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January 2007
Volume 10 / Number 1

Consolidating an Industry - Don't Forget the Value of Open Standards and Industry-Wide Initiatives

By Kelly Anderson


As I type this, hundreds of departmental directors in the communications space are poring over budgets trying to request every dollar imaginable to allow their departments to exceed their important 2007 quarterly numbers. Some budgets will be get approved, some won’t. Budget items on the cut list in recent years have been expenditures like advertising and industry associations. These items are now under intense scrutiny and are considered luxuries in a departmental budget. Throughout my own career I have been asked numerous times to justify my industry involvement and relate what I was doing to the next year’s financial goals. As frivolous as industry associations may seem to an internal finance manager, the case can be made that there is much to lose for a company that is not providing resources or investing in industry efforts.

The communications industry today is dependent on the ability to implement quickly. When new products are being scoped and order of magnitudes being figured, the OSS and network infrastructure is always the most expensive and resource-consuming line item. This expense has always been looked at as an unavoidable cost and necessary to launching a successful product. It would be unthinkable to reduce R&D expense in a year that multiple products and services are being offered. In the same way, industry associations can be beneficial to a service provider’s bottom line. I urge each departmental representative to challenge themselves to research the cost savings of using and incorporating open standards and low-to -no cost reference code to quickly and effectively implement new products and services.

The industry is changing. The tolerance of high-cost propriety interfaces is gone. In the days of old, one or two dominant vendors basically defined and monopolized all interfaces and the losers were the service providers that had to pay for every “customized” change and every new feature had to be requested almost a year in advance with little or no control from the service provider. Since open standards and industry alliances have been created, this can no longer be the case. Of course, the freedom from being basically held over a barrel by propriety interfaces and systems comes with a cost. That cost would be participation and contribution to industry efforts. Unfortunately, this cost seems too high on paper to someone who is trying to stretch every dollar in their department to support and “make” their share of the corporate numbers. Lest we forget the high cost of a “customizable” solution, industry collaboration is the only way to break free of high R&D and long product lead times. Interoperability and extensible features are the surest way to avoid high costs. When a group of industry experts get together and define and map out customer use cases, some of the best minds in the industry are working on your departmental team.

The cost avoidance of paying developers and architects to reconstruct what can be specified in an industry forum is substantial. As an example, services such as IPTV require a full architecture with each service definition around billing, ordering, provisioning, network features, and other functions that need to be precisely mapped and applied to even create a service that works. In our industry today, we see the collaboration of many companies making that architecture happen with various industry organizations. Product managers no longer need to scratch their heads and spend weeks in meetings with internal architects and OSS managers to find out each capability. Utilizing current work in the industry is not only helpful, but a huge time and resource savings as well. The applicability of open standards and specifications can directly affect the cost and time on a project. In addition, joining industry bodies allows the input of individualized case studies from a service provider that can make a protocol or standard more flexible and ready for immediate implementation.

Industry alliances are also working to promote interoperability among standards bodies. Not too long ago, many of these groups did not work together much less join and incorporate comparable standards and architectures that would make a complete picture. Several efforts like the IPTV Accounting Specifications, TeleManagement Forum’s Prosperro Project and ATIS’ IPTV Interoperability Forum are bringing together work created in other forums to fill gaps that they may not need to focus on. The spirit of collaboration in the industry is much higher than I have seen it in the past 15 years. It is hoped that these efforts will increase service providers’ use of open, standards-compliant products that will save all communications participants time and R&D cost. The issue is that industry participation is declining. As the industry forums work together, a specification is getting done in a quicker and more efficient manner and is lately being taken for granted by several service providers and vendors. I know first hand that the work is done behind the scenes by dedicated resources that are doing the lion’s share of the work. In summary, more work done by fewer companies causes holes in released specifications because so many industry representatives cannot get the funding or time to participate.

It looks like 2007 will be a tough year again for the industry associations. Not only are mergers and acquisitions decreasing the overall operating budget due to the losing of additional membership fees, but more and more companies are putting additional requirements on their participation. Industry work almost becomes a “hobby” instead of a real constructive part of their job. There are a few companies that “get it” as far as the value of industry collaboration work. These companies take advantage of open specifications and protocols to ease their R&D cycle. They also take advantage of reference code that is offered by many organizations for merely the cost of membership. Many times this code has a value of five times the cost of membership and the potential to cut an implementation cycle in half. Unfortunately for the communications industry, the open standards that are prevalent today may struggle in the future with limited resources and funding to support them and much needed new standards as the industry evolves. Failing to support industry forums that are important to your business is a recipe for development of propriety systems and interfaces. With next generation emerging services that will be highly dependent on multiple vendors and networks, does it make sense to go back to the yesteryear of telecom? You must fund and participate in industry associations to continue moving this industry forward. That’s the bottom line.

Kelly Anderson is President and COO of, a collaborative industry consortium focused on developing and driving the adoption of next-gen service usage exchange standards worldwide.


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