How to Design Telecommunication Business Process Flows Using eTOM

Introduction to eTOM

Have you been tasked with designing process flows for a telecommunication network operator or setting up a business process management regime? Do these include end-to-end (E2E) processes that leverage one (or likely more) of your OSS/BSS tools along the journey? Perhaps you’ve even been tasked with setting a roadmap for OSS/BSS development and/or integration with other OSS/BSS (Operational Support Systems / Business Support Systems)?

This can be a daunting task because there are so many E2E processes that are required to run the business and operations of a communication service provider (CSP). Where do you start?

Lucky for you and the rest of the telecommunication industry, the TM Forum has provided a valuable set of tools that have become the benchmark for designing business processes for network operators globally. It’s known as the eTOM (enhanced Telecommunication Operations Map), which is part of the TM Forum’s Frameworx suite. The origins of eTOM began in the 1990s when the TM Forum sought to assist in the understanding of external business linkages for interface design.

Due to the unique nature and requirements of each organisation, eTOM was always intended to be flexible, but also provide as much standardisation of process as possible. This would provide consistency between vendors / integrators of telco software like OSS/BSS, but also consistency in the delivery of services across points of interconnect (POI) between the networks of different service providers.

The eTOM Business Process Framework 

The eTOM business process framework has since grown to include:

  • The main document (GB921) – A spreadsheet that contains a list of many (1,000+) atomic operational activities (or decompositions) that can be used to create E2E flows from
  • Addendum D (GB921D) – A document that provides a hierarchical and functional grouping of tasks, with multiple levels of granularity (Level 0 is shown in the first diagram below)

    (then a decomposition down to task level 3 can be formed, as shown in the second diagram below. Note: don’t worry about the details here, as we’ll get into that later)
  • Addendum E (GB921E) – A document that describes the design of E2E business streams from the atomic tasks described in GB921. The diagram below comes directly from GB921E. The “customer centric processes” on the left panel represent customer-initiated workflows (more on those later in this article). Meanwhile, the bottom right corner shows how the atomic tasks are linked to form an E2E process for each customer centric process (using L3 decompositions in this example):
  • Addendum F (GB921F) – A document that provides examples of end to end business processes, built from the atomic tasks provided in the previously mentioned documents. The E2E samples include Request to Answer (also known as R2A), Order to Payment (O2P), Request to Change (R2C) and many others, which we mention in this article about key business process acronyms in the OSS/BSS industry
  • Addendum G (GB921G) – A document that provides a guide on how to apply the eTOM process framework
  • There are multiple other addenda that can be used to assist you with the development of your organisation’s E2E processes and integrations, including Addendum W (GP921W), which describes how ITIL (an IT process framework) and eTOM can work together

The important feature to understand here is that eTOM comprises:

  • A large list of tasks (GB921), which aren’t process flows in isolation, but need to be joined together as…
  • …Suggested sequences of tasks (eg GB921E, GB921F) to guide the creation of your E2E processes to meet your workflow requirements 

Understanding eTOM Levels

You may have heard about eTOM or process level 1, 2, 3, etc. I like to think of these as simply the level of detail. The lower the level number (eg L1), the more high-level the process building blocks.

When we start to design a new process map, it’s easiest if we start with a small number of very high-level steps then add more detail later.

Let’s say I’m designing an E2E workflow called “Market Strategy to Campaign (MS2C)” I start by designing a simple sequence that has 4 high-level steps:

  1. Develop the company’s Market Strategy & Policy (eTOM processID = 1.1.1)
  2. Conduct Market Research (eTOM processID = 1.1.17)
  3. Prepare the Marketing Communications & Advertising (eTOM processID = 1.1.14)
  4. Then create the Product / Offer Capability Delivery (eTOM processID = 1.2.2)

If we look at GB921, you’ll notice that there’s a description of the first step in our MS2C workflow –  processID 1.1.1 (first row after the header in bright yellow).

Then we continue to look through the GB921 spreadsheet to find the other three high-level activities to create our first draft of the MS2C workflow.

The first 4-step MS2C workflow is helpful to get started, but it’s too high-level for our operations teams to use. They need something a big more detailed. This is where GB921 helps show additional layers of granularity. Instead of using 1.1.1, we might replace that one atomic step with the more detailed sub-steps (ie and and as highlighted with the gold-coloured rows in the table above.

Then if we want to get even more detailed, we can replace the sub-steps with sub-sub-steps (ie and as shown in the white rows. 

If we re-visit the diagram from GB921D (click on the image to see in higher resolution), You’ll notice that it has processID 1.1.1 (Market Strategy & Policy) in the top-left corner, but then drilling down two layers deeper. It’s really just a visual representation of the spreadsheet.

Building End-to-End Workflows from eTOM’s Atomic Process Activities

As we’ve touched on in the previous example, the art is in taking a series of atomic process steps (eg processID 1.1.1) and turning them into E2E flows that suit your specific situation. The tasks are comprehensively prescribed by eTOM (as per the spreadsheet snippet above).

The E2E processes aren’t prescribed, although some examples are provided in GB921F. The examples in GB921F provide a helpful starting point, but you’ll have to heavily modify them to suit your own needs. To do these tweaks, you’ll probably require input from your operational teams, business analysts, past experiences, inputs from vendors (eg OSS/BSS product functionality capabilities), etc. You’re left with infinite possibilities. 

A Small Set of Sample E2E Workflows

So you might still be asking, where do I start?

Well, the telecommunications industry tends to make E2E processes that are initiated by a customer (or internal operator / engineer). They start with that trigger (X) and end with the outcome (Y) that they’ve sought to trigger (ie closing the loop). They are often, but not always, named using the “X to Y” convention. eg, the link above, provides many examples of these, such as Order to Activate (O2A), Order to Cash (O2C), Trouble to Resolve (T2R), etc, etc, etc.

GB921E provides the following examples:

  • Customer-Centric E2E business streams:
    • Request to Answer
    • Order to Payment
    • Usage to Payment
    • Request to Change
    • Termination to Confirmation
    • Complaint to Solution
  • Network E2E business streams:
    • Production Order to Acceptance
    • Trouble Ticket to Solution
    • Activation to Usage Data
    • Capacity Management
    • Service Lifecycle Management
    • Resource Lifecycle Management
  • Product E2E business streams:
    • Idea to Business Plan
    • Idea to Business Proposal
    • Business Proposal to Launch
    • Assessment to Relaunch
    • Assessment to Retirement
    • Market Strategy to Campaign
  • Engaged Party Flows:

Let’s take a closer look at GB921E and how it helps to solve for the first process in the list above –  R2A (Request to Answer) – using eTOM mappings.

Let’s first start with a Level 2 breakdown / mapping of R2A:

Then, this can be used to guide the Level 3 breakdown, which looks more like the E2E R2A process we’re expecting:

GB921E even provides the template for showing detailed information about the R2A process, as follows:

Note that the examples provided above were from eTOM release 20-5 (which includes GP921E v20.0.1). However, the eTOM document libraries are being refined constantly, with major version releases a couple of times each year, so revert back to the TM Forum eTOM page for latest updates before embarking on your business process designs.

Reverse-Engineering Process Flow Diagrams

Note: We’ve developed a technique to document, benchmark and optimise operational processes directly from OSS/BSS activity logs. This helps you capture current-state process flows in BPMN format to assist with your eTOM / ITIL process mapping exercise (see sample below).

Good luck on your journey of designing telco business processes for your organisation. If you require assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the contact form below.


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