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Managed Services


It would be a bit of an understatement to say that we live in a data-rich age. To illustrate, sample the following data released by Cisco, in a whitepaper titled, Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast and Methodology, 2015-2020,

  • Annual global IP traffic will surpass the zettabyte (ZB) threshold in 2016, to reach 2.3 ZB by 2020.
  • Global IP traffic will increase nearly threefold over the next five years, and will have increased nearly 100-fold between 2005 and 2020.
  • Smartphone-based traffic will exceed PC traffic by 2020, to account for 30 per cent of total IP traffic. (PC traffic will account for 29 per cent).
  • Globally, mobile data traffic will increase eight-fold between 2015 and 2020.
  • The number of devices connected to IP networks will be three times as high as the global population in 2020.There will be 3.4 networked devices per capita by 2020, up from 2.2 networked devices per capita in 2015.

Net, net, it would be safe to assume that the flow of data-based traffic isn’t going to abate (anytime soon, in any case). But, what’s an operator to do with this barrage of facts and figures? These numbers will, of course, come in handy, especially given the fact that operators are fire-fighting on several fronts simultaneously. (I allude to the threat of over-the top players, razor-sharp competition and wafer-thin margins). Here’s the catch, though-these numbers will remain mere massive repositories of unstructured data, unless the operator deploys tools that would help them sift through the pile to uncover actionable insights about the customer’s behaviour.

Here’s where big data analytics steps in. Very briefly, today’s customer demands constant engagement with any brand. Things become even more complex, as we live in a multi-channel world. Companies thus need to think on their feet to provide an optimum level of customer experience management. Why? Well, to ensure that the customer is constantly engaged and is able to interact with them across multiple screens. Big data analytics thus helps companies to constantly innovate and make fast and streamlined business decisions, in real-time, of course!

So, isn’t the decision to deploy big data analytics in one’s business a no-brainer? Interestingly, no. Here’s why-most companies are extremely agreeable to deploying analytics to give an edge to their business. What trips them up is the debate on whether to build an in-house team for the same (too complex and time consuming) or to outsource the entire gamut of activities.

In fact, analytics as a service can help in a multitude of areas, which are not only limited to the team of experts who manage a set of tasks for an operator. There is a lot more-such as tools, security, storage, system integration capabilities to integrate new and old nodes and solutions to make this entire methodology more holistic. All these requirements can be bundled under the managed services providers’ scope of work. Apart from this, the managed services provider can also help to identify the appropriate action required (through tools or otherwise), after analysing the huge pile of data flowing through the network.

Of course, the argument isn’t that stark. According to Syntelli Solutions, a few key factors driving the argument in favour of the latter include:

High demand for a precious few data science practitioners– Typically, companies would rather turn their attention to solutions like managed analytics, than comb the markets for this scarce resource.

Exorbitant prices and equally exorbitant risks-Companies usually deployed analytics services through fixed-price or testing and measurement consulting models. As a result, the prices and risks associated with that project rose significantly. The solution? Begin relying on third-party analytics via the subscription model, of course!

Enter the Cloud. Today, cloud-based services are becoming increasingly reliable and secure. And this is just the beginning. It goes without saying that any future improvements in cloud-based processes will drive managers to a less expensive, more reliable managed service model.

It is little wonder, then, that operators are increasingly opting to outsource their managed analytics-centric activities to a managed services provider. Shall we take a closer look at the benefits this shift will accrue?

  • Managed analytics services provide the necessary push for an organization to move from a capital expenditure to a predictable operating expenditure cost model. Why predictable? Well, isn’t a set of easily definable results an excellent business case to put before the higher-ups in the organization?
  • Advanced tools and coherent and tested processes are deployed by the managed service provider. This, naturally, not only makes the service itself more outcome-driven, but price can be tied to quantifiable business value-extracting meaningful insights into the customer’s mind!
  • Organizations can achieve faster time-to-market. This is because managed analytics services cuts the internal process of building an analytics team by half (no hires, no systems to implement).

This, in a nutshell, is why a company ought to gravitate towards managed analytics services. On a parting note, I would like to add a brief caveat-operators would do well to remember not to get carried away and outsource all their analytics-related requirements. This is because the type of value this tool can provide varies from company to company. In all probability, each company already has a certain level of managed services implementation. The trick is to simply integrate and enhance the existing set-up. So, what’s your managed analytics services strategy?

November 24, 2016 0 comment
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Fire-fighting on several fronts simultaneously is the norm for today’s telecom operators. On one hand, the traditional voice business has all but declined. On the other, data-centric services are in the spotlight. While operators have jumped onto the data bandwagon, a degree of caution still remains. Why? Well, analysts emphasise that revenue generated from data traffic could compensate for the monies voice-based services were supposed to bring in. The catch, however, is that the networks required to support such services are expensive to build and maintain. To make matters worse, the mobile broadband market is, doubtless, flourishing, but operators aren’t laughing all the way to the bank. Instead, they’re contending with strains on network capacity which ultimately adversely impact their bottomlines.

Understandably, then, rooting out new revenue streams is at the top of every operator’s to-do list. After all, shutting shop isn’t an option, especially in a sector where the competition is cut-throat and the profit margins are razor-thin. This is why operators are turning their attention elsewhere.

Shifting Focus

The crux of the argument is this-telecom operators are beginning to wake up to the potential of enterprise information and communications technology (ICT) solutions to give their flailing profit a shot in the arm. To be more precise, operators are betting all their money on cloud computing. Of course, the degree and purpose of deployment differs vastly for tier one operators and their smaller counterparts. For the former, cloud computing provides a golden opportunity to tier one operators to monetize their existing network assets more efficiently. How? Simply by synergizing their resource and capacity utilizations across multiple enterprise and/or residential customers spread across different geographical locations. At the same time, the cloud helps tier 2 and 3 operators to scale their capex and opex spends, along with the growth of their business.

So, why is the cloud in the spotlight? First off, today’s digitally converged marketplace has ensured that the lines between telecom operators and IT have blurred. In this context, placing technologies like cloud computing at the centre of one’s strategy makes sense. Why? Well, because not only will it help improve bottomlines but will also ensure that operators move out of their comfort zone of providing simple connectivity solutions.

Next, let’s take a look at the market itself. According to Gartner, the global public cloud services market is projected to grow by 16.5 per cent in 2016 to total $204 billion, up from $175 billion in 2015. The highest growth is expected to be attributed to cloud system infrastructure services (infrastructure as a service [IaaS]), which is projected to grow by 38.4 per cent in 2016. No small opportunity, this!

Besides, as per industry analysts, this segment actually plays up a telecom operator’s key strengths. Here’s how-businesses like telecom and cloud IT typically deploy a highly-centralised delivery model. This implies the entire show requires scalable core infrastructure and wide-reaching networks to run. Luckily though, operating in asset-heavy and centralised delivery businesses is what these players have been doing since time immemorial. Thus, telecom operators are very well positioned to compete in the cloud space, as compared to other premise-based IT markets.

So, what approach have telecom operators been adopting so far? In terms of services, the operator’s repertoire typically comprises of the basic flavours, i.e.-software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service. It isn’t confined to that, of course. Other offerings include unified communications, managed services for fixed and mobile networks, security services and business applications. These are usually offered as bundled services or in collaboration with a third party-i.e.-a managed service provider (MSP).

How an MSP can Help

Now, where does the MSP fit into this scenario? To start, permit me to state that the role played by an MSP is purely complimentary to any operator’s cloud strategy. How? Here’s a short laundry list of what an MSP can do to ensure cloud-based services work in favour of the operator:

  • Operators can retain control over the infrastructure and application services. The MSP permits operators to outsource a select few or all enterprise IT operations. On their part, the MSP brings to the table their best practices and processes. Of course, strict adherence to stringent service level agreements for applications hosted on the cloud is an added bonus.
  • MSPs offer a management layer between the operator and the public cloud. This creates a three-layer architecture (the operator, the MSP and the public cloud) which is easy to maintain. In addition, the MSP functions as a single point of contact to manage all these applications. Additional services like security and backup management are a part of the package as well.
  • Last but not the least, apart from technical operations, an MSP can also provide support for business operations. This entails offering premium services, such as examining the customer’s data for irregularities or inconsistencies. They then take appropriate action without getting the operator involved. The latter is thus free to focus on their core business.

The Challenges and Benefits of Cloud Services

There is very little doubt that the pro’s the cloud platform offers outweighs the cons substantially. Nevertheless, for the sake of presenting a balanced view, let’s quickly take a look at both:

The Challenges

  • Operators ought to know where they stand in the value chain.
  • A clear go-to-market strategy needs to be implemented.
  • An optimal product portfolio mix needs to be identified.

The Benefits

  • Greater cost agility, especially with IaaS
  • Reduced opportunity costs
  • Increased retained cash as cloud/on-demand services ensure that the operator doesn’t have to invest upfront in IT infrastructure.

Net, net, challenges notwithstanding, cloud computing may finally have its moment in the spotlight. There is a catch, though-to leverage this technology to the fullest, operators require overcoming their fears about security or lack of cohesiveness with their current infrastructure. And this is where an MSP can help. After all, the role an MSP can play in this scenario isn’t an either/or, it’s for sure!

June 14, 2016 0 comment
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Technology has evolved, as has managed services.In fact, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that it has undergone several permutations and combinations over the years.

Shall we briefly step back in time? The good folks over at BlackPoint IT Services have provided a concise timeline-in the 1990s, managed services was, in a nutshell, a crisis-based, break/fix service. Deemed unpredictable, it relied on reactive support. Moreover, providers mostly used ad-hoc tools and had little or no documentation handy. At the time, most managed services contracts were billed on a “time and materials” basis and presented an unpredictable expense for businesses.

Perhaps most importantly, at the time, every service offered by any managed service provider entailed a service level agreement (SLA). Simply put, this meant a team of experts were always on-hand to resolve any network-related issue. The bad news was that if SLAs were breached, a percentage of the managed services providers’ monies was cut. Net, net, the managed service provider’s role largely entailed end-to-end management of the client’s telecom network and reduction of cost through sharing of monitoring resources, etc.

Now on to the early 2000s! Things hadn’t changed to a very great degree back then, managed services moved towards scheduled visits, where technicians would log reviews and fix any issue a customer may face. Moreover, servers started to be hosted in co-locations and a flat-fee structure was introduced with testing and measurement billing. And, key performance indicators (KPI) came to the fore, which in turn introduced the concept of “service management”, as opposed to “network management”. In other words, this meant end-to-end performance of every telecom service would be measured and monitored proactively to ensure the service performs at the highest possible level. So, basically, as opposed to ensuring the network is up and running in the first phase, a managed service provider would focus on ensuring each and every service wasn’t merely functioning at optimal levels, but at certain pre-defined levels.

For the sake of greater clarity, the best example of this is the 99.9999 per cent service uptime. This, as we all know, is amongst the most common service level KPIs. Other KPIs,of course, include change request management within a specified period of time, reduction of time taken to launch a new service launch by a certain percentage from the current time, etc.

Permit me to add a final word to this section-during this time, managed services still merely provided single-day visibility without any preventive or proactive maintenance.

So, where does the managed services domain stand today? Well, managed services, as we know it now, is able to utilize many more robust tools such as spam, compliance and security management (just to name a few). Indeed, every company is currently operating in hybrid environments, supported by managed monitoring alerts and remedial tools. Given today’s cut-throat competitive environment, it isn’t surprising that ensuring managed business continuity is now considered the bottom line for any business.

Now, permit me to introduce an interesting angle. Today, a managed service provider isn’t just that-a managed service provider. Their role has expanded to functioning as a “managed services partner” for the operators they service. Simply put, certain pain-points faced by an operator-i.e.-revenue enhancement and ensuring an enhanced customer experience (just to name a few) become the bottom line for not just the operator but the managed service provider as well.

So, why this paradigm shift? Well, operators today are faced with a plethora of challenges-saturated voice revenues, wafer-thin margins and cut-throat competition. In this scenario, they are, needless to say, seeking methods to enhance value and benefits to their business. Therefore, as per industry analysts, typically, a business model that is not only based on financial savings, but also on creating sustainable business differentiation is the key. Why? To stand apart from the competition, of course!

Net, net, it all boils down to customer experience. Now, customer experience is a tricky area to navigate. In a nutshell, the idea is to create differentiated experiences at the different touch-points the customer chooses to interact with the operator at. Needless to say, a sound customer experience strategy offers the operator multiple benefits-namely enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, incremental sales, etc. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, what role can managed service providers play? Well, managing customer experience across multiple touch-points is a very tall order for any company. After all, all the elements involved, from advertising campaigns to post-purchase support play a very important role and must be treated with caution. This is where managed services come in. Industry analysts are of the firm opinion that the experience-centric managed services model focuses on customer expectations and demands. Thus, aligning service delivery in accordance with these requirements is, needless to say, a must. The experience-centric managed services model aligns service delivery with the operator’s strategic and business objectives, securing a customer experience centric operation that proactively drives business innovation.

Amdocs has presented a few interesting thoughts in this regard. First off, improving customer experience through managed services starts with mapping the customer experience related processes, the underlying systems, integration touch points, and the measurable impact on the end customer.

Now, here’s where it gets a bit tricky-translating the aforementioned factors into tangible KPIs and service level targets that the managed services provider can be held accountable for.

In a nutshell, this can be achieved via these key steps; identifying desired business outcomes, identifying customer experience impacts and operational goals, building KPI models, defining performance targets and commitment periods, developing service level improvement and optimization plans and monitoring, measuring, and reviewing.

And, what will these steps achieve for the operators? Well, for one thing (and this IS the bottomline, really) customers can expect increased reliability, improved quality, enhanced choice and accelerated innovation and time-to-market.

In a nutshell, this is by no means an exhaustive account on the link between managed services and enhanced customer experience. I would like to summarize, though, by saying that today, customer loyalty is at the top of every operator’s priority list. Therefore, placing a premium on a consistent continually improving customer experience at every touch point isn’t a giant leap. Managed services can help (amongst other things) ensure accountability at every stage of the customer’s lifecycle. Remember, though, (and this may just be my next blog), choose the right partner! It makes all the difference!

March 22, 2016 0 comment
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It isn’t an understatement (or, indeed, overly optimistic) to state that since its introduction in October 2012, the concept of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) has created ripples in the networking industry. And why not-it promises greatly increased agility, cost saving and accelerates the time to market a new service. In other words, it sets the tone for a new, more efficient way of conducting one’s business.

Despite running the risk of spouting technical jargon and losing my audience, I feel it’s pertinent to provide a sketchy description of NFV, at the very least. So, here goes; NFV decouples network functions from underlying hardware so they run as software images on commercial off-the-shelf and purpose-built hardware. It does so by using standard virtualization technologies (compute, network, and storage) to virtualize the network functions. The objective is to reduce the dependence on dedicated, specialized physical devices by allocating and using the available physical and virtual resources only when and where needed.

Let’s look at two simple examples demonstrating the benefit of NFV-a virtualized firewall or a load balancer. Instead of installing and operating a dedicated appliance to perform the network function, NFV allows operators to simply load the software image on a virtual machine (VM) on demand. In a mobile network, examples include virtualizing the mobile packet core functions such as packet data network gateway (PGW), serving gateway (SGW), mobile management entity (MME), and other elements.

Sounds good, but what is the fuss all about? Well, that’s the interesting bit-NFV didn’t become a sensation overnight, it was, in fact, struggling to jostle its way to the forefront. Currently, though, it is on firm footing-it has moved from merely being a theory on paper to having tangible value.

For years, telecom experts have droned on and on about how NFV would reshape the industry, providing numerous benefits ranging from lower CAPEX and OPEX costs to more agile service delivery. Now, every telecom stakeholder worth their salt are ramping up their investment in NFV to keep competition at bay and emerging the numero uno. Let me quickly paint a picture of its progress-over the past year, year, the industry has successfully passed from a normative phase where specifications and use cases were determined, applications developed and proofs of concept and demonstrations were successfully conducted.  Today, we are moving into the next phase where NFV applications move into operation in production networks.

All this, needless to say, has boosted its locus standi in the networking industry. Shall we examine its success with a simple example? According to a study released by Research and Markets, the global market for NFV is expected to expand at a compounded annual growth rate of 83.1 per cent between 2015 and 2020. By the end of 2020, NFV revenues are expected to reach $8.7 billion. No lightweight technology, this!


So, why are telecom players suddenly sitting up and paying attention to NFV? With all the benefits mentioned so far (yes, there are more to come), wasn’t it a rather obvious choice? Well, things were simpler back in the days when the telecom industry was considered a “poster-boy” sector. Things have changed today-and how!

To begin with, telecom operators have to contend with a myriad of challenges today. Traditionally lucrative revenue streams-i.e. voice and video are losing their shine, a fact compounded by the rise and rise of over the top (OTT) players. If that weren’t enough, these players provide the same content on their data channels.

To add to their woes, the days of enthusiastically setting up infrastructure to accommodate these services are long gone. Not that they don’t intend to, it’s just that data is expanding faster than the speed of light and infrastructure is required to grow in tandem, to handle all that data traffic. Now, as every telecom stakeholder knows, infrastructure doesn’t come cheap and prices have touched the sky (or are well on their way to). But, subscriber acquisition has been slow at best. The net result is that operators are frantically chalking out new strategies to monetize their services, but are struck with the realization that their networks need to become more agile so they can introduce new services more quickly.

Shall we look at an interesting analogy to simplify the argument? Well, visualise a warehouse store whose business model hinges on selling products at low prices and at high volume. These products are usually packaged in bulk and marketed to businesses and families, people who tend to “stock up” as opposed to people who tend to “pay as you go” for single servings. The business of networking largely follows the same model. Operators shell out big bucks up front to purchase networking equipment and appliances. They plan for peak capacity and rack and stack devices. They want to be certain that the investment they made in the beginning in hardware will pay off, so they carefully evaluate and think a million times over before opting for a shiny, new service.

Meanwhile, as customers begin to avail of network services in the “pay-per-use” model of cloud compute, storage, and application services, operators begin to feel the pinch. Simply put-their revenues are barely able to trot alongside the cost of their goods and services. Well, not immediately, anyway.

This is where NFV comes in. Continuing with the analogy, the technology offers the vast array of choices, coupled with the accessibility and smaller helpings offered by the store. In technical terms, it offers operators a method to obtain the right amount of network functions at an appropriate time. By reducing the need for dedicated hardware to deploy and manage network functions, operators save on space, power, and maintenance costs, amongst other benefits. Virtualization and cloud also enable on-demand availability, higher speeds, and greater functionality.

In fact, the power of NFV has been tested in the real world too. Cisco recently announced major NFV deals with some of Europe’s largest telecoms, including Telstra, Telecom Italia and Deutsche Telekom. Of course, the appeal of working with Cisco is the ability to use NFV to extend managed services to traditionally underserved markets. Deutsche Telekom, for instance, is reportedly planning on deploying VPN services to small and medium-sized businesses in Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia. With NFV, the telecom can launch various applications and other managed services to customers quickly and at a lower cost.

Similarly, Spain’s Telefónica SA recently inked an agreement with HP to implement NFV and help the telecom overhaul its network structure. With this, Telefónica SA officials are optimistic that their reliance on expensive equipment will be reduced and instead utilize more manageable network assets.

Now, let’s place this wonder technology in the context of managed services. When one thinks of managed services, one visualizes the aim to be the end-to-end management of a complex fragmented telecom eco-system to ensure better service availability. With NFV taking the spotlight, the managed services domain isn’t expected to undergo a sea change (well, not immediately anyway), but the focus will change. This essentially means services such as security management, enhanced service availability, system level availability, co-ordination between different network elements, etc will take centre stage.

Of course, this doesn’t in any way imply that NFV will have a negligible impact on managed services. Far from it, the process may be slow but definitely steady. In fact, according to BT, four key areas where NFV can pack a real punch are; virtual data centers, virtual CPE, traffic engineered services across the Wide-Area Network (WAN), and value-added services within the network. In short, BT believes that with NFV, WANs can adapt to local traffic conditions and self-heal on failures. What’s more, virtualizing network services for the enterprise on to a shared platform on the branch can reduce deployment time for new services. And, virtualizing value-added services on to a shared infrastructure can increase service flexibility, turning up service on demand.

In a nutshell, while NFV is no longer the dark horse of the networking world, a few lingering issues will need to be sorted out before it can reach its full potential. As per Analysys Mason, the following critical areas will require significant work over the next two to three years to create the proper base for realising the NFV-enabled promise of being important, not just relevant, in the digital economy:

  • Establishing a sound business case for NFV
  • Planning business and network evolution priorities with revolutionary technology
  • Managing organisational and process changes.

The good folks at the firm have also established a timeline illustrating the parts of network operations that are likely to benefit from NFV during the next decade:


 [Source: Analysys Mason, 2015]

Net, net, utilizing NFV isn’t a question of time. It is a question of execution. Let’s get it out of the way once and for all-NFV is not a fad, it isn’t a trend or a flavor-of-the-week technology. It is here to stay and telecom players are scrambling to leverage it to the fullest.

September 15, 2015 0 comment
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