There’s been a lot in the news lately about automation and the workforce: is it good? Is it bad? What does the future hold? And while most of the articles are concerned with robots and manufacturing jobs, it’s worth looking at what automation holds for the telecom industry and the OSS/BSS space. With the constant pressure to provide services more quickly and at higher levels of quality than ever before, it’s not a question of whether to add automation to your strategy, but a question of how.
There are a lot of solutions that can be added to an OSS/BSS strategy that fall under the idea of automation, but let’s focus on network inventory and on the core aspect of your network: how your circuits and services are designed. Generally speaking, the design of a network circuit is the most time-consuming task a network engineer faces on a day-to-day basis, and the one that takes the highest skill level. It’s an area that’s likely to elude a perfect automated solution, at least until there is strong enough AI to handle the numerous places where a circuit design can deviate from the “standard” for whatever type of circuit it is. But most of the circuits being designed can be automated, leaving the remainder to be handled by network engineering.
To automate a process for designing a circuit, it’s necessary to have a few pieces in place first:
- You must have standard equipment models, so that the automation can readily identify the port(s) to be used for the circuit. This also includes standard nomenclature and enforced naming conventions. It’s very difficult to automate any process where the pieces that make up the result aren’t standardized.
- You must also have a standard circuit design for the type of circuit you are creating. Not every attempt at having the automation create the circuit will work, due to various factors (card has no empty ports, backbone circuit has no capacity, etc.), but nothing will work without a pre-defined template for what a proper circuit looks like.
- Solid integrations must exist between the design automation engine and any system that it must communicate with. For example, if the circuit requires an IP address, you’ll need a good integration with the IP management system.
- You must have defined graceful exit points for the automation. When a design fails, it should retain as much of the circuit design as possible, and provide the network engineer with the information to help them complete the design manually.
Once you have the initial pieces in place, it’s not that difficult to begin automating the design process. Part of the trick is to start with the simpler circuit designs that you create frequently. They are easier to automate, and the ROI is more significant. There will be fallout from the process, but that can be handled by the network engineering group. From this beginning, you can keep adding design automations as long as the ROI is sufficient. There will always be circuits that are too complex to automate, and even the best automation won’t handle all scenarios. But a solid design automation will allow your skilled staff to focus on the more complex issues and on designing the entirety of the network instead of doing repetitive circuit design work.
There are many advantages to automating aspects of your network inventory and how your circuits and services are designed. In addition to freeing your staff from repeating the same operations over and over, automation ensures that the naming standards are enforced, the designs are consistent and repeatable, and that downstream systems are able to depend on the information they need. While automation has many advantages, it also has its limitations and downfalls, including limited flexibility and complexity. Maintaining a qualified team of network engineers is and will always be critical to the success of businesses in the telecom industry and the OSS/BSS space. With these tips in mind, venturing into the world of circuit automation can be profitable and effective if it is executed strategically.