TM Forum Catalyst brings a digital business marketplace to life

Award-Winning "DigitalBusiness Marketplace" Team - courtesy TM Forum

At the recent Digital Transformation World held in Nice, a new TM Forum Catalyst proof of concept showed how a B2B2X marketplace can enable companies to digitize their businesses and take advantage of commercial internet of things (IoT) at scale, including the secure, zero-touch establishment and ‘in-life’ management of millions of devices.

Communications service providers (CSPs) around the world face the challenges of upgrading their networks, re-engineering or deploying new IT systems, and transforming their culture so they can continue to grow and compete with hyperscale digital-native companies. They are under increasing pressure to offer a rich set of products and services assembled from an array of partners, as well as providing their own products and services as part of someone else’s bundled offer – and their customers want all of this to be available through self-service portals.

Other industries from energy and agriculture to government, manufacturing and automotive face similar digital transformation challenges. These sectors also need to embrace new technologies and business models to unlock additional revenue and reduce operational costs. This could include creating solutions that incorporate hybrid cloud services, intent-based networks, customer premises equipment edge devices, industrial controllers and more.

Organizations in all sectors need to figure out how to:

  • Easily build a worldwide and frictionless partnering digital ecosystem, or partake in one
  • Present an elegant digital customer experience, despite the complexity associated with delivering products and services via a complex ecosystem of partners
  • Choose the right partners and quickly onboard their products and services
  • Quickly abstract and onboard their own products and services, and assemble and bundle them with third parties’ products and services
  • Ensure that multi-partner offerings can easily be delivered and managed once they are ordered
  • Attract businesses to grow a worldwide digital ecosystem

A TM Forum Catalyst project called The Digital Business Marketplace, which builds on several previous IoT Catalysts, tackled these challenges and explored the various roles CSPs and their partners can play in these new transformed verticals. Champions of the project are BT, Deutsche Telekom, NTT and T-Mobile, while participants include Agile Fractal Grid, BearingPoint//Beyond, Digiglu and Intel.

First and foremost, the team is tackling creation of a worldwide digital ecosystem with frictionless partnering.

CSPs are expected to deliver superior customer experience while their networks and support systems are undergoing radical change with the introduction of technologies such as network functions virtualization (NFV), software-defined networking (SDN), 5G, IoT and artificial intelligence (AI). With a fast-growing list of partners, operators face an increasing likelihood of not meeting their goals. For example, to deliver products and services in an Agile way, CSPs may have to work in silos, which inevitably will have cost implications and likely will not deliver a seamless order journey for the customer.

“If we can persuade all partners to speak the same product and service ‘language’, we will be able to deliver truly frictionless partnering ecosystems,” says Gary Bruce, Research Manager, BT, and leader of the Catalyst. “This is vital, because if we don’t deliver this frictionless ecosystem, the significant detrimental effects will be felt by everyone in the ecosystem.”

He adds: “If CSPs can create digital B2B2X partnering ecosystems, we can fix the product and service language barrier. By digitizing the way that products and services are modelled, we can provide digital representations of them, and if these digital representations follow a common model applied across the ecosystem, then it becomes much easier to combine ecosystem products and services together.”

The result is that it becomes easier to cross-sell and enforce dependencies and intricate orchestration across products and services. “It’s a win-win,” Bruce says.

Deutsche Telekom’s Sigrid Braun adds: “In this Catalyst we also explore a pattern for the monetization of digital products and services that is fully automated and secure. The Catalyst provides end-to-end use cases from ordering to billing and demonstrates opportunities for new revenue streams in a digital ecosystem.”

The Catalyst is benefitting from BearingPoint//Beyond’s Infonova platform and Digiglu’s digital experience framework to create its B2B2X digital business marketplace. And with the marketplace in place, the Catalyst will resolve the complexities of partnering, product and service onboarding, aggregation, delivery and management, and delivering the kinds of experiences Generation Y users expect.

The team is proving the digital business marketplace concept with two compelling B2B2X use cases to start the journey: secure, zero-touch establishment and ‘in-life’ management of IoT devices and smart energy.

‘In-life’ management of IoT devices

Forecasters agree there will be tens of billions of connected devices worldwide by 2025 (up to 75 billion), with 5G set to speed up proliferation. But it’s unclear how they will be managed.

“There has been much discussion on how IoT data will create value, but a question often overlooked is, ‘how will all these IoT devices be securely provisioned and managed in-life?’” says Dr. Mohammad Zoualfaghari, Research Manager, BT. “Today, most deployments are manually intensive – something that is unsustainable if we want to deploy billions of devices. This is a problem that the industry must address if we are to harness the value of mass IoT deployments.”

As an example in a smart city context, Zoualfaghari notes that as many as 3 million devices may be required, and each needs to be connected to an IoT platform before any useful data can flow. Manual provisioning of each device typically takes around 25 minutes, which, in this example would represent a total of 1.25 million hours of effort — the equivalent of over 500 person-years of work. Add to this the security concerns associated with manual provisioning and the additional effort required to provide in-life device management, and the need for a scalable, automated and secure solution becomes obvious.

To help solve the problem, the Catalyst is leveraging Intel’s Secure Device Onboard (SDO) technology. SDO uses silicon ‘hardware roots of trust’ as the foundation of the secure onboarding process. In addition to being secure and fast (typically taking about one minute to onboard a device), SDO also offers ‘late binding’ – the ability for customers to choose their target IoT platform at the time of setup, rather than when the device is manufactured, which is the case with many automated systems. Intel is working with the industry to establish SDO as an open industry standard.

BT has developed a suite of zero-touch technologies, which work with multiple connection, attestation, bootstrapping and device management capabilities. These inventions are the source of several patents: two already granted, two filed and 19 under submission.

BT has also architected an industrialized approach, combining its patented capabilities with SDO, a choice of IoT platforms and the Infonova and Digiglu platforms — these leverage the TM Forum Open APIs to provide secure, zero-touch and monetized IoT device establishment and in-life management at scale, spanning the ecosystem of capabilities with a self-service customer experience.

Through the B2B2X digital business marketplace, an organization could charge for the use of its patented components on a granular basis as part of its offering. The Catalyst will demonstrate how, using common data models alongside common technical and business rules, any of the zero-touch services and IoT platforms can readily be mixed to meet business outcomes, financial constraints and technical requirements of a given customer. This could be provided by a combination of different partner organizations to give that flexibility and customer choice.

“For example, we might recommend using a BT IoT Data Hub for a particular customer, but if they felt it didn’t fully meet their needs, we could also easily provide options to use AWS IoT, Azure IoT or other IoT services as a part of our solutions,” BT’s Bruce explains. “Further options would equally be made available for providing zero-touch connectivity, attestation, bootstrapping and device management services.”

Smarter energy

The Catalyst’s second compelling use case focuses on the energy sector. The demand for electricity has increased worldwide and massive power outages are more likely as grids age. Electricity generation is becoming more decentralized, and power systems are becoming more complex.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in the United States has recommended the establishment of a new approach which supports greener energy, higher reliability and better security. NRECA envisions the grid evolving so that all segments operate with the same information and control model regardless of scale, and each segment shares information with all the others but can also isolate itself and act independently.

Such a grid will require various partners’ capabilities to be delivered as a service, including a trusted communications networks, rapid and accurate data collection and information-sharing, advanced analytics, cybersecurity, renewable energy and more.

The new approach is now being driven on a practical level by the Agile Fractal Grid, which has joined the Catalyst team to speed up this work, learn from other industries and drive standards.

Community contribution

As part of this work, the Catalyst team is using and will contribute back to several TM Forum tools and best practices to benefit the whole industry. It is using the CurateFX ecosystem modeling tool, for example, to map out how different companies could work together, including managing some of the complexities around data handling and management and how each company will fulfill its role for every scenario on each IoT device.

The team will also outline a complex supply chain scenario which demonstrates how issues such as billing and settlement, returns and refunds, and procurement transparency can be handled.

While the Catalyst team is focused on a few specific industries and use cases, they intend to expand the scope at Digital Transformation Asia where they will focus on 5G, asset management, low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technology and more.

Originally published on TM Forum’s Inform

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