Lessons of the pandemic — remote delivery works!
While the last year has been challenging, it hasn’t been without its upsides. A lot of innovative products and services have been adopted much faster than we might have predicted. Some innovations were developed years ago but have been languishing, under-utilized and under-appreciated. Think of video conferencing or working from home. Both have been around for a long time, but it was only this year that they became widely adopted and normal for many people.
This same phenomenon is happening with remote delivery. We have had the ability to do remote delivery for a decade or more. But it hasn’t been as widely adopted in telecom services as it has in IT services. Our services and support teams tend to work closely with our customers on site, and, more often than not, we send teams to work side by side with customers. It wasn’t that people tried full-scale remote delivery and didn’t like it, they just didn’t do things that way, so the capability was mostly ignored. Then along came the pandemic.
The first weeks of lockdown were difficult for our delivery teams. We rushed to get them home from customer locations, but there were some hiccups. Nonetheless, we managed to get most of them back except for a small number of cases where we had people stranded (in some cases for several months!). Customers were concerned about how we would continue to deliver upgrades and new features, and internally, there was a lot of anxiety that we wouldn’t be able to support them properly. In the first few days and weeks, there were a lot of meetings and, on occasion, emotions ran high.
Fortunately, we had been building remote delivery capabilities into our products and services for a number of years. It turned out that we could use the feature to continue servicing our customers, even in the midst of a global pandemic. To many peoples’ surprise, things went smoothly. Business, I’m happy to report, did not grind to a halt. In fact, we learned a few things about remote delivery that surprised us and our customers. There are many advantages to it, beyond the obvious one of not having to travel during a pandemic. My feeling is that these advantages are being recognized by customers and, as the lockdowns relax and travel becomes possible again, we will still have some very good reasons to continue to use remote delivery.
The first lesson that we learned was that it allows for greater standardization in how we do things. During the pandemic, all our delivery teams worked closely and of course remotely together to help and support one another. We could focus more on doing things in a standardized and repeatable way. I hesitate to use the word “factory”, but this is a good way to indicate the benefits of remote delivery. With more standardization, we became more efficient and scalable.
The second lesson was around efficient use of expertise. We were able to better mix and match personnel depending on the skill sets required by the customer. When you send a team off to a customer site to do delivery, you are limited by the small size of the team in what skills you have to offer. Whereas, working remotely, you have access to the global pool of experts within Nokia. This flexibility very much works in the favor of the customer.
A new strategy
Our intention is to continue using remote delivery post-pandemic. In the Asia-Pacific region, the goal is to achieve 80 percent of the work being done remotely with on-site visits with customers being restricted to where it’s absolutely needed, like acceptance testing. We hope to maximize the capabilities we have in our global delivery service centers, which are hosted in India, Portugal, Romania, Hungary, Poland and the US.
Even before the pandemic hit, our communications service provider (CSP) customers were looking for ways to increase the pace of new technology adoption. Increasing competition meant that they needed to make new services available to their end customers with faster delivery while keeping costs down. We had already adapted our approach to continuous integration and continuous delivery services (CICD) by introducing our DelOps, or delivery and operations model — a DevOps-style approach that is better adapted to the more complex telecom environment.
What the pandemic has demonstrated is that, to make DelOps even more efficient, shortening or eliminating the time that delivery experts need to be present on site and having global, around-the-clock availability is offering a big cost and speed advantage to them.
The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating. Over 2020, working remotely since the second quarter, we deployed over 4,500 VNFs covering signaling, media, telephony application, registers and authentication network elements. Thanks to our test automation tools, even the complex task of testing, was performed remotely verifying over 2,000 test cases for one of the largest operators in Europe. We also migrated close to 25 million subscribers remotely from bare metal to cloud environments.
Although initially, remote delivery felt like survival, it has become something much more. As with many challenges in life, what doesn’t kill you often makes you stronger. Both Nokia and its customers have learned that, along with DelOps, remote delivery is an important tool going forward. As we move into the 5G era, with its emphasis on agile software development and rapid delivery, both will be essential.