Privacy is in the same position as security was five years ago

It has taken years for the technology and telecoms industry to take security seriously, and now we are at the beginning of the same story arc with privacy.

The purpose of a story arc in popular culture is to take the character on a journey, agonising through challenges and failures, and up to success and lessons, ultimately concluding with some sort of resolution. There are seven different types, for example, a Cinderella story arc where the protagonist experiences a rise, then a fall, before a final rise, or an Icarus arc where there is simply a rise before an ultimate failure.

The security segment of the technology and telecoms world has gone through somewhat of a Rags to Riches story arc, with adequate protections being ignored for years before becoming a critical component of the technology landscape. That said, some would argue the arc has not been completed as there is still not enough investment.

Perhaps privacy is treading the same path as security, and it will have to battle moral dilemmas, successes and failures over numerous series before it is finally appreciated. The principles of privacy are certainly being ignored, massaged and bent sideways by private and public organisations today.

One question which might be raised is whether we need to reconsider the definitions of privacy for the new world; are we inappropriately judging digital privacy by the standards of the analogue era?

“In my view, there is currently no case for relaxing the privacy rules. There is a need to embed privacy considerations in design of technology,” said Joann O’Brien, VP of Digital Ecosystems at the TM Forum.

“In many cases architectural design/best practice and the embedding of the citizen at the centre of the design still needs to happen. When this happens, meeting privacy requirements becomes exponentially easier to achieve. In many cases relaxing any privacy policy due to impacts on innovation is really playing into the hands of lazy architectures and exploitative technologies.”

This sounds remarkably similar to the same rhetoric which was positioned around security technologies for years. Experts said security needs to be built into the products foundations, not simply an add-on. It does appear the same mistakes are being made with privacy.

One country which does seem to be taking the right approach to building contact tracing applications to combat COVID-19 is Switzerland. Using the decentralised approach, the app was built around the privacy foundations, with all sensitive operations taking place on the user’s device. Other countries should take note of this example championing privacy rights.

“TM Forum advocates for continuing and upholding the privacy rules as the long-term consequences of not doing so will have a negative impact on society and potentially run the risk of citizens losing trust in technology.”

While any reasonable person should not advocate the dilution of privacy rules, perhaps there is a case for reimagining them.

Should governments be able to ensure the same levels of protections and privacy are maintained, there is a case for rewriting rules to ensure they are fit for the digital society. After all, privacy rules as we know them today were written for a bygone era. It is like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole, it might fit if you try hard enough, but it is more suitable for another hole.

“The problem with the current system is it insists that every company asks for consent at a very granular level, which makes it impossible for people to read and understand what they are agreeing to,” said Ross Fobian, CEO of ResponseTap, a provider of intelligent call tracking software.

“It is also annoying because you are presented with messages on every website, but don’t have the time to really understand each one. This results in the user simply trying to get the box out of the way as quickly as possible. This means that generally people default to simply clicking the ‘I agree’ button, without understanding what they are agreeing to.”

The transfer of data to corporations can benefit both sides, however. Companies more intelligently and appropriately are able to target potential customers, while experience of products and services can be enhanced for the consumer.

“The problem is that some companies or even government entities don’t necessarily use your data just to help you,” said Fobian. “They use your data to manipulate you. Cambridge Analytica is a perfect example of this. Also, companies can get hacked and hackers can use that data in ways it was never intended. For this reason, at ResponseTap we don’t store personal data by default, which minimises the risk. However, this is not always possible.”

There are new privacy rules being created for this era, which are heading in the right direction according to Fobian. readers generally agree with this statement also, with 32% believing privacy rules should be re-imagined for the digital era and 48% suggesting the user should be given more choice to create own privacy rights.

Privacy is a challenge today for several reasons, most of which can be directly linked back to corporations and governments ignoring its importance. In years gone, security was an add-on, despite what anyone told you, and the exact same position has been created for privacy today.

All these companies are telling us that they are pro-privacy, but eventually they will have to start showing us with actions which back up the rhetoric.

TM Forum postpones Digital Transformation World

The Digital Transformation World event, which was due to take place in Copenhagen in June, has been postponed to October due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation,” said Nik Willetts, CEO of TM Forum. “The global coronavirus pandemic is affecting our families, our businesses, and our communities. Our thoughts are with all those affected. We’ve been working with our members and the relevant authorities for the last few months to put in place access policies and on-site processes to mitigate the risks of the virus.

“Despite this, we feel it’s best for everyone involved to reschedule our flagship event until October. With the support of our global member base we remain on track to work together in delivering an exceptional event and appreciate everyone’s understanding during these challenging times.”

Digital Transformation World is the TM Forum’s flagship event, bringing operators and vendors together to talk telecoms tech, best practice and generally shoot the breeze. It’s traditionally held in Nice, France in May, but is switching to Copenhagen, Denmark this year. The Danish weather should still be OK in October, but it’s by no means guaranteed that the pandemic will be sufficiently contained by then. Fingers crossed.

Operators are finally getting the message about 5G monetization

Conversations at Digital Transformation World 2019 indicate operators may finally be getting the memo about monetizing 5G.

The long and short of it is that revenue per bit of data is going down the toilet and we’re rapidly approaching the point when connectivity alone becomes a loss-making exercise. This is obviously a bit of a problem if your main business model depends on making a profit from providing connectivity and brings fresh urgency to the somewhat tired buzzword that is digital transformation.

TM Forum deciding to rebrand its event last year was a reflection of how central to telcos’ considerations this is stuff is. For years is has been repeated to the point of cliché that operators need to adapt the way they do business, become more ‘agile’, fail fast, act more like a Silicon Valley startup, etc. Everyone always agrees, but then we end up having the same chat year after year.

Blame for this can be apportioned to two main issues: technological and cultural. At the event to a company called Apigate, which reckons it’s got a major piece of the technological puzzle nailed. Essentially is offers a platform that cuts out all the middle-men and layers of technology involved in enabling operators to sell digital products and services.

Apigate started life as an in-house project at Malaysian telco group Axiata to resolve its own challenges in this area, but was spun off to become an autonomous commercial operation a year or two ago. IT’s still owned by Axiata but is now seeking additional investment from VC types. Platforms like that, if they deliver as promised, seem to facilitate the process of offering new digital products to operator customers significantly.

Bearingpoint Beyond also offers a digital platform designed to offer a path of least resistance between operators and various other commercial partners, but more from an OSS perspective. Our conversation with them at the show focused as much on the cultural side of things and their impression is that the extent to which operators are acting on all this noble digital transformation sentiment has increased significantly in the past year.

Operators are usually large, listed companies that are used to acting more like utilities than Silicon Valley startups. The strategic emphasis is traditionally more about efficiency and scale than innovation and risk-taking, but the looming ARPU crisis means that’s not sustainable even in the mid-term. Operators all know this but need to find more executive will and nerve than they’re used to showing, to make it happen.

Most of TM Forum’s work is geared towards removing technological hurdles to successful digital transformation, but events like this one are in many ways more about the cultural side. There is definite optimism from them that we’re reaching some kind of cultural inflection point at which operators start taking more risks and vendors get better at helping them do so. The advent of the 5G era, with all the new commercial opportunities it promises, seems to have hastened this process.

For years we’ve been hearing about OTTs making all the money over the top of commoditised connectivity services, so it’s not like this is news. But cultural inertia has meant the eureka moment of fully understanding that connectivity is now just the means of delivering digital products rather than a profitable business by itself. If that arrived then it’s not a moment too soon.

Telecoms vendors need to raise their game – DTW 2019

There was a familiar feel to the latest instalment of TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World event, with operators once more urging vendors to get their act together.

In a keynote session focusing on network transformation for the 5G era Elisabetta Romano, CTIO of TIM, Nikos Katinakis, Head of Networks & IT of Telstra and Luc Noiseux Chief Technology and Strategy Officer at Cogeco talked about how their companies’ own IT systems are adapting to the 5G era.

Romano reiterated a point she had made in an earlier keynote in which she expressed frustration at the speed with which vendors deliver solutions to emerging needs. Having been at Ericsson for years before moving to TIM last year, Romano is in a great position to comment on that dynamic, but doing something about it is another matter.

Her view was echoed by the other speakers and have been a consistent theme of the show for years. As ever the sheer complexity of all the clever stuff that needs to be done to make 5G work is at the root of it, but this is hardly a new thing and, if anything, should present a great opportunity for vendors to increase their value to their operator customers. Opensource was also mentioned as a bottleneck when it comes to the development process.

TM Forum also used the first day of the event to publish some research claiming the telecoms industry costs itself a billion dollars a year by using 30-year-old procurement practices. The research specifically identified the RFP (request for proposal) process as a bit of a liability, with two thirds of CSPs and three quarters of vendors surveyed agreeing that it’s no longer fit for purpose.

“There has always been criticism of the use of the RFP for IT procurement because it glorifies the process rather than the outcome,” said TM Forum’s Chief Analyst, Mark Newman. “But what has now changed is the desire to transition to agile IT development and the need for a more flexible, iterative procurement process.

“This poses real challenges for the procurement function. First, it’s likely to shift the balance between capex and opex budgets. Second, CSPs expect to get more bang for their buck if vendors partner with them on agile development. However, CSPs don’t necessarily know how much a project or solution created with a vendor partner will actually cost in a year’s time.”

TM Forum reckons the agile IT approach could cut the procurement process down from the current average of 12-18 months to just 2-3 months. Just as with the perennial call for vendors to raise their game, however, this would require the kind of cultural shift that is so often the biggest obstacle to successful digital transformation. So we wouldn’t be surprised to see this issue crop up at future events too.

Telcos are still a bit rubbish at digital transformation – TM Forum

Digital transformation has been a circling buzzword for years, though research from the TM Forum show progress is cumbersome.

According to the TM Forum’s bi-annual Digital Transformation Tracker (DTT), 48% of telcos still have not found the business case for virtualization, while 32% revealed they are deploying NFV in the packet core, and 36% are deploying NFV at the mobile edge or have deployed virtual customer premise equipment (vCPE). The number of telcos who have a timetable for virtualization has dropped to 23% from 30% during the first addition of the survey.

“The telecoms industry first started to embrace the concepts of network virtualization and software-defined networking eight or nine years ago,” said Mark Newman, Chief Analyst at TM Forum. “Today, it appears the majority of CSPs are moving from the awareness and planning phases of transformation to deployment of VNFs. This progress is a positive thing, albeit a lot slower than expected.

“However, the deployment of these virtual network functions has not had the transformative impact that many CSPs were hoping for. As a result, many are now moving beyond virtualization to full network cloudification.”

The issues which many telcos are facing are a lack of definition and interpretation of what a digital transformation program involves, a lack of a cohesive plan and objectives internally and the alignment of business units. In short, virtualization at the telcos seems to be nothing more than a hodge podge of buzzwords, with little clarity or understanding of what digital transformation actually is.

Looking at the network, the end-goal is a bit clearer here. Most telcos are aiming to create a more automated environment, where the Devops concept aids fast release of services and an adaptable business environment. The biggest concern here is the need to introduce a new generation of agile OSS/BSS (60%), though 56% cited security vulnerabilities as a notable challenge.

How can MVNOs secure their place in digital value ecosystems? periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Thandi Demanet, Business Analyst at TMForum, explores the digital value ecosystems and how MVNOs can have a bright and strong future role in this emerging economic paradigm.

The business of IoT is rapidly growing, and despite a certain level of maturity, it’s not getting any simpler. As the speed of evolution and development continues, stakes too continue to rise. From the days of M2M we’ve seen a lot of change, a lot of innovation and countless opportunities have arisen as technology has become more sophisticated to enable IoT. It hasn’t stopped at that though, as IoT is expanding into IoE (the Internet of Everything, connecting people, processes and things to derive intelligent actions and optimize a variety of fields) and now into intricate digital value ecosystems. This new economic and commercial paradigm is radically different from anything companies have known for centuries so it’s only natural that it takes some time to find one’s footing – but time is not a luxury businesses can afford today, at the risk of being ousted, becoming irrelevant, or to use a term irrefutably associated with digital – disrupted.

What strategic capabilities and advantages can MVNOs leverage?

Luckily, MVNOs intrinsically possess capabilities that are valuable in this new ecosystem era and it’s important to take stock and take advantage of these to generate new revenues, to provide new services, to occupy new positions in various sectors. While providing connectivity over which to run complex digital services may seem the obvious role for a communications service provider, the MVNO can and should also leverage other capabilities and strengths it has including looking at agility and its current customer base. IoT and value ecosystems comprise a complex value stack consisting in connectivity, of course, but also, device management, data gathering and processing, security and privacy assurance, charging, billing and settlement, customer experience management, digital platform provision and management, APIs, OTT applications, etc. Some of which MVNOs are well placed to offer depending on the existing business model, size, expertise and customer base. Many innovative MVNOs are already looking at designing and adopting new business models and actively seeking innovative partners to develop new services and commercial opportunities.

In this previous article, TMForum’s Senior Director for IoE and Digital Business, Craig Bachmann alludes to the MVNO’s expertise in catering to niche markets. As the IoE expands, more and more use cases are emerging, each with its own particularities, and tailor-made, agile solutions will be what users value. In a recent report, Analysys Mason warned of the threat MVNOs pose to MNOs in IoT citing as an example recent MVNO contract wins with Audi, GM and Kia Motors in the automotive space. It’s becoming increasingly evident that with specialised MVNOs becoming more widespread, the customer relationship based on established trust goes a long way towards developing new services with and for them and generating new revenue streams. The game, or business rather, will be won by those able to forge a solid partnership with customers through expert understanding of their objectives and genuinely enhancing their business.

What do digital ecosystem-based business stakeholders need to succeed sustainably?

What most companies don’t have unfortunately, is a holistic view of a given business scenario, meaning it cannot fully grasp the “end-to-end” requirements and value. This is true for all potential ecosystem participants likely to provide some part of the value chain (or fabric rather in this interconnected, interdependent context).Yet, without understanding the needs and strengths of your partners, as well as their objectives and overall business models, any ecosystem is destined to, at some point, encounter incompatibilities and difficulties, or worse, simply fall apart. When an end-user is relying on a service delivered though this ecosystem, he or she doesn’t care much about how or why the expected result, what they value, is no longer there. At best, it will be a commercial hindrance; at worst, lives and livelihoods will be impacted, depending on the sector and service. In other words, it’s vital,for a digital service delivered though an ecosystem of partners, what we refer to as value ecosystems, to be built on common understanding and a common vision, with compatible, sustainable business models throughout.

This is the concept behind an Ecosystem Business Architecture (EBA), which TM Forum is building with member companies through open collaboration. The Forum has been the global non-profit industry group helping organisations navigate digital transformation, improve agility and develop the assets and capabilities needed to remain competitive and thrive over the tumultuous changes of the past 28 years, and continues to do so via neutral industry-wide collaboration. Examining and mapping ecosystem roles, relationships, responsibilities, capabilities, value chains and fabrics, identifying potential weak spots, establishing a common language for ecosystem partners, identifying and defining ecosystem-level metrics and building a common reference architecture for effective, efficient and sustainable ecosystem-based digital business are the purpose of the EBA. Through addressing a series of real-life business scenarios, we will identify among the entire spectre of stakeholders, commonalities to provide guidelines, practical tools and assets to facilitate and optimise monetization and management, while generating solid trust.

The tip of the value ecosystem ice berg

While it’s become apparent that the commercial and organisational aspects are the least developed and most complicated when it comes to digital, connected business, the underlying, enabling technology is of course, a crucial part of IoT and value ecosystems. So, we continue to examine and explore the use of innovative technology solutions such as distributed ledger technology (DLT), automation, AI and machine learning. Indeed, these innovations open up new opportunities and potential revenue sources for MVNO players seeking to provide more than connectivity. The imminent launch of 5G too will bring new opportunities, challenges and business cases that will be better evaluated and mastered with the support of an ecosystem business architecture.

An ecosystem business architecture will allow MVNOs and other business stakeholders to visualise and examine the value ecosystem associated with a given business scenario and better inform their strategic decisions. It will make value ecosystems simpler and safer business undertakings.
We’re only at the tip of the ice berg when it comes to value ecosystems and we’re already seeing ecosystems of ecosystems appear. MVNOs can have a bright and strong future role in this emerging economic paradigm, but the time to prepare and take action is now, or better yet, yesterday!


Thandi colourThandi Demanet is the business analyst for TM Forum’s IoE & Digital Ecosystem program, working closely with members, including the world’s leading Communications Service Providers and technology providers. Thandi helps design and supports implementation of the Forum’s collaborative work in these areas, both strategically and tactically. Her role is to identify the most pressing and valuable opportunities and challenges within the connected economy, as well as to ensure effective and efficient open collaboration between industry leaders on a global level to facilitate commercial success for all. Thandi is passionate about the power and promise of the IoT and innovative emerging technologies to improve lives, societies and the world we live in.
Hear from Thandi Demanet at the MVNOs North America 2018. Thandi will be taking part on the ‘TM Forum Workshop: Focusing on IoT stack and where MVNOs can play’.

Bringing BSS/OSS into the new age – it’s now or never periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tony Gillick, VP Solutions Management at Openet, urges the industry to transform its approach to BSS and OSS before it’s too late.

TM Forum’s recent launch of its Open Digital Architecture is good news for the industry. It captures a lot of the good work that has already taken place and sets out a blueprint for the digital transformation of BSS and OSS.

Today’s service providers know they need to change if they are to keep up with the pace at which the industry is moving. But with ever-decreasing ARPU, and the race to free data underway, they don’t have the luxury of embarking on lengthy, hugely expensive transformation programs to get their BSS and OSS stacks up to speed. Instead, they need an API-driven open architecture that enables them to get away from vendor lock-in and having to deal with inflexible, large vendors who will deliver projects and upgrade software on their terms.

The bleak reality is that if operators are to survive in the face of rising competition from web-scale companies, it’s now or never to make that change happen, so what does that look like for operators willing to transform?

Become the model for change

BSS/OSS have been around since the start of the cellular business in the 1980s, and that’s where the problems begin for today’s operators. Throughout the years, operators have built up a complex burg of legacy systems and processes, which are not only no longer fit for purpose but also nothing short of a nightmare to overhaul.

For operators, transforming OSS/BSS begins in two ways. First, with overhauling traditional commercial models, which have become slow to move and very inflexible. These commercial models are no longer fit to serve the agile world in which we live, one where subscribers want everything now, on-demand.

Today’s operators need new commercial models that are driven by short-term goals and that do away with the old, lengthy, never-ending service contracts that look at transformation projects over several years, instead of months or even weeks.

The second way in which transformation can happen is through new delivery models. It’s no secret that web-scale companies’ agility is beyond that of operators. But this need not be the case; by harnessing new processes and technologies such as DevOps and microservices, operators can replicate the agility of Internet companies. It is only through this open, innovative and experimental approach that operators will start to compete with the big OTT players.

By overhauling commercial and delivery models, operators will not only be able to boost their rate of innovation, but they’ll also see the industry-wide issue of vendor lock-in disappear. As the industry moves towards open technologies which proliferate the use of DevOps and Open APIs, fewer vendors will be able to tie down operators to lengthy contracts that provide little in the way of innovation and experimentation.

Setting operator priorities straight

But making change happen isn’t just about technical capabilities, it also requires a shift in mind-sets and priorities, particularly when it comes to the deployment of new services such as 5G and IoT. Although the race to 5G is well and truly on, the state of affairs for operators today implies that perhaps it shouldn’t warrant such urgency.

Operators’ resources are stretched and, where subscribers are concerned, the pressure is on to be better and do better – this means, selling a wider variety of personalised digital services. While 5G and IoT will undoubtedly bring about a wealth of applications that will benefit operators, neither of these technologies will bring about immediate ROI. It’s important, therefore, that operators invest their efforts in laying the foundations to not only ensure their survival today, but to be able to support the technologies of tomorrow, and that starts with changing the way they approach OSS/BSS.

A greenfield approach to OSS/BSS

Adopting the correct technologies will be the key to unlocking the OSS/BSS treasure chest. Operators should approach transformation with a greenfield attitude – that is, to start afresh, with no legacy systems or culture and to adopt a “digital first, customer first” approach. And this does not mean that existing large-scale transformation projects should be abandoned, instead, new greenfield approaches mean operators can run these in parallel to the current legacy stack being transformed.

This greenfield approach promotes the switch from hardware and software stacks to real-time, automated digital platforms. These digital platforms can see operators launch services in as little as 14-weeks whilst still going ahead with their longer-term transformation projects. By using these platforms, operators can leverage a modular, API-driven approach and select which service or “platform component” they need, on an ad-hoc basis. This promotes faster service delivery but also reduces the cost attached to digital transformation.

Most importantly, this open, best of breed, platform approach is the antithesis of big vendor lock-in. By drawing on open technologies, promoted through the use of open APIs, operators will be better suited to encourage partnerships and the collaboration and sharing of technologies within these. Not only will this reduce OSS/BSS cost and implementation timescales, it will also prevent mega-vendors from selling services from a single supplier.

Ultimately, it is this openness that will promote innovation in the telecoms industry and that will see OSS/BSS become the systems operators need to succeed in this ever-evolving, digital world.

Digital Transformation: just a bump in the road

There’s no doubt that digital transformation is hard, and it’s clear that few operators know where to begin. But the solution lies in this greenfield attitude; by starting anew, with no pre-conceptions or notions in mind, operators can leverage experimentation to roll out new services that may have otherwise taken years to deploy.

It is this provision of tools – namely the platforms, new technologies, APIs – by vendors that will encourage operators to innovate, and will see the challenges associated with digital transformation soon fade into the telco past.


openet-Tony-GillickTony is VP Solutions Management at Openet. He’s been designing and deploying BSS for over 15 years and is responsible for direction and deployment strategy for Openet Digital Business Platform.

Philosophical transformation and Light Reading both attended Digital Transformation World in Nice, France and it seemed to have been one trade show too many for Scott and Iain, who found themselves in the middle of an existential crisis.