SOA adoption will keep ARPU intact

Even before the current economic downturn, the communications industry was experiencing a major transition and a number of challenges. From new technologies like Wimax, LTE and service-oriented architecture (SOA) to new business models, revenue sharing, governance, increased competition and Net neutrality, communications service providers are encountering obstacles on all sides.


Add to that the recession. Today's economic conditions are putting pressure on providers' cash flow, gross margins and customer retention, leading operators to reduce capital expenditures, especially in more developed parts of the world.


While critical transformation programs are still going forward, operators are forced to drill down and really focus their efforts because of economic pressures. Smaller providers may delay or cancel transformation projects altogether, hurting telecom equipment vendors, which are likely to face further consolidation.


Amid this uncertainty, service providers still have a long checklist of things they have to keep an eye on. They must retain customers and their average revenue per user (ARPU) by improving customer value and experience; reduce costs in key areas through operational improvement; minimize business and technology risk; and create flexible service models and platforms to lower costs and be ready when the economy starts to recover.


As an industry group focused on improving business effectiveness for the communications and media industries, TM Forum can provide support for players up and down today's value chain by providing training and conferences, expertise, guidebooks and best practices, implementation roadmaps, and business benchmarking.


Aligning core frameworks


High on our list for 2009 is updating our core frameworks to align them with SOA principles. TM Forum recognizes that the concept of the service-oriented enterprise (SOE) has already been embraced in the software industry by the likes of Amazon, but it has yet to take off in the communications and entertainment sectors. An environment of flexible, reusable components will empower companies to transform in a future-proofed, resilient manner, bringing them closer to the ideal of aligning business and IT.


To infuse the type of agility and speed that characterizes the software industry into its own sectors, TM Forum has launched the Blueprint Initiative to ensure that implementation of its core frameworks keep pace with change by organizing process, data and applications according to SOA principles. With Blueprint, TM Forum will expand the implementation focus of its suite of Solution Frameworks (NGOSS) -- already the standard toolkit around the world for transforming service operations. That will help TM Forum members explore and clarify the concepts and technologies that constitute SOA and SOE -- separate concepts that are often confused in the industry.


By providing guidance and support, the Blueprint Initiative will help members connect their business processes in a more horizontal manner so 'business services' can be linked in building-block fashion.


The Blueprint Initiative builds upon our recent integration of the Business Process Framework (eTOM) Version 8.0 and ITIL. By combining the framework's ability to manage networks and services with the internationally recognized IT operations best practices (itSMF), TM Forum fosters a service-oriented approach to operations. By moving toward an SOA approach, service providers are more likely to reduce time-to-market, increase profitability and enhance customer care.


As the industry moves forward, these core frameworks must continue to evolve so they are easier to use and more tightly aligned with one another. Our Blueprint Initiative is driving these changes across our frameworks and, in particular, developing an SOA-aligned integration framework that builds upon our Technology Neutral Architecture.


Software development focus


We're also making the language simpler and reworking material to ensure that it's broad enough to be appropriate for cable operators and other participants in today's extended value chain. We're likewise bringing in contributions from member-companies that have implemented these standards in their own environments or in customers' environments so that other members can benefit from their experiences.


We're focusing heavily on the software development community as well. Our frameworks speak primarily to architects and designers, but there is a huge audience of developers out there wanting to get code, toolkits, test harnesses and the like off-the-shelf. Our Prosspero standards work addresses the needs of this community, underpinned by the new collaboration environment.


Prosspero features a library of fully completed and mature APIs and online contributions and enhancements from developers. In the near future, it will include APIs and interfaces, test tools and use cases, developer tools, usage metrics and use ratings, multiple maturity levels and more.


Our overall goal is to help our more than 700 members across 75 countries take as much friction out of the value chain as possible. By working with other industry segments, like cable, undertaking innovative technical work and presenting real-world demonstrations from our technical programs, we hope to reduce the cost of content-based services to help our members and those they do business with succeed in what could otherwise be a trying year for our industry.


Martin Creaner is president and chief technical officer at TM Forum