Looking at today and well into the future, software has become one of the most pervasive and powerful tools across industries, businesses, and consumer lifestyles. Software enables wide-spread programmability, automation, controls, infrastructure virtualization, and machine intelligence. Software solutions leverage the strength of large development communities, rapidly advancing software technologies and capabilities, share of application programming interfaces (APIs), and large arrays of data with powerful analytics and artificial intelligence. The evolution of powerful software is supported with drastically improved compute, storage, and network connectivity at much lower costs (in historical comparison). Large scale data centers are growing with a focus on cloud hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) for enterprise and consumer solutions. These advancements in software evolution, color an image of enabling wonderful capabilities and applications across all facets of human life. The following four trends outline significant software pillars that will transform communication service providers (CSPs) and define their survival in the future marketplace.
#1: Network Virtualization and Software Control - Transforming the Network
Network function virtualization (NFV) and software defined networks (SDN) continue on a path of growth and maturity. Most industry vendors have or are developing production solutions, with nearly every large operator either validating or deploying instances of NFV and SDN. The industry is shifting focus from simply making the NFV solutions work, to enabling system management and automation.
Leading operators are using network virtualization and software control as a new framework for the network layer to support the overall transformation to become digital service providers, with improved business models, customer interactions, and operational models. As the competitive industry rapidly grows with improved effectiveness, there will be a need to keep pace and align with the industry to decide where and how to adopt new transformative software solutions. CSPs will face increased challenges as software layers and interworking complexities multiply while trying to achieve operational efficiencies and cost effectiveness. Attention to transition, design, execution, and security will be required, as well as continued education and planning with technology evolution, economics, and lifecycle management. CSPs must now focus specifically on using software control and automation to manage network complexities and reduce manpower in delivering, maintaining, and operating the infrastructure.
#2: Data Analytics - Foundational Information
Globally, across most industries, data analytics is used to enable improved frictionless customer experience, new business models, improved profitability, and effective operations. The power of data analytics can be understood by considering the value of having a single view of a customer (across all services and accesses) or the ability to detect and correlate events, trends, and anomalies within complex solutions.
Data analytics is essential in gaining deeper insight into customer behavior and need, in improving effectiveness of existing solutions, and in enabling new capabilities. CSPs will rely on the aid of business intelligence and analytics in making strategic and operational decisions, such as where to invest capital dollars in the network and which promotions to offer customers. Data analytics will be applied to managing capacity and performance, delivering assurance, and gaining effective operations. This tool-set will be essential as technology solutions evolve to become more intelligent, programmable, and automated.
#3: Network Automation - Manage Complexity & Gain Speed
The ICT industry is approaching a major transformation in how technology solutions are designed, deployed, and operated to improve service delivery and agility. The complexities and shortened timeframes to deliver will require automation. Automation will be sought to replace manual tasks, manage technology complexities, gain elasticity and resiliency in the networks, and deliver services to meet customer needs; all with expectations of immediate on-demand and self-service. Automation will become a core enabler that spreads across the end-to-end delivery of solutions and care of services for customers.
CSPs will need to be in a position to operate with data driven, automated solutions to meet customer expectations for relevant, personalized self-service and “instant on” services. These demands will require an enterprise cultural shift, an increase in knowledge and skills, and alignment with third parties to deliver.
#4: Artificial Intelligence - Rise of the Machine
Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by computers or machines with the ability to perceive their environment and take actions that maximize their success at achieving some objective. The term "artificial intelligence" is applied when a machine mimics cognitive functions that humans associate with our capacity for learning and problem solving. AI has many applications, including within neural systems, machine vision, speech and handwriting recognition, automation, robotics, search, game play, social media interaction, and many others.
Services and applications across many disciplines will become more capable, effective, efficient, personalized, and attractive. This evolution will add to the continued growth of network connectivity, bandwidth, and cloud computing to meet the demands of delivering such services to everyone, everything, everywhere. A CSP could apply AI by employing a self-serve Chat-Bot agent that is aware of the customer and uses machine learning and natural language to interact with or resolve complex customer inquiries while learning from each interaction. The Chat-Bot would be able to predict and recommend a desired product for the customer, complete the sale, and invoke the new service to be immediately operational. At a strategic level, the AI will be able to predict what products and capital investments will yield the greatest returns in terms of customers’ requests and purchases.
Wrapping it Together
The future consumer, business, and industrial environments (across all verticals) will soon become deeply ingrained with intelligence through the software capabilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Global researchers, developers, and industries are motivated to generate new capabilities, solve problems, and create new business opportunities. Futurists predict seemingly endless advancement in capabilities with automation, human assistance, human/machine assimilation, and machine autonomy. The following list highlights examples of where technology enabled with software is enabling significant transformation of human activities.
Personal and in-home assistants
Home control and automation
Internet of Things (IoT)
Wearables and health monitoring
Brain-machine interface and control
Animated entertainment with realistic special effects
Virtual reality, augmented reality
Assisted and autonomous vehicles (passenger, transport, land/water/air/space)
Robotics (personal, medical, industrial, military)
The adoption and spread of these powerful capabilities (as listed above) will drive CSPs to deliver on increasing demands for connectivity, bandwidth, and service capabilities with deeper customer insight, personalization, self-service, and instant-on availability. Operations will require repeatability and agility, as well as the ability to grow with complexities while maintaining robustness. All this will occur under pressures to remain profitable while services and competition are morphing in all directions. Along with increased attention to customer needs and security, CSPs must embrace network virtualization, data analytics, and the power of software through programmability and machine intelligence to gain full scale automation and maintain relevance. Without the use of software applications, CSPs will struggle to achieve service delivery and operations with the expected immediate, low friction response to an ever-growing realm of breadth and complexities. Software is at the heart of the next transformation.