Succession Lessons from TMF and Cisco/Microsoft

TMF’s Management World conference continues to show itself as a kind of cross-section of market and technology issues for the NGN.  This particular body, unlike most standards bodies, has long been almost a business, a marketing powerhouse that’s jealously guarded and effectively promoted its prerogatives.  The question is whether it can now overcome some of its other long-standing characteristics to step out and lead the service wars.

Operator OSS/BSS processes have always been visualized as “service creation” because services were in the past organized behaviors of networked devices.  Management was effectively a coercion of cooperation to create something, and once that “something” was created the processes could be considered to have shifted into “maintenance” mode.  There was a distinctive service provisioning process, with distinct phases, and OSS/BSS tracked it and billed it and planned it…you get the picture.

The TMF, the archetypal management body, has never accepted a model of management other than “provisioning”, and much of the work they’ve done with eTOM and SID and the other standards they’ve pushed is actually obsolete in the current world.  Today, you need to visualize a service as a web page, a kind of script that joins functional elements (RESTful URLs).  They actually have that notion in the relatively-new NGOSS Contract work, but it’s goal isn’t to create a web-page-like service script, but to create a management script.  What they’re missing, I think, is the fact that this scripting process has to organize both.  There is no way to create web-modeled services for the NGN without scripting functionality and management in parallel.

Operators “know” this to a degree, but not to a consistent degree.  What I’ve found is that if you make a pitch on the value of service logic and service management integration to a high-level technical architect with a focus on content monetization or mobile behavior support, that person gets it.  Make the same pitch to the OSS/BSS types and you’ve made an enemy for life.  The whole of the OSS/BSS community is locked in the past on this particular issue.  I’ve had some recent online dialogs on “NGN”, and there are some involved who are clearly pining away for the days of TDM voice even though there is no question we are NEVER going back there.  Change is always resisted, and that’s the issue now with the service layer.  The TMF is more a barrier to the future now than a vehicle to secure it, and yet for operators who still pray for relief from service-layer confusion through standards, it’s pretty much the only hope.  This TMW session is showing that some in the TMF realize they have to step up, but others are still donning their green eye shades, climbing up on high stools, and doing provisioning ledgers while calling it “NGOSS”.

Cisco and Microsoft are also demonstration intertia, and its risks.  It’s clear that investors/activists are going to put the pressure on both companies, and because it appears that neither is making the transition from their traditional days as a market leader to a new day when they can also lead—but with a different core competency set.  Only IBM of all the tech companies I know has ever proved it could undergo a number of market-driven technology transformations and still be a major player.  Can Ballmer and Chambers prove their companies, under their leadership, can?

If Ballmer steps down, or if Chambers does, the result changes only the band on the hat on the head of the executive processes for both companies.  There’s thousands of people in each of these firms, and for the most part they’re blundering along on a course that’s traditional for them—just like an OSS/BSS guy.  Imagine an inspirational flag-waver in a group of ten people—the group will follow the leader.  Imagine now that same flag-waver in a crowd of ten thousand.  They’re not following the leader any more, they’re ebbing and flowing on their own inertia.  The truth is that if investors want Microsoft or Cisco to change, the fastest way to make that happen is to get the current flag-waver, who’s being followed by at least those close at hand, to move the mountain in another direction.  That truth is probably recognized by both CEOs, but the fact is that they don’t know what to do.

Cisco is having a confidence crisis; its latest SEC filings suggest it won’t be showing much growth at all for at least one and probably several more quarters.  Microsoft is staring down the muzzle of the tablet canon, seemingly mesmerized by the risk it poses but helpless to move aside.  Both could, by inaction, bring about the very kind of radical market change that would hurt an incumbent the most.  They each have a flagship role in setting the perception for the industry they dominate.  While others can take market share from both these giants, they can’t take the flag.  Nobody will ever lead PCs again as Microsoft did, nor will there ever be another Cisco.  The markets overall will be poorer for their loss, if we lose them.


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