Successful network virtualisation: changing the business model and processes is essential
For some years now, network virtualisation has been a hot topic among operators. It promises unmatched network programmability and flexibility. It is expected to provide a response to the desire of customers, particularly businesses, to enjoy from a genuine “on-demand network”, adjustable in real time and invoiced on a pay-per-use basis. But the technical solution alone is not enough to deliver on this promise: the internal processes of the operator must be modified.
For customers, virtualisation must provide responsiveness and adaptability in terms of services
It is the maturity of new technologies – Software-defined Network (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) – that now makes network virtualisation possible, and with it, an “on-demand network”. In the IT field, virtualisation – of servers, storage, etc. – has generated flexibility and savings. A company can thus allocate unused resources to another application, temporarily or permanently.
By freeing themselves from the constraints inherent in physical infrastructure, telecom operators can now consider providing on-demand network services: allocating more or less bandwidth to a site or application in real time, or allowing a business customer to create a new virtual private network (VPN) almost instantaneously on a particular site with a specific level of security.
However, to deliver a fully “on-demand” network, the ordering and invoicing process must be automated from start to finish, with
- Online order taking,
- rapid activation of services,
- automated invoicing, if possible on a pay-per-use basis.
The IT system is not designed for virtualisation
An SDN (Controller+orchestrator) solution goes beyond simply automating service configuration. To fulfil its promise, it must be fully integrated with the OSS and the BSS. To accelerate the service cycle from order to billing, all of the following elements must be integrated, digitised and automated:
- order taking,
- the quotation,
- CRM updating,
- insurance services,
- the change management tool.
If a single element of the chain remains isolated or requires manual intervention, the initial promise will be jeopardised by:
- delays in delivery or change management
- an increased risk of error
It is therefore essential that the entire customer journey be redesigned so that it is digitised from start to finish. If an online ordering portal does not yet exist, the operator should make the creation of one an essential part of their project.
As for the other IS elements composing this order-billing chain, they are not necessarily ready to handle this digitisation. All operators should therefore check the capacity of these elements before embarking on an SDN/NFV project.
APIs must address interoperability issues between service providers
In an agile and automated end-to-end service, processes obviously need to include interconnections with other service providers, whether national or international.
Accelerating these interconnections between operators is essential for the development of genuine interoperable on-demand services available on increasingly automated and interconnected networks. As a result, the use of standardised APIs covering the entire order-billing chain has become paramount. Multiple APIs for Ethernet services are currently being standardised through a consortium led by MEF with support from the TM Forum.
Roles and processes involving employees also need to be redesigned
Digitizing and automating the process also involves thinking about existing roles and processes. When the concepts of “zero-touch operation” and “self-restoration” promised by virtualisation are achieved, a certain number of processes initially involving employees are changed or even eliminated.
Take the case of a feasibility study when automation is complete: it could lose importance since engineering rules are automatically implemented at the SDN controller level.
All phases of the sales-delivery chain are also affected: what happens to the sales role if all orders are placed online? What actions on the ground are still needed?
For a harmonious, well-accepted, humane and beneficial transformation for all, it will be necessary to reassess in advance the roles that will be affected. Some operational roles will become more strategic. Initially devoted to implementation, some positions will require more of a coordination and monitoring approach. It is therefore essential to properly deal with the human impact and change management as part of a virtualisation project.
Thus, the promise of flexibility and agility in network virtualisation is obviously based on an essential technical foundation. But we must keep in mind that the entire order-invoicing chain, its processes, and the corresponding information system tools are also impacted. They must be analysed, adjusted and sometimes thoroughly redesigned to be as automated and agile as the network itself.
SDN (Software-Defined Network): a set of technologies designed to enable centralised control of network resources, better programmability and orchestration of these resources, as well as the virtualisation of these resources by separating them from the physical elements of the network. The practical goal of SDNs is to make networks programmable through a centralised controller. With SDNs, a clear separation is established between the control plan and the data plan. The control plan is placed in a centralised controller that has visibility over the entire network.
The principle of NFV (Network Function Virtualisation) is to replace a certain amount of network equipment with software functions embedded in servers. These functions can thus be executed on various generic servers and can be instantiated at various points on the network without the need to install new equipment.