I’m predicting the demise of the OSS horse

“What will telcos do about the 30% of workers AI is going to displace?”
Dawn Bushaus

That question, which is the headline of Dawn’s article on TM Forum’s Inform platform, struck me as being quite profound.

As an aside, I’m not interested in the number – the 30% – because I concur with Tom Goodwin’s sentiments on LinkedIn, “There is a lot of nonsense about AI.
Next time someone says “x% of businesses will be using AI by 2020” or “AI will be worth $xxxBn by 2025” or any of those other generic crapspeak comments, know that this means nothing.
AI is a VERY broad area within computer science that includes about 6-8 very different strands of work. It spans robotics, image recognition, machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition and far more. Nobody agrees on what is and isn’t in this.
This means it covers everything from superintelligence to artificial creativity to chatbots
.”

For the purpose of this article, let’s just say that in 5 years AI will replace a percentage of jobs that we in tech / telco / OSS are currently doing. I know at least a few telcos that have created updated operating plans built around a headcount reduction much greater than the 30% mentioned in Dawn’s article. This is despite the touchpoint explosion and increased complexity that is already beginning to crash down onto us and will continue apace over the next 5 years.

Now, assuming you expect to still be working in 5 years time and are worried that your role might be in the disappearing 30% (or whatever percentage), what do you do now?

First, figure out what the modern equivalents of the horse are in the context of Warren Buffett’s quote below:

“What you really should have done in 1905 or so, when you saw what was going to happen with the auto is you should have gone short horses. There were 20 million horses in 1900 and there’s about 4 million now. So it’s easy to figure out the losers, the loser is the horse. But the winner is the auto overall. [Yet] 2000 companies (carmakers) just about failed.”

It seems impossible to predict how AI (all strands) might disrupt tech / telco / OSS in the next 5 years – and like the auto industry, more impossible to predict the winners (the technologies, the companies, the roles). However, it’s almost definitely easier to predict the losers.

Massive amounts are being invested into automation (by carriers, product vendors and integrators), so if the investments succeed, operational roles are likely to be net losers. OSS are typically built to make operational roles more efficient – but if swathes of operator roles are automated, then does operational support also become a net loser? In its current form, probably yes.

Second, if you are a modern-day horse, ponder which of your skills are transferable into the future (eg chassis building, brakes, steering, etc) and which are not (eg buggy-whip making, horse-manure collecting, horse grooming, etc). Assuming operator-driven OSS activities will diminish, but automation (with or without AI) will increase, can you take your current networks / operations knowledge and combine that with up-skilling in data, software and automation tools?

Even if OSS user interfaces are made redundant by automation and AI, we’ll still need to feed the new technologies with operations-style data, seed their learning algorithms and build new operational processes around them.

The next question is double-edged – for both individuals and telcos alike – how are you up-skilling for a future without horses?

Onboarding outsiders as a new OSS business model

The majority of these new services [such as healthcare, content and media, autonomous vehicles, smart homes etc.] require partnerships and will be based on a platform business model where the customer is not aware of who is providing which part of the service and to be quite frankly honest, wont care. All as they will care about is the customer experience and the end-to-end delivery of their service that they have paid for. This is where the opportunity for the telco comes and we need to think beyond data!
Aaron Boasman-Patel
here on TM Forum Inform.

Are your OSS tools already integrating with third-party services?

Do your catalog / orchestration engines already call upon microservices from outside your organisation? Perhaps it’s something as simple as providing a content service bundled with a service provider’s standard bitpipe service. Perhaps it’s also bundled with an internal-facing analytics service or an outward-facing shopping cart service.

A telco isn’t going to want to (or be able to) provide all of these services but can use partnerships and catalog items to allow each unique customer to build the bundled offer they want.

This is where catalogs and microservices potentially represent a type of small-grid model. There are already many APIs from third-party providers and the catalog / orchestration tools already exist to support the model. For many telcos, it will take a slight mindset shift – to embrace partnerships (ie to discard the “not invented here” thinking); to allowing their many existing bit-pipe subscribers to sell and bill through the telco platform (embrace sell-through); to build platforms and processes to allow for simple certification and onboarding of third-parties.

If your current OSS isn’t already integrating with third-party services, is it on your roadmap? Then again, does it suit your proposed future business models?

Will it take open source to unlock OSS potential?

I have this sense that the other OSS, open source software, holds the key to the next wave of OSS (Operational Support Systems) innovation.

Why? Well, as yesterday’s post indicated (through Nic Brisbourne), “it’s hard to do big things in a small way.” I’d like to put a slight twist on that concept by saying, “it’s hard to do big things in a fragmented way.” [OSS is short for fragmented after all]

The skilled resources in OSS are so widely spread across many organisations (doing a lot of duplicated work) that we can’t reach a critical mass of innovation. Open source projects like ONAP represent a possible path to critical mass through sharing and augmentating code. They provide the foundation upon which bigger things can be built. If we don’t uplift the foundations across the whole industry quickly, we risk losing relevance (just ask our customers for their gripes list!).

BTW. Did you notice the news that Six Linux Foundation open source networking projects have just merged into one? The six initial projects are ONAP, OPNFV, OpenDaylight, FD.io, PDNA, and SNAS. The new project is called the LF Networking Fund (LFN).

But you may ask how organisations can protect their trade secrets whilst embracing open source innovation. Derek Sivers provides a fascinating story and line of thinking in “Why my code and ideas are public.” I really recommend having a read about Valerie.

Alternatively, if you’re equating open source with free / unprofitable, this link provides a list of highly successful organisations with significant open source contributions. There are plenty of creative ways to be rewarded for open source effort.

Comment below if you agree or disagree about whether we need OSS to unlock the potential of OSS innovation.

The developer development analogy (to OSS investment)

In a post last week, we quoted Jim Rohn who said, “You can have more – if you become more.” Jim was surely speaking about personal growth, but we equated it to OSS needing to become more too, especially by looking beyond the walls of operations.

Your first thoughts may be, “Ohh, good idea, I’d love to get my hands on some of the CMO’s budget to invest in my OSS because I’ve already allocated all of the OSS budget (to operational imperatives no doubt).”

We all talk about getting more budget to do bigger and better things with our OSS. But apart from small windows during capital allocation cycles, “more budget” is rarely an option. Sooooo, I’d like to run a thought experiment past you today.

Rather than thinking of budget as CAPEX, what if we think of the existing (OPEX) budget as a “draw-down of utilisation” bucket? The question we have to ask is whether we are drawing down on the right stuff. If we’re drawing down to deliver on more operational initiatives, are we effectively pushing towards an asymptote? If we were to draw down to deliver something outside the (operations) box, are we increasing our chances of “becoming more?”

I equate it to “the developer development analogy.” Let’s say a developer is already proficient at 10 programming languages. If he/she allocates their yearly development budget on learning another programming language (number 11), are they really going to become a much better coder? What if instead, they chose to invest in an adjacency like user experience design or leadership or entrepreneurship, etc? Is that more likely to trigger a leap-frogging S-curve rather than asymptotic result from their investment?

And, if we become more (ie our OSS is delivering more value outside the ops box), we can have more (ie investment coming in from benefiting business units). It’s tied to the law of reciprocity (which hopefully exists in your organisation rather than the law of scavenging other people’s cash).

This is clearly a contrarian and idealistic concept, so I’d love to hear whether you think it could be workable in your organisation.

Funding beyond the walls of operations

You can have more – if you become more.”
Jim Rohn.

I believe that this is as true of our OSS as it is of ourselves.

Many people use the name Operational Support Systems to put an electric fence around our OSS, to limit uses to just operational activities. However, the reach, awareness and power of what they (we) offer goes far beyond that.

We have powerful insights to deliver to almost every department in an organisation – beyond just operations and IT. But first we need to understand the challenges and opportunities faced by those departments so that we can give them something useful.

That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive integrations but unlocking the knowledge that resides in our data.

Looking for additional funding for your OSS? Start by seeking ways to make it more valuable to more people… or even one step further back – seeking to understand the challenges beyond the walls of operations.

The future of telco / service provider consulting

Change happens when YOU and I DO things. Not when we argue.”
James Altucher
.

We recently discussed how ego can cause stagnation in OSS delivery. The same post also indicated how smart contracts potentially streamline OSS delivery and change management.

Along similar analytical lines, there’s a structural shift underway in traditional business consulting, as described in a recent post contrasting “clean” and “dirty” consulting. There’s an increasing skepticism in traditional “gut-feel” or “set-and-forget” (aka clean) consulting and a greater client trust in hard data / analytics and end-to-end implementation (dirty consulting).

Clients have less need for consultants that just turn the ignition and lay out sketchy directions, but increasingly need ones that can help driving the car all the way to their desired destination.

Consultants capable of meeting these needs for the telco / service provider industries have:

  • Extensive coal-face (delivery) experience, seeing and learning from real success and failure situations / scenarios
  • An ability to use technology to manage, interpret and visualise real data in a client’s data stores, not just industry trend data
  • An ability to build repeatable frameworks (including the development of smart contracts)
  • A mix of business, IT and network / tech expertise, like all valuable tripods

Have you noticed that the four key features above are perfectly aligned with having worked in OSSOSS/BSS data stores contain information that’s relevant to all parts of a telco / service provider business. That makes us perfectly suited to being the high-value consultants of the future, not just contractors into operations business units.

Few consultancy tasks are productisable today, but as technology continues to advance, traditional consulting roles will increasingly be replaced by IP (Intellectual Property) frameworks, data analytics, automations and tools… as long as the technology provides real business benefit.

I found a way to save ten million dollars

Yesterday’s post about egos in OSS contained the following Dilbert cartoon:
Dilbert - I found a way to save a million dollars.
It reminded me of a story from many years ago.

I was working in a developing country, advising the board of a tier-one telco on the implementation of their first-ever OSS (they’d only ever operated their networks at NMS level previously). During the analysis phase I came across some data that showed an interesting opportunity for an innovation relating to their voice Points of Interconnect (PoI).

From a back-of-a-paper napkin analysis it seemed that a ~$50-100k investment could’ve resulted in an improvement to the company’s profit by at least $10M. I ran the concept, and the numbers, past their head of switching. His response was, “I think you’re right…. but I’m not going to recommend it.”

You could say that I was a little bewildered.

He then followed with, “You have to see this from my perspective. If I recommend this project and it succeeds, I receive no benefit. I’m not due for promotion for another two years at the earliest. I will barely receive any recognition at all, certainly no financial reward. The company receives all the benefits. But if the project fails, I will be put aside, passed over for any future promotions. It would be a career killer.”

He was right. I hadn’t seen it from his perspective… still not sure that I do, but as a consultant, I was only ever passing through their corporate culture rather than having a 4-5 decade career embedded within it.

It wasn’t within my OSS scope, but I quietly mentioned it to the board. They delegated the decision back to the head of switching. The project was not recommended to proceed, not even for further analysis.

It’s interesting the human factors that come into play when project investment is under evaluation isn’t it? What human factors have you seen influence purchasing decisions?

OSS that keep the cuckoos out of the nest

The cuckoo bird is infamous for laying its eggs in other birds’ nests. The young cuckoos grow much faster than the rightful occupants, forcing the other chicks out – if they haven’t already physically knocked the other eggs overboard. (See “brood parasitism”, here).
Analogies exist quite widely in technology – a faster-growing “tenant” sometimes pushes out the offspring of the host. Arguably Microsoft’s original Windows OS was an early “cuckoo platform” on top of IBM’s PC, removing much of IBM’s opportunity for selling additional software. 

In many ways, Internet access itself has outgrown its own host: telco-provided connectivity. Originally, fixed broadband (and the first iterations of 3G mobile broadband) were supposed to support a wide variety of telco-supplied services. Various “service delivery platforms” were conceived, including IMS, yet apart from ordinary operator telephony/VoIP and some IPTV, very little emerged as saleable services.

Instead, Internet access – which started using dial-up modems and normal phone lines before ADSL and cable and 3G/4G were deployed – has been the interloping bird which has thrived in the broadband nest instead of telcos’ own services. It’s interesting to go back and look at the 2000-era projections for walled-garden, non-Internet services.

The problem is that everyone wants to be a platform player. And when you’re building and scaling a new potential platform, it’s really hard to turn down a large and influential “anchor tenant”, even if you worry it might ultimately turn out to be a Trojan Horse (apologies for the mixed metaphor). You need the scale, the validation, and the draw for other developers and partners.

This is why the most successful platforms are always the one which have one of their own products as the key user. It reduces the cannibalisation risk. Office is the anchor tenant on Windows. iTunes, iMessage and the camera app are anchors on iOS. Amazon.com is the anchor tenant for AWS.

Unfortunately, the telecoms industry looks like it will have to learn a(nother) tough lesson or two about “cuckoo platforms”.”
Dean Bubley from Disruptive Wireless.

The link above provides some really interesting perspectives from Dean in relation to OTT business models and the challenges that telcos have faced in trying to build valuable platforms to sit on top of their capital-intensive network platforms. I really recommend having a read of the full article by clicking on the link.

I loosely equate this to the OSI stack where telcos own the L1 to L2 (L3 in many cases) platform, but haven’t been so successful at creating dominant platforms in the layers above that. That’s also why there are two distinct business model categories – the traditional CSP (Communications Service Provider) that services L1 to 2/3 and acts like a utility or REIT or the more competitive DSP (Digital Service Provider). One Telco group can have both by leveraging their trillion dollar treasure chest.

Traditional OSS service the CSP (as well as some of the aspects of the DSP model) but we probably need to create some innovative new concepts if we’re going to assist our telco customers to build DSP platforms and / or to keep the cuckoos out of the nest.

Can you re-skill fast enough to justify microservices?

There’s some things that I’ve challenged my team to do. We have to be faster than the web scale players and that sounds audacious. I tell them you can’t you can’t go to the bus station and catch a bus that’s already left the station by getting on a bus. We have to be faster than the people that we want to get to. And that sounds like an insane goal but that’s one of the goals we have. We have to speed up to catch the web scale players.”
John Donovan
, AT&T at this link.

Last week saw a series of articles appear here on the PAOSS blog around the accumulation of tech-debt and how microservices / Agile had the potential to accelerate that accumulation.

The part that I find most interesting about this new approach to telco (or more to the point, to the Digital Service Provider (DSP) model) is that it speaks of a shift to being software companies like the OTT players. Most telcos are definitely “digital” companies, but very few could be called “software” companies.

All telcos have developers on their payroll but how many would have software roles filling more than 5% of their workforce? How many would list their developer pools amongst a handful of core strengths? I’d hazard a guess that the roots of most telcos’ core strengths would’ve been formed decades ago.

Software-centric networks are on the rise. Rapid implementation models like DevOps and Agile are on the rise. API / Microservice interfaces to network domains (irrespective of being VNF, PNF, etc) are on the rise. Software, software, software.

In response, telcos are talking software. Talking, but how many are doing?

Organic transition of the workforce (ie boomers out, millennials in) isn’t going to refresh fast enough. Are telcos actively re-inventing their resource pool? Are they re-skilling on a grand scale, often tens of thousands of people, to cater for a future mode of operation where software is a core capability like it is at the OTT players? Re-skilling at a speed that’s faster than the web-scale bus?

If they can’t, or don’t, then perhaps software is not really the focus. Software isn’t their differentiator… they do have many other strengths to work with after all.

If so then OSS, microservices, SDN / NFV, DevOps, etc are key operational requirements without being core differentiators. So therefore should they all be outsourced to trusted partners / vendors / integrators (rather than the current insourcing trend), thus delegating the responsibility for curating the tech-debt we spoke about last week?

I’m biased. I see OSS as a core differentiator (if done well), but few agree with me.

Micro-strangulation vs COTS customisation

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve referred to the following diagram and its ability to create a glass ceiling on OSS feature releases:
The increasing percentage of tech debt

Yesterday’s post indicated that the current proliferation of microservices has the potential to amplify the strangulation.

So how does that compare with the previous approach that was built around COTS (Commercial off-the-shelf) OSS packages?

With COTS, the same time-series chart exists, just that it sees the management of legacy, etc fall largely with the COTS vendor, freeing up the service provider… until the service provider starts building customisations and the overhead becomes shared.

With microservices, the rationalisation responsibility is shifted to the in-house (or insourced) microservice developers.

And a third option: If the COTS is actually delivered via a cloud “OSS as a service” (OSSaaS) model, then there’s a greater incentive for the vendor to constantly re-factor and reduce clutter.

A fourth option, which I haven’t actually seen as a business model yet, is once an accumulation of modular microservices begins to grow, vendors might begin to offer microservices as a COTS offering.

Can the OSS mammoths survive extinction?

Startups win with data. Mammoths go extinct with products.”
Jay Sharma
.

Interesting phraseology. I love the play on words with the term mammoths. There are some telcos that are mammoth in size but are threatened with extinction though changes in environment and new competitors appearing.

I tend to agree with the intent of the quote, but also have some reservations. For example, products are still a key part of the business model of digital phenoms like Google, Facebook, etc. It’s their compelling products that allow them to collect the all-important data. As consumers, we want the product, they get our data. We also want the products sold by the Mammoths but perhaps they don’t leverage the data entwined in our usage (or more importantly, the advertising revenues that gets attracted to all that usage) as well as the phenoms do.

Another interesting play on words exists here for the telcos – in the “winning with data.” Telcos are losing at data (their profitability per bit is rapidly declining to the point of commoditisation), so perhaps a mindset shift is required. Moving the business model that’s built on the transport of data to a model based on the understanding of, and learning from, data. It’s certainly not a lack of data that’s holding them back. Our OSS / BSS collect and curate plenty. The difference is that Google’s and Facebook’s customers are advertisers, whilst the Mammoths’ customers are subscribers.

As OSS providers, the question remains for us to solve – how can we provide the products that allow the Mammoths to win with data?

PS. The other part of this equation is the rise of data privacy regulations such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Is it just me, or do the Mammoths seem to attract more attention in relation to privacy of our data than the OTT service providers?

Are your OSS better today than they were 5 years ago?

Are your OSS better today than they were 5 years ago?
(or 10, 15, 20 years depending on how long you’ve been in the industry) 

Your immediate reaction to this question is probably going to be, “Yes!” After all, you and your peers have put so much effort into your OSS in the last 5 years. They have to be better right?

On the basis of effort, our OSS are definitely more capable… but let me ask again, “Are they better?”

How do they stack up on key metrics such as:

  1. Do they need less staff to run / maintain
  2. Do they allow products to be released more quickly to market
  3. Do they allow customer services to be ready for service (RFS) faster
  4. Are mean times to repair (MTTR) faster when there’s a problem in the network
  5. Are bills more accurate (and need less intervention across all of the parties that contribute)
  6. Are there less fall-outs (eg customer activations that get lost in the ether)
  7. Are we better at delivering (or maintaining) OSS on budget
  8. Are your CAPEX and OPEX budgets lower
  9. Are our front-office staff (eg retail, contact centres, etc) able to give better outcomes for customers via our OSS/BSS
  10. Are our average truck-rolls per activation lower
  11. Are the insights we’re identifying generating longer-run competitive advantages
  12. etc, etc

Maybe it’s the rose-coloured glasses, but my answer to the initial question when framed against these key metrics is, “Probably not,” but with a couple of caveats.

Our OSS are certainly far more complicated. The bubble in which we operate is far more complicated (ie network types, product offerings, technology options, contact channels, more touchpoints, etc). This means more variants for our OSS / BSS to handle. In addition, we’ve added a lot more functionality (ie complexity of our own).

Comparison of metrics will vary greatly across different OSS operators – some for the better, some worse. Maybe I’m just working on projects that are more challenging now than I was 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Do you have the data to confirm / deny that your OSS is better than in years past?

PS. Oh, and one last call-out. You’ll notice that the metrics above tend to be cross-silo. I have no doubt that individual OSS products have improved in terms of functionality, usability, processing speeds, etc. But what about our end-to-end workflows through our OSS/BSS suite of products?

5 principles for your OSS Innovation Lab

Corporate innovation is far more dependent on external collaboration and customer insight than having a ‘lab’.”
Andy Howard
in a fabulous LinkedIn post.

Like so many other industries, OSS is ripe for disruption through innovation. Andy Howard’s post provides a number of sobering statistics for any large OSS vendors thinking of embarking on an Innovation Lab journey as a way of triggering innovation. Andy quotes the New York Times as follows, “The last three years have seen Nordstrom, Microsoft, Disney, Target, Coca-Cola, British Airways and The New York Times either close or dramatically downsize their innovation labs. 90% of innovation labs are failing.”

He also proposes five principles for corporate innovation success (Andy’s comments are in italics, mine follow):

  1. People. Will taking people out of the business and placing them into a new department change their thinking? No way. Those successful in corporate innovation are more entrepreneurial and more customer-centered, and usually come from outside of the organisation.
    Are you identifying (and then leveraging) those with an entrepreneurial bent in your organisation?
  2. Commercial intent. Every innovation project requires a commercial forecast. To progress, a venture must demonstrate how it could ultimately generate at least €100 million in annual revenue from a market worth at least €1 billion, and promise higher profit margins than usual.
    The numbers quoted above come from Daimler’s (wildly successful) Innovation Lab. Have you noticed that they’ve set the bar high for their innovation teams? They’re seeking the moonshots, not the incremental change.
  3. Organisational architecture. Whether it’s an innovation lab or simply an innovation department, separating the innovation team from the rest of the business is important. While the team may be bound by the same organisational policies, separation has cultural benefits. The most critical separation is not in terms of physical space, but in the team’s roles and responsibilities. Having employees attempt to function in both an ‘innovation’ role and ‘business as usual’ role is counterproductive and confusing. Innovation is an exclusive job.
    I’m 50/50 on this one. Having a gemba / coal-face / BAU role provides a much better understanding of real customer challenges. However, having BAU responsibilities can detract from a focus on innovation. The question is how to find a balance that works.
  4. External collaboration. Working with consultants and customers from outside of the organisation has long been a contributor to corporate innovation success. Companies attempting a Silicon Valley-style ‘lone genius’ breakthrough are headed towards failure. P&G’s ‘Connect and Develop’ innovation model, designed to bring outside thinking together with P&G’s own teams, is attributed with helping to double the P&G share price within five years.
    Where do you source your external collaboration on OSS innovation? Dirty or clean consultants? Contractors? Training of staff? Delegating to vendors?
  5. Customer insight. Innovations solve real customer problems. Staying close to customers and getting out of the building is how customer problems are discovered.
    As indicated under point 3 above, how do you ensure your innovators are also deeply connected with the customer psyche? Getting the team out of the ivory tower and onto the customer site is a key here

Bill Gates’ two rules of OSS technology (plus one)

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Bill Gates
.

The pervading OSS business case paradigm is to seek cost-out by introducing automation that reduces head-count – Do more with less.

But it seems that’s the antithesis of how to look for cost reduction. It’s adding more complexity into a given system. Fundamentally, more complexity can not be the best approach to a cost-reduction strategy, right?

The cost-out paradigm should be built on reducing, not adding complexity – Let’s stop doing more that delivers less.

To add to Bill Gates’ two rules of technology, my third rule is that if you’re going to add technology (ie complexity), it should attempt to create growth opportunities, not seek to reduce costs.

Do you want dirty or clean OSS consulting?

The original management consultant was Frederick Taylor, who prided himself in having discovered the “one best way” which would be delivered by “first-class men”. These assumptions, made in 1911, are still dominant today. Best practice is today’s “one best way” and recruiters, HR and hiring managers spend months and months searching for today’s “first-class men”.

I call this type of consulting clean because the assumptions allow the consultant to avoid dirty work or negative feedback. The model is “proven” best practice. Thus, if the model fails, it is not the consultants’ fault – rather it’s that the organisation doesn’t have the “first-class employees” who can deliver the expected outcome. You just have to find those that can. Then everything will be hunky dory.

All responsibility and accountability are abdicated downwards to HR and hiring managers. A very clean solution for everybody but them.

It’s also clean because it can be presented in a shiny manner – lots of colourful slide-decks promising a beautiful outcome – rational, logical, predictable, ordered, manageable. Clean. In today’s world of digital work, the best practice model is a new platform transforming everything you do into a shiny, pixelated reality. Cleaner than ever.

The images drawn by clean consultants are compelling. The client gets a clearly defined vision of a future state backed up by evidence of its efficacy.

But it’s far too often a dud. Things are ignored. The complex differences between the client and the other companies the model has been used on. The differences in size, in market, in demographic, in industry. None matter – because the one best way model is just that – one best way. It will work everywhere for everyone. As long as they keep doing it right and can find the right people to do it.

The dirty consultant has a problem that the clean consultant doesn’t have. It’s a big problem. He doesn’t have an immediate answer for the complex problem vexing the client. He has no flashy best practice model he strongly believes in. No shiny slide deck that outlines a defined future state.

It’s a difficult sell.

What he does have is a research process. A way of finding out what is actually causing the organisational problems. Why and how the espoused culture is different from organisational reality. Why and how the supposed best practice solution is producing stressed out anxiety or cynical apathy.

This process is underpinned by a fundamentally different perspective on the world of work. Context is everything. There is no solution that can fit every company all of the time. But there’s always a solution for the problem. It just has to be discovered.

The dirty consultant enters an organisation ready and willing to uncover the dirty reasons for the organisation not performing. This involved two processes – (1) working out where the inefficiencies and absurdities are, and (2) finding out who knows how to solve them.”

The text above all comes from this LinkedIn post by Dr Richard Claydon. It’s also the longest quote I’ve used in nearly 2000 posts here on PAOSS. I’ve copied such a great swathe of it because it articulates a message that is important for OSS.

There is no “best practice.” There is no single way. There are no cookie-cutter consulting solutions. There are too many variants at play. Every OSS has massive local context. They all have a local context that is far bigger than any consultant can bring to bear.

They all need dirty consulting – assignments where the consultant doesn’t go into the job knowing the answers, acknowledging that they don’t have the same local, highly important context of those who are at gemba every day, at the coal-face every day.

There is no magic-square best-fit OSS solution for a given customer. There should be no domino-effect selection of OSS (ie the big-dog service provider in the region has chosen product X after a long product evaluation so therefore all the others should choose X too). There is no perfect, clean answer to all OSS problems.

Having said that, we should definitely seek elements of repeatability – using repeatable decision frameworks to guide the dirty consulting process, to find solutions that really do fit, to find where repeatable processes will actually make a difference for a given customer.

So if the local context is so important, why even use a consultant?

It’s a consultant’s role to be a connector – to connect people, ideas, technologies, concepts, organisations – to help a customer make valuable connections they would otherwise not be able to make.

These connections often come from the ability to combine the big-picture concepts of clean consulting with the contextual methods of dirty consulting. There’s a place for both, but it’s the dirty consulting that provides the all-important connection to gemba. If an OSS consultant doesn’t have a dirty-consulting background, an ability to frame from a knowledge of gemba, I wonder whether the big-picture concepts can ever be workable?

What are your experiences working with clean consultants (vs dirty consultants) in OSS?

OSS expendables

When looking at a telco org chart, where does the highest staff turnover tend to occur? Contact centres? Network Operations?

The fact that these two groups tend to have the highest turnover indicates that their employers see them as expendable resources. They’ll never come out and say it directly, but actions speak louder than words. If these resources were valued more highly, more effort would be made on their retention.

Now, what do you notice on the diagram below?
The pyramid of pain

The diagram below is taken from an earlier post entitled “The pyramid of OSS pain.” It’s an over-simplification of where the source of OSS complexity (ie pain) tends to originate from, but who bears the brunt of all the upstream complexity generated within a service provider? Yes, the contact centres and network operations centres.

This can’t be a coincidence can it? The teams bearing the brunt of complexity have the highest turnover.

But how can this be allowed? If those are the roles dealing with most complexity, why do we tend to have our least experienced operators there? And why are we allowing their accrued knowledge for handling that complexity to walk out the door as expendable resources?

An uncommon list of OSS books

Since reading the first book on this list, I’ve become a very avid and wide-ranging reader. The seeds sown by the book list below have immensely helped enrich the content you see here on the PAOSS blog and other PAOSS content.

You’ll begin to notice a very curious thing about this list though. There are only two books in the entire list that are actually about OSS. I have many OSS books in my library, but most struggle for relevance beyond the author’s frame of reference – they have been written from the specific technical experiences of the author, which are rarely transferable to other OSS. Either the technologies are now out of date and/or the details / terminologies were pertinent only to that OSS time and place. It’s one of the reasons that PAOSS content is specifically intended to abstract from technology and deliver insights, methodologies, processes and frameworks that have a broader relevance and greater longevity (hopefully).

The remaining books in the list have not been written with OSS in mind but definitely provide insights and perspectives that are transferable to the challenges we face in the OSS industry. In no particular order (except the first being the first…)

Rich Dad, Poor Dad Rich Dad, Poor Dad
by Sharon L. Lechter Robert T. Kiyosaki
This was the book that changed it all for me. Whilst its intent is to educate on personal finance, the effect it had was to lift my eyes beyond the purely technical. Like 95%+ of people in our industry, I had previously only ever focused on delivering the best technical solution I could with the assumption that this would deliver a great customer outcome. I now know that the challenges we face are far  bigger than that!
Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
by Ken Segall
The greatest OSS (but non-OSS) book I’ve read. The first half of this book in particular delivers powerful examples of simplification at all levels of an organisation as experienced by an advertising executive working alongside Steve Jobs at Apple. The OSS and communications industry need more people who are able to wield the simple stick like Steve did.
Rework Rework
by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
These gentlemen have built a strong business around the Basecamp project management suite of tools. In Rework, just like their blog at 37signals, they provide brilliant contrarian insights into how to run a software business… Or any business for that matter. Efficiency and simplicity are the mantra ahead of the Red-Bull fuelled heroics spouted by many organisations in the software industry. One of my all-time favourite business books.
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
by Guy Kawasaki
Guy defines enchantment as, “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organisation or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” If there was ever an industry that was in need of enchantment, it is the OSS industry right now.
Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business
by Jeffrey J. Fox
An easy to digest story about a boy with a paper-route learning the key tenets of rainmaking, the ability to delight customers and make sales (and projects) happen.
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
by Carmine Gallo
There are two acronyms that pervade in the OSS / telco / tech industry; DBA (Death by Acronym) and DBP (Death by Powerpoint). This book provides some stunning insights into how to make a compelling presentation on your latest OSS project.
Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry
by Stephen Denny
There are a number of goliath incumbents in our industry. However, I suspect that most of the required disruption is coming from the Davids of our industry, despite the burning platforms at the goliaths. Interesting reading for a different perspective on innovation and change.
Jack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEO Jack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEO
by Robert Slater
This book describes a number of key strategies for how Jack Welch pared back the weighty bureaucracy of General Electric upon his ascension to CEO. I suspect our industry needs similarly brutal change leadership to thrive into the future
The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs
by Bill Price, David Jaffe
There is a distinct difference between the customer service models of the typical communications service provider (CSP) and digital service providers (DSP) like Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. Most CSPs can only wish for the level of customer self-service that the DSPs enjoy. I was working on a project for a customer-facing business unit of a CSP whilst reading this book and the parallels were almost scary.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Think: Less but better. A motto for our industry, one individual at a time.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers was a professional musician before starting his own business, one that helped sell the CDs of the long tail of the music industry, musicians overlooked by the big labels. This might sound barely relevant to the OSS industry but there is an uncommon clarity in the way that Sivers views businesses, customers and delivery. Many of his thoughts really struck a chord with me (bad pun intended).
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
by David Robertson, Bill Breen
Bespoke creativity took this icon of childrens’ toys to the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps counter-intuitively, paring it back to the basic building blocks (another bad pun) allowed creativity and profitability to thrive at Lego.
Principles: Life and Work Principles: Life and Work
by Ray Dalio
Built around the principles that Ray Dalio codified at his company, Bridgewater Associates. Many of his principles of team and culture seem like common sense, but helpfully compiled into a single volume. Not all OSS teams have these principles mastered.
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
This book provides frameworks for shifting an organisation out of fragmented, highly competitive markets (bloody red oceans) into a unique market segment (blue oceans). I’ve even added some of the concepts in this book into a framework that helps my clients plot differentiated strategic roadmaps and product evaluations.
Leading Change Leading Change
by John P. Kotter
OSS projects are challenging to implement. Through harsh experience, I’ve learnt that even technically perfect implementations are prone to fail if the organisational change effort hasn’t been managed well. Whilst there are newer change management methodologies available, I still find that Kotter’s 8 steps provide a valuable framework for building OSS change management strategies around.
Everything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time Everything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time
by Gavin Kennedy
Introduces some fascinating negotiation tactics such as “The Mother Hubbard” (ie the cupboard is bare). There is more negotiation required in OSS than I first gave it credit for.
Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales
by Bob Burg
In the early days of my career, I’d gone from one project to the next, with my head down focusing on delivery. This book opened my eyes to the value of staying in touch with past colleagues and adding value to my network. The results have surprised me so I recommend this book’s teachings to anyone who is purely tech-focused.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner
Put simply, this is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in relation to the communications industry. The groundbreaking innovations (including OSS) that were developed within R&D powerhouses like Bell Labs during the 1900’s are staggering and something that we can barely even aspire to today. It’s no coincidence that the OSS Call for Innovation references this book
null Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
A call to action to become a linchpin, someone who delivers in territory where there is no map / rule-book, someone who inspires those around them. OSS needs more linchpins.
Dangerous Company: Consulting Powerhouses and the Companies They Save and Ruin Dangerous Company: Consulting Powerhouses and the Companies They Save and Ruin
by Charles Madigan and James O’Shea
This book provides some insights into the best and worst of management consulting. It is a little old now, dating back to the late 1990’s but it had a significant impact on me when I read it in the 2010’s. It describes some of the unscrupulous acts / tactics / results that have lead to the poor reputation that consulting has in some circles. It also reinforced a strong belief I’ve always had in doing right by the client before the firm because building reputation and integrity ultimately benefits the firm anyway.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
The term “stickiness” was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.” This book borrows the term and looks to explain why an idea or concept remains sticky. OSS tend to be so sticky, in many cases to the detriment of the customer experience, but our industry is also in desperate need for powerfully sticky new ideas and approaches.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
by Michael E. Gerber
The ideas in this book are based on growing small businesses, but there are certainly take-aways for OSS. The biggest for me is the need for repeatability. We need to codify and systematise if we are to refine and improve.
Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
by Seth Godin
In a cluttered or fragmented marketplace, like OSS, it is difficult to stand out from all other suppliers. Seth Godin introduces the concept of the purple cow – when you’re on a long trip in the countryside, seeing lots of brown or black cows soon gets boring, but if you saw a purple cow, you’d immediately take notice. This book provides the impetus to make your products stand out and drive word of mouth rather than having to differentiate via your marketing.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
From the creative brilliance of Pixar Studios comes this book of how to cultivate inspired creativity. My biggest take-away was the amount of time and money Pixar spends on upgrading its hardware and software platforms between films…. unlike some of our OSS that are still rooted in tech from the 1990s.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss
Starts off strongly but drops away rapidly in the second half IMHO. The words of a friend of mine aptly paraphrase what Tim Ferris talks about in this book, “Only do what only you can do.” Prioritise your efforts on what make you truly unique and use other efficiency tools and/or engage others to do the rest
OSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service Providers OSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service Providers
by Kornel Terplan
Finally, a book that’s actually about OSS. Whilst covering some obsolete technologies, this is one of the very few OSS books that retains a longevity of relevance (it was published in 2001)
Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth Edition Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth Edition
by Alan Weiss
Alan Weiss has the ability to cut through the waffle that’s offered in many consultancy how-to manuals. He provides insightful and often contrarian advice that will make you a more professional consultant, no matter what area of expertise you cover.
Mastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and Techniques Mastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and Techniques
by Ryan Jeffery
This is the best OSS book that I’ve written (so far), but with new material in the pipeline, watch this space for even better publications. It provides the frameworks, processes, insights and recommendations that will help guide you through the myriad of challenges, technical or otherwise, that you will face in the world of OSS.
Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All
by Bernard T. Ferrari
Bernard Ferrari advises the use of the Pareto Principle to listening. In other words, spending 80% of the time listening and only 20% talking. It’s such an important trait for all technical resources, yet perhaps somewhat uncommon unfortunately. As the “hired gun,” there is a tendency to start firing from both barrels verbally as soon as you meet with the customer. But the most insightful insights are the ones that are understandable to the customer. They have to be relevant in terminology, desired outcomes, roles/responsibilities, respective capabilities, etc, etc. You only get that context from Power Listening.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World
by Frans Johansson
Johansson also introduces the concept of the “smallest executable step” as a mechanism for harnessing the apparent randomness of our modern, rapidly changing world. He suggests that we make many small bets rather than one massive bet as a means of improving success rates. OSS are complex systems so any small deviation makes predictions of completion time, resources and cost difficult. As implementers, it’s our job to remove as much complexity as possible
 Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader
by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan
More than anything else, one paragraph has stuck with me from this guide to project change leadership, “….once you start a company transformation, it’s like a stampede. If you try to lead from the front, you get trampled; if you try to lead from the back, you have no impact. Best to lead from the side by carefully nudging and turning the stampede to avoid everyone going over the cliff.”
Waging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational Complexity Waging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational Complexity
by Stephen A. Wilson, Andrei Perumal.
Amongst other things, this book introduces the concept of The Whale Curve, a model that breaks products into the profitable or the cannibalistic.
Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order
by Paul Vigna, Michael J. Casey
You may (or may not) be interested in cryptocurrencies right now, but this book provides brilliant context for two concepts that are likely to have a big impact on future OSS – blockchains and smart contracts.

What have I missed? What should I be adding to my reading list? Alternatively, which books on the list do you think I’ve over-rated?

The OSS cosmetic surgery analogy

I love the fact that we’re constantly seeking incremental improvements for our OSS. However, cumulative OSS changes can be a double-edged sword, just as they can be in the cosmetic surgery industry. In both cases, these well intentioned changes can distort as readily as they can improve.


Photo-collage courtesy of DailyMail.co.uk.

I’ve seen OSS go from being open, intuitive, adaptable and flexible tools to being so customised for a single client purpose that they need additional reconstructive work for even the tiniest change (eg process revision, network configuration / topology type, new card type in an existing device, etc).

Embarking on a course of incremental customisation, such as an Agile methodology, can become dangerous without careful consideration. Be vigilant of where your changes might be guiding you.

This is NEVER going to happen

Have you noticed all the recent headlines about the big, iconic brands in our industry struggling to make targets, cutting headcounts, etc.? This covers vendors and service providers alike.

As a complete generalisation:

  • Vendors are going backwards
  • Traditional CSPs are going backwards
  • Profit decline means projects and investments in OSS can only be trending downwards too

We know it’s a burning platform. We know that the current arc isn’t working. We know that change isn’t just an option, but a necessity.

Given this environment, today I’ll talk about an idea that will never happen, but I’d love to imagine just for the purpose of experimentation – to see whether it would disrupt in a positive way or just cause destruction.

The one big impetus we need is increasing eyeballs on a smaller number of OSS (ie decreasing fragmentation) – a critical mass of eyeballs on a smaller number of code bases. That means all the big, but flailing OSS vendors throw their code over to an independent arbiter to make a unified, powerful core product suite that then becomes open-sourced.

The core manages inventory, alarms, performance, workflows, service ordering, provisioning, security, scalability, APIs and all the other elements of a foundational OSS.

The vendors can then just innovate and differentiate with add-ins and services and content since there’s currently marginal differentiation in the core anyway (ie everyone has the “entry” functionality).

What are your completely contrarian ideas that will never happen but you’d like to trial just to see the outcomes?

Lighting the fire under OSS

Forcing people to follow new rules is always an uphill battle, but getting them to buy into a concept to the point where they start contributing their own ideas can literally create a movement within an organisation.”
Ken Segall
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I’ve really diverted away from direct discussions about OSS in a couple of recent posts about influence, persuasion and change. However, as the link suggests, I recently had a late-onset epiphany in relation to what’s needed to take OSS forward. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not OSS technology change per se.

The recent Call for Innovation has sparked significant direct feedback and a large up-tick in traffic here on PAOSS. This interactivity says that there’s a significant latent appetite for drastic change in our industry.

We’re all really busy, mostly on implementations, so its not change we’re lacking. It’s a lack of fundamental change. Big picture change. The type of change that takes significant collaborative effort, but a correspondingly massive mindset shift of the collective.

That’s the challenge that I’m now grappling with. How do we take the leap from being an implementer of incremental change to sparking something much bigger? It’s also a realisation that the skillsets are different to what most of us in OSS tend to try to develop.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and words / experiences of inspiration.