For the last five years the telecoms industry has been going through a period of major transformation, with new networks and network technologies rolled out, and considerable effort being focused on renewal of telecoms IT systems such as BSS and OSS. The recent economic crisis has meant many companies across all verticals are re-assessing their 2009 IT spending, but it’s clear that in the telecoms market CSPs need to hit the gas rather than hit the brakes, says Celona’s CEO, Charles Andrews.

Telecoms IT transformation of critical business and operational systems, such as those found in the BSS/OSS stacks, is really a no-brainer. Current architectures are overly complex, not fully automated and lack flexibility. While the solutions landscape is littered with systems that are too expensive, unable to scale or cope with the demands being placed upon them, or are simply redundant or duplicated and need to be removed. None of this is news to the industry. We have a shared vision of where we’re going as an industry: we know that as pure organic growth goes out of maturing markets we need to control our operational costs, manage our customers better and innovate to replace falling revenues from commoditised services such as voice.

The problem, as always, has been in delivering against that vision. At a high level the PowerPoint slides looked seductive in their simplicity. How can we fail to desire the touted benefits all neatly bulleted and messaged? But on the ground we also know how frustrating, difficult and sheer hard work it is to deliver against an IT transformation programme. Of course some CSPs have done so?and the whole market salutes their determination, vision and industry?but for the rest the problem remains of how to move from where they are to where they want to be.

The problem is that buying a new back-end infrastructure is not like buying a new car. In the automotive business you go to a showroom, have a test drive, agree a price and then select the extras you’d like to have. A few weeks later your car, personalised to your requirements, is delivered for an agreed on-the-road price. The process is fairly predictable and customer centric?they even take your old car away and you can part-exchange it to get a better price. But when they’ve sold you a new car, auto dealers don’t have to incorporate vital parts of your old car into the new one as we do when we buy a new solution. And this isn’t a trivial task such as transferring luggage from the boot; it’s more like taking the seats out, moving them over, making them fit and then renovating them so they look nicer.

The truth is that transformation begins after system selection. It’s at that point that you have to begin business process transformation, implementation and integration and last, but by no means least, data migration and transformation. In fact you cannot squeeze the full value from your shiny new billing, CRM or inventory solution until you’ve moved a whole load of complex, dirty, but business critical data from legacy systems to your new solution. You cannot gain the operational efficiency you desire from switching off legacy solutions until you’re sure that you have moved all the necessary data to your new target system. And by even attempting to move this data you expose yourself to very real and potentially very damaging risk.

So you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. You have to transform but you fear transformation. What do you do? Throw money at the problem? Well it can help. Enough money provides the motivation to solve any problem. But what happens if you don’t now have endless sums of money available? And what will you do when you need to migrate your next business critical systems? It’s important to understand that this isn’t a one-off process: back end transformation can’t be achieved in one hit for the average CSP. And neither does throwing money at the problem negate risk or guarantee data being delivered on time.

Time is the real enemy here: the longer it takes for you to migrate your data, the more problematic the migration will become. Reduced migration cycle times are therefore key, but then so is predictability. Without predictability you can’t plan, and for large telecoms operators migrating systems is something of a way of life, so not being able to deliver migrations predictably and reliably means they can’t control their ROI and they can’t perform accurate business planning?impacting both shareholder and customer confidence. What makes the whole thing worse is that there is no time to migrate any more. CSPs operate in a truly 24×7 business. They can’t simply switch everything off and move the data at the weekend. And, given the sheer volume of data involved, even if they could switch everything off for the weekend they couldn’t move it all in that time.

But what if you could migrate your data quickly, reliably, predictably and in a controlled fashion? Now suddenly you can achieve that fast-track transformation that you know will deliver competitive advantage, shareholder and customer confidence, and lower operational costs. Well the good news is that modern data migration tools address many of the problems that CSPs have struggled with when using older data migration technologies.

Modern tools allow you to have much greater control and increased visibility of the migration process, which improves efficiency and lowers risk. They support bi-directional synchronisation of data held in legacy and new applications and a zero downtime environment. And they enable CSPs to manage the movement of users, data, applications and processes independently, ensuring that the complexities of process-dependent data are fully managed.

From a CSP’s perspective the most important benefit is that these modern tools enable both fast-track transformation and a faster time-to-value from that transformation. Data can be migrated incrementally in business-driven data sets, and CSPs can therefore gain value from their solutions investment much faster than using a ‘big-bang’ approach. Now is not the time for CSPs to delay their transformation programmes, but it is time that they raised their expectations about how these transformations were going to be delivered.