Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are making significant investments in network and business automation through digital reengineering as software changes every part of their network, business, and customer interfaces.
The benefits of network automation are overwhelming, as is the magnitude of the task of automating a complex, diverse set of technologies and services. Strategies of increasing levels of automation from simple task automation to complex cross-domain orchestration have been shown to be feasible today with significant business benefits in cost, agility, and operations speed.
Hierarchy of Network Automation
Although many of the same software tools and techniques are the same, there is a hierarchy of automation tasks that has proven to be tackled from the bottom-up in the process of automating network operations. It starts at the bottom with automating routine tasks that a person performs on the network and grows until entire business processes are automated in the CSP’s business and network operations.
From a consumer’s view: It means having a rich digital experience when interacting with the CSP, being able to get immediately any information using a self-care service model and having service requests immediately fulfilled by an automated network.
From a CSP’s business view: It means minimal involvement of people in the operations except in exceptional circumstances during provisioning, repair or inquiries, along with full visibility of the process.
In the CSP’s network operations: It means simplification in service provisioning, service changes and terminations, diagnosis, and repair services. It means minimal elapsed time for these processes. It also includes engineering work prior to service provisioning: capacity estimates, engineering plans, equipment ordering, and equipment installation and configuration. Today, the latter is less amenable to full automation. It will require a reengineering of the equipment resource provisioning process in the future.
Network automation provides three major benefits, each with an aspirational goal of an order-of-magnitude reduction over the next several years.
Operations Cost:The total cost of the process, dominated by the labor cost. The goal is to reduce these by 90% to only 10% of today’s cost.
Operations Speed:The total time from the beginning of a provisioning or problem mitigation process until its resolution. The goal is to reduce this time by 90%.
Business Agility: The ability of a CSP to quickly introduce many new services or modify existing services. The goal is to reduce the time required to introduce a new service by 90%, not to decrease costs as much as allowing 10 times the number of services to be quickly introduced and the successful ones quickly scaled.
Benefits of Network Automation
The overall speed and efficiency benefits of network automation are shown in the figure, along with the ACG Research estimate of the breakdown of the benefits into each of the levels of the automation hierarchy.
Task Automation: The automation of predetermined, routine tasks, usually done via command line input by humans. This presents the largest benefit in operations efficiency, representing over one-third of today’s operational cost for network operations, despite it being the least complex to automate, because of the large number of tasks that need to be accomplished.
Network Device Automation: Routine tasks that usually configure, check, and update the elements, provides moderate benefits in speed and efficiency.
Network Domain Automation: The automation of an entire domain of a network, although providing substantial benefits in operational cost, provides the greatest speed benefits since it automates an entire process for a domain (using the underlying task and network device automation). The definition of a domain is dependent upon the policies of the CSP. They can be technological (for example, core routing, mobile core or SD-WAN), geographic (regional work groups) or by manufacturer. For more details, see https://www.acgcc.com/domain-control-and-orchestration-for-the-future-automated-network.
Overall Process Automation can provide moderate efficiency and the second-largest opportunity for increasing operational speed. This involves the configuration of not only the network, but also the Operations Support Systems and Business Support Systems and the processes they support.