By Martin Creaner, President and COO, TM Forum
From the editor: In this guest column, TM Forum president and chief operating officer Martin Creaner looks back at where the TM Forum started with telecom industry OSS back-office infrastructure and charts the organization's course through communications industry changes, noting the symmetries of working with the defense and cable industries on common issues.
A new kind of evolution is taking place within the communications industry, and it's being reflected in what the TM Forum is bringing to the table to support its members and the communications industry at large.
While the TM Forum is focused on the business and management challenges of the communications, media and entertainment industries, that's an incredibly broad range of potential challenges.
President & COO, TM Forum
We've all heard the phrase "change is good," but for most of the existence of the telecom industry, that mantra was never taken very seriously. After all, when you have a monopoly, why change anything?
That mentality has been turned on its head over the past 25 years as competition came to most parts of the world and incumbent telecom service providers had to broaden their horizons beyond voice services in order to stay alive and be competitive.
As the telecom industry changed, evolved and adapted over the past couple of decades, the TM Forum changed right alongside it. When we started out just over 20 years ago, we were all about the back-office infrastructure -- operations support systems (OSS) -- for telecom companies. While telecom OSS is still a major part of what we do and is a major area that enables communications service providers to keep running efficiently, we gradually began looking more closely at the business side of the house and the forward-facing systems such as billing and related services. Today, OSS and BSS trends show they are mostly considered complementary entities.
TM Forum connecting telecom and cable industry dots, and more
The TM Forum consciously looks for linkages in the traditional telecom world, emerging trends and our role in them. For example, in the past five years or so, we've broadened our reach into the cable industry. Cable industry issues are obviously close to those of the telecom industry, and the work we'd been doing on telecom standards could apply to cable without many changes.
This has not only broadened our reach as an association, it has facilitated matters for cable companies that didn't have to reinvent the wheel to meet their network management challenges.
We have also made inroads in the defense space. Unbeknownst to us, defense agencies and their contractors had been using our Information Framework (SID) and Business Process Framework (eTOM) for years under the radar (no pun intended). They finally came out of the shadows to talk about how they use our standards, joined TM Forum and have contributed significantly to our Collaboration Program, including creating Catalyst project demonstrations at our Management World events.
This synergy has gone so deep that major security-related contributions coming out of the defense sector will most likely end up in the next version of the Information Framework.
TM Forum mantra: Do what you're good at, but innovate
Business school students know the general theory about managing movement into new markets: Today, you're offering your current products into your current market. You can either make a move by sending your current products into new markets or by sending new products into your current market. Of course, the really difficult thing to do is to sell new products into new markets.
From a TM Forum point of view, rather than always looking along the horizontal axis of selling and coming up with new ideas on which to develop telecom industry operations and business support standards, the cable industry example is really about taking what we have and applying it to different markets. From the cable industry's point of view, it's brand new, interesting and exciting; from our view, it's something we've been doing for years and have continually improved over time.
Business school also tells us to stick with what we're good at. While the TM Forum is focused on the business and management challenges of the communications, media and entertainment industries, that's an incredibly broad range of potential challenges. Plenty of other industry groups are tackling different aspects in these markets. So if someone else has invented the wheel, we're not going to waste anyone's time trying to reinvent it.
I think the bottom line is that we sit in an interesting and unique space within the industry, which allows us to change and evolve with our traditional membership and to move into new spaces like government, defense and cable. We're doing anything but sitting still. We've already jumped into the hot area of cloud computing services (don't miss the TM Forum's cloud computing services adoption column), but we're also keeping a very close eye on emerging areas such as smart grid and mobile money. We're definitely living in interesting times.
About the author: Martin Creaner is the president and chief operating officer of the TM Forum and has worked in the communications industry for the last 18 years. Creaner held a number of executive positions with BT and Motorola, where he led the 2.5G and 3G OSS solutions development activities. He sits on the board of a number of telecom companies and is the chairman of Selatra Ltd.
This was first published in September 2010