Implementing DevOps in telco IT systems, such as business support systems/operations support systems (BSS/OSS), is not easy. This is especially true with telcos that overly rely on third-party commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vendors or systems integrators (SIs) to implement new capabilities, and to run operations. To effectively control the vendors, telcos extensively use traditional levers found in SLAs, KPIs and RFx (requests for whatever). They also reinforce the organizational and mental boundaries between the telco and vendor staff. In a DevOps setup, such a traditional approach is not likely to produce the desired results.
How, then, can telcos ensure DevOps success in their organization? Here are five considerations.
Know and Understand DevOps Across the Organization
Time and again, the understanding of DevOps varies from the top-down and across the telco organization. Some top managers believe DevOps is just a “faster version” of the traditional delivery and operations, wherein the vendor executes almost everything. It takes time for the management to fully recognize that the telco will have to take up much more execution responsibility than what it is used to. Having a correct and similar understanding about DevOps is criticat to accept the fact that the nature of the work and the extent of the telco’s involvement will change significantly. The sooner this is done, the better.
Identify Which Applications Fit into the DevOps Model
As part of the DevOps rollout plan, list the applications that can offer the organization significant business benefits through the DevOps model. While some applications, such as eCare or mobile-apps, will fit the bill, some others may not. Highly configurable COTS applications that do not undergo frequent code changes, such as IN or core billing, may not be brought under the DevOps model. For such applications, the traditional approach with traditional SLA parameters could fetch a better cost benefit.
Reiterate that the Mindset Must Change
The telco will find itself in a position where it has to work more closely with vendors than it used to do. Most likely vendor staff will be part of telco’s Agile and Ops team. The telco will have to foster a one-team thinking. For this, the first few steps toward building mutual trust should come from the telco. Do not expect the first few iterative releases to go smoothly. When that happens, don’t get frustrated—see them as opportunities to learn, adapt and fine-tune the DevOps approach within the organization. These are also avenues to reiterate that success/failure are shared responsibility, and that there will be no finger-pointing, regardless of whether a person is an employee of a vendor. In this process, an environment of acceptance naturally develops—i.e. the product owner agrees to product deviations, while the agile team that consists of vendors agrees to fuzziness in the requirements. It is highly recommended that key roles in DevOps be taken up by the telco staff, and they should involve themselves heavily in the scrum workflows.
Obviously, classic-delivery SLA/KPI parameters and values will not fit in such a setup. Those would require a major revamp. An example: Give reward points to the team for on-time delivery and release. The number of points awarded will be fewer if not all the release objectives are met, but the team will get some points. However, if the team doesn’t deliver on time, it will not be awarded any points. Payment and commercials could be tied to the reward points. Similarly, if the telco decides to manage operations through a managed services contract, then it has to look again at the target operating model and SLAs.
Be Prepared to Invest More
Adopting DevOps doesn’t necesarily mean immediate cost reduction. The benefit analysis should cover aspects such as duration of a release and frequency of releases, not just cost reduction. To realize DevOps, telcos will have to incur cost for talent acquisition. Expect an increase in full-time equivalent (FTE) costs, especially for onsite FTEs. Telcos will have to spend on training and reskilling their staff on new tools and technology. Job shadowing from experts could be required until the team gets a good grasp on DevOps. There will be costs in creating new agile teams and creating new reporting structure.
Enabling New Technologies and Tools
It is a given that microservice-based platforms enables DevOps. This is because they truly enable agile teams to work separately with minimum dependencies and undertake continuous integration and deployment, which requires tools. Telcos will have to decide and finalize the platform, tools and DevOps framework. Some aspects to consider while finalizing the platform and tools include their market maturity, ease of maintenance and skills availability.
Habits run very deep. Changing those are not easy. This why most DevOps advocates emphasize that the mindset or cultural shift is the most crucial aspect of implementing DevOps in organizations with a history of traditional delivery and operations. This is especially true with telcos, which run on a large set of legacy systems, both COTS and bespoke.