Reducing the lumps with OSS services

As promised in yesterday’s post about lumpy revenues for OSS product companies, today we’ll discuss OSS professional services revenues and the contrasting mindset compared with products.

Professional services revenues are a great way of smoothing out the lumpy revenue streams of traditional OSS product companies. There’s just one problem though. Of all the vendors I’ve worked with, I’ve found that they always have a predilection – they either have a product mindset or a services mindset and struggle to do both well because the mindsets are quite different.

Not only that but we can break professional services into two categories:

  1. Product-related services – the installation and commissioning of products; and
  2. Consultancy-based services – the value-add services that drive business value from the OSS / BSS

Product companies provide product-related services, naturally. I can’t help but think that if we as an industry provided more of the consultancy-based services, we’d have more justification for greater spend on OSS / BSS (and smoother revenue streams in the process).

Having said that, PAOSS specialises in consultancy-based services (as well as install / commission / delivery services), so we’re always happy to help organisations that need assistance in this space!!

Being an OSS map-maker

Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems.”
Rene Descartes
.

On a recent project, I spent quite a lot of time thinking in terms of problem statements, then mapping them into solutions that could be broken down for assignment to lots of delivery teams – feeding their Agile backlogs.

On that assignment, like the multitude of OSS projects in the past, there has been very little repetition in the solutions. The people, org structure, platforms, timelines, objectives, etc all make for a highly unique solution each time. And high uniqueness doesn’t easily equate to repeatability. If there’s no repeatability, there’s no point building repeatable tools to improve efficiency. But repeatability is highly desirable for the purpose of reliability, continual improvement, economy of scale, etc.

However, if we look a step above the solution, above the use cases, above the challenges, we have key problem statements and they do tend to be more consistent (albeit still nuanced for each OSS). These problem statements might look something like:

  • We need to find a new vendor / solution to do X (where X is the real problem statement)
  • Realised risks have impacted us badly on past projects (so we need to minimise risk on our upcoming transformation)
  • We don’t get new products out to market fast enough to keep up with competitor Y and are losing market share to them
  • Our inability to resolve network faults quickly is causing customers to lose confidence in us
  • etc

It’s at this level that we begin to have more repeatability, so it’s at this level that it makes sense to create rules, frameworks, etc that are re-usable and refinable. You’ll find some of the frameworks I use under the Free Stuff menu above.

It seems that I’m an OSS map-maker by nature, wanting the take the journey but also map it out for re-use and refinement.

I’d love to hear whether it’s a common trait and inherent in many of you too. Similarly, I’d love to hear about how you seek out and create repeatability.

How to run an OSS PoC

This is the third in a series describing the process of finding the right OSS solution for your specific needs and getting estimated pricing to help you build a business case.

The first post described the overall OSS selection process we use. The second described the way we poll the market and prepare a short-list of OSS products / vendors based on current capabilities.

Once you’ve prepared the short-list it’s time to get into specifics. We generally do this via a PoC (Proof of Concept) phase with the short-listed suppliers. We have a few very specific principles when designing the PoC:

  • We want it to reflect the operator’s context so that they can grasp what’s being presented (which can be a challenge when a vendor runs their own generic demos). This “context” is usually in the form of using the operator’s device types, naming conventions, service types, etc. It also means setting up a network scenario that is representative of the operator’s, which could be a hypothetical model, a small segment of a real network, lab model or similar
  • PoC collateral must clearly describe the PoC and related context. It should clearly identify the important scenarios and selection criteria. Ideally it should logically complement the collateral provided in the previous step (ie the requirement gathering)
  • We want it to focus on the most important conditions. If we take the 80/20 rule as a guide, will quickly identify the most common service types, devices, configurations, functions, reports, etc that we want to model
  • Identify efficacy across those most important conditions. Don’t just look for the functionality that implements those conditions, but also the speed at which they can be done at a scale required by the operator. This could include bulk load or processing capabilities and may require simulators (or real integrations – see below) to generate volume
  • We want it to be a simple as is feasible so that it minimises the effort required both of suppliers and operators
  • Consider a light-weight integration if possible. One of the biggest challenges with an OSS is getting data in and out. If you can get a rapid integration with a real network (eg a microservice, SNMP traps, syslog events or similar) then it will give an indication of integration challenges ahead. However, note the previous point as it might be quite time-consuming for both operator and supplier to set up a real-time integration
  • Take note of the level of resourcing required by each supplier to run the PoC (eg how many supplier staff, server scaling, etc.). This will give an indication of the level of resourcing the operator will need to allocate for the actual implementation, including organisational change management factors
  • Attempt to offer PoC platform consistency so that all operators are on a level playing field, which might be through designing the PoC on common devices or topologies with common interfaces. You may even look to go the opposite way if you think the rarity of your conditions could be a deal-breaker

Note that we tend to scale the size/complexity/reality of the PoC to the scale of project budget out of consideration of vendor and operator alike. If it’s a small project / budget, then we do a light PoC. If it’s a massive transformation, then the PoC definitely has to go deeper (ie more integrations, more scenarios, more data migration and integrity challenges, etc)…. although ultimately our customers decide how deep they’re comfortable in going.

Best of luck and feel free to contact us if we can assist with the running of your OSS PoC.

How to identify a short-list of best-fit OSS suppliers for you

In yesterday’s post, we talked about how to estimate OSS pricing. One of the key pillars of the approach was to first identify a short-list of vendors / integrators best-suited to implementing your specific OSS, then working closely with them to construct a pricing model.

Finding the right vendor / integrator can be a complex challenge. There are dozens, if not hundreds of OSS / BSS solutions to choose from and there are rarely like-for-like comparators. There are some generic comparison tools such as Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, but there’s no way that they can cater for the nuanced requirements of each OSS operator.

Okay, so you don’t want to hear about problems. You want solutions. Well today’s post provides a description of the approach we’ve used and refined across the many product / vendor selection processes we’ve conducted with OSS operators.

We start with a short-listing exercise. You won’t want to deal with dozens of possible suppliers. You’ll want to quickly and efficiently identify a small number of candidates that have capabilities that best match your needs. Then you can invest a majority of your precious vendor selection time in the short-list. But how do you know the up-to-date capabilities of each supplier? We’ll get to that shortly.

For the short-listing process, I use a requirement gathering and evaluation template. You can find a PDF version of the template here. Note that the content within it is out-dated and I now tend to use a more benefit-centric classification rather than feature-centric classification, but the template itself is still applicable.

STEP ONE – Requirement Gathering
The first step is to prepare a list of requirements (as per page 3 of the PDF):
Requirement Capture.
The left-most three columns in the diagram above (in white) are filled out by the operator, which classifies a list of requirements and how important they are (ie mandatory, etc). The depth of requirements (column 2) is up to you and can range from specific technical details to high-level objectives. They could even take the form of user-stories or intended benefits.

STEP TWO – Issue your requirement template to a list of possible vendors
Once you’ve identified the list of requirements, you want to identify a list of possible vendors/integrators that might be able to deliver on those requirements. The PAOSS vendor/product list might help you to identify possible candidates. We then send the requirement matrix to the vendors. Note that we also send an introduction pack that provides the context of the solution the OSS operator needs.

STEP THREE – Vendor Self-analysis
The right-most three columns in the diagram above (in aqua) are designed to be filled out by the vendor/integrator. The suppliers are best suited to fill out these columns because they best understand their own current offerings and capabilities.
Note that the status column is a pick-list of compliance level, where FC = Fully Compliant. See page 2 of the template for other definitions. Given that it is a self-assessment, you may choose to change the Status (vendor self-rankings) if you know better and/or ask more questions to validate the assessments.
The “Module” column identifies which of the vendor’s many products would be required to deliver on the requirement. This column becomes important later on as it will indicate which product modules are most important for the overall solution you want. It may allow you to de-prioritise some modules (and requirements) if price becomes an issue.

STEP FOUR – Compare Responses
Once all the suppliers have returned their matrix of responses, you can compare them at a high-level based on the summary matrix (on page 1 of the template)
OSS Requirement Summary
For each of the main categories, you’ll be able to quickly see which vendors are the most FC (Fully Compliant) or NC (Non-Compliant) on the mandatory requirements.

Of course you’ll need to analyse more deeply than just the Summary Matrix, but across all the vendor selection processes we’ve been involved with, there has always been a clear identification of the suppliers of best fit.

Hopefully the process above is fairly clear. If not, contact us and we’d be happy to guide you through the process.

Getting a price estimate for your OSS

Sometimes a simple question deserves a simple answer: “A piece of string is twice as long as half its length”. This is a brilliant answer… if you have its length… Without a strategy, how do you know if it is successful? It might be prettier, but is it solving a define business problem, saving or making money, or fulfilling any measurable goals? In other words: can you measure the string?
Carmine Porco
here.

I was recently asked how to obtain OSS pricing by a University student for a paper-based assignment. To make things harder, the target client was to be a tier-2 telco with a small SDN / NFV network.

As you probably know already, very few OSS providers make their list prices known. The few vendors that do tend to focus on the high volume, self-serve end of the market, which I’ll refer to as “Enterprise Grade.” I haven’t heard of any “Telco Grade” OSS suppliers making their list prices available to the public.

There are so many variables when finding the right OSS for a customer’s needs and the vendors have so much pricing flexibility that there is no single definitive number. There are also rarely like-for-like alternatives when selecting an OSS vendor / product. Just like the fabled piece of string, the best way is to define the business problem and get help to measure it. In the case of OSS pricing, it’s to design a set of requirements and then go to market to request quotes.

Now, I can’t imagine many vendors being prepared to invest their valuable time in developing pricing based on paper studies, but I have found them to be extremely helpful when there’s a real buyer. I’ll caveat that by saying that if the customer (eg service provider) you’re working with is prepared to invest the time to help put a list of requirements together then you have a starting point to approach the market for customised pricing.

We’ve run quite a few of these vendor selections and have refined the process along the way to streamline for vendors and customers alike. Here’s a template we’ve used as a starting point for discussions with customers:

OSS vendor selection process

Note that each customer will end up with a different mapping of the diagram above to suit their specific needs. We also have existing templates (eg Questionnaire, Requirement Matrix, etc) to support the selection process where needed.

If you’re interested in reading more about the process of finding the right OSS vendor and pricing for you, click here and here.

Of course, we’d also be delighted to help if you need assistance to develop an OSS solution, get OSS pricing estimates, develop a workable business case and/or find the right OSS vendor/products for you.

Operator involvement on OSS projects

You cannot simply have your end users give some specifications then leave while you attempt to build your new system. They need to be involved throughout the process. Ultimately, it is their tool to use.”
José Manuel De Arce
here.

As an OSS consultant and implementer, I couldn’t agree more with José’s quote above. José, by the way is an OSS Manager at Telefónica, so he sits on the operator’s side of the implementation equation. I’m glad he takes the perspective he does.

Unfortunately, many OSS operators are so busy with operations, they don’t get the time to help with defining and tuning the solutions that are being built for them. It’s understandable. They are measured by their ability to keep the network (and services) running and in a healthy state.

From the implementation side, it reminds me of this old comic:
Too busy

The comic reminds me of OSS implementations for two reasons:

  1. Without ongoing input from operators, you can only guess at how the new tools could improve their efficacy and mitigate their challenges
  2. Without ongoing involvement from operators, they don’t learn the nuances of how the new tool works or the scenarios it’s designed to resolve… what I refer to as an OSS apprenticeship

I’ve seen it time after time on OSS implementations (and other projects for that matter) – [As a customer] you get back what you put in.

Powerful ranking systems with hidden variables

There are ratings and rankings that ostensibly exist to give us information (and we are supposed to use that information to change our behavior).
But if we don’t know what variables matter, how is it supposed to be useful?
Just because it can be easily measured with two digits doesn’t mean that it’s accurate, important or useful.
[Marketers learned a long time ago that people love rankings and daily specials. The best way to boost sales is to put something in a little box on the menu, and, when in doubt, rank things. And sometimes people even make up the rankings.]

Seth Godin
here.

Are there any rankings that are made up in OSS? Our OSS collect an amazing amount of data so there’s rarely a need to make up the data we present.

Are they based on hidden variables? Generally, we use raw counters and / or well known metrics so we’re usually quite transparent with what our OSS present.

What about when we’re trying to select the right vendor to fulfill the OSS needs of our organisation? As Seth states, Just because it can be easily measured with two digits* doesn’t mean that it’s accurate, important or useful. [* In this case, I’m thinking of a 2 x 2 matrix].

The interesting thing about OSS ranking systems is that there is so much nuance in the variables that matter. There are potentially hundreds of evaluation criteria and even vast contrasts in how to interpret a given criteria.

For example, a criteria might be “time to activate a service.” A vendor might have a really efficient workflow for activating single services manually but have no bulk load or automation interface. For one operator (which does single activations manually), the TTAS metric for that product would be great, but for another operator (which does thousands of activations a day and tries to automate), the TTAS metric for the same product would be awful.

As much as we love ranking systems… there are hundreds of products on the market (in some cases, hundreds of products in a single operator’s OSS stack), each fitting unique operator needs differently… so a 2 x 2 matrix is never going to cut it as a vendor selection tool… not even as a short-listing tool.

Better to build yourself a vendor selection framework. You can find a few OSS product / vendor selection hints here based on the numerous vendor / product selections I’ve helped customers with in the past.

Automated Network Operations as a Service (ANOaaS)

Google has started applying its artificial intelligence (AI) expertise to network operations and expects to make its tools available to companies building virtual networks on its global cloud platform.
That could be a troubling sign for network technology vendors such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), which now see AI in the network environment as a potential differentiator and growth opportunity…
Google already uses software-defined network (SDN) technology as the bedrock of this infrastructure and last week revealed details of an in-development “Google Assistant for Networking” tool, designed to further minimize human intervention in network processes.
That tool would feature various data models to handle tasks related to network topology, configuration, telemetry and policy.
.”
Iain Morris
here on Light Reading.

This is an interesting, but predictable, turn of events isn’t it? If (when?) automated network operations as a service (ANOaaS) is perfected, it has the ability to significantly change the OSS space doesn’t it?

Let’s have a look at this from a few scenarios (and I’m considering ANOaaS from the perspective of any of the massive cloud providers who are also already developing significant AI/ML resource pools, not just Google).

Large Enterprise, Utilities, etc with small networks (by comparison to telco networks), where the network and network operations are simply a cost of doing business rather than core business. Virtual networks and ANOaaS seem like an attractive model for these types of customer (ignoring data sovereignty concerns and the myriad other local contexts for now). Outsourcing this responsibility significantly reduces CAPEX and head-count to run what’s effectively non-core business. This appears to represent a big disruptive risk for the many OSS vendors who service the Enterprise / Utilities market (eg Solarwinds, CA, etc, etc).

T2/3 Telcos with relatively small networks that tend to run lean operations. In this scenario, the network is core business but having a team of ML/AI expects is hard to justify. Automations are much easier to build for homogeneous (consistent) infrastructure platforms (like those of the cloud providers) than for those carrying different technologies (like T2/T3 telcos perhaps?). Combine complexity, lack of scale and lack of large ML/AI resource pools and it becomes hard for T2/T3 telcos to deliver cost-effective ANOaaS either internally or externally to their customer base. Perhaps outsourcing the network (ie VNO) and ANOaaS allows these operators to focus more on sales?

T1 Telcos have large networks, heterogenous platforms and large workforces where the network is core business. The question becomes whether they can build network cloud at the scale and price-point of Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc. This is partly dependent upon internal processes, but also on what vendors like Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia can deliver, as quoted as a risk above.

As you probably noticed, I just made up ANOaaS. Does a term already exist for this? How do you think it’s going to change the OSS and telco markets?

Assuming the other person can’t come up with the answer

Just a quick word of warning. This blog starts off away from OSS, but please persevere. It ends up back with a couple of key OSS learnings.

Long ago in the technology consulting game, I came to an important realisation. When arriving on a fresh new client site, chances are that many of the “easy technical solutions” that pop into my head to solve the client’s situation have already been tried by the client. After all, the client is almost always staffed with clever people, but they also know the local context far better than me.

Alan Weiss captures the sentiment brilliantly in the quote below.
I’ve found that in many instances a client will solve his or her own problem by talking it through while I simply listen. I may be asked to reaffirm or validate the wisdom of the solution, but the other person has engaged in some nifty self-therapy in the meantime.
I’m often told that I’m an excellent problem solver in these discussions! But all I’ve really done is listen without interrupting or even trying to interpret.
Here are the keys:
• Never feel that you’re not valuable if you’re not actively contributing.
• Practice “active listening”.
• Never cut-off or interrupt the other person.
• Stop trying to prove how smart you are.
• Stop assuming the other person can’t come up with the answer
.”

I’m male and an Engineer, so some might say I’m predisposed to immediately jumping into problem solving mode before fully understanding a situation… I have to admit that I do have to fight really hard to resist this urge (and sometimes don’t succeed). But enough about stereotypes.

One of the techniques that I’ve found to be more successful is to pose investigative questions rather than posing “brilliant” answers. If any gaps are appearing, then provide bridging connections (ie through broader industry trends, ideas, people, process, technology, contract, etc) that supplement the answers the client already has. These bridges might be built in the form of statements, but often it’s just through leading questions that allow the client to resolve / affirm for themselves.

But as promised earlier, this is more an OSS blog than a consulting one, so there is an OSS call-out.

You’ll notice in the first paragraph that I wrote “easy technical solutions,” rather than “easy solutions.” In almost all cases, the client representatives have great coverage of the technical side of the problems. They know their technology well, they’ve already tried (or thought about) many of the technology alternatives.

However, the gaps I’ve found to be surprisingly common aren’t related to technology at all. A Toyota five-why analysis shows they’re factors like organisational change management, executive buy-in, change controls, availability of skilled resources, requirement / objective mis-matches, stakeholder management, etc, as described in this recent post.

It’s not coincidence then that the blog roll here on PAOSS often looks beyond the technology of OSS.

If you’re an OSS problem solver, three messages:
1) Stop assuming the other person (client, colleague, etc) can’t come up with the answer
2) Broaden your vision to see beyond the technology solution
3) Get great at asking questions (if you aren’t already of course)

Does this align or conflict with your experiences?

Drinking from the OSS firehose

Most people know what they want, but don’t know how to get it. When you don’t know the next step, you procrastinate or feel lost. But a little research can turn a vague desire into specific actions.
For example: When musicians say, “I need a booking agent”, I ask, “Which one? What’s their name?”
You can’t act on a vague desire. But with an hour of research you could find the names of ten booking agents that work with ten artists you admire. Then you’ve got a list of the next ten people you need to contact.
A life coach told me that most of his job is just helping people get specific. Once they turn a vague goal into a list of specific steps, it’s easy to take action
.”
Derek Sivers
in his blog, “Get Specific!

In a post last week, I spoke about feeling like never before that I’m at an OSS cross-road, looking towards a set of paths. The paths all contribute heavily to the next-generations of OSS, but there’s the feeling of dread that no one person will have the ability to step out each path. The paths I’m talking about include network virtualisation, data-science / artificial-intelligence / machine-learning, open-source deployments like ONAP, cloud infrastructure and delivery models, and so many more. Each represents a life’s work to become a fully-fledged expert.

In the past, a single OSS polymath could potentially scramble along a majority of the paths and understand the terrain within their local OSS environment. But that’s becoming increasingly less likely as we become ever more dependent upon the interconnection of disparate expertise.

This represents a growing risk. If nobody understands the whole terrain, how do we map out Derek’s “list of specific steps” on our complex OSS projects? If we can’t adequately break down the work, we’re at risk of running projects as a set of vague, disjointed activities. So I imagine you’re wondering how we do “Get Specific!”?

Most technology experts appear to me to have a predilection to plan projects from the bottom up (ie building up a solution from their detailed understanding of some parts of the project). However, on projects as complex as OSS, I’ve never seen a bottom-up plan come together efficiently. Nobody knows enough of the details to build up the entire plan.

Instead, I prefer the top-down approach of building a WBS (work breakdown structure), progressively diving deeper into the details and turning the vague goal into a tree of ever more specific steps. I consider the ability to break down complex projects into manageable chunks of work as my only real super-power, but in reality it largely just comes from using the WBS approach.

Okay, it might sound a bit like a waterfall model (depends on how you design the tree really), but it beats the “trying to drink from a firehose” alternative model.

Which approach works best for you?

One sentence to make most OSS experts cringe

Let me warn you. The following sentence is going to make many OSS experts cringe, maybe even feel slightly disgusted, but take the time to read the remainder of the post and ponder how it fits within your specific OSS context/s.

“Our OSS need to help people spend money!”

Notice the word is “help” and not “coerce?” This is not a post about turning our OSS into sales tools, well, not directly anyway.

May I ask you a question – Do you ever spend time thinking about how your OSS is helping your customer’s customer (which I’ll refer to as the end-customer) to spend their money? And I mean making it easier for them to buy the stuff they want to buy in return for some form of value / utility, not trick or coerce them into buying stuff they don’t want.

Let me step you through the layers of thinking here.

The first layer for most OSS experts is their direct customer, which is usually the service provider or enterprise that buys and operates the OSS. We might think they are buying an OSS, but we’re wrong. An organisation buys an OSS, not because it wants an Operational Support System, but because it wants Operational Support.

The second layer is a distinct mindset change for most OSS experts. Following on from the first layer, OSS has the potential to be far more than just operational support. Operational support conjures up the image of being a cost-centre, or something that is a necessary evil of doing business (ie in support of other revenue-raising activities). To remain relevant and justify OSS project budgets, we have to flip the cost-centre mentality and demonstrate a clear connection with revenue chains. The more obvious the connection, the better. Are you wondering how?

That’s where the third layer comes in. We have to think hard about the end-customer and empathise with their experiences. These experiences might be a consumer to a service provider’s (your direct customer) product offerings. It might even be a buying cycle that the service provider’s products facilitate. Either way, we need to simplify their ability to buy.

So let’s work back up through those layers again:
Layer 3 – If end-customers find it easier to buy stuff, then your customer wins more revenue (and brand value)
Layer 2 – If your customer sees that its OSS / BSS has unquestionably influenced revenue increase, then more is invested on OSS projects
Layer 1 – If your customer recognises that your OSS / BSS has undeniably influenced the increased OSS project budget, you too get entrusted with a greater budget to attempt to repeat the increased end-customer buy cycle… but only if you continue to come up with ideas that make it easier for people (end-customers) to spend their money.

At what layer does your thinking stop?

How smart contracts might reduce risk and enhance trust on OSS projects

Last Friday, we spoke about all wanting to develop trusted OSS supplier / customer relationships but rarely finding them and a contrarian factor for why trust is so hard to achieve in OSS – complexity.

Trust is the glue that allows OSS projects to happen. Not only that, it becomes a catch-22 with complexity. If OSS partners don’t trust each other, requirements, contracts, etc get more complex as a self-protection barrier. But with every increase in complexity, there becomes an increasing challenge to deliver and hence, risk of further reduction in trust.

On a smaller scale, you’ve seen it on all projects – if the project starts to falter, increased monitoring attention is placed on the project, which puts increased administrative load on the project team and reduces the time they have to deliver the intended outcomes. Sometimes the increased admin / report gains the attention of sponsors and access to additional resources, but usually it just detracts from the available delivery capability.

Vish Nandlall also associates trust and complexity in organisational models in his LinkedIn post below:

This is one of the reasons I’m excited about what smart contracts can do for the organisations and OSS projects of the future. Just as “Likes” and “Supplier Rankings” have facilitated online trust models, smart contracts success rankings have the ability to do the same for OSS suppliers, large and small. For example, rather than needing to engage “Big Vendor A” to build your entire, monolithic OSS stack, if an operator develops simpler, more modular work breakdowns (eg microservices), then they can engage “Freelancer B” and “Small Vendor C” to make valuable contributions on smaller risk increments. Being lower in complexity and risk means B and C have a greater chance of engendering trust, but their historical contract success ranking forces them to develop trust as a key metric.

Dan Pink’s 6 critical OSS senses

I recently wrote an article that spoke about the obsolescence of jobs in OSS, particularly as a result of Artificial Intelligence.

But an article by someone much more knowledgeable about AI than me, Rodney Brooks, had this to say, “We are surrounded by hysteria about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics — hysteria about how powerful they will become, how quickly, and what they will do to jobs.” He then describes The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions here.

Back into my box I go, tail between my legs! Nonetheless, the premise of my article still holds true. The world of OSS is changing quickly and we’re constantly developing new automations, so our roles will inevitably change. My article also proposed some ideas on how to best plan our own adaptation.

That got me thinking… Many people in OSS are “left-brain” dominant right? But left-brained jobs (ie repeatable, predictable, algorithmic) can be more easily out-sourced or automated, thus making them more prone to obsolescence. That concept reminded me of Daniel Pink’s premise in A Whole New Mind where right-brained skills become more valuable so this is where our training should be focused. He argues that we’re on the cusp of a new era that will favor “conceptual” thinkers like artists, inventors and storytellers. [and OSS consultants??]

He also implores us to enhance six critical senses, namely:

  • Design – the ability to create something that’s emotionally and/or visually engaging
  • Story – to create a compelling and persuasive narrative
  • Symphony – the ability to synthesise new insights, particularly from seeing the big picture
  • Empathy – the ability to understand and care for others
  • Play – to create a culture of games, humour and play, and
  • Meaning – to find a purpose that will provide an almost spiritual fulfillment.

I must admit that I hadn’t previously thought about adding these factors to my development plan. Had you?
Do you agree with Dan Pink or will you continue to opt for left-brain skills / knowledge enhancement?

Finding the most important problems to solve

The problem with OSS is that there are too many problems. We don’t have to look too hard to find a problem that needs solving.

An inter-related issue is that we’re (almost always) constrained by resources and aren’t able to solve every problem we find. I have a theory – As much as you are skilled at solving OSS problems, it’s actually your skill at deciding which problem to solve that’s more important.

With continuous release methodologies gaining favour, it’s easy to prioritise on the most urgent or easiest problems to solve. But what if we were to apply the Warren Buffett 20 punch-card approach to tackling OSS problems?

I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only twenty slots in it so that you had twenty punches – representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all. Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did, and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”
Warren Buffett
.

I’m going through this exact dilemma at the moment – am I so busy giving attention to the obvious problems that I’m not allowing enough time to discover the most important ones? I figure that anyone can see and get caught up in the noise of the obvious problems, but only a rare few can listen through it…

How the investment strategy of a $106 billion VC fund changed my OSS thinking

What is a service provider’s greatest asset?

Now I’m biased when considering the title question, but I believe OSS are the puppet-master of every modern service provider. They’re the systems that pull all of the strings of the organisation. They generate the revenue by operationalising and assuring the networks as well as the services they carry. They coordinate the workforce. They form the real-time sensor networks that collect and provide data, but more importantly, insights to all parts of the business. That, and so much more.

But we’re pitching our OSS all wrong. Let’s consider first how we raise revenue from OSS, be that either internal (via internal sponsors) or external (vendor/integrator selling to customers)? Most revenue is either generated from products (fixed, leased, consumption revenue models) or services (human effort).

This article from just last month ruminated, “An organisation buys an OSS, not because it wants an Operational Support System, but because it wants Operational Support,” but I now believe I was wrong – charting the wrong course in relation to the most valuable element of our OSS.

After researching Masayoshi Son’s Vision Fund, I’m certain we’re selling a fundamentally short-term vision. Yes, OSS are valuable for the operational support they provide, but their greatest value is as vast data collection and processing engines.

“Those who rule data will rule the entire world. That’s what people of the future will say.”
Masayoshi Son.

For those unfamiliar with Masayoshi Son, he’s Japan’s richest man, CEO of SoftBank, in charge of a monster (US$106 billion) venture capital fund called Vision Fund and is seen as one of the world’s greatest technology visionaries.

As this article on Fortune explains Vision Fund’s foundational strategy, “…there’s a slide that outlines the market cap of companies during the Industrial Revolution, including the Pennsylvania Railroad, U.S. Steel, and Standard Oil. The next frontier, he [Son] believes, is the data revolution. As people like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were able to drastically accelerate innovation by having a very large ownership over the inputs of the Industrial Revolution, it looks like Son is trying to do something similar. The difference being he’s betting on the notion that data is one of the most valuable digital resources of modern day.”

Matt Barnard is CEO of Plenty, one of the companies that Vision Fund has invested in. He had this to say about the pattern of investments by Vision Fund, “I’d say the thing we have in common with his other investments is that they are all part of some of the largest systems on the planet: energy, transportation, the internet and food.”

Telecommunications falls into that category too. SoftBank already owns significant stakes in telecommunications and broadband network providers.

But based on the other investments made by Vision Fund so far, there appears to be less focus on operational data and more focus on customer activity and decision-making data. In particular, unravelling the complexity of customer data in motion.

OSS “own” service provider data, but I wonder whether we’re spending too much time thinking about operational data (and how to feed it into AI engines to get operational insights) and not enough on stitching customer-related insight sets together. That’s where the big value is, but we’re rarely thinking about it or pitching it that way… even though it is perhaps the most valuable asset a service provider has.

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.

The exposure effect can work for or against OSS projects

The exposure effect (no, not the one circulating through Hollywood) has a few interesting implications for OSS.

“The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.”
Wikipedia

In effect, it’s the repetition that drills familiarity, comfort, but also bias, into our sub-conscious. Repetition doesn’t make a piece of information true, but it can make us believe it’s true.

Many OSS experts are exposed to particular vendors/products for a number of years during their careers, and in doing so, the exposure effect can build. It can have a subtle bias on vendor selection, whereby the evaluators choose the solution/s they know ahead of the best-fit solution for their organisation. Perhaps having independent vendor selection facilitators who are familiar with many products can help to reduce this bias?

The exposure effect can also appear through sales and marketing efforts. By regularly contacting customers and repetitively promoting their wares, the customer builds a familiarity with the product. In theory it works for OSS products as it does with beer commercials. This can work for or against, depending on the situation.

In the case for, it can help to build a guiding coalition to get a complex, internal OSS project approved and supported through the challenging times that await every OSS project. I’d even go so far as to say, “you should use it to help build a guiding coalition,” rather than, “you can use it to help build a guiding coalition.” Never underestimate the importance of organisational change management on an OSS project.

In the case against, it can again develop a bias towards vendors / products that aren’t best-fit for the organisation. Similarly, if a “best-fit” product doesn’t take the time to develop repetition, they may never even get considered in a selection process, as highlighted in the diagram below.

7 touches of sales
Courtesy of the OnlineMarketingInstitute.

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.

Keeping the OSS executioner away

With the increasing pace of change, the moment a research report, competitive analysis, or strategic plan is delivered to a client, its currency and relevance rapidly diminishes as new trends, issues, and unforeseen disrupters arise.”
Soren Kaplan
.

By the same token as the quote above, does it follow that the currency and relevance of an OSS rapidly diminishes as soon as it is delivered to a client?

In the case of research reports, analyses and strategic plans, currency diminishes because the static data sets upon which they’re built are also losing currency. That’s not the case for an OSS – they are data collection and processing engines for streaming (ie constantly refreshing) data. [As an aside here – Relevance can still decrease if data quality is steadily deteriorating, irrespective of its currency. Meanwhile currency can decrease if the ever expanding pool of OSS data becomes so large as to be unmanagable or responsiveness is usurped by newer data processing technologies]

However, as with research reports, analyses and strategic plans, the value of an OSS is not so much related to the data collected, but the questions asked of, and answers / insights derived from, that data.

Apart from the asides mentioned above, the currency and relevance of OSS only diminish as a result of new trends, issues and disrupters if new questions can not or are not being asked with them.

You’ll recall from yesterday’s post that, “An ability to use technology to manage, interpret and visualise real data in a client’s data stores, not just industry trend data,” is as true of OSS tools as it is of OSS consultants. I’m constantly surprised that so few OSS are designed with intuitive, flexible data interrogation tools built in. It seems that product teams are happy to delegate that responsibility to off-the-shelf reporting tools or leave it up to the client to build their own.

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.