Zero-touch service provisioning in telecoms – the essential role of OSS inventory in unlocking automated operations

26 May 2020

Zero-touch service provisioning in telecoms – the essential role of OSS inventory in unlocking automated operations

Zero touch provisioning is a key benefit that is expected to result from efforts to automate network processes. It will save time, resources and boost the bottom line. 

But, it is entirely dependent on the availability of an agile and comprehensive OSS inventory management solution. Without such a solution in place, efforts to realize zero touch provisioning are doomed to failure.

What is zero touch provisioning and why do we need it for telecoms services?

Zero touch service provisioning – ZTP – is viewed as essential for the success of new telecoms services and network operations. What is zero touch provisioning and why does it matter? And, how does this affect OSS inventory management? Read on for more.

When a telecoms or data service is ordered by a customer of a service provider or operator, a series of events is triggered. For decades, this has resulted in a series of manual steps, which must follow a given sequence, resulting in the activation and delivery of a service to a customer. Each step requires an action to be completed before the order can be fulfilled. There may be multiple possible outcomes for each step and taking one decision may affect the overall flow until the chain is complete. The same basic principles have also been applicable to the rollout of a network extension or upgrade – for example, deploying a new fiber to a remote location.

Such manual processes take time, cost money and limit the ability of a service provider to grow and manage its business. While the friction this causes has been known for some time, the problem has become acute, due to several reasons. First, telecoms operators are trying to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Anything that impedes this goal is damaging to the business. If each step requires human processing, then costs soon mount up.

Second – and much more interestingly – most networks are moving towards virtual architectures and the adoption of a new common network core, based on emerging 5G standards (the 5G network is not limited to wireless service delivery and management, but rather provides a new model for all telecoms networks). Manual processes are not appropriate in this context, as the new core depends on deep integration between all component and an API-driven framework for real-time service management, orchestration and tear-down.

Third, operators compete with other service providers. While alternative providers may not own networks, but simply deliver services across existing operator networks, they have proven to be much nimbler. They may be able to deliver services at internet speed, without manual intervention – and often without any manual support.

Zero touch provisioning and automation

As such, the elimination of manual processes and their replacement with automation has become an urgent task. The ambition is to deliver networks that have minimal manual operational requirements. Zero touch provisioning is one outcome of fully automated networks. That is, the ability to automatically deliver a service.

An example might be a case in which a customer orders a new broadband subscription from a web-portal. Can this result in the delivery of the required service without the need for any human intervention to move from one step in the process chain to the next?

Another example could be a request from a service provider to deliver fiber to a particular location – a site for a cellular radio base station for 5G, for instance. This is a B2B service relationship in which one business makes a request to another for an asset that is, in turn, necessary for the delivery of a service provided by the requestor.

Zero touch provisioning and scalability

While it can be seen that automation would deliver clear benefits, there is a fourth reason why zero touch provisioning has become so important. Scale. Operators have long been used to dealing with services for millions of subscribers and have spent decades refining processes to achieve this in the most efficient manner possible.

In this sense, zero touch provisioning is not a new concept and, of course, there have been many attempts to introduce aspects of such automation. However, we are facing a new challenge – the unprecedented number of new services and devices enabled by next generation networks.

In particular, LTE and 5G have unlocked the world of massive IoT, in which billions of devices will be connected, via the internet, to remote services and control solutions. It will be impossible to provision, manage and operate such devices if manual intervention is required.

Similarly, 5G will bring a plethora of new services and rich customization possibilities that can be activated and managed in real-time. The service suite to which one user or business partner may subscribe will be different from that of another. New services may be required instantly. This flexibility and agility cannot be supported without automation and zero touch provisioning.

Put simply, zero touch provisioning has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which services are delivered but it is also a prerequisite for achieving the kind of service diversity and agility to which today’s operators aspire.

Zero touch provisioning and network resources

However, irrespective of the required service, there is another consideration. For all services and devices, there are resources that support them. These resources must be known, understood in the right context, and available, so they can be allocated to a service and to a subscriber, and connected so that the required service can be realized. The understanding and cataloguing of these resources, together with their context and status, is the task of what is known as OSS network inventory management.

For zero touch provisioning to be effective, a comprehensive view of network resources must be available and maintained in an accurate, up-to-date state. It must be accessible to all processes that relate to a particular service, so that the requisite data can be obtained at each step. The question “can I buy this?” has outcomes that relate in entirety to whether the service can be delivered. In turn, this depends utterly on knowing what resources “this” requires, where they are, their current capacity and availability, and so on.

Comprehensive network inventory management to support zero touch provisioning

So, any investment in automation in order to realize zero touch provisioning must be complemented by investment in an appropriately consolidated network inventory system that can provide real-time integration with all relevant processes. As a result, operators that run legacy platforms, with an incomplete view of network inventory, or (as is often the case) multiple such systems that are disconnected or, even paper-based views, cannot hope to achieve the goal of zero touch provisioning or to achieve the real benefits of automation.

That’s the problem that CROSS solves. It’s been natively designed to meet the challenges of achieving true network automation, based on zero touch provisioning. It enables tight integration both with the underlying network and OSS systems, as well as the business systems that support service purchase, activation and billing.

This enables the question of resource availability to be answered automatically as part of workflow when an order is generated. If something is not available, it can provide triggers to enable the work order to remedy the situation or expedite a new deployment to put the relevant resources in place. In other words, it’s the fulcrum on which zero touch operations depends. 

If your OSS cannot support your goals, why not talk to us and see how we can help you move to a frictionless, automated network with true zero touch provisioning for all services?