Tags Posts tagged with "Network Asset Management"

Network Asset Management

We live in a world where technology is like a digital liquid that’s flowed around every aspect of our lives. There’s no doubt that technology can help to oil the craggy wheels of daily life, and while some find this enabling and liberating, others consider the intrusion to be more insidious. Working out where people stand on this issue is generally just a simple matter of checking their birth date. Many born before 1980 tends to view social and on line everything with suspicion, whereas those consumers born after that date, referred to as Generation Y, or Millennials, are far more comfortable with social media and sharing everything online. In a recent report from Pew research it was shown that the Millennials are much greater users of social media than their parents.

Milennials

This is probably because Millennials are the first generation that have grown up entirely with the internet and mobile phones.  They are ‘digital natives’. It’s difficult to know exactly what effects this has on general culture, but one surprising change is that Millennials tend to be far more optimistic that their parents were when they were young. While Generation X and before are more inclined to have a cynical and pessimistic attitude towards the future, a recent report by the Pew Research Centre, Millennials in Adulthood, has found that, despite feeling detached from politics or religion and burdened by debt and recession, the Millennials are inexplicably much more optimistic. According to a recent Gallup poll, eighty percent of millennials, aged 18 to 29, feel positive about the future and say their standard of living is improving.  The reasons for this relentless optimism are unclear but researchers at Pew have pondered that it may be down to more nurturing parenting, or perhaps it’s because millennials always feeling at the centre of their own social network.

Another characteristic of the millennial generation is that, contrary to predictions that technology would free us all from work, they are now working harder and are more driven to succeed than ever before. In his book ‘Generational Teaching: Motivating the Minority’ Christopher Alan has also found that Millennials are ‘more polite and considerate’, ‘attentive and respectful’ and prefer to work in teams rather than in a hierarchy. Goldman Sachs also says that they are also more health conscious and savvy than earlier generations.   But, as ever, the picture is never that simple, because it seems that the Millennial generation is itself divided in two, as Pew Research has written

Just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the “Millennial generation,” while another 33% – mostly older Millennials – consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X.

This all has very great implications on marketing, and how companies should reach out to different generations. Connecting with customers is one of the greatest challenges marketers face, and capturing Millennials is now one of the key battlefields for competing companies. As Leah Swartz of Millennial Marketing says

‘When it comes to fashion and shopping, there isn’t a more important demographic for retailers to reach than millennials.’

Goldman Sachs have even put together an infographic dedicated to marketing to Millennials in which they identify several key things to consider when marketing to the ‘largest generation in US history’. In summary they are

  • Living at home longer
  • Marrying later
  • Sharing, not owning
  • Exercise choice in purchasing
  • More health conscious

From a non-millennials perspective it may seem that they are so immersed in instant messaging and playing computer games that they are oblivious to the real world, but, on the contrary, millennials are very much aware of the state of the world. It’s just that this revolution is a lot quieter than the ones before, taking place as it does silently from the screens of our phones and laptops. The silence is an illusion. The volume of noise is now measured in packets of data rather than decibels, and it’s loader than ever. If companies don’t engage with different generations of customers on their own ground then they will not be heard at all.

In my next blog I will look at how Millennials and other demographic groups can be better served by adopting a customer-centric approach to marketing.

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Telecom companies across the board often crisscross their blades with OTT players. While it’s true that Telcos are trying to find sustainable new avenues – few are succeeding, their current-state CAPEX keeps growing at an ever faster clip. This is mainly due to exponential data demand from customers resulting in increasing investments into network to keep up quality customer services. With ubiquitous mobile connectivity and video traffic demand spiraling-out, it puts enormous amount of stress on the networks. Telcos need to continue investing in this consumer trend [current-state CAPEX] and at the same time figure out alternative growth areas [growth CAPEX].

To invest in new avenues with better ROIs, Telcos need to keep close tabs on their CAPEX that goes into network for present growing customer demand. And follow the traditional mantra – keep the current cash flow as cushion and invest for future. But for many Telcos, the worrying part is large chunk of the cash flow generated is ploughed back into network to meet current demands. This leaves little room to focus on new growth areas. Telcos are forced to raise money via debt or other means, resulting in further stress on balance sheet and reduced returns to investors.

Let’s take a look at a snapshot of financial summary of a public listed global telecom major:

[Figures are normalized]

subex-blog

On a closer inspection of this summary one could observe,

  • The CAPEX has increased significantly (50%), but contributed only marginal increase in operating income (2%) and revenues (10%) over a year.
  • At the end of three year period, the CAPEX investment grew nearly to 20% of annual revenue but the corresponding incremental revenues seen marginal uptick only.
  • Return on Assets came down to single digit despite spending cumulative CAPEX of nearly half of average yearly revenue for this period.

Without undue speculation and with publicly available data, one could do an educated guess: during this period, most of the CAPEX went into supporting & enhancing existing network infrastructure to keep-up quality services.

This picture is not much different from any other typical Telco in the developed or emerging markets. While Telcos try to figure out the next wave of growth, it is equally important to keep a check on the current-state CAPEX.

Telcos have no dearth of information in their siloed systems. It is just that few of these system’s data need to be unleashed to discover insights that can help in reducing CAPEX. For instance, reusing stranded assets in the network, warehouse and spare stores during purchase decisions would reduce CAPEX drastically. This would require deeper analytical insights generation, with collaboration among operation teams within the Telco towards achieving a common goal.

Telecom operators with better equipped analytical tools to gather operational insights and actionable work flows can reduce their on-going CAPEX, draw more mileage from the pan-network assets and derive better return on assets in the network.

Now that’s something that we’ve all heard at our workplace at some point..and believe it or not, its not entirely incorrect.

Traditionally most organizations have been created with a vertical structure having clear demarcation of responsibilities and identified handoff points for communication and information interchange between verticals. This was thought to be the most optimum way of assigning limited resources within the organization while allowing for specialization within verticals. Think of this organization as an architectural structure with three key layers:

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  • Apex of the structure represented by executive management and strategy layer of the organization
  • Pillars represented by different verticals within the organization
  • Strong base represented by organizational infrastructure which acts as a common foundation

While efforts are made by every organization to eliminate ‘silos’ in functioning, the inherent nature of this structure results in unidentified hand-offs, ineffective information sharing during hand-offs and compartmentalized view of processes leading to challenges in measuring, improving and most importantly identifying ownership of cross-functional processes. In many instances, different verticals end up shifting accountability of such cross-functional processes at the expense of progression. The pace at which technology, markets and customer demands are changing in present times demand a level of agility within the organizations to respond and keep pace with the market and competition. This places an enormous stress on the organizational structure, particularly on the handoffs between verticals.

Managing millions of dollars’ worth of Network Capex within a Telco is a cross-functional process which experiences similar issues of ownership, handoffs between verticals and lack of a common, centralized view leading to ineffectual Capex tracking much less calculating effectiveness of these Capex investments or return on investments. Typically, Finance is the identified owner of Capex investments in a Telco but most Finance teams struggle with deployment of Capex in the network and more importantly tracking and calculating the return on network Capex investments as they are heavily reliant on Operations team for this information.

Solving this Network Capex conundrum calls for a two-pronged approach, creating a cross-functional Network Capex Assurance team and enabling a supporting technological component to create a Network Capex Control framework. Lets have a closer look,

Network Capex Assurance Team

A cross-functional team which acts as the owner of Network Capex investments within the Telco – typically lead by the CFO or CTO. This team delivers critical insights and drives actions to enhance capital management practices in all phases of the business and comprises of representation from Finance, Planning, Procurement & SCM, Deployment, Operations and IT. The key responsibilities of this team would comprise of,

  • Custodians of Capex management processes
  • Capex planning and validation
  • Ensure data integrity across supporting systems
  • Capex tracking and analysis
  • Standardization & Reporting

Network Capex Control Framework

network capex frameworkAn enabling technological component which supports the Capex Assurance team in delivering their responsibilities by providing a centralized end-to-end view enabled by Network intelligence. Key insights from the framework would cover,

  • Centralized view
  • Standardized processes
  • Utilization and effectiveness
  • Capex & Opex optimization
  • Insights & Analytics

Enabling strong capital management practices is much more than operational or process changes in the organization; it is a fundamental change in the outlook of an organization. Embracing this change will enable agility, data integrity and measures for optimization, better equipping Telcos to respond to the rate of change in the industry..and that should be everyone’s responsibility!

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Natural human tendency is to focus more on things that affects our present rather than the future. Coming to things that affect us for which there is a lack of awareness about the “extent” of issue caused, there would be little or no attention from us to resolve them.

Let us look at the priority with which investment decisions are made by telecom service provider on the software systems that they wish to have. Before a service provider can go live with a product offer for their end customers, they need to have the network in place to support the product. The priority for the software systems they should have to support their products are:

  • The first and most important is the billing software. They do not want go wrong in the billing as it would directly affect their revenues.
  • Second is the assurance software to make sure the network and the services are up and running.
  • The fulfillment software to automate as much as possible the order to activation process
  • A software which will help in strategic decision making like a planning software.

Above are the verticals, now let us look at the horizontals which are the domain.

  • The first and most important aspect that is recorded well is that of the end customer. The entire lifecycle of a customer, right from acquisition to end of service to the customer in most operator environments is maintained well.
  • The second would be product life cycle management. This is important to know what needs to be billed based on the product that the customer is using.
  • The next important aspect is the maintenance of service life cycle.
  • By the time Telecom service provider gets all of the above going and fully operational, it is already a mammoth task for them and they tend to lose focus on Resource lifecycle management.

A recent survey that was conducted by TMForum led by Subex revealed the following findings:

  • 1 in 3 operators do not measure returns on CAPEX investment
  • 77% of the respondents believed that inadequate asset utilization leads to increase in costs
  • 55% of the respondents believed that network planning is based on guesses
  • 64% believed that capex planning is driven by technology and not business objectives

From the above findings it is clear that getting the right business process and tools around resource life cycle management is extremely critical for the long term health and efficient operations of a telecom service provider.

In this blog, I would like to discuss about the exciting new world of SDN, NFV and cloud technologies and the relevance of resource lifecycle management in this new world. While a part of the telecom operator community is very aggressively embracing the concepts of SDN and NFV already into their network, there are others who are waiting and watching to see how things progress. I strongly believe, for the telecom industry to break the shackles of “reducing margins” and “increase in the need of CAPEX/OPEX investments” that it is currently facing, the key answers can be provided by SDN, NFV and cloud technologies.

It is obvious that maximum energy is spent by telecom service providers, vendor community and standards bodies like ONF, ETSI, IETF, OPNFV etc. on how the network will work in this new world. Also, what I observed is that a bulk of the energy is being spent on defining standards around next gen BSS and OSS by TMForum, ETSI and ONF are in the following areas:

  1. Orchestrator
  2. VNF Manager
  3. VI (Virtualized Infrastructure) Manager
  4. SDN controllers
  5. Network and Application adapters
  6. Protocols used for communication with the devices and applications
  7. Policy engine
  8. APIs etc.

As we go about defining the standards, let us look at covering the life cycles of all the domains starting from Customer life cycle, product life cycle, service life cycle all the way to resource life cycle. In this new world, resources can be physical compute, storage and network resources or virtual resources like software licenses. Let us not restrict ourselves in defining standards only on the operational aspects of resource life cycle management (OSS inventory) which was done in the eTOM model of TM Forum. Some work is being done by one group under the ZOOM initiate of TM Forum to define standards on onboarding of the software resource. This is definitely good, but we need to cover all aspects of the life cycle right from onboarding till end of life.

So what if we do not do it, the systems will work, be operational and deliver services to the end customer. But we will probably end up being in the same state that we are in today, i.e. not being able to monitor how the CAPEX decisions of the past have fared, optimize on the investments already made, learn and improve in order to make better CAPEX decisions going forward.

I would like to leave you with the following thought before I end my blog. If we ask any telecom service provider on the number of database or web server licenses they currently have deployed in their data centers, they may or may not have an answer. But if we go to the extent of asking how many of these licenses are in use and in how many cases we have a compliance issue, I am pretty certain that almost all of them will not have a precise answer to the question. Going forward, if all the network functions are going to be software running on COTs hardware, the need to have answers to the above questions will be even more important.

Join the webinar on ” Telecom Asset Management in SDN & NFV world” to discuss more.

It’s 7AM and I can’t put off getting up any longer, so I look out the window and see there’s a light frost on the grass, which the weather channel warned me about 3 days ago.   An hour later I’m at the train station waiting for the 7:42 which is delayed because the frost has caused the points to seize up in a town 50 miles away, so now the entire South East rail system is completely snarled up. They predicted the weather and probably knew there would be a point’s failure, but still the network crashed. So I need to phone work to let them know I’m going to be late, but I can’t connect. Thousands of other commuters around me are also trying to phone ahead, but the network can’t handle it. It seems to happen every day.

We are surrounded by events which are beyond our control, but often they happen in predictable ways. The points failure was perhaps less predictable than my alarm, but we always knew that when the temperature dropped there would be some kind of failure somewhere that would lead to cancellations and a breakdown of the network. We always knew that rush hour would become an agonising crawl into town on overcrowded trains. The congestion could probably have been avoided if they could have predicted which parts of the network were under the most stress and the impact on the network in the event of failure or congestion at those stress points. Additional resources could then be provided at those points, or alternative routes planned to bypass the congestion and limit the ripple out effect, like a fire break.  The problem is only likely to get worse, and the network more unreliable, as the population increases and more people than ever rely on the rail network to get to work.

With the arrival of LTE and rapidly increasing popularity of Video on Demand then telecoms networks are also facing increasing levels of congestion and instability. Global data traffic is predicted to increase by 10 to 20 times by 2019 (Cisco).   In order to meet regulatory obligations and maintain customer experience Capex is set to spiral upwards. MNOs, who are already facing a year on year decrease in ARPU, will struggle to keep pace with demand and the risk of congestion will be ever present.

As with rail networks MNOs need a longer term strategy in place to understand where and when future choke points in the network will occur so that the risk of congestion can be eliminated for the least cost. Subex Capacity Management provides the capability to predict these points of congestion by monitoring and correlating metrics from across the network to provide detailed forecasts of network utilisation. Additional factors can be brought into the forecasts, such as the impact of major events or the rolling out of M2M services and different scenarios played out to understand how the network will respond. By automating the forecasting process network managers can be alerted long before issues become critical and congestion begins to occur. They can evaluate different options for either re-homing traffic or augmenting the network for the least possible cost. Stranded or un-utilised assets can even be recovered and re-located to satisfy demand for very little cost.

CFOs need to find ways to keep increasing revenue while controlling costs, and CTOs need to keep network delivering ever greater speeds as volumes of traffic increase exponentially.  Both need to look into the future to avoid a future of network instability, falling quality, crippling network costs and lost revenue.

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Effective capital expenditure and network asset management is rapidly becoming a big boardroom issue for telecoms operators in recent times. With decreasing EBIDTA and ever increasing pressure on margins, operators can no longer afford to keep on spending heavily on capital assets and network projects with no questions asked. Yet telcos are not managing their assets adeptly, and this is something that senior management needs to address with some urgency in order to control their capital expenditure more effectively and efficiently.

At the crux of the problem is the unfortunate reality that operators don’t have an accurate picture of what assets and network inventory they already own, let alone how these assets are being used. These problems have prompted Subex to launch ROC Asset Assurance, a service that combines inventory management with workflow and analytics so that operators can gain visibility into the complete asset lifecycle through dashboards, KPIs and reports. The solution is different from asset management services because of its workflow and analytics elements. It can initiate workflow to ensure that all the applicable assets are procured and deployed when needed. All of which means that operators should be able to and reduce their capital expenditure and manage the capacity needs of their networks with greater precision

Here is an interesting and exciting short video on ROC Asset Assurance which provides you better understanding of the Asset Assurance space, the problems and challenges faced by global operators and how ROC Asset Assurance can help them manage and reduce network capex.

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