OSS Workflow Automation is Critical to Realizing ROI Models in SDN/NFV
Modernizing OSS, BSS and all support infrastructure is critical for network virtualization benefits to be realized.
The introduction of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) has brought about a major change for many communications service providers (CSPs). While the industry-wide adoption of virtualized networks may have been more tentative than first expected, the concepts and mindsets ushered in alongside the technology are now forming the central tenets of the age of the digital service provider. It is, perhaps, this shifting of philosophies that presents the greatest challenge for CSPs, as pushing toward a customer-centric, hyper-agile set of business processes and paradigms can be the largest theoretical leap.
Forcing this leap to happen by management decree will simply not work on the timescales required. Fortunately, it seems that this heavy-handed approach will not be necessary. If we look back toward the technology that spurred this evolutionary acceleration, the answer lies in how NFV and SDN are implemented and how deep automation in the systems will enable and drive this cultural change.
To realize the efficiencies created by network virtualization, all OSS, BSS and related support infrastructure must be up to speed.
As the name suggests, the first steps with NFV deployment were inevitably taken in the network, ensuring that the virtualization of carrier-grade transport was robust enough to survive the extreme volume of dynamic transactions occurring across various network domains. Today, the techniques for deploying NFV are established and best practices are well-documented. Yet, before the industry genuinely starts on the task of mass scaling NFV and SDN, CSPs are revisiting their return on investment (ROI) models for justification.
What is now obvious in these ROI analyses is that if the business is to realize the efficiencies created by network virtualization, all operations support systems (OSS), business support systems (BSS) and related support infrastructure must be up to speed. There is little point in creating a network capable of spinning up new virtualized resources and functions in milliseconds if the provisioning process to provide services over that network takes weeks. Manual processes that are used with monolithic legacy systems have no place in futuristic digital service operations, as OSS or BSS bottlenecks would effectively nullify any benefits generated by the new network.
In a sense of urgency to keep pace with the technology evolution, CSPs are now addressing several key areas first.
Processing orders for digital service bundles can be much more complex than doing it for standard telephony and data services. For example, an enterprise IoT solution may contain a bundle of hardware, devices, connectivity, network services, sensor arrays, IT services, specialist field support and more. Many of these elements may be ephemeral in an operational sense; activated or deactivated commensurate with demand. So a modern order management system needs a very dynamic, detailed and error-free product/service catalog to deal with the moving pieces of a digital service order.
Provisioning and Orchestration
Fulfilling digital services over a hybrid network environment is widely acknowledged to be a more complex discipline than previous fulfillment scenarios. Service orchestration now provides a layer of human-like intelligence at machine-processing speeds. Provisioning capacity and resources for new or changing digital services requires a zero-touch workflow from order management so activation and optimization tasks can be performed in minutes rather than days. Research shows that the provisioning function is closely relatable to customer satisfaction.
Dynamic, real-time inventory is a leap forward from what the industry was accustomed to previously. Traditionally, network inventory systems have been a source of much frustration for operations and engineering teams, but the new breed of inventories are built to work with orchestrators to give a holistic overview of all physical, logical and virtual resources in real time and with unprecedented levels of data quality.
Connecting all of these vastly upgraded, interoperable software systems is critical for automation. Manually updated systems and processes were fit for purpose in the early mobile age, stretched to their limits in the smartphone age and have since become outmoded in the digital age. If the ROI for NFV/SDN scaling is to be justified and high-profit margins and extreme business agility realized for digital service providers, the OSS/BSS ecosystem needs to be modernized with automation across hybrid operations stacks.