The secret of smarter software and systems, by Mike Bywater, Software Development Director, CityFibre

Improving customer experience and being more responsive are essential for forward-thinking organisations because customers these days want to get their hands on the latest service features as soon as possible, or get problems fixed immediately, rather than having to wait three or six months until the next software release.

When it comes to agility though, the big industry barrier and elephant in the room is the double whammy of non-standardised interfaces and vendor lock-ins. Together these cause friction and unnecessary cost for service providers and wholesalers looking to update and migrate systems quickly and seamlessly, and ultimately it is consumers who pay the price.

The solution is to promote open and standardised application programming interfaces (APIs) between vendors and service providers. The ideal is to ensure that when systems are migrated or upgraded, the new systems use the same standardised APIs as the ones they’re replacing. It’s common sense but there is much work to be done and it’s something we at CityFibre wanted to champion to fruition.

Accelerating a new approach

We’ve introduced more flexible ways of working to develop solutions for our wholesale partners faster and more efficiently. By increasing automation in our deployment and testing processes, we are also pushing service features into production much faster. But deeper change means looking beyond our own organisation.

At an industry level, we are actively championing open APIs using TM Forum (TMF) standards to support event-driven architectures.

The ‘event-driven’ concept has been around for some time. It’s where an ‘event’ – an order, perhaps, placed using a website app – triggers a workflow. What we are advocating, though, is a standardised approach. The goal is to be able to remove, add, or upgrade one app without interfering with other apps. For example, a warehouse app processing the order, won’t need development work to accommodate an upgrade to the order app.

Once standardisation is achieved, changes become much easier, quicker and cheaper to implement, and the whole industry benefits, including end customers.

A modern mindset

Taking a more ‘DevOps’ approach is a key part of how CityFibre approaches software development. bringing together Development and Operations teams and stakeholders to work on shared business goals.

We actively practice Flow, Feedback, and Continuous Learning and Improvement – ‘the three ways of the DevOps’ movement. Small incremental changes that add value, each going through a series of feedback loops to ensure the change meets our standards and fulfils the scenarios to be supported by that feature.

We enable the three ways by following the industry-leading methodology - Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). This methodology complements our DevOps approach, enabling us to make changes to features that are in development in minutes and hours rather than weeks or months.

We’re already reaping the business benefits of this mindset and methodology. Through CI/CD we’ve developed a migration solution in tandem with a wholesale customer that sought to move their customers quickly and smoothly from an outdated product to our FTTH product.

As opposed to the old ‘Big Bang’ approach, which seeks to get everything ‘right’ before product launch – a painful and bureaucratic process that can take months with no guarantee of success at the end of it – the DevOps approach to product design is step-by-step, in small stages. If something is ‘wrong’ it can be rolled back immediately thanks to the constant and automated feedback loop.

This approach also encourages innovation. In companies with lots of legacy system baggage, change can be painful and new software releases are deemed risky – and so done infrequently.

Going forward, we plan to interface much more closely with both build partners and wholesale customers to bring them into our DevOps ‘loop’. The goal is to roll out new features almost constantly in a controlled, intuitive and headache-free way. It’s about leading the way – but always in partnership.

Catalyst for change with TMF

Today, if operators buy a product off-the-shelf – CRM software, for example – it won’t natively work in an event-driven way with other apps. Bespoke code has to be written on top of it. With open APIs, however, products can plug together easily. Having consistent APIs for communication allows industry not only to be nimbler but also reap the cost benefits of a much more competitive supplier landscape.

TMF open API standards underpin the Forum’s vision of an Open Digital Framework (ODA) where all APIs are exposed to create standardised components. By using an ODA, operators’ ‘concept to cash’ timeframe can be cut from months to days.

The ODA vision is one CityFibre fully supports for event-driven architectures and we’re playing a lead role in a TMF Catalyst proof-of-concept (PoC) project – Async open APIs for event-based architectures.

In September, the event-driven Catalyst proof of concept, which has input from other operators and various vendors, was demonstrated and warmly received at the TMF Digital Transformation World event in Copenhagen.

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