Getting Past The “Department of No!”
Author: Derek Kerton, Managing Partner of Kerton Group & Chairman of Telecom Council
Every Quarter, the Telecom Council, in partnership with HP, organizes a thought leadership meeting with executives and leading technologists in NFV, where the participants set a rough agenda, and work collaboratively on the opportunities and challenges around NFV. We held our meeting at the end of August, and the insider discussions were informative and engaging, as always. This post can’t and won’t even attempt to capture all that was discussed, but one of my favorite take-aways was the concept of the Department of No.
The Department of No, we learned, could be either one of two groups inside a telecom carrier, the Network Planning and Management group, or the Network Operations group. The concept is pretty straightforward, any good idea for new products or services would get championed from some other group, would find people in favor, but would eventually have to get approval from the Department of No. Given the title of this report, it’s not hard to guess what that answer usually was.
What is so interesting for Silicon Valley, Entrepreneurs, startups, and vendors is that these are not your fellow startups saying this. These are the telco delegates themselves. This means that not only did the Department of No scuttle your last partnership pitch to the carrier in 2006, but they also stymie progress and innovation that comes from within the carrier itself. Now, to be fair, there are valid reasons for this culture of no! Heads will roll if the network goes down. Regulators require services and especially 911 to be available. Customers are extremely intolerant of downtime, especially on fixed lines. People could lose their jobs for implementing a bug, but not for saying no! For these reasons, a risk-averse culture correctly developed in the network groups at telcos.
But that culture cannot last. OTT competitors are forcing the carriers to be more aggressive and launch services. And that’s where NFV comes in.
NFV is designed to allow service agility, which allows telcos to launch new services quickly on virtual machines, and to either succeed with those new services, or fail fast. Many of you already know this, and in fact, service agility is consistently ranked as the #1 motivator for carriers to implement NFV. But one of the NFV key value propositions brought up at this quarter’s meeting is that NFV also allows carriers to fail gracefully. By running a VNF inside a virtualized network container, the damage will be limited to that virtual environment, which can be shut down immediately, and a replacement spun up.
Failing gracefully means that if a new service is introduced, and fails in a technical way (as opposed to business failure), that the damage will be limited to a sandboxed area. The public-facing network will continue un-affected. NFV, thus, greatly reduces the risk to the Department of No. It allows them to experiment much more easily, fail gracefully, and of course, win more often. Service agility isn’t just about changing technology, it’s about changing culture. NFV gives the Dept. of No the tools to become the Department of “Let’s give it a try”. The cultural question, which C-level management must answer is, shall we use these tools?