TM Forum’s ODA Vision Gains Ground, but Vendor Partner Choices Are Still Critical

Principal Analyst, Global Telecom Technology and Software

Summary Bullets:

  • TM Forum’s ‘Open Digital Architecture’ (ODA) vision has received a major endorsement from several Tier 1 telcos and leading IT vendors.
  • While one of ODA’s goals is to enable best-of-breed procurement on a much more granular level, telcos will need to make a major vendor partnership decision to help them reach that goal.

This week, TM Forum announced that eleven new telcos and vendors had signed on to its ‘Open Digital Architecture,’ which incorporates cloud-native design principles as well as telco-specific processes and a focus on governance. In aggregate, these companies constitute a substantial industry endorsement: the telcos include BT, Chunghwa Telecom, DT, Telefonica, and Telenor; the vendors include major rivals Amdocs, Netcracker, Nokia, and Oracle.
Source: TM Forum

This announcement indicates not only a growing acceptance of cloud-native principles, but also an acceptance of a standards role for TM Forum, which made most of its money from its eTOM (originally for ‘Enhanced Telecommunications Operations Model’) telco process stack and trade shows, but often came in for criticism as it went through leadership changes and seemed to be stuck fighting the past wars instead of looking ahead.

In 2018, TM Forum introduced the concept of ODA to little initial fanfare. Its open API component, however, quickly gained widespread adoption and has become a de facto industry standard for higher-level functions in carrier infrastructure. Now, vendors and telcos have caught up to its vision, if not to all of its particulars. Most major carrier software vendors are now constructing their software suites from modular, standardized functions connected by standard APIs. In theory, this enables shorter release cycles, lower software development costs, and higher reliability. From the telco’s point of view, it may also enable it to avoid vendor lock-in, since in theory the standardized interfaces will enable it to pick and choose vendors for each functional module.

To reach this apex of best-of-breed procurement, however, the industry will likely have to go through another wave of best-of-suite deals. That is, all but the largest telcos will have to pick a transformation partner to replace its legacy systems with the new, disaggregated architecture. How to choose among vendors that have signed on to a common approach? The following factors, at least, will remain differentiators:

  • Proprietary persistence. Not all ODA elements will be equally successful. In particular, several vendors have invested heavily in modernizing their data models, so we anticipate that they will use them for competitive advantage for some time to come. And even though their functions will be modular, they will still differ in performance and features.
  • Service support. Systems integration is the most visible service need for this new architecture, but by far not the only one. Vendors should demonstrate expertise in major systems migration, flexible delivery and consumption models, and related services like process redesign and retraining. ODA’s governance area is still underdeveloped, so vendors will have to fill that gap with their own expertise.
  • Agility assistance. Once a telco has paid for this new architecture, it still needs to use it to bring more services to market. Many vendors help by providing templatized service components, jointly developing new offerings, providing white-labelled services, and/or administering ecosystems of third-party service providers.

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