this year showcasing at Nice. We had 18 submissions for Catalyst projects from consortia of companies and we accepted nine, plus our Content Encounter. We have a wide range of topics, many of them focussed on the next generation of problems, such as of how you combine multiple services from different sources into a larger scale service offering. We have projects that address areas such as fixed mobile convergence, which remains a very real challenge in the market place. We also have a number of projects that are much more focussed on the architectural challenges, like our Harmony Catalyst which is in its second phase and it is all about trying to tightly knit together all the TM Forum standards in order to achieve practical enterprise wide architecture for OSS/BSS. We have a project in the area of deployment and on how you move to zero touch deployment for new services.

Q: What about the Content Encounter?
A: It is really about trying to understand all of the challenges in the end to end creation and delivery of content in the context of a telecoms environment. We put together five mini-catalysts running inside it looking at how you pull in content, how do you manage that content and how you deliver and secure payment for that content. The Content Encounter is now running into its second phase which is going to be larger at Nice than it was at Dallas with a lot of players participating it in it. We aim for particpation from content companies, particularly content aggregators rather than raw content creators, right through to the service providers and a wide range of vendors. In addition to the challenges of content creation and delivery we will be focusing this Content Encounter phase on areas such as Revenue Assurance and Advertising revenue models.

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