From system-thinking to software-first and outcomes-as-a-service
Today, it is increasingly possible to procure anything “as a service”. In the consumer realm, we can access practically any form of content – movies, music, gaming, sports, tv shows or news – through monthly service subscriptions, and in the world of enterprise everything from VPNs to office productivity software to computational processing is a mere service contract away. I would argue, however, we have barely scratched the surface of as-a-service’s vast potential.
Instead of erlangs, bits, software, storage, content and flops, what if one could offer outcomes-as-a-service? For instance, drone-surveillance-as-a-service to a power grid company looking to bolster security. Or AR/VR-overlays-as-a-service to an enterprise interested in augmented training for employees. Or a logistics company might opt to buy precision-asset-tracking-as-a service to manage particularly valuable shipments.
There is no limit to the number of industrial services that could be offered in such a way, from robotic control to digital twinning to critical communications. A customer could state the outcome they wanted, and the future service provider would provide a catalog of an as-a-service portfolio that would realize that outcome, all through simple API calls that orchestrate different network and cloud resources.
These kinds of industrial-outcomes-as-a-service are a key element of our industry’s evolution, and I would argue that with 5G-powered networks this future isn’t far off. To get there however, we need to change our way of thinking.
Today, we are in the first technology wave of communications, which is aimed squarely on the concept of “system performance”. For decades we have focused relentlessly on optimizing a set of complex parameters – tower, power, air and light – and we’ve been quite successful. Today’s 5G radio networks, 25G-through-100G PON fixed systems, and converging packet and optical backbones are significant steps, albeit still focused on improved system performance.
But it’s becoming readily apparent that system-performance alone is not enough to keep the industry moving forward. We are now seeing signs of second technology wave emerging, a wave focused on what Nokia calls “software agility”.
In this second wave, our goals will shift toward offering new functionality at a rapid pace on webscaled-network platforms through high-performance software. This is not to say that system-performance thinking will disappear. We will still seek to optimize cost-per-bit, but other performance gauges, like the levels of software automation and software monetization, will assume far greater importance.
That second wave will be quickly joined by a third wave, this one centering on the network-as-a-service model. Enterprises will move away from paying for systems and specific performance KPIs. Instead they will buy automated services with discrete outcomes in mind. This would fundamentally change our industry, transforming it into one that unlocks the full potential of outcome-based services.
I predict that these waves will come fast, and it will be up to the individual players in different parts of the industry value chain to prepare for their arrival and ride these waves to their eventual destinations. Noteworthy are two milestones, or inflection points, to mark our progress along the way.
The first key inflection point will be the seamless integration of information communications technology and industrial operations technology. By bringing agile networks and software of the ICT industry to the high-performing systems in the OT industry we will create the truly digitally connected enterprise.
The second inflection point will be the shift from engineered networks with pre-determined KPIs to frictionless networks, allowing critical applications to run seamlessly through simple intent-based API calls exposing real-time network resources in an as-a-service model.
Once we reach this milestone, we will have the necessary ingredients to make the industrial-outcomes-as-service model a reality.