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31 March 2021

Automation explained
 

The world is at a key inflection point whereby intelligent technology is freeing humans from the mundane, repetitive tasks. One of the sectors most impacted by such disruptive changes is telecommunications. The need to embrace new cutting-edge solutions is paramount, given the ever-increasing customer expectations over service standards and flexibility. Constantly shifting network configurations and parameters along with the opportunities presented by 5G have added to the web of complexities.

In the face of such myriad challenges, the need for networks to scale up cannot be ignored, and automation is an important facilitator in that journey. The concept, however, is not exactly novel. In fact, the trend began many decades ago, when manual switchboards were supplanted by automated ones. But the scale and nature of automation currently underway is drastically different from the past and is set to further evolve in leaps and bounds.

What is automation?

Put simply, automation relates to the deployment, configuration, orchestration, testing, operating and monitoring of devices and functions using software. The end goal is to eliminate manual intervention and put in place enablers that inject agility and efficiency, improve security and guarantee zero-error, low-cost operations capable of supporting the dynamic business demands of the 21st century.

With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), automated solutions can study metadata, learn network behaviours, generate predictive analysis and present recommendations. The software can even undertake remedial measures before an issue has occurred.

It can carry out an array of other tasks like managing inventory, collecting network data, ensuring compliance, updating or removing software, implementing security architectures and adhering to Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

“Automation is not just about productivity. Even if the transformation started with simple tasks, automation together with AI/ML will be key in improving customer experience and facilitating service creation in an agile mode. It can be a game changer in how one operates networks and services and enable new business opportunities,” says Stefan Kindt, solutions lead in Nokia CX Marketing.

automation pyramid

Why the need to go autonomous

The drive has been picking up pace in the recent years, especially with the realization of how essential it would be for future operations, powered by 5G’s ultrafast mobile broadband, low latency and massive bandwidth. Tailormade solutions can be deployed on any type of network that would help enterprise, communication service providers (CSPs) and data centers achieve end-to-end automation.

As CSPs seek to reinvent themselves as Digital Service Providers (DSPs), who not only offer connectivity but can also automate customer facing processes and offer on-demand services based upon specific requests, the need to put in place network and service management processes which are intuitive, reliable and efficient is a foregone conclusion.  

5G network slicing as well as the sharp spike in the Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data traffic will make manual supervision and maintenance, next to impossible.

Fortunately, technologies like cloud, AI/ML are paving the way for intent-based automation that empowers networks to self-configure, optimize performance in real time and recover from failure events within a very short span of time.

The benefits

The advantages of automating networks are many and compelling, but a few stand out prominently.

Network efficiency - cuts operational costs with orchestrated automation across network domains, mainly driven by machine learning.

Reduce downtimes - by deploying a ‘zero-touch’ network, human errors are non-existent, allowing companies to deliver an extremely high and consistent standard of service across all levels and at geographically dispersed locations.  

New services - being a step ahead in pre-empting customer needs by designing and building new revenue-generating services.

Boosts productivity - the automation of repetitive tasks, help improve productivity and divert the workforce to other parts of the business that needs attention, thus creating new skillsets and opportunities.

Performance - monitor networks in real-time, deploy updates, minimize system outages, identify and resolve security issues.
 

“If you're looking at this more from a macro-level perspective automation is truly transformative. For example, service management tasks that today keep one person busy for three hours can be done with the help of AI-driven automation within a minute achieving even better results. In this instance, productivity has increased by a factor of nearly 200,” says Volker Held, the Head of Marketing for Managed Services at Nokia.  

The roadmap ahead

The trek to automation will depend on the objectives of an organization and its unique business and operations ecosystem. The cost will also have to be factored in. One can work within the existing network and even calibrate the speed of transition. Additionally, the model will need to be premised on end-to-end (E2E) customer servicing as opposed to just network management. Such an approach will require the reconfiguration of business processes and structure, data governance and technical know-how.

Before launching into the exercise, it’s worthwhile to follow some best practices.

  • Conduct a thorough network analysis
  • Identify the areas that needs to be automated
  • Select a platform that’s best suited for the organization’s processes and existing IT infrastructure
  • Prepare the workforce adequately for the transition

Nokia offers a variety of solutions and services to help with automation at the customer, service, and network layers. Our broad portfolio includes Managed and advanced services utilizing AI/ML based automation, Core automation, Data Center Switching Fabric, Deepfield, Digital Operations Center, IP and optical network automation and Software-defined access networks.

One-minute explanation of automation

Chris Lewis, Founding Director of Lewis Insight Ltd

Future of automation

The rapid digitalization of industries along with the arrival of 5G has ushered in an age where next-generation technologies and innovation will require capacities that can only be created by equally resourceful and resilient backend solutions such as intent-based networking (IBN), software-defined networking and network function virtualization (NFV). Automation will also need to straddle hybrid and multi-cloud systems in conjunction with on-premise environments.

Absorbing the latest AI and ML methodologies are crucial in assisting CSPs and enterprises to maintain responsive networks that are nimble and secure.  

Automation holds immense promise but for it take flight, businesses should implement it in the correct manner. There is an element of trust deficiency involving autonomous networks as well. The dilemma can be put to rest by the incremental introduction of simple self-operating processes that instils the confidence to venture towards a more complex framework.  

Automation sits at the very heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; hence its significance cannot be understated. The first modest but sure-footed steps in that direction have been taken and will only accelerate as the demand for better services and new avenues of revenue generation present themselves.  

Additional reading: Solving the automation puzzle

Learn more: Automation  
 

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