Agile workflow integration for network inventory data

20 October 2020

Agile workflow integration for network inventory data

The single source of truth that a consolidated network inventory system offers tells you what’s in your network, where it is, its state and more – but it can do so much more. It’s the key enabler for agile workflow integration – and fully automated service networks.

The critical role of network inventory

As we know, the network inventory solution is a critical system that is fundamental to the OSS. It constitutes a single repository of all network resource information (or should constitute – if your inventory doesn’t, then get in touch and we’ll show you what it should offer). This includes physical equipment, virtual resources, services and their components, as well as key data, such as their location and capacity.

There’s huge value to be gained from having this information consolidated into a single master data source, but there’s a lot more value that can be obtained. This can be unlocked through agile workflow integration with core business systems. In this article, we explore what that means.

Network inventory data doesn’t just tell you what you have and where it is, it can also help you understand what you could do, and enable effective planning. By itself, the inventory system can answer many questions, but the best way to maximise ROI is to ensure integration with other systems and processes. The data they contain must be available for integration with the workflow processes that drive an operator or service providers business.

Moving from static visibility to dynamic accessibility

As businesses that must scale – to millions of customers, end-points, or devices – a telecoms network operator must be able to perform key tasks in a predictable and repeatable manner. While a process consists of a series of tasks, a workflow links those tasks in an orchestrated manner. As a result, the task of “delivering a new broadband connection” can be defined as a simple series of steps, each of which is framed by questions to which answers are required:

  • Where is the property?
  • What is the current connection to the property?
  • Can it be upgraded?
  • What service performance can it provide?
  • What equipment do we need to deliver?
  • What activation steps need to be taken?
  • What is the next service window for activating the assets?

And so on. Answering these questions allows a service provider to determine how to deliver the desired connectivity option – and the data that allows the questions to be answered should reside in the network inventory system. Of course, this process can be triggered by another (e.g. “this customer signs up for broadband package A”), which consists of a series of other questions, and so on. Each workflow should interact with others, to ensure a fully-joined up approach to the delivery and management of all network task.

Clearly, as businesses that operate at scale and which must deliver to millions of subscribers, it’s important to ensure that operator processes can be effectively – and efficiently – automated. Thus, when a customer orders product X via the web portal, this will result in product X being delivered. Since this often involves the delivery or activation of physical as well as logical resources, inventory data is fundamental to ensuring the process can be completed.

So, the workflow needs to be able to verify that a required resource is in place – and then request its allocation so that this element of the order can be fulfilled. This is not rocket science – it’s the sort of automation that many in other sectors take for granted. And yet, it’s relatively new to telecoms. For too long, network inventory has been a sort of passive resource, one that can be checked but which is dislocated from the business systems that underpin the organisation.

This is not a sustainable model. Operators deal with complex systems and they are getting ever more so. To some extent, there is artificial complexity (just how many broadband or post-paid offers do you really need? There are thousands of them!) but, that aside, operators are moving to embrace a host of new B2B and partnership opportunities, many of which must be dynamically configured, often in real-time or with minimal delay.

New service models demand automation and deep system integration

For example, if a new cloud service is instantiated that requires new data centre capacity, the availability should be checked, the resources demanded should be reserved and so on. This will be complicated but is unavoidable. It’s what 5G networks are required to deliver. And, as all operators move towards a fully virtual core – whether they also run mobile networks or not – they must all strive to meet the challenge of dynamic service availability and orchestration. This is simply not possible without automation: network inventory systems which provide the data to support service delivery are therefore critical to the automation of operations.

We may be some way from such a fully-automated network, but many operators are taking simple steps in this direction. Once it has been established as the single source of data, the network inventory solution can, via APIs, be connected to other business systems. One approach is to link inventory to the order management system and the CRM, enabling orders to be processed and for the required resources and systems to be requested, delivered and activated.

Such approaches will continue to evolve but there is little chance of securing the benefits of automation without having a consolidated inventory platform that supports agile workflow process integration at the heart of your operations.