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Home | New Service Delivery | TM Forum, Keith Willetts
Keith WillettsNew Trends, Big Change

Keith Willetts co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors talks to Intercomms about how the TM Forum is evolving to support the key trends in the industry

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 TM 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: What are the big issues driving the TM Forum's agenda?
A: The big issues are that everybody is feeling their way into other peoples business. Lots of people are encroaching on telecoms, but telecom is also encroaching on entertainment, information services and everybody is wondering about what advertising services mean. Some people are entering markets and getting a bit of a bloody nose and then retreating, other people are succeeding. What it means is that the service providers and by that I mean generically anyone who is responsible for providing a service to the customer, are going to be much more volatile and much more connected to the value chain than they have been before.

Q: What does that means in practice?
A: Whereas the BTs of this world would have previously provided services end to end, they can't provide an end to end content service. If we look at advertising supported services, advertisers want to be able reach very large audiences, much bigger than any one telecom company can deliver in the area they have infrastructure. This requires far more collaboration between players, so we need to evolve the 'glue' between those players otherwise it is not going to work.

Q: How far along is the industry in doing that?
A: Transport is straightforward; the world has decided that is going to be IP. However, how I order something, how I fix a problem, how do I settle or charge the value chain; the management equation, that gets much more complicated. Standards have been largely optional within service providers. However you can't get away from some sort of standardisation if we are to progress. What we are seeing in the TM Forum is the need to look much more broadly at standards between providers as well as within providers. What we are standardising is also changing significantly, because services today are coming more off software than they are networks. Software isn't there to support the network anymore; the network is there to support the software. Right across the piece, we are seeing a convergence not only between what different players, we are also seeing convergence in many other areas. There is for example definitely a software convergence going on in OSS , BSS, intelligent networks and service delivery platforms which are emerging into a single software wrapper, a common architecture making the old delineation between software types, less and less meaningful.

Q: How are new players affecting the market?
A: Services are becoming driven by the 'Facebooks' and 'Googles' of this world, offering advertisers very large populations of users. Customers for them, are not just the end users paying for the services, but the people up stream, wanting to pay for access to those users. It is too early to write the telcom guys off and say that Google will rule the earth. At the moment it is still a $1.3trillion business with huge customer base. On the other hand, if the telecom provider doesn't look out for the kinds of trends that the 'Googles' and 'Facebooks' are driving, they will be in trouble. Google isn't just content to sit there as a PC platform, it wants to be a mobile platform and is making encircling plans around the telecoms guys to get directly onto the handsets. However, I read a lot of Blogs that fast forward from what they see today and they paint the future from it. I am not sure I totally agree with that.

Q: Is there anything that is clear?
A: One thing is very clear is that whilst there has been a lot of talk about the need to change. In the past two or three years we have started to see big bucks flowing into major network transformation, major business transformation and major mergers and acquisition. Depending on how this 'Credit Crunch' goes, I wouldn't be surprised to see telecom companies buying their way into more of the Web content world. I think you will see more M&A between telecoms players as well as more of that investment going into buying new skills and expertise in new markets to renew their transformation programmes. Most operators are looking at spending several billion dollars over the next five years or more, so there is an awful lot of money sloshing around in that race for renewal while there are still the revenues to support it.

Q: How is the TM Forum evolving to meet the change?
A: We have a rolling five year strategic plan, which we update every year. The major trend I am taking account of in this plan are that large scale transformation programmes, are becoming real, software convergence is becoming real and value chains are becoming real.

The other three trends give rise to some pretty significant changes too. Values chains, require us to determine what kind of small number of trading interfaces are required between players, paying each player in the value chain. But how for example does that happen particularly how does it happen under failure conditions when the user gets rebated? We think that there are a small number of standard business trading interfaces that are required to make it straightforward. We can probably take a lot of what we have had developed for providers internally, and externalise it and simplify it and make it an absolute set of interfaces. The second thing that comes out of the value chain is that the ends of the value chain are further apart than just communication services, so it really is content creator to device. There is a lot of emphasis on how you manage devices and we are told that it could be up to a trillion device in the next ten years as everything gets smart and online connected. How do you cope with devices and manage them and how do you manage across the end to end value chain is a big question.

Although a lot of transformations are about driving competitive advantage for a player, a lot of this money is going into the unknown so there is a lot of sharing of knowledge that could go on about best practice and what works and what doesn't in large scale business transformations. Lots of people have used the Toyota lean manufacturing model but they haven't all got it right. There is competitive advantage with what you do with the knowledge, as opposed to the knowledge itself. We think there is quite a big pool of best practice guidelines and so on that we can apply in the whole transformation area.

The software convergence area is another where we need to rethink our traditional software architectures and standards architectures that were built around an OSS//BSS service delivery platform mentality. That is all coming together into one and we need to think of one cohesive 21st century type blueprint, for systems and software and process that any service provider can pick up - both incumbents who are transforming and new guys on the block. Much of that is in the bag, by taking a lot of our existing programmes and making sure that they are better integrated and making sure they fit the new world we are going to into.

Overriding all of that, speed is ever increasing. The big impact to the TM Forum from that is that we probably need to go back to the drawing board on the way we create our standards. We worked for the last 18 years or so in a fairly bottom up way. Member companies decided they needed a standard and came together in the TM Forum to get the answer. We have to get more predictive than that. Speed says that if industry needs something, it isn't going to down tools while the TM Forum thinks about it. It's going to find another way of doing it. We have to be faster in the way we do our work and there are a number of tools we can use. We have over 100,000 people registered on our website. We are merging from the way we've run team to a much more collaborative community approach, similar to Wikipaedia. We are trying to unlock online communities who are interested in certain topic areas to get them to contribute.

It's a virtuous circle of trying to grow the organization. We have grown and matured as an organisation and the subject we deal in has grown up and matured and become strategically more important. We are seeing a growth in the organisation and a growth in the resources we can deploy on the subject and people taking it awfully seriously.

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