Shooting the OSS messenger

NPS, or Net Promoter Score, has become commonly used in the telecoms industry in recent years. In effect, it is a metric that measures friction in the business. If NPS is high, the business runs more smoothly. Customers are happy with the service and want to buy more of it. They’re happy with the service so they don’t need to contact the business. If NPS is low, it’s harder to make sales and there’s the additional cost of time dealing with customer complaints, etc (until the customer goes away of course).

NPS can be easy to measure via survey, but a little more challenging as a near-real-time metric. What if we used customer contacts (via all channels such as phone, IVR, email, website, live-chat, etc) as a measure of friction? But more importantly, how does any of this relate to OSS / BSS? We’ll get to that shortly (I hope).

BSS (billing, customer relationship management, etc) and OSS (service health, network performance, etc) tend to be the final touchpoints of a workflow before reaching a customer. When the millions of workflows through a carrier are completing without customer contact, then friction is low. When there are problems, calls go up and friction / inefficiency is also going up. When there are problems, the people (or systems) dealing with the calls (eg contact centre operators) tend to start with OSS / BSS tools and then work their way back up the funnel to identify the cause of friction and attempt to resolve it.

The problem is that the OSS / BSS tools are often seen as the culprit because that’s where the issue first becomes apparent. It’s easier to log an issue against the OSS than to keep tracking back to the real source of the problem. Many times, it’s a case of shooting the messenger. Not only that, but if we’re not actually identifying the source of the problem then it becomes systemic (ie the poor customer experience perpetuates).

Maybe there’s a case for us to get better at tracking the friction caused further upstream of our OSS / BSS and to give more granular investigative tools to the call takers. Even if we do, our OSS / BSS are still the ones delivering the message.

Automated testing and new starters

Can you guess what automated OSS testing and OSS new starters have in common?

Both are best front-loaded.

As a consultant, I’ve been a new starter on many occasions, as well as being assigned new starters on probably even more occasions. From both sides of that fence, it’s far more effective to front-load the new starter with training / knowledge to bring them up to speed / effectiveness, as soon as possible. Far more useful from the perspective of quality, re-work, self-sufficiency, etc.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. For a start, new starters are generally only required because the existing team is completely busy. So busy that it’s really hard to drop everything to make time to deliver up-front training. It reminds me of this diagram.
We're too busy

Front-loading of automated testing is similar… it takes lots of time to get it operational, but once in place it allows the team to focus on business outcomes faster.

In both cases, front-loading leads to a decrease in efficiency over the first few days, but tends to justify the effort soon thereafter. What other examples of front-loading can you think of in OSS?

Market for orchestration to triple from 2018 to 2023… but…

CSPs’ needs in orchestration are evolving in parallel on several dimensions. These can be considered hierarchically. At the highest level is software that has an end-to-end service role, as is the case in the ONAP project. This software generally supports a service life-cycle perspective, containing functions from design and service creation, to provisioning and activation, to operations management, analysis, upgrade and evolution.
Beneath this tier, in a resource-facing sense, is software that simplifies deployment and operation of virtual system infrastructures in cloud-native applications, NFV, vco/CORD and MEC. This carries the overall tag of MANO and incorporates the domains of NFV (with NFVO, for deployment and operation of virtualized network functions) and virtualized infrastructure management (or VIM, for automating deployment and operation of virtual system infrastructures). Open source developments are significant at each of these layers of orchestration, and each contains a significant portion of the overall orchestration TAM.
In parallel is the functionality for managing hybrid virtual and physical infrastructures, which is the reality in most CSP environments. This can be thought of as a lateral branch to MANO for virtualized infrastructures in the orchestration stack.
Together these categories make up the TAM [Total Addressable Market] for orchestration solutions with CSPs. This is a high-priority area of focus for CSPs and is one of the highest growth areas of software innovation and development in support of their service delivery needs. We expect the TAM for orchestration software to triple from 2018 through 2023 at a CAGR of 32.5%. This is partially because of the nascent level of the offerings at the current time, as well as the high priority that CSPs and their vendor suppliers are placing on the domain
Succeeding on an Open Field: The Impact of Open Source Technologies on the Communication Service Provider Ecosystem,” an ACG Research Report.

Whilst the title of this blog is just one of the headline numbers in this report by ACG Research, there are a number of other interesting call-outs, so it’s well worth having a closer read of the report.

The research has been funded by the Linux Foundation, so it naturally has a focus on open-source solutions for network operators (CSPs). Here’s another quote from the report relating to open-source, “The main motivations behind the push for open source solutions in CSP operations are not simply focused on cost reduction as a goal. CSPs are thinking strategically and globally. There is a realization that the competitive landscape for communication and information services is changing rapidly, and it includes global, webscale service providers and over-the-top solutions.
Leading CSPs want industry collaboration and cooperation to solve common challenges…
Their top three motivations are:
• Unifying multiple service providers around a common approach
• Avoiding vendor lock-in and dependencies on a single vendor
• Accessing a broader talent pool than your own organization or any one vendor could provide

The first bullet-point is where the CSPs diverge from the likes of AWS and Google. Whilst the CSPs, each with their local geographical reach, seek global unification through standardisation (ie to ensure simpler interconnection), AWS and Google appear to be seeking global reach and global domination (making unification efforts irrelevant for them).

Just curious though. What if global domination does come to pass in the next few years? Will there be a three-fold increase in the orchestration market or complete decimation? Check out this earlier post that describes an OSS doomsday scenario.

Global CSPs have significant revenue streams that won’t disappear by 2023 and will be certain to put up a fight against becoming obsolescent under that doomsday scenario. It seems that open source and orchestration are key weapons in this global battle, so we’re bound to see some big investments in this space.

3 categories of OSS investment justification

Insurer IAG has modelled the financial cost that a data breach or ransomware attack would have on its business, in part to understand how much proposed infosec investments might offset its losses.
Head of cybersecurity and governance Ian Cameron told IBM Think 2018 in Sydney that the “value-at-risk modelling” project called upon the company’s actuarial expertise to put numbers on different types and levels of security threats.
“Because we’re an insurance company, we can use actuarial methods to price or model what the costs of a loss event would be,” Cameron said.
“If we have a major data breach or a major ransomware attack, we’ve done some really great work in the past 12 months to model the net cost of losses to our organisation in terms of the loss of productivity, the cost of advertising to address the concerns of our customers, the legal costs, and the costs of regulatory oversight.
“We’ve been able to work out the distribution of loss from a small event to a very big event
Ry Crozier
on IT News.

There are really only three main categories of benefit that an OSS can be built around:

  • Cost reduction
  • Revenue generation / increase
  • Brand value (ie insurance of the brand, via protection of customer perception of the brand)

The last on the list is rarely used (in my experience) to justify OSS/BSS investment. The IAG experience of costing out infosec risk to operations and brand is an interesting one. It’s also one that has some strong parallels for the OSS/BSS of network operators.

Many people in the telecoms industry treat OSS/BSS as an afterthought and/or an expensive cost centre. Those people fail to recognise that the OSS/BSS are the operationalisation engines that allow customers to use the network assets.

Just as IAG was able to do through actuarial analysis, a telco’s OSS/BSS team could “work out the distribution of loss from a small event to (be) a very big event” (for the telco’s brand value). Consider the loss of repute during sustained network outages. Consider the impact of negative word-of-mouth from billing mistakes. Consider how revenue leakage analysis and predictive network health management might offset losses.

Can the IAG approach work for justifying your investment in OSS/BSS?

Do you use any other major categories for justifying OSS/BSS spend?

OSS compromise, no, prioritise

On Friday, we talked about how making compromises on OSS can actually be a method for reducing risk. We used the OSS vendor selection process to discuss the point, where many stakeholders contribute to the list of requirements that help to select the best-fit product for the organisation.

To continue with this same theme, I’d like to introduce you to a way of prioritising requirements that borrows from the risk / likelihood matrix commonly used in project management.

The diagram below shows the matrix as it applies to OSS.
OSS automation grid

The y-axis shows the frequency of use (of a particular feature / requirement). They x-axis shows the time / cost savings that will result from having this functionality or automation.

If you add two extra columns to your requirements list, the frequency of use and the resultant savings, you’ll quickly identify which requirements are highest priority (green) based on business benefit. Naturally there are other factors to consider, such as cost-benefit, but it should quickly narrow down to your 80/20 that will allow your OSS to make the most difference.

The same model can be used to sub-prioritise too. For example, you might have a requirement to activate orders – but some orders will occur very frequently, whilst other order types occur rarely. In this case, when configuring the order activation functionality, it might make sense to prioritise on the green order types first.

An OSS doomsday scenario

If I start talking about doomsday scenarios where the global OSS job industry is decimated, most people will immediately jump to the conclusion that I’m predicting an artificial intelligence (AI) takeover. AI could have a role to play, but is not a key facet of the scenario I’m most worried about.
OSS doomsday scenario

You’d think that OSS would be quite a niche industry, but there must be thousands of OSS practitioners in my home town of Melbourne alone. That’s partly due to large projects currently being run in Australia by major telcos such as nbn, Telstra, SingTel-Optus and Vodafone, not to mention all the smaller operators. Some of these projects are likely to scale back in coming months / years, meaning less seats in a game of OSS musical chairs. But this isn’t the doomsday scenario I’m hinting at in the title either. There will still be many roles at the telcos and the vendors / integrators that support them.

There are hundreds of OSS vendors in the market now, with no single dominant player. It’s a really fragmented market that would appear to be ripe for M&A (mergers and acquisitions). Ripe for consolidation, but massive consolidation is still not the doomsday scenario because there would still be many OSS roles in that situation.

The doomsday scenario I’m talking about is one where only one OSS gains domination globally. But how?

Most traditional telcos have a local geographic footprint with partners/subsidiaries in other parts of the world, but are constrained by the costs and regulations of a wired or cellular footprint to be able to reach all corners of the globe. All that uniqueness currently leads to the diversity of OSS offerings we see today. The doomsday scenario arises if one single network operator usurps all the traditional telcos and their legacy network / OSS / BSS stacks in one technological fell swoop.

How could a disruption of that magnitude happen? I’m not going to predict, but a satellite constellation such as the one proposed by Starlink has some of the hallmarks of such a scenario. By using low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites (ie lower latency than geostationary satellite solutions), point-to-point laser interconnects between them and peering / caching of data in the sky, it could fundamentally change the world of communications and OSS.

It has global reach, no need for carrier interconnect (hence no complex contract negotiations or OSS/BSS integration for that matter), no complicated lead-in negotiations or reinstatements, no long-haul terrestrial or submarine cable systems. None of the traditional factors that cost so much time and money to get customers connected and keep them connected (only the complication of getting and keeping the constellation of birds in the sky – but we’ll put that to the side for now). It would be hard for traditional telcos to compete.

I’m not suggesting that Starlink can or will be THE ubiquitous global communications network. What if Google, AWS or Microsoft added this sort of capability to their strengths in hosting / data? Such a model introduces a new, consistent network stack without the telcos’ tech debt burdens discussed here. The streamlined network model means the variant tree is millions of times simpler. And if the variant tree is that much simpler, so is the operations model and so is the OSS… with one distinct contradiction. It would need to scale for billions of customers rather than millions and trillions of events.

You might be wondering about all the enterprise OSS. Won’t they survive? Probably not. Comms networks are generally just an important means-to-an-end for enterprises. If the one global network provider were to service every organisation with local or global WANs, as well as all the hosting they would need, and hosted zero-touch network operations like Google is already pre-empting, would organisation have a need to build or own an on-premises OSS?

One ubiquitous global network, with a single pared back but hyperscaled OSS, most likely purpose-built with self-healing and/or AI as core constructs (not afterthoughts / retrofits like for existing OSS). How many OSS roles would survive that doomsday scenario?

Do you have an alternative OSS doomsday scenario that you’d like to share?

Hat tip again to Jay Fenton for pointing out what Starlink has been up to.

Did we forget the OSS operating model?

When we have a big OSS transformation to undertake, we tend to start with the use cases / requirements, work our way through the technical solution and build up an implementation plan before delivering it (yes, I’ve heavily reduced the real number of steps there!).

However, we sometimes overlook the organisational change management part. That’s the process of getting the customer’s organisation aligned to assist with the transformation, not to mention being fully skilled up to accept handover into operations. I’ve seen OSS projects that were nearly perfect technically, but ultimately doomed because the customer wasn’t ready to accept handover. Seasoned OSS veterans probably already have plans in place for handling organisational change through stakeholder management, training, testing, thorough handover-to-ops processes, etc. You can find some hints on the Free Stuff pages here on PAOSS.

In addition, long-time readers here on PAOSS have probably already seen a few posts about organisational management, but there’s a new gotcha that I’d like to add to the mix today – the changing operating model. This one is often overlooked. The changes made in a next-gen OSS can often have profound changes on the to-be organisation chart. Roles and responsibilities that used to be clearly defined now become blurred and obsoleted by the new solution.

This is particularly true for modern delivery models where cloud, virtualisation, as-a-service, etc change the dynamic. Demarcation points between IT, operations, networks, marketing, products, third-party suppliers, etc can need complete reconsideration. The most challenging part about understanding the re-mapping of operating models is that we often can’t even predict what they will be until we start using the new solution and refining our processes in-flight. We can start with a RACI and a bunch of “what if?” assumptions / scenarios to capture new operational mappings, but you can almost bet that it will need ongoing refinement.

1.045 Trillion reasons to re-consider your OSS strategy

The global Internet of Things (IoT) market will be worth $1.1 trillion in revenue by 2025 as market value shifts from connectivity to platforms, applications and services. By that point, there will be more than 25 billion IoT connections (cellular and non-cellular), driven largely by growth in the industrial IoT market. The Asia Pacific region is forecast to become the largest global IoT region in terms of both connections and revenue.
Although connectivity revenue will grow over the period, it will only account for 5 per cent of the total IoT revenue opportunity by 2025, underscoring the need for operators to expand their capabilities beyond connectivity in order to capture a greater share of market value
GSMA Intelligence
, referred to here.

Let’s look at these projected numbers. The GSMA Intelligence report forecasts only 5 cents in every dollar of IoT spend (of a $1.1T market opportunity) will be allocated to connectivity. That leaves $1.045T on the table if network operators just focus on connectivity.

Traditional OSS tend to focus on managing connectivity – less so on managing marketplaces, customer-facing platforms and applications. Does that headline number – $1.045T – provide you with an incentive to re-consider what your OSS manages and future use cases?

IoT OSS market opportunity

IoT requires slightly different OSS thinking:

  • Rather than integrating to a (relatively) small number of device types, IoT will have an almost infinite number of sensor types from a huge range of suppliers.
  • Rather than managing devices individually, their sheer volume means that devices will need to be increasingly managed in cohorts via policy controls.
  • Rather than a fairly narrow set of network-comms based services, functionality explodes into diverse areas like metering, vehicle fleets, health-care, manufacturing, asset controls, etc, etc so IoT controllers will need to be developed by a much longer-tail of suppliers (meaning open development platforms and/or scalable certification processes to integrate into the IoT controller platforms).
  • There are undoubtedly many, many additional differences.

Caveat: I haven’t evaluated the claims / numbers in the GSMA Intelligence report. This blog is just to prompt a thought-experiment around hypothetical projections.

A new phenomenon for IT

In the past, business-oriented groups have had ideas about what they want to do and then they come to us… Now, they want to know what technology can bring to the table and then they’ll work on the business plan.
So there’s a big gap here. It’s a phenomenon that’s been happening in the last year and it’s an uncomfortable place for IT. We’re not used to having to lead in that way. We have been more in the order-taker business.

Veenod Kurup
, Liberty Global, Group CIO.

That’s a really thought-provoking insight from Veenod isn’t it? Technology driving the business rather than business driving the technology. Technology as the business advantage.

I’ll be honest here – I never thought I’d see that day although I… guess… as e-business increases, the dependency on tech increases in lockstep. I’m passionate about tech, but also of the opinion that the tech is only a means to an end.

So if what Veenod says is reflective of a macro-trend across all industry then he’s right in saying that we’re going to have some very uncomfortable situations for some tech experts. Many will have to widen their field of view from a tech-only vision to a business vision.

Maybe instead the business-oriented groups could just come to the OSS / BSS department and speak with our valuable tripods. After all, we own and run the information and systems where business (BSS) meets technology (OSS) right? Or as previously reiterated on this blog, we have the opportunity to take the initiative and demonstrate the business value within our OSS / BSS.

PS. hat-tip to Dawn Bushaus for unearthing the quote from Veenod in her article on Inform.

Getting lost in the flow of OSS

The myth is that people play games because they want to avoid challenging work. The reality is, people play games to engage in well-designed, challenging work. The only thing they are avoiding is poorly designed work. In essence, we are replacing poorly designed work with work that provides a more meaningful challenge and offers a richer sense of progress.
And we should note at this point that just because something is a game, it doesn’t mean it’s good. As we’ll soon see, it can be argued that everything is a game. The difference is in the design.
Really good games have been ruthlessly play-tested and calibrated to the point where achieving a state of flow is almost guaranteed for many. Play-testing is just another word for iterative development, which is essentially the conducting of progressive experiments
Dr Jason Fox
in his book, “The Game Changer.”

Reflect with me for a moment – when it comes to your OSS activities, in which situations do you consistently get into a state of flow?

For me, it’s in quite a few different scenarios, but one in particular stands out – building up a network model in an inventory management tool. This activity starts with building models / patterns of devices, services, connections, etc, then using the models to build a replica of the network, either manually or via data migration, within the inventory tool(s). I can lose complete track of time when doing this task. In fact I have almost every single time I’ve performed this task.

Whilst not being much of a gamer, I suspect it’s no coincidence that by far my favourite video game genre is empire-building strategy games like the Civilization series. Back in the old days, I could easily get lost in them for hours too. Could we draw a comparison from getting that same sense of achievement, seeing a network (of devices in OSS, of cities in the empire strategy games) grow rapidly as a result of your actions?

What about fans of first-person shooter games? I wonder whether they get into a state of flow on assurance activities, where they get to hunt down and annihilate every fault in their terrain?

What about fans of horse grooming and riding games? Well…. let’s not go there. 🙂

Anyway, enough of all these reflections and musings. I would like to share three concepts with you that relate to Dr Fox’s quote above:

  1. Gamification – I feel that there is MASSIVE scope for gamification of our OSS, but I’ve yet to hear of any OSS developers using game design principles
  2. Play-testing – How many OSS are you aware of that have been, “ruthlessly play-tested and calibrated?” In almost every OSS situation I’ve seen, as soon as functionality meets requirements, we stop and move on to the next feature. We don’t pause and try a few more variants to see which is most likely to result in a great design, refining the solution, “to the point where achieving a state of flow is almost guaranteed for many
  3. Richer Progress – How many of our end-to-end workflows are designed with, “a richer sense of progress” in mind? Feedback tends to come through retrospective reporting (if at all), rarely through the OSS game-play itself. Chances are that our end-to-end processes actually flow through multiple un-related applications, so it comes back to clever integration design to deliver more compelling feedback. We simply don’t use enough specialist creative designers in OSS

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

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

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

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?