LightReading’s “OSS in the Era of SDN and NFV” event in London last week provided a perfect snapshot of the state of the industry.

Unfortunately, it ain’t that pretty.

That’s not to say attendees didn’t learn anything. On the contrary, it was very informative. But what we learned wasn’t necessarily something wrapped up nicely in a Powerpoint slide.

Here are my personal takeaways.

1.      Innovate, Don’t Imitate

For telcos at least, SDN/NFV has reached a point where it realizes that engaging with conventional OSS is vital for the big vision. That’s what all that discussion in Orchestration is really about. By any definition, MANO is just a fraction of what today’s OSS has to deal with (rightly or wrongly).

So right now, the SDN/NFV community is effectively SDN/NFV speed-reading OSS.

The community is engaged in a rapid OSS learning curve, and trying to figure out what it needs to know, and what it doesn’t. There are few real decisions being made – but once these two communities have found their common agenda, and common language, that situation will change.

However, several speakers, most notably Vodafone, reiterated the point that if NFV only manages to turn hardware into software equivalents, it will have failed. The same is true for OSS. Recreating today’s telecom operating model with new software will not move the industry forward, no matter how easy (or difficult) that proves to be.

2.      Analytics-led Operations

One of the questions I had hoped to hear answered was “what’s going in OSS on that’s really new?”

What does seem to be new is the realization that Operations needs to be more “self-regulating”.

Vodafone’s Head of Virtualization David Amzallag summarised it nicely when he talked about Analytics as being “another pair of eyes” on Ocean’s orchestration function, meaning: a data-driven perspective that intelligently determines the optimal course of action for the business.

BT’s Chief Architect Neil McRae told how he had been amazed by the level of analytics and automation he’d witnessed at a US pinball machine manufacturer.

Neil went on to offer a vision of a NOC-less telco, where the network is intelligent enough to be constantly adapting to current and predicted conditions, with no need for human monitoring.

I think that’s actually a significant change in emphasis for conventional OSS.  The idea of autonomous operations as standard. Not just automating a fulfilment or assurance process, but finally bringing all aspects of network change into play at once – plan & build, provision, operate, assure – and intelligently determining the optimum change to make. No wonder so much reference was made to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning throughout the sessions.

3.      Doing Nothing Isn’t an Option

Sure, OSS and SDN/NFV are at opposite ends of the maturity spectrum. But that doesn’t mean OSS has nothing left to learn.

OSS should be defined more by the evolving needs of telecom operations, and less by the capabilities of systems. For example, it’s clear that a huge increase in automation and optimization is integral to any vision of telecom’s future. And that’s driven by factors outside of traditional telecom as much as inside it.

OSS can learn from virtualization without losing its soul. Shifting from a “five-9s” paradigm to a “zero-time-to-resolve” one should not be seen as an existential challenge, rather a necessary response to changing market preferences and economics.

At the same time, mapping out progress towards more sophisticated, automated, intelligent and profitable operations does not have to wait for SDN and NFV to catch up – or play out. The reality that a telco is a business whose job is to turn capacity and connectivity into profit, is still worth remembering.

How is OSS changed in the era of SDN and NFV? Read more here