Transforming inventory: The cornerstone of modern telecoms

Inventory systems are foundational operational support systems (OSS), representing investments worth billions of dollars. Operators must ensure that this essential function is fit for the future. If it isn’t, they risk losing out as the telecoms market evolves.

In the telecom industry, an operator’s inventory is the single source of truth across the network lifecycle. An inventory that is populated at the very start of network planning is a critical compass throughout network rollout, service activation and fulfilment, demand forecasting, service assurance, engineering and problem resolution.
Maintaining a reliable and accurate inventory is an ongoing challenge — particularly now, with the virtualization of network functions, ongoing cloudification, and increasingly software-defined telecoms networks.

Transitioning from static to dynamic

In years past, inventory was chiefly about knowing where a physical asset was located. Today, it’s a different world with inventories of physical resources, and even virtual and logical ones. Many resources are installed and managed remotely, but each physical and virtual network resource must be properly identified, and each logical connection must be assigned to a service, product and customer.
The arrival of IoT and now 5G (and soon 6G) involves millions of devices that must be maintained.
The decade-old inventory solutions still used by many telecoms operators simply can’t cope with the complexity and agility of this new world. Inventory tools were traditionally built using relational database management system technologies, such as Oracle. These traditional databases can be complemented or replaced by modern data management technologies such as graph databases and/or time series databases. Graph databases provide performance improvements over legacy technologies, whereas time series databases are optimized for storing temporal (time-stamped) data and better facilitate the tracking of changes over time in inventory stores.
So, operators and their partners need to zero in on how to modernize inventory to deliver on the promise of virtualized, dynamic, real-time networks of today and tomorrow.

Reconciling and rationalizing

Broadly speaking, operators can choose between two routes. They can either develop a custom solution or procure a commercial off-the-shelf product. Whichever option they choose, there are a few considerations, challenges and opportunities to bear in mind when replacing legacy systems with modern solutions.
Given organic and inorganic changes over time, it’s likely that some data may not match physical, virtual and logical network assets and resources. Inaccurate inventory data shared across OSS/BSS (business support systems) contributes to numerous errors, delays and failures. The transformation of inventory is, therefore, an important opportunity for data reconciliation and rationalization.
Designing and implementing the right migration path is mission-critical, depending on each operator’s business and technological landscape. With billions of physical and virtual resources, one particular challenge is to ensure backward compatibility in terms of data migration. Data must be smoothly and securely migrated, with specialist expertise to ensure a seamless integration with other OSS/BSS.

Leaders in inventory

Looking across the global telecoms industry, various approaches have been taken to deliver high-performing, agile, dynamic inventory solutions.
For example, Atos supported a large telecom provider in Italy in its migration to a modern inventory, enabling a massive increase in penetration of fiber into homes from 41% to 76% by 2025. At Deutsche Telekom, we integrated transport inventory data from numerous, multi-vendor inventory systems into a centralized inventory management solution that was developed from scratch for end-to-end service provisioning across multi-vendor transport networks.

Following the merger of three Dutch cable companies, Ziggo engaged Atos to migrate multiple inventory solutions into a centralized repository to support all its operations. This enabled the cable operator to harmonize OSS and operations by migrating resource and service inventory data into a centralized platform. Ziggo is using this platform to support OSS/BSS for all three regional divisions. At Orange, inventory is aligned with regional service offerings, creating a need to implement infrastructure inventory for both fixed and mobile networks. This is integrated with numerous multi-vendor OSS/BSS applications to provide reliable network and service layer inventory and provisioning.

Critical benefits and essential foundations

Every one of these telecoms leaders has realized that with legacy inventory systems, time-to-market can be slow and any small change to networks can require disproportionate effort and resources. In contrast, a modern centralized inventory improves performance from network creation and planning onwards. A centralized source of inventory data improves accuracy and reduces the number of active interfaces that must be maintained. Changes can be made, and capacity added in an instant. Our experience with operators is that a modern inventory platform can help reduce downtime by up to 30%.
A trusted inventory is also the basis for automated workflows to execute maintenance, fault recovery, provisioning and activation functions, without risk of failure. Machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities can be deployed for more predictive and pre-emptive network capacity utilization and resilience.

A modern inventory is, quite simply, the cornerstone of a modern telecoms operation, boosting network visibility, efficiency and agility.

Ultimately, better operations mean more satisfied customers, and the happier the customer is, the better chances for the business to succeed and grow.

A modern inventory is, quite simply, the cornerstone of a modern telecoms operation, boosting network visibility, efficiency and agility.

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About Sharad Shanbhag
Principal OSS Solution Architect, TMT
Sharad is a principal OSS solution architect with more than 20 years of experience in telecom and various IT domains. His primary experience is in designing solutions across telco Cloud NFV orchestration, SDN/NFV and OSS fulfilment and assurance. At Atos, Sharad is responsible for preparation of technical response to various RFI/RFPs, driving presales activities and OSS portfolio solutions. Sharad has domain expertise in MANO and OSS fulfilment and assurance solutions for broadband, MPLS, SD-WAN and mobility. Prior experience includes being the overall design lead for large and complex transformation programs in British Telecom to launch products on leading edge technologies like SDN/NFV and Cloud. Sharad has also led the solution architecture for systems transformation program for BTGS flagship products MPLS IPVPN, WAN acceleration, and security.

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