Crossing the OSS chasm

Geoff Moore’s seminal book, “Crossing the Chasm,” described the psychological chasm between early buyers and the mainstream market.

Crossing the Chasm

Seth Godin cites Moore’s work, “Moore’s Crossing the Chasm helped marketers see that while innovation was the tool to reach the small group of early adopters and opinion leaders, it was insufficient to reach the masses. Because the masses don’t want something that’s new, they want something that works…

The lesson is simple:

– Early adopters are thrilled by the new. They seek innovation.

– Everyone else is wary of failure. They seek trust.”
 

I’d reason that almost all significant OSS buyer decisions fall into the “mainstream market” section in the diagram above.  Why? Well, an organisation might have the 15% of innovators / early-adopters conceptualising a new OSS project. However, sign-off of that project usually depends on a team of approvers / sponsors. Statistics suggest that 85% of the team is likely to exist in a mindset beyond the chasm and outweigh the 15%. 

The mainstream mindset is seeking something that works and something they can trust.

But OSS / digital transformation projects are hard to trust. They’re all complex and unique. They often fail to deliver on their promises. They’re rarely reliable or repeatable. They almost all require a leap of faith (and/or a burning platform) for the buyer’s team to proceed.

OSS sellers seek to differentiate from the 400+ other vendors (of course). How do they do this? Interestingly, by pitching their innovations and uniqueness mostly.

Do you see the gap here? The seller is pitching the left side of the chasm and the buyer cohort is on the right.

I wonder whether our infuriatingly lengthy sales cycles (often 12-18 months) could be reduced if only we could engineer our products and projects to be more mainstream, repeatable, reliable and trustworthy, whilst being less risky.

This is such a dilemma though. We desperately need to innovate, to take the industry beyond the chasm. Should we innovate by doing new stuff? Or should we do the old, important stuff in new and vastly improved ways? A bit of both??

Do we improve our products and transformations so that they can be used / performed by novices rather than designed for use by all the massive intellects that our industry seems to currently consist of?

 

 

 

 

A billion dollar bid

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to lead a bid. I say lucky because the partner organisations are two of the most iconic firms in the tech industry. The bid was for bleeding-edge work, potentially worth well over a billion dollars. I was a little surprised to be honest. I mean, two tech titans, with many very, very clever people, much cleverer than me. Why would they need to look outside and engage me?

As it turned out, the answer became clear within the first few meetings. And whilst the project had little to do with OSS, it certainly had (has) parallels in the world of OSS.

Both of the organisations were highly siloed. Each product / capability silo had immense talent and immense depth to it. Our combined team had many PhDs who could discuss their own silo for hours, but could only point me in the general direction of what plugged into their products. 

Clearly, I was engaged to figure out the required end-to-end solution for the customer and then how to bolt the two sets of silos into that solution framework.

The same is true when looking for OSS solution gaps, in my experience at least. If you look into a domain or a product, the functionality / capability is usually quite well defined, understood and supported. For example, alarm / event managers are invariably very good at managing alarm / event lists.

If you’re going to find gaps, they’re more likely to be found in the end-to-end solution – in the handoffs, responsibility demarcation points, interfaces and processes that cross between silos. That’s why external consultancies can prove valuable for large organisations. They generally look into the cross-domain solution performance.

As you’d already know, the end-to-end solution is a combination of people, process and technology. Even so, as the “manager of managers,” I’m not sure our OSS tech is solving this problem as well as it could. Is there even a “glue” product that’s missing from our OSS/BSS stack?

Sure, we have some tools that fit this purpose – workflow engines, messaging buses, orchestration engines, data lakes, etc. Yet I still feel there’s an opportunity to do it far better. And the opportunity probably extends far beyond just OSS and into the broader IT industry.

What have you done to help solve this problem on your OSS suites?

PS. If you’re wondering what happened to the bid. Well, the team was excited to have made the shortlist of 3, but then the behemoths decided to withdraw from the race. Turns out that winning the bid could’ve jeopardised the even bigger supply contracts they already had with the client. Boggles the mind to think there were bigger contracts already in play!!

 

Google’s Circular Economy in OSS

OSS wear many hats and help many different functions within an organisation. One function that OSS assists might be surprising to some people – the CFO / Accounting function.

The traditional service provider business model tends to be CAPEX-heavy, with significant investment required on physical infrastructure. Since assets need to be depreciated and life-cycle managed, Accountants have an interest in the infrastructure that our OSS manage via Inventory Management (IM) tools.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with many network operators and see vastly different asset management approaches used by CFOs. These strategies have ranged from fastidious replacement of equipment as soon as depreciation cycles have expired through to building networks using refurbished equipment that has already passed manufacturer End-of-Life dates. These strategies fundamentally effect the business models of these operators.

Given that telecommunications operator revenues are trending lower globally, I feel it’s incumbent on us to use our OSS to deliver positive outcomes to global business models. 

With this in mind, I found this article entitled, “Circular Economy at Work in Google Data Centers,” to be quite interesting. It cites, “Google’s circular approach to optimizing end of life of servers based on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) principles have resulted in hundreds of millions per year in cost avoidance.”

Google Asset Lifecycle

Asset lifecycle management is not your typical focus area for OSS experts, but an area where we can help add significant value for our customers!

Some operators use dedicated asset management tools such as SAP. Others use OSS IM tools. Others reconcile between both. There’s no single right answer.

For a deeper dive into ideas where our OSS can help in asset lifecycle (which Google describes as its Circular Economy and seems to manage using its ReSOLVE tool), I really recommend reviewing the article link above.

If you need to develop such a tool using machine learning models, reach out to us and we’ll point you towards some tools equivalent to ReSOLVE to augment your OSS.

For those starting out in OSS product, here’s a tip

For those starting out in product, here’s a tip: Design, Defaults*, Documentation, Details and Delivery really matter in software.”
Jeetu Patel here.

* Note that you can interpret “Defaults” to be Out-Of-The-Box functionality offered by the product.

Let’s break those 5 D-words down and describe why they really matter to the OSS industry shall we?

  • Design – The power of OSS product development tends to lie with engineering, ie the developers. I have huge admiration for the very clever and very talented engineers who create amazing products for us to use, buuutttttt……. I just have one reservation – is there a single OSS company that is design-driven? A single one that’s making intuitive, effective, beautiful experiences for their users? The obvious answer is of course engineering teams hold sway over design teams in OSS – how many OSS vendors even have a dedicated design department??? See this article for more.
  • Defaults – Almost every OSS I know of has an enormous amount of “out-of-the-box” functionality baked in. You could even say that most have too much functionality. There’s functionality that might be really important for one customer but never even used by any of the vendor’s other customers. It just represents bloat for all the other customers, and potentially a distraction for their operators. I’m still bemused to see vendors trying to differentiate by adding obscure new default features rather than optimising for “must-have” functions. See this article for more. However, I must add that I’m starting to see a shift in some OSS. They’re moving away from having baked-in functionality and are moving to more data-repository-driven architectures. Interesting!!
  • Documentation – This is a really interesting factor! Some vendors make almost no documentation available until a prospect becomes a paying customer. Other vendors make their documentation available for the general public online and dedicate significant effort to maintaining their information library. The low-doc approach espoused by Agile could be argued to be reducing document quality. However, it also reduces the chance of producing documentation that nobody will read ever! Personally, I believe vendors like Cisco have earnt a huge competitive advantage (in the networking space moreso than OSS) because of their training / certification (ie CCNA, etc) and self-learning (ie online documentation). See this article for more. As such, I’d tend to err on over-documenting for customer-facing collateral. And perhaps under-documenting for internal-facing collateral unless it’s likely to be used regularly and by many.
  • Details – This is another item where there are two ends to the spectrum. That might surprise some people who would claim that attention to detail is paramount. Well, yes…. in many cases, but certainly not all on OSS projects. Let me share a story on attention to detail on a past OSS project. And another story on seeking perfection. Sometimes we just need to find the right balance, and knowing when to prioritise resilience and when to favour precision becomes an art.
  • Delivery – I have two perspectives on this D-word. Firstly, the Steve Jobs inspired quote of “Real artists ship!” In other words, to laud the skill of shipping a product that provides value to the customer rather than holding off on a not-yet-perfected solution. But the second case is probably more important. OSS projects tend to be massive and complex transformation efforts. Our OSS are rarely self-installed like office software, so they require big delivery teams. Some products are easy to deliver/deploy. Others are a *&$%#! If you’re a product developer, please get out in the trenches with your delivery teams and find ways to make their job easier and/or more repeatable.

“The Blue Book OSS/BSS Vendor Directory” from Passionate About OSS has officially launched

We’re excited to announce that “The Blue Book OSS/BSS Vendor Directory” has officially gone live here at https://passionateaboutoss.com/directory

It provides a comprehensive directory of over 400 suppliers that produce OSS, BSS and/or related network management tools. Company details, product details and functionality classifications are included.

The Blue Book OSS / BSS Vendor Directory

Every network operator has a unique set of needs from their operational software – software that includes OSS (Operational Support Systems), BSS (Business Support Systems), NMS (Network Management Systems) and the many other related tools.

To service those many and varied needs, a large number of different products have been created by some very clever developers. But it’s a highly fragmented market. There are literally hundreds of product options out there and they all have different capabilities.

If you’re a typical buyer, how many of those products are you familiar with? Five? Ten? Fifty? How do you know whether the best-fit product or supplier is within the list you already know? Perhaps the best-fit is actually amongst the hundreds of other products and suppliers you’re not familiar with yet. How much time do you have to research each one and distill down to a short-list of possible candidates to service your specific needs? Where do you start? Lots of web searches? There has to be an easier way.

What if you’re a seller? These products tend to have lengthy life-cycles once they’ve been installed so it might be years before a prospect actually enters the buying phase. Yet there are so many prospects out there at different phases of their buying windows. There are bound to be some live ones at any time that suit your capabilities. The challenge for you as a supplier is how to make those prospects aware of you. You don’t have the time to establish trusted relationships with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of buyers across the globe (or maybe just within your region/s). Wouldn’t you love to be presented with qualified prospects who are in (or nearing) their buying window?

Well we at Passionate About OSS have created The Blue Book OSS/BSS Vendor Directory to simplify the task of bringing buyers and sellers together. With over 400 suppliers listed (and climbing), we provide a single, comprehensive repository for searching, matching and connecting. The tools allow you to do it yourself, or we can help you using the approaches we’ve developed, used and refined over the years.

Now just click on “Directory” to start your journey of searching, matching and connecting (and updating your listing if you’re a supplier).

A lighter-touch OSS procurement approach (part 3)

We’ve spoken at length about TM Forum’s, “Time to kill the RFP? Reinventing IT procurement for the 2020s,” report so far this week. We’ve also spoken about the feeling that the OSS/BSS RFP (Request For Proposal) still has relevance in some situations… as long as it’s more of a lighter-touch than most. We’ve spoken about a more pragmatic approach that aims to find best available fit (for key objectives through stages of filtering) rather than perfect fit (for all requirements through detailed analyses). And I should note that “best available fit” includes measurement against these three contrarian procurement KPIs ahead of the traditional ones.

Yesterday’s post discussed how we get to a short list with minimal involvement of buyers and sellers, with the promise that we’d discuss the detailed analysis stage today.

It’s where we do use an RFP, but with thought given to the many pain-points cited so brilliantly by Mark Newman and team in the abovementioned TM Forum report.

The RFP provides the mechanism to firm up pricing and architecture, but is also closely tied to a PoC (Proof of Concept) demonstration. The RFP helps to prioritise the order in which PoCs are performed. PoCs tend to be very time consuming for buyer and seller. So if there’s a clear leader from the paper studies so far, then they will demonstrate first.

If there’s not a clear difference, or if the prime candidate’s demonstration identified significant gaps, then additional PoCs are run.

And to ensure the PoCs are run against the objectives that matter most, we use scenarios that were prioritised during part 1 of this series.

Next steps are to form the more detailed designs, commercials / contracts and ratify that the business case still holds up.

In yesterday’s post, I also promised to share our “starting-point” procurement methodology. I say starting point because each buyer situation is different and we tend to customise it to each buyer’s needs. It’s useful for starting discussions.

The overall methodology diagram is shown below:

PAOSS vendor selection process

A few key notes here:

  1. The process looks much heavier than it really is… if you use traditional procurement processes as an indicator
  2. We have existing templates for all the activities marked in yellow
  3. The activity marked in blue partially represents the project we’re getting really excited to introduce to you tomorrow

 

A lighter-touch OSS procurement approach (part 2)

Yesterday’s post described the approach to get from 400+ possible OSS/BSS suppliers/products down to a more manageable list without:

  1. Having to get into significant discussions with vendors (yet)
  2. Gathering all your stakeholders together to prepare a detailed list of requirements

We’ll call this “the long list,” which might consist of 5-20 suppliers. We use this evaluation technique (which we’ll share more about on Monday) to ensure we’ve looked at the broad market of suppliers rather than just the few the buyer already knows.

The next step we follow helps us to get to a much smaller list, which we’ll call “the short list.”

For this, we do need to contact vendors (the long list) and we do need to prepare a list of requirements to add to the objectives and key workflows we’ve previously identified. The requirements won’t need to be detailed, but will still probably number into the 100s – some from our pick-list, others customised to each client’s needs.

Then we engage in what we refer to as an EOI (Expression of Interest) phase. Our EOIs are not just a generic market capability analysis like many  buyers conduct. Ours seek indicative vendor compliance (to objectives and requirements) and indicative pricing based on the dimensions we supply. We’ve refined this model over the years to make it quite quick and (relatively) easy for vendors to respond to.

Using compliance to measure suitability and indicative pricing to plug in to our long-term TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) model, the long list usually becomes a clear short list of 1-5 very quickly.

Now we can get into detailed discussions with a very small number of best-fit suppliers without having wasted much time of buyer or seller. 

More on the detailed discussions tomorrow!

A lighter-touch OSS procurement approach (part 1)

You may have noticed that we’ve run a series of posts about OSS/BSS procurement, and about the RFP process by association.

One of the first steps in the traditional procurement process is preparing a strategy and detailed set of requirements.

As TM Forum’s, “Time to kill the RFP? Reinventing IT procurement for the 2020s,” report describes:
Before an RFP can be issued, the CSP’s IT or network team must produce a document detailing the strategy for implementing a technology or delivering a service, which is a lengthy process because of the number of stakeholders involved and the need to describe requirements in a way that satisfies them all.”

The problem with most requirements documents, the ones I’ve seen at least, is that they tend to get down into a deep, deep level of detail. And when it’s down in that level of detail, contrasting opinions from different stakeholders can make it really difficult to reach agreement. Have you ever been in a room with many high-value (and high cost) stakeholders spending days debating the semantics (and wording) of requirements? Every stakeholder group needs a say and needs to be heard.

The theory is that you need a great level of detail to evaluate supplier offerings for best-fit. Well, maybe, but not in the initial stages.

First things first – I seek to find out what’s really important for the organisation. That rarely comes from a detailed requirements spreadsheet, but by determining the things that are done most often and/or add the most value to the buyer’s organisation. I use persona mapping, long-tail and perhaps whale-curve mapping approaches to determine this.

Persona mapping means identifying all the groups within the buyer’s organisation that need to interact with the OSS/BSS (current and proposed). Then sitting with each group to determine what they need to achieve, who they need to interact with and what their workflows look like. That also gives a chance for all groups to be heard.

From this, we can collaboratively determine some high-level evaluation criteria, maybe only 15-20 to start with. You’d be surprised at how quickly this 15-20 criteria can help with initial supplier filtering.

Armed with the initial 15-20 evaluation criteria and the project we’re getting excited to launch on Monday, we can get to a relevant list of possible suppliers quite quickly. It allows us to do a broad market search to compile a list of suppliers, not just from the 5-10 suppliers the buyer already knows about, but from the 400+ suppliers/products available on the market. And we don’t even have to ask the suppliers to fill out any lengthy requirement response spreadsheets / forms yet.

We’ll continue the discussion over the next two days. We’ll also share our procurement methodology pack on Sunday.

Do I support the death penalty (of OSS RFPs)? Hmmm….

As per yesterday’s post, I’ll continue to reference a TM Forum report called, “Time to kill the RFP? Reinventing IT procurement for the 2020s” today. Mark Newman and the team have captured and discussed so many layers to the OSS/BSS procurement process.

There’s no doubt the current stereotypical RFP approach to procurement is broken. It needs to be done differently. That’s why we have been doing it differently with customers for years now (another hint regarding a project we’re getting excited to announce this Monday).

The TM Forum report is really powerful and well worth a read. There are a few additional (and somewhat random) thoughts that go through my head when considering the death of the RFP:

  1. The TM Forum report is primarily coming at the problem from the perspective of a carrier that is constantly steering the development of its own systems, as implied through this quote, “The fundamental problem with the RFP process is that in a fast-paced technology environment, where cloud and software are fast becoming preferred options, it is difficult for CSPs to describe in lengthy, written documents what they want and need. The processes are simply too complex and cumbersome to support modern, Agile methods of working.”
  2. That perspective is particularly applicable for some buyers, ones that have committed to having significant developer resources available to build exactly what they want. That could be in the form of in-house developers, contract developers, long-term panel arrangements with suppliers or similar
  3. Others, perhaps such as utilities, enterprise and some telcos want to focus on their core business and delegate OSS/BSS configuration and customisation to third-parties.
  4. Some of those rely on COTS (commercial off the shelf) software to leverage the benefits of innovation, cost and development time that have been spread across multiple customers. Their budgets simply don’t allow for custom-built solutions
  5. COTS, be it on-prem through to cloud service models, are almost never going to be a perfect fit for a buyer’s needs. They’re designed to generically suit many buyers, so a certain amount of bloat becomes part of the trade-off
  6. In recent weeks, I’ve seen two entirely in-house developed OSS/BSS. They fit their organisations like a glove and there’s almost no bloat at all. In fact it would be almost impossible for a COTS solution to replace what they’ve built. In both cases it’s taken a decade of ongoing development to get to that position. Most buyers don’t have that amount of time to get it right though unfortunately
  7. Commercial realities imply a pragmatic approach is taken to procurement – which product/s provide default capability that best aligns with the buyer’s most important objectives.
  8. RFPs often get bogged down at the far right-hand side of the long-tail of requirements (where impact tends to be negligible), or in trying to completely re-sculpt the solution to be the perfect fit (that it’s unlikely to ever be)
  9. In my experience at least, the best-fit (not perfect fit) solution, or very short list of solutions, usually becomes apparent fairly quickly [we’ll share more about how we do that tomorrow]. It’s then just a case of testing objectives, assumptions and gaps (eg via a proof-of-concept) and getting to a mutually beneficial commercial agreement
  10. As one respondent in the TM Forum report put it, “The RFP glorifies the process, not the outcome.” A healthy dose of outcome-driven pragmatism helps to reduce glorification of the RFP process
  11. Also in my experience at least, scope of works quotes from vendors (which RFPs tend to lead to) tend to be written in a waterfall style that don’t fit into Agile frameworks very effectively. That can be partially overcome by slicing and dicing the SoW in ways that are more conducive to Agile delivery
  12. With so much fragmentation in the OSS/BSS market already (there are over 400 in our vendor directory), that means the talent pool of creators is thinly spread. Many of those 400 have duplicated functionality, which isn’t great for the industry’s overall progress. Custom development for each different buyer spreads the talent pool even further… unless buyers can get economies of development scale through shared platforms like ONAP

In summary, I love the concept of avoiding massive procurement events. I still can’t help but think the RFP still fits in there somewhere for many buyers… as long as we ensure we glorify the outcomes and de-emphasise the process. It’s just that we use RFPs like a primitive instrument and inflict blunt-force trauma, rather than using surgical precision.

Lobbying hard for the death penalty for OSS RFPs

Earlier this year, the TM Forum published a really insightful report called, “Time to kill the RFP? Reinventing IT procurement for the 2020s.” There are so many layers to the OSS/BSS procurement discussion and Mark Newman and team have done a fantastic job of capturing them. We’ll expand on a few of those layers in a series of posts this week.

For example, section 2 articulates the typical RFI / RFP / RFQ approach. It’s clear to see why the typical approach is flawed. Yesterday’s post pondered whether procurement events are flawed from the initial KPIs that are set by buyers. Today we’ll take a look at the process that follows.

Two quotes from the TM Forum report frame some of the challenges with RFPs from buyer and seller viewpoints respectively:
QUOTE 1 (Buyer-side) – “CSPs normally distribute RFPs to a group of three to eight suppliers. These are most likely existing suppliers, previous vendors or companies the CSP is aware of through its own technology scouting. Suppliers are likely to include systems integrators who rely on other vendors to fulfill elements of the contract, and CSPs tend to invite bidders offering a range of options.
For example, they may invite a supplier that is likely to offer a good price, one that is a ‘safe’, low-risk option, and the incumbent supplier, which in many cases the CSP is looking to replace.
The document itself is likely to be several hundred pages long, a large portion of it comprising details of technology requirements, with suppliers asked to specify whether they comply with each requirement
.”
The question I’d ask about this process is how does the CSP choose 3-8 out of the 400+ vendors that supply the OSS/BSS market? Does their “own technology scouting” adequately discount the hundreds of others that could potentially be best-fit for their needs?

QUOTE 2 (Seller-side) – “We were holed up in our hotel for a month working feverishly on different aspects of the bid. We had 15 people there in total, and we were asked to come in for meetings with five different teams. The meetings go on and on, and you really have no idea when they’re going to finish.”
Let’s do the sums on this situation. 15 people x 25 days x $1500 per day (a round figure that includes accommodation, meals, etc) = $562,500. That’s over half a million dollars just for the seller-side of the post-RFP evaluation phase. Now let’s say there were 4 sellers going through this. [Just a small aside here – reading between the lines, do you suspect the buyer was taking the seller on a journey into the minutiae or focusing on what will move the needle for them? Re-read that through the lens of yesterday’s contrasting KPI perspectives]

You can see exactly why Mark has proposed that it’s, “Time to kill the RFP,” at least in its traditional form. These two quotes lobby hard for the death penalty. More on that tomorrow!

Also note that another hint was contained above in the lead-up to a project launch on Monday that we’re really excited about.

OSS/BSS procurement is flawed from the outset

You may’ve noticed that things have been a little quiet on this blog in recent weeks. We’ve been working on a big new project that we’ll be launching here on PAOSS on Monday. We can’t reveal what this project is just yet, but we can let you in on a little hint. It aims to help overcome one of the biggest problem areas faced by those in the comms network space.

Further clues will be revealed in this week’s series of posts.

The industry we work in is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. We rely on that investment to fund the OSS/BSS projects (and ops/maintenance tasks) that keeps many thousands of us busy. Obviously those funds get distributed by project sponsors in the buyers’ organisations. For many of the big projects, sponsors are obliged to involve the organisation’s procurement team.

That’s a fairly obvious path. But I often wonder whether the next step on that path is full of contradictions and flaws.

Do you agree with me that the 3 KPIs sponsors expect from their procurement teams are:

  1. Negotiate the lowest price
  2. Eliminate as many risks as possible
  3. Create a contract to manage the project by

If procurement achieves these 3 things, sponsors will generally be delighted. High-fives for the buyers that screw the vendor prices right down. Seems pretty obvious right? So where’s the contradiction? Well, let’s look at these same 3 KPIs from a different perspective – a more seller-centric perspective:

  1. I want to win the project, so I’ll set a really low price, perhaps even loss-leader. However, our company can’t survive if our projects lose money, so I’ll be actively generating variations throughout the project
  2. Every project of this complexity has inherent risks, so if my buyer is “eliminating” risks, they’re actually just pushing risks onto me. So I’ll use any mechanisms I can to push risks back on my buyer to even the balance again
  3. We all know that complex projects throw up unexpected situations that contracts can’t predict (except with catch-all statements that aim to push all risk onto sellers). We also both know that if we manage the project by contractual clauses and interpretations, then we’re already doomed to fail (or are already failing by the time we start to manage by contract clauses)

My 3 contrarian KPIs to request from procurement are:

  1. Build relationships / trust – build a framework and environment that facilitates a mutually beneficial, long-lasting buyer/seller relationship (ie procurement gets judged on partnership length ahead of cost reduction)
  2. Develop a team – build a framework and environment that allows the buyer-seller collective to overcome risks and issues (ie mutual risk mitigation rather than independent risk deflection)
  3. Establish clear and shared objectives – ensure both parties are completely clear on how the project will make the buyer’s organisation successful. Then both constantly evolve to deliver benefits that outweigh costs (ie focus on the objectives rather than clauses – don’t sweat the small stuff (or purely technical stuff))

Yes, I know they’re idealistic and probably unrealistic. Just saying that the current KPI model tends to introduce flaws from the outset.

OSS that make men feel more masculine and in command

From watching ESPN, I’d learned about the power of information bombardment. ESPN strafes its viewers with an almost hysterical amount of data and details. Scrolling boxes. Panels. Bars. Graphics. Multi-angle camera perspectives. When exposed to a surfeit of data, men tend to feel more masculine and in command. Do most men bother to decipher these boxes, panels, bars and graphics? No – but that’s not really the point.”
Martin Lindstrom
, in his book, “Small Data.”

I’ve just finished reading Small Data, a fascinating book that espouses forensic analysis of the lives of users (ie small data) rather than using big data methods to identify market opportunities. I like the idea of applying both approaches to our OSS products. After all, we need to make them more intuitive, endearing and ultimately, effective.

The quote above struck a chord in particular. Our OSS GUIs (user interfaces) can tend towards the ESPN model can’t they? The following paraphrasing doesn’t seem completely at odds with most of the OSS that we interact with – “[the OSS] strafes its viewers with an almost hysterical amount of data and details.”

And if what Lindstrom says is an accurate psychological analysis, does it mean:

  1. The OSS GUIs we’re designing help make their developers “feel more masculine and in command” or
  2. Our OSS operators “feel more masculine and in command” or
  3. Both

Intriguingly, does the feeling of being more masculine and in command actually help or hinder their effectiveness?

I find it fascinating that:

  1. Our OSS/BSS form a multi billion dollar industry
  2. Our OSS/BSS are the beating heart of the telecoms industry, being wholly responsible for operationalising the network assets that so much capital is invested in
  3. So little effort is invested in making the human to OSS interface far more effective than they  are today
  4. I keep hearing operators bemoan the complexities and challenges of wrangling their OSS, yet only hear “more functionality” being mentioned by vendors, never “better usability”

Maybe the last point comes from me being something of a rarity. Almost every one of the thousands of people I know in OSS either works for the vendor/supplier or the customer/operator. Conversely, I’ve represented both sides of the fence and often even sit in the middle acting as a conduit between buyers and sellers. Or am I just being a bit precious? Do you also spot the incongruence of point D on a regular basis?

Whether you’re buy-side or sell-side, would you love to make your OSS more effective? Let us know and we can discuss some of the optimisation techniques that might work for you.

Going to the OSS zoo

There’s the famous quote that if you want to understand how animals live, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle. The Future Lab has really pioneered that within Lego, and it hasn’t been a theoretical exercise. It’s been a real design-thinking approach to innovation, which we’ve learned an awful lot from.”
Jorgen Vig Knudstorp
.

This quote prompted me to ask the question – how many times during OSS implementations had I sought to understand user behaviour at the zoo versus the jungle?

By that, how many times had I simply spoken with the user’s representative on the project team rather than directly with end users? What about the less obvious personas as discussed in this earlier post about user personas? Had I visited the jungles where internal stakeholders like project sponsors, executives, data consumers, etc. or external stakeholders such as end-customers, regulatory bodies, etc go about their daily lives?

I can truthfully, but regretfully, say I’ve spent far more time at OSS zoos than in jungles. This is something I need to redress.

But, at least I can claim to have spent most time in customer-facing roles.

Too many of the product development teams I’ve worked closely with don’t even visit OSS zoos let alone jungles in any given year. They never get close to observing real customers in their native environments.

 

Is your service assurance really service assurance?? (Part 3)

Yep, this is the third part, so that might suggest that there were two lead-up articles prior to this one. Well, you’d be right:

  • The first proposed that most of what we refer to as “service assurance” is really only “network infrastructure” assurance.
  • The second then looked at the constraints we face in trying to reverse-engineer “network infrastructure” assurance into data that will allow us to assure customer services.

I should also point out that both posts, like today’s, were inspired by an interesting white paper from the Netrounds team titled, “Reimagining Service Assurance in the Digital Service Provider Era.”

Today we’ll discuss the approach/es to overcome the constraints described in yesterday’s post.

As shown via the inserted blue row in Table 6 below (source: Netrounds), a proposed solution is to use active measurements that reflect the end-to-end user experience.

The blue row only talks about the real-time monitoring of “synthetic user traffic,” in the table below. However, there are at least two other active measurement techniques that I can think of:

  • We can monitor real user traffic if we use port-mirroring techniques
  • We can also apply techniques such as TR-069 to collect real-time customer service meta data

Note: There are strengths and weaknesses of each of the three approaches, but we won’t dive into that here. Maybe another time.

You may recall in yesterday’s post that we couldn’t readily ask service-related questions of our traditional systems or data. Excitingly though, active measurement solutions do allow us to ask more customer-centric questions, like those shown in the orange box below. We can start to collect metrics that do relate directly to what the customer is paying for (eg real data throughput rates on a storage backup service). We can start to monitor real SLA metrics, not just proxy / vanity metrics (like device up-time).

Interestingly, I’ve only had the opportunity to use one vendor’s active measurement solutions so far (one synthetic transaction tool and one port-mirror tool). [The vendor is not Netrounds’ I should add. I haven’t seen Netround’s solution yet, just their insightful white paper]. Figure 3 actually does a great job of articulating why the other vendor’s UI (user interface) and APIs are currently lacking.

Whilst they do collect active metrics, the UI doesn’t allow the user to easily ask important service health questions of the data like in the orange box. Instead, the user has to dig around in all the metrics and make their own inferences. Similarly the APIs don’t allow for the identification of events (eg threshold crossing) or automatic push of notifications to external systems.

This leaves a gap in our ability to apply self-healing (automated resolution) and resolution prior to failure (prediction) algorithms like discussed in yesterday’s post. Excitingly, it can collect service-centric data. It just can’t close the loop with it yet!

More on the data tomorrow!

OSS Persona 10:10:10 Mapping

We sometimes attack OSS/BSS planning at a quite transactional level. For example, think about the process of gathering detailed requirements at the start of a project. They tend to be detailed and transactional don’t they? This type of requirement gathering is more like the WHAT and HOW rings in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Just curious, do you have a persona map that shows all of the different user groups that interact with your OSS/BSS?
More importantly, do you deeply understand WHY they interact with your OSS/BSS? Not just on a transaction-by-transaction level, but in the deeper context of how the organisation functions? Perhaps even on a psychological level?

If you do, you’re in a great position to apply the 10:10:10 mapping rule. That is, to describe how you’re adding value to each user group 10 minutes from now, 10 days from now and 10 months from now…

OSS Persona 10:10:10 Mapping

The mapping table could describe current tense (ie how your OSS/BSS is currently adding value), or as a planning mechanism for a future tense (ie how your OSS/BSS can add value in the future).
This mapping table can act as a guide for the evolution of your solution.

I should also point out that the diagram above only shows a sample of the internal personas that directly interact with your OSS/BSS. But I’d encourage you to look further. There are other personas that have direct and indirect engagement with your OSS/BSS. These include internal stakeholders like project sponsors, executives, data consumers, etc. They also include external stakeholders such as end-customers, regulatory bodies, etc.

If you need assistance to unlock your current state through persona mapping, real process mapping, etc and then planning out your target-state, Passionate About OSS would be delighted to help.

Three OSS project responsibility sliders

Last week we shared an article that talked about the different expectations from suppliers and clients when undertaking an OSS implementation project.

The diagram below attempts to demonstrate the concept visually, in the form of three important sliders.

OSS Responsibility Sliders

When it comes to the technical delivery, it makes sense that most of the responsibility falls upon the supplier. They obviously have the greater know-how from building and implementing their own products. However, and despite what some clients expect, you’ll notice that the slider isn’t all the way to the left though. The client can’t just “throw the hand grenade over the fence” and expect the supplier to just build the solution in isolation. The client needs to be involved to ensure the solution is configured to their unique requirements. This covers factors such as network types, service types, process models, naming conventions, personas supported, integrations, approvals, etc.

Unfortunately, organisational change is an afterthought far too often on OSS projects. Not only that, but the client often expects the supplier to handle that too. They expect the slider to fall far to the left too. In my opinion, this is completely unrealistic. In most cases, the supplier simply doesn’t have the knowledge of, or influence over, the individuals within the client’s organisation. That’s why the middle slider falls mostly towards the right-hand (client) side. Not all the way though because the supplier will have suggestions / input / training based on learnings from past implementations. BTW. The link above also describes an important perspective shift to help the org change aspect of OSS transformation.

And lastly, the success of a project relies on strength of relationship throughout, but also far beyond, the initial implementation. You’d expect that most OSS implementations will have a useful life of many years. Due to the complexity of OSS transformations, clients want to stay with the same supplier for long periods because they don’t want to endure a change-out. Like any relationships, trust plays an important role. The relationship clearly has to be beneficial to both parties. Unfortunately, three factors often doom OSS relationships from the outset.

Firstly, the sliders above show my unbiased perspective of the weight of responsibility on a generic OSS project. If each party has a vastly different expectation of slider positioning, then the project can be off to a difficult (but all-too-common) start.

Secondly, the nature of vendor selection process can also gnaw away at trust quite quickly. The client wants an as-low-as-possible cost in the contract (obviously). The supplier wants to win the bid, so they keep costs as low as possible, often hoping to make up the difference through the inevitable variations that happen on these complex projects.

And thirdly, the complexity of these projects means challenges almost always arise and can cause cynicism being hurled across the fence by both parties.

You may be wondering why the third slider isn’t perfectly centred between both. You may claim that significant responsibility for humility, fairness and forgiveness lies with each participant to ensure a long-lasting, trusted relationship. I’d agree with you on that, but I’d also argue that the supplier carries slightly more responsibility as they (usually) hold a slight balance in power. They know the client doesn’t want to endure another OSS change-out project any time soon, so the client generally has more to lose from a relationship breakdown. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this leveraged by vendors too many times.

Do you agree/disagree with these observations? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and if you’re ever need an independent third-party to help set the right balance of expectations across these sliders on your project, you’re welcome to call upon Passionate About OSS to assist.

OSS user heat-mapping

Over the many OSS implementation projects I’ve worked on, UI/UX (user interface / user experience) has been an afterthought (if even thought about at all). I know there are OSS UI/UX experts out there (I’ve met a handful), but none have ever been assigned to the projects I’ve worked on unfortunately. UI has always just been the domain of the developer. If the functionality worked (even if in a highly convoluted way), then the developer would move on to the next epic. The UI was almost never re-visited unless the functionality proved to be almost unusable.

So the question becomes, how do we observe, measure and trial UI/UX effectiveness?

Have you ever tried running a heat-mapping analysis over your OSS to show actual user behaviour?

Given that almost all OSS are now browser-based, there are plenty of heat-map tools available. They give results that might look something like this (but can also provide more granularity of analysis too):
Heat-map
Image source: https://www.tatvic.com/data-analytics-solutions/heat-map-integration/

Whereas these tools are generally used by web developers to improve retention and conversion rates on their pages (ie customers buying, clicking through on a banner ad, calls to action, etc), we’ll use them in a different way within our OSS. We’ll instead be looking for efficiency of movement, an indicator of whether the design of our page is intuitive or not. Are the operators of your OSS clicking in the right places (menus, titles, buttons, links, etc) to achieve certain outcomes?

I’d be particularly interested in comparing heat-maps of new operators (eg if you’ve installed a sand-pit environment at a client site for the first time and let the client’s operators loose) versus experienced teams. Depending on the OSS application you’re analysing, you may even been interested in observing different behaviours across different devices (eg desktops, phones, tablets).

There’s generally a LOT of functionality available within each OSS. Are we optimising the experience for the functionality that matters most? For web-page designers, that might mean ensuring all the most important information is “above-the-fold” (ie can be seen on the page without having to scroll down – noting that the “fold” will be different across different devices/resolutions). If they want a user to click on the “buy now” button, then they *may* want that to appear above the fold, ensuring the prospective buyer doesn’t have to go searching for it.

In the case of an OSS, you don’t want to hide the most important functionality under layers of menus. And don’t forget that different personas (eg designers, admins, execs, help-desk, NOC, etc) are likely to have different definitions of “important functionality.” You may want to optimise important UI elements for each different persona (if your OSS allows for that level of configurability).

I’m not endorsing Smartlook, but if you’d like to read more about heat-mapping techniques, you can start here.

This OSS is different to what I’m used to

OSS implementations / transformations are always challenging. Stakeholders seem to easily get their heads around the fact that there will be technical challenges (even if they / we can’t always get their head around the actual changes initially).

When a supplier is charged with doing an OSS implementation, the client (perhaps rightly) expects the supplier to lead the technical implementation and guide the client through any challenges. It’s the, “Over to you!” client mentality at times.

However, it’s the change management challenges that are often overlooked and/or underestimated (by client and supplier alike). It’s far less realistic for a client to delegate these activities and challenges to the supplier. The supplier simply doesn’t have the reach or influence within the client’s organisation (unless they’re long-term trusted partners). Just doing a 2 week training course at the end of the implementation rarely works.

Now, if you do represent the client, change management starts all the way back at the start of the project – from the time we start to gather current and desired future state, including process and persona mappings.

At that time we can put ourselves in the shoes of each person impacted by OSS change and consider, “If your current normal is exactly what you need, then different isn’t worth exploring” (a Seth Godin quote).

How many times have you heard about operators bypassing their sophisticated new OSS and reverting back to their old spreadsheets (thus keeping an offline store of data that would be valuable to be stored in the OSS)?

Interestingly though, if you approach those same people before the OSS implementation and ask them whether their as-is spreadsheet model gives them exactly what they need, you will undoubtedly get some great insights (either yes it is and here’s why…
or not it’s not because…).

You have a stronger position of influence with these operators if you involve and listen pre-implementation than enforcing change afterwards.

To again quote Seth, they’re not always, “hesitant about this new idea because it’s a risky, problematic, defective idea… [but] because it’s simply different than [they’re] used to.”

Making a basic assessment of OSS value

“…as technology gets more complicated, it becomes more difficult for buyers to acquire the skills needed to make even a basic assessment of value. Without such an assessment, it’s hard to get a project going, and in particular hard to get one going the right way.”
Tom Nolle
.

Have you noticed that over the last few years, OSS choice has proliferated, making project assessment more challenging? Previously, the COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) product solution dominated. That was already a challenge because there are hundreds to choose from (there are around 400 on our vendors page alone). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We now also have choices to make across factors such as:

  • Building OSS tools with open-source projects
  • An increasing amount of in-house development (as opposed to COTS implementations by the product’s vendors)
  • Smaller niche products that need additional integration
  • An increase in the number of “standards” that are seeking to solve traditional OSS/BSS problems (eg ONAP, ETSI’s ZSM, TM Forum’s ODA, etc, etc)
  • Revolutions from the IT world such as cloud, containerisation, virtualisation, etc

As Tom indicates in the quote above, the diversity of skills required to make these decisions is broadening. Broadening to the point where you generally need a large team to have suitable skills coverage to make even a basic assessment of value.

At Passionate About OSS, we’re seeking to address this in the following ways:

  • We have two development projects underway (more news to come)
    • One to simplify the vendor / product selection process
    • One to assist with up-skilling on open-source and IT tools to build modern OSS
  • In addition to existing pages / blogs, we’re assembling more content about “standards” evolution, which should appear on this blog in coming days
  • Use our “Finding an Expert” tool to match experts to requirements
  • And of course there are the variety of consultancy services we offer ranging from strategy, roadmap, project business case and vendor selection through to resource identification and implementation. Leave us a message on our contact page if you’d like to discuss more

Can you solve the omni-channel identity conundrum for OSS/BSS?

For most end-customers, the OSS/BSS we create are merely back-office systems that they never see. The closest they get are the customer portals that they interact with to drive workflows through our OSS/BSS. And yet, our OSS/BSS still have a big part to play in customer experience. In times where customers can readily substitute one carrier for another, customer service has become a key differentiator for many carriers. It therefore also becomes a priority for our OSS/BSS.

Customers now have multiple engagement options (aka omni-channel) and form factors (eg in-person, phone, tablet, mobile phone, kiosk, etc). The only options we used to have were a call to a contact centre / IVR (Interactive Voice Response), a visit to a store, or a visit from an account manager for business customers. Now there are websites, applications, text messages, multiple social media channels, chatbots, portals, blogs, etc. They all represent different challenges as far as offering a seamless customer experience across all channels.

I’ve just noticed TM Forum’s “Omni-channel Guidebook” (GB994), which does a great job at describing the challenges and opportunities. For example, it explains the importance of identity. End-users can only get a truly seamless experience if they can be uniquely identified across all channels. Unfortunately, some channels (eg IVR, website) don’t force end-users to self-identify.

The Ovum report, “Optimizing Customer Service in a Multi Channel World, March 2011” indicates that around 74% of customers use 3 channels or more for engaging customer service. In most cases, it’s our OSS/BSS that provide the data that supports a seamless experience across channels. But what if we have no unique key? What if the unique key we have (eg phone number) doesn’t uniquely identify the different people who use that contact point (eg different family members who use the same fixed-line phone)?

We could use personality profiling across these channels, but we’ve already seen how that has worked out for Cambridge Analytica and Facebook in terms of customer privacy and security.

I’d love to hear how you’ve done cross-channel identity management in your OSS/BSS. Have you solved the omni-channel identity conundrum?

PS. One thing I find really interesting. The whole omni-channel thing is about giving customers (or potential customers) the ability to connect via the channel they’re most comfortable with. But there’s one glaring exception. When an end-user decides a phone conversation is the only way to resolve their issue (often after already trying the self-service options), they call the contact centre number. But many big telcos insist on trying to deflect as many calls as possible to self-service options (they call it CVR – call volume reduction), because contact centre staff are much more expensive per transaction than the automated channels. That seems to be an anti-customer-experience technique if you ask me. What are your thoughts?