Building a network automation funnel

Over the years automation has helped industries to multiply its production capabilities and operational efficiency. May it be mechanized agriculture, teller machines in banking, machinery in manufacturing; automation has been the foundation on which large industries have thrived. Story is not so different in the field of telecommunication either. First radical phase of automation hit the telecommunication industry with the introduction of rotary dial which eliminated the need of manual switch board operations, and it led to a massive increase in call volumes and expanded telecommunication services globally.

And today as communication service providers are transforming themselves towards digital service providers; the need for automation becomes further critical. As digital service providers, operators will transform their operations to provide digital customer experiences through digital channels, self-servicing capabilities, new on-demand services and guaranteed service assurance. Their business will be agile, run with minimized cost of assets and operational expenses and will have an eco-system of strategic partners to deliver services.

As such network automation will play a pivotal role at a digital service provider. Massive insurgence of data volumes, increased diversity of service offerings, consumer demands and competition will make it difficult to operate manually. Therefore, automation will serve as a catalyst in expanding the footprint of digital service providers whilst enabling them to handle increased capacity with minimum operating expenses.

However, introduction of automation will be a novel experience where operators are traditionally not exposed. And having a solid strategy to embrace automation, empowering workforce to sustain automation practices, adaptation of processes and tools will play a key role in the success of it.

Assuming you have taken a strategic decision to implement network automation and have setup the foundation, it’s equally important to identify where to start the journey and to select the right use-cases for network automation. First and foremost, network automation should be introduced pragmatically and over a period of time rather than taking ‘all at once’ approach. Gradual introduction of network automation would ensure successful live deployments and their expansion, excitement and believe within stakeholders, gradual learning curve and adaptability for engineers, seamless transition from manual to automated operation, better management of customer experience, ability to successfully handle issues and justification of ROI for the business.

Therefore, how do we prioritize what should be automated and what not? Well the decision involves both business and technology evaluation. Let’s look at some points to weigh your decision. And the process starts with use-case discovery.

In order to discovery use-cases for network automation, start with listing down all use-cases you currently offer. This will help you get a holistic understanding of all processes, to prioritize and to justify rationale over your selection. Once all processes are listed, you could start filtering all mature processes. Mature processes are processes that are well defined, policy driven and have owners. They are streamlined with no ad-hoc variations and run with least exceptions. All stakeholders involved in a mature process such as users, network engineers, managers are aware of the process and the process has continuously improved with feedback. As a result, filtered mature processes will be a good set of candidates for network automation.

Still, there could be hundreds of mature processes and we need to go beyond that to select our use-cases. This is where you need to evaluate technical feasibility of automation. That is to identify which technologies needs to be used, whether the technology stack is mature enough and if autonomous process could fully match the current manual process, risks involved in adopting technology, practical challenges foresee, if there’s a roadmap for technology and so on. Based on these criteria you could give a rating for technical feasibility by assessing the possibility of automating each process. And once done, you are left with a set of mature processes that can be confidently automated with existing technology.

And now you have your potential funnel for automation where you still need to filter. Each process has a business value and further filtering could be done based on the same. We could further rank all shortlisted use cases base on business value. ‘How critical the process is for business, what are the processes with highest errors or complaints, how much of valuable man hours are consumed for each process, how complex is the process to handle manually, can we improve customer experience with automation? Can we enhance job role of engineers with automation? Can we offer new services through automation?’ are some of the questions you could ask in order to further refine your funnel. Based on these criteria, you should be able to prioritize use cases that are more valuable for your business.

With above filtering criteria, you would have a refined set of use cases that are mature, technically feasible and prioritized based on business value. Finally, out of the list, you could identify and prioritize use-cases with repeatable capabilities in order to gain a better return on investment through wider adaptation. And you could start off your network automation journey with the ones that has higher priority and expand into other use cases over time.

In conclusion, network automation will play a major role at digital service providers. And it must be adopted pragmatically over time. In order to start your journey, you will need to carefully decide where to begin. This is where you need to evaluate both technical and business orientation in order to successfully initiate your transformation.