Why are CSPs Moving BSS to the Cloud?
For CSPs (communications service providers), BSS is primarily the monetization engine of investment. As such, overcoming BSS transformation challenges is paramount to realizing return on network investments. The pace of customer demand is increasing with a need for swifter time-to-revenue and time-to-market at the top of their business outcome objectives requiring closer alignment between the commercial and technical capabilities of the BSS and the connection points between BSS, neighboring OSS and the network itself.
CSPs are still limited in their agility to respond rapidly to shifting customer demands and changing market conditions due to the continued use of legacy silo-bound systems. These limitations include the tight coupling of hardware with software and fragmented, separate databases across the BSS, OSS, and core network domains. Additionally, many systems are heavily customized making the BSS platforms more difficult to integrate, upgrade, and transition.
In addition, CSPs are investing heavily in their 5G networks with the objective of creating a torrent of new services that potentially diversify revenue streams and solidify monetization objectives. As such, new 5G services need to deploy swiftly using automation, since legacy manual processes cannot scale and fulfill 5G use case demands. Without BSS evolution, CSPs risk the erosion of their top-line growth as well as greater savings gained from modernization and cloud-native capabilities.
CSPs are also motivated by the technological benefits accrued from BSS-to-cloud migrations. Fulfilling emerging 5G customer demands requires automation of CSP business processes and operations, including across the full range of their cloud implementations. Integral to automation is the orchestration of the BSS domain with the infrastructure, data, control, and service domains to assure the real-time monitoring, scaling, and delivery of innovative 5G services and experiences.
How to Meet CSP Demands in Challenging Multi-Cloud Environments
CSPs are prioritizing the multi-cloud approach in advancing their BSS-to-cloud journey, clearly demonstrating their strategic commitment to having choice. As such, BSS software must be developed with customer preferences in fulfilling multi-cloud strategies in mind. Key to advancing the cloud journey is providing support for Kubernetes and Docker capabilities that further augment the offerings of the major public cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and IBM Cloud. The CSP multi-cloud strategy also includes private cloud, that is mainly used for response time critical and real-time applications.
Ericsson’s Digital BSS portfolio development emphasizes providing platform choice and the services to enable the verification that CSP customers require across their cloud environments. This development approach is integral to driving the gradual stepwise transformation to cloud native models that aligns with the CSPs organizational resources and transformation initiatives. CSPs are avoiding “Big Bang” leaps to the cloud-first digital service provider model as recent history has shown this approach can be risky and challenging and does not deliver better business outcomes or align with operational realities.
The transition to cloud is complex and we see a successful BSS to cloud journey as requiring a fundamental change in the delivery of software and business value. CSPs need to involve the surrounding ecosystem to fundamentally change the whole way the technical organization behaves, as optimizing cloud platforms requires more than traditional infrastructure and applications upgrades.
Frequent platform upgrade presents a stark contrast to the long existing ways of working with BSS where the platform was stable while applications were upgraded (infrequently) in controlled maintenance windows to avoid risk of traffic interruptions.
The end results warrant the time and money needed to advance cloud journeys, although it entails making the right specific investments in targeted areas (e.g., converged, online charging systems). Accordingly, the Ericsson Digital BSS portfolio is evolving, maximizing the benefits of cloud native while aligning with the recognition that each individual CSP customer wants to move at their own preferred speed. The portfolio simultaneously supports existing legacy processes and new cloud requirements throughout the entire CSP transition period.
Preparing CSPs for Success in Adopting Cloud Native Software Assimilation
To advance the cloud journey, CSPs need to enlist the entire organization and ways of working to support the transformation mission. Ericsson’s own experience in walking alongside CSPs across their unique cloud journeys has yielded many key lessons. For instance, deploying Kubernetes (K8s) orchestration systems demands a new rigor in maintaining this frequently upgraded tool on an ongoing basis. Through DevOps-enabled continuous integration continuous development (CI/CD) pipelines, the underlying platform is updated at least every four months to assure K8s readiness in automating the deployment, scaling and management of containerized BSS applications.
Moreover, successful cloud journeys rely on putting the right automation and testing frameworks in place, collaborating with customers to ensure that the correct in-house workforce skill sets are ready to manage the incoming cloud native applications. CSPs that are starting their overall cloud journey or considering the migration of one facet of the stack, selecting the capability that will benefit most from cloud readiness is key.
For instance, Ericsson’s experience indicates that choosing the customer experience (CX) engine (DXP in Ericsson Digital BSS) is well-suited for starting the process, since cloud-based CX workloads have a proven track record of improving customer satisfaction – by fast-tracking customer support needs and offering less demanding workloads to better understand cloud native application prerequisites.
Cloud Hype: Mitigating Uncertainty and Charting Cloud Expectations on their Proper Course
The BSS-to-cloud journey is experiencing its own hype cycle which can make BSS transformation and cloud transitions more difficult for many CSPs and ecosystem partners. We view the existing hype cycle as typical for the unfolding of new technologies and business models across the telecommunications and internet industries, providing fertile ground for zealous marketing claims under the spotlight of heightened industry expectations.
Through setting realistic expectations and culling based on lessons learned across the cloud ecosystem, CSPs can be better prepared to explore the possibilities of how to succeed in their cloud journey. For example, adopting a Kubernetes framework will invariably require upfront investment in terms of funds and effort before it produces reliable, long-term cost savings.
The Joy of Multi-clouding
CSPs are abundantly clear about avoiding lock-in purgatory in working with cloud providers. Pursuing a multi-cloud strategy is already built into the CSP’s organizational DNA and cloud journey decision making. The strategy is fundamentally sound since each cloud provider has its own cost model and its own competitive advantages. The major public cloud providers offer benefits such as extensive, multi-regional physical locations, AI/ML maturity, and flexible cost models.
Moreover, CSPs are also using private cloud to advance their journey, aligning with the technical and economic benefits of the stepwise approach. Many CSPs have systems running across on-site, private cloud, and public cloud environments requiring hybrid operations. This includes maintaining legacy applications on-site at the beginning of their journey, also keeping applications in their private clouds, as well as transitioning applications that they will use from public clouds.
Specifically, the history of the cloud provider and their engagement track record also offer distinct benefits. For example, we see Microsoft Azure, through its substantial footprint across traditional enterprise IT applications, as gaining broader ecosystem support in the area. In contrast, AWS is popular with the web and developer part of the business while GCP strengthens its offering through robust AI capabilities, SDN and Kubernetes expertise (Google initiated K8s), and cloud edge expertise as exhibited by its successful YouTube cloud distribution model.
We also see in the private cloud realm that offerings by VMware and Red Hat are gaining more competition from AWS with products such as EKS on-premise and the HPE Ezmeral proposition. By having a multi-cloud (or multi-vendor) strategy in place, CSP organizations are fundamentally positioned to benefit from the various strengths of each cloud provider, blending the best-of-breed capabilities of the selected cloud providers into an optimized multi-cloud array.
Our research data further validates that the multi-cloud/multi-vendor approach is the market reality. When asked about which public cloud providers respondents trending toward public/hybrid implementations consider using for BSS migration within 1-2 years, 71% selected AWS and over 60 percent also opted for GCP and Azure respectively. The consideration thresholds are rising across-the-board with AWS leading the way with more than a twofold increase in the strong consideration rating.
The key takeaway for CSPs is that we see Ericsson’s Digital BSS portfolio development strategy as committed firmly to making sure its customers have cloud choice today as well as tomorrow. Equally important, we know CSP choices are going to evolve and change over time.
BSS is not an Island
BSS does not operate in isolation and must be tightly integrated with the CSP’s OSS and packet core domains to fulfill its business enablement missions. With 5G and the supporting packet core normalized on cloud native, the entire stack now extends beyond just BSS. The interaction, lifecycle, and interoperability of the entire PC/OSS/BSS is key to success.
BSS is directly augmented by OSS, especially since OSS performs key tasks such as service instantiation, configuration management, and turning on new features to enable charging in BSS. Moreover, OSS is evolving into the orchestration platforms that CSPs need to assure automated cross-domain interworking across all cloud settings.
Overcoming Cloud Journey Challenges
To advance their cloud journey, CSPs must address in-house CI/CD challenges and fortify their CI/CD plans. Adopting Kubernetes is akin to changing cars from internal combustion engine designs to electric vehicle blueprints and presents its own complexities. For instance, K8s upgrades occur at least once a year, requiring CSPs to factor this cadence into determining how long to maintain old releases. From our perspective, the ability and maturity of software teams and testing teams can interpose their own difficulties, creating wide variance in DevOps readiness.
A plan must be put in place to manage the updates of applications running on top of that K8s infrastructure, taking into consideration business critical processes and expected (or possible) downtime. Effective CI/CD pipeline will minimize (or avoid) downtime.
As a result, the required skills for the IT Operations team becomes more akin to developers and the developer community needs to understand commercial operations. To answer these challenges, we see Ericsson building the foundation frameworks critical to enabling the testing frameworks, deployment frameworks, and standard toolsets needed for CSPs to thrive in cloud native and K8 environments. In other words, ending “drop the software and run” practices of the legacy era.
For Ericsson, the primary objective in enabling CSPs to overcome their journey obstacles is ensuring they exercise and achieve flexibility throughout the entire course of their cloud selection process. This especially includes having the flexibility to revisit and adjust their cloud choices over time and according to their topmost business objectives.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Key to ultimate success is maintaining discipline in retiring legacy systems and legacy processes and ways of working. This aligns directly with maintaining an organization-wide vision and commitment to the cloud native model. Moreover, CSPs must practice persistence until the top priority business metrics, such as boosting customer satisfaction and improving TTM, are hit. In addition, we see expanding open API adoption and use as a key indicator of CSP progress.
Through expanded use of open APIs, CSPs broaden the ability of partners and developers to augment cloud BSS capabilities in key areas such as 5G monetization as well as mitigating organizational silos that impede progress in critical areas like DevOps collaboration and agile software development.
We believe that CSPs, upon successful transitions to cloud BSS, will have the distinct market opportunity to innovate and create new services. For example, network slicing, QoS, NWaaS, cloud gaming, AR/VR immersive experiences (sports/stadiums/music), along with fixed wireless access (FWA) with partner opportunities for consumers and enterprises (including billing on behalf options). In addition, CSPs can develop WFH/WFA offers by assimilating residential WFH bills into overall enterprise offers that extend and assure unified policies, security, and QoS across the entire organization. This allows CSPs to develop differentiated offers and bundles, using creative bundling for emerging post-pandemic and cloud-driven services such as 5G FWA and use case-specific networking.
Overall, CSPs need to understand and determine the most pragmatic way forward on their BSS cloud journey. To do so promises the potential for immense rewards in revenue diversification, and rapid delivery of innovative cloud-enabled services, with organization-wide satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and partner satisfaction.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.
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Image Credit: Ericsson
The original version of this article was first published on Futurum Research.