Building the Right Culture for NFV

To get the most from virtualization and automation, service providers need to evolve their organizations.

When a communications service provider moves services off hardware appliances and into software, it’s likely to see a welcome drop in its cost base and a world of new revenue possibilities. That’s because these businesses can now deploy services in days—sometimes even hours or minutes. They can bring services to market faster, and fulfill customer service requests on demand.

Most agree that these benefits justify deploying the technology that enables them: Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and its cousin, software-defined networking (SDN). But what does it take to make your deployment a success?

To get the full value of NFV, you need to extend your focus to include organizational change. Business processes, workflows, and skillsets must adapt to accommodate the new, faster ways of delivering services and responding to customers. Updated skills are already in demand, but they become a critical element in the move to NFV. A recent IHS study found that many of the world’s top telecom organizations are holding back commercial deployments due to their lack of in-house NFV expertise.

These changes have will have a domino effect on your employees’ roles and responsibilities—and how your team interacts. The net result is a wholesale transformation of your corporate culture.

Getting Started: Think DevOps

The most effective way to begin the transformation is an adoption of DevOps as an IT approach to service creation, testing, and delivery. DevOps fosters strong collaboration among software developers, operations, and other IT professionals. It breaks down siloes, speeding service delivery and providing a continuous feedback cycle for ongoing improvement and quality control.

In a DevOps environment, departmental groups work interactively and in parallel in a departure from traditional waterfall development practices, which will be obsoleted by the rapid-turnaround world of the virtualized business. In the waterfall model, development and testing are lengthy processes. In many cases, customer requirements have already changed by the time services are delivered.

DevOps, on the other hand, involves developers and operational staff working side by side. They share ideas and collectively make decisions in real time, taking actions and correcting problems for a significantly shorter time-to-market.

Making Changes

Preparing for the full organizational effect of virtualization and DevOps is a wise way to begin your journey. That means planning for changes in four key areas: processes, roles, skills, and culture.

Processes: With services created and delivered differently in the NFV environment, there will be some new business processes to figure out. For example:

  • How do you “inventory” a virtual resource?

  • How do you assure virtually delivered services?

  • How will you manage the utilization of compute resources?

  • What is the impact of changing supplier business models?

  • How will customer support evolve?

  • What are the new billing and pricing policies?

It’s important to understand these impacts and create optimal and streamlined business processes to address them. Put these processes in place up front in a way that enables them to support automation and software control with ease.

Roles: In an automated, virtual environment, clear-cut lines of demarcation between roles dissolve as functions that previously were handled by disparate experts collapse into shared responsibilities. How will this shift affect traditional C-suite roles? It’s important to clarify adjusted roles and responsibilities and create points of accountability for the transition and adherence to the new job descriptions.

Some examples of these role transitions include the following.

Your CTO becomes more future-focused, gaining responsibility for three new areas:

  • Standards development, along with technology strategy and evaluation.

  • The business and network impact of new technology adoption.

  • Legacy migration, including mediation functions and capabilities moving to NFV.

Your CIO becomes more operations-focused. Among the new responsibilities the CIO takes on are: fulfillment and assurance, developing software architectures, overseeing DevOps, and using automation to drive down labor costs and improve productivity.

Your CMO becomes more focused on flexibility in meeting customer requirements. The CMO needs to work closely with the CIO organization to enable service agility. Focus will shift from selling basic connectivity to delivering and marketing solutions and services.

Skills: With the arrival of NFV, software skills are evolving to create new roles for technical staff. DevOps brings a cloud services model to network services. Given this view, the new roles emerging within the service provider organization include:

  • IT systems engineers or IT generalists with responsibilities throughout the virtualization stack, including a broad range of NFV competencies.

  • SDN engineering, including lower-level engineering and design skills, and flow architecture design and management.

  • Cloud orchestration, which involves third parties delivering brokerage and clearing-house capabilities.

  • Partner and channel business development, established through APIs that allow third-party services as part of a customer solution.

Internally, the service provider’s corporate culture—which includes IT working in a DevOps model—will need to adopt an innovation mentality, indoctrinated as part of the mainstream business. Other key attributes of the evolved corporate culture include:

  • Experimentation, which means getting comfortable with launching new services in “beta” mode and supporting a “fast fail” approach to launching new services.

  • Talent acquisition and retention, which involves the development of new recruitment methods to attract young professionals.

  • Employee development in software and agile methodologies.

  • Accountability, which evolves from today’s failure avoidance mind-set to failure tolerance.

Take a Holistic Approach

These changes may sound monumental, but fortunately, they don’t need to happen all at once. At Juniper, we recommend that you begin your NFV adoption by first creating a detailed picture of all the changes required within your organization. Then consider conducting an NFV pilot to discover other necessary adjustments to your processes, tools, and skillsets. To ease the transformation, Juniper Professional Services can offer real-world experience and understanding that can help you plan, manage, and execute on the various activities comprised in your path of NFV and SDN adoption.

Today, industry discussion on NFV is centered on the technical merits of the evolving service provider toolkit. But service providers that embrace a holistic approach to their business transformation —technical and organizational alike—will be the most successful in turning NFV’s opportunities into hard revenue.

Learn more about NFV—and how to build the right culture to support it—in the resources for this article.