The Cisco – SP Partnership: How Proactive Planning Drives Service Quality
In my previous blog I explained the importance of collaborative testing between telecommunications service providers (SPs) and their network vendors in order to achieve higher service quality levels. I’d like to start where I left off and move on to exploring how this type of collaboration can extend into the planning process.
SPs with the highest service quality tend to have a strong planning capability within both their Network Engineering and Operations organizations, which is directly coordinated with their vendors. Leading SPs establish a joint Program Management Office (PMO) with their network equipment vendor, whose scope of responsibility includes early bug identification, bug remediation, and new feature deployment. This includes structured, joint planning meetings and performance reviews which are attended by VP-level engineering and operations executives, as well as senior members of the vendor’s account team, services organization, and the development organization.
The joint SP-vendor PMO performs several critical activities. First, it drives requirements gathering with senior network designers, and then works with them until actual code is released. The PMO also develops network architectures with the vendor and the SP’s engineers using “Plan-of-Record” (POR) documentation. Next, the PMO jointly prioritizes feature functionality with the vendor, keeping track of critical features needed by specified timeframes. It works closely with the vendor’s development organization to understand any design limitations, testing issues, and special conditions. In addition to performing classic management functions, the PMO makes use of “Bug Workbooks” to track all major, critical, and minor bugs and trends.
For example, one internal Cisco study showed that by using the PMO to drive their requirements process, top-performing SPs had implemented the newest version of operating software 12 months earlier than the worst-performing SPs. In fact, these SPs were sometimes able to coordinate with Cisco’s Development Organization (CDO) to test and prioritize their requirements before the software was even released. This 12 month lead time advantage can be a major value driver in new service creation and market capture.
This type of tightly integrated executive sponsorship and governance model enables the relationship between these SPs and the vendor to evolve into a partnership which is focused more on proactive planning than reactive bug-fix. SPs enjoying this type of relationship with Cisco consistently had the highest service availability and quality in their networks, based on results from various benchmarking exercises.
On the flip side, it is interesting to note that SPs with under-performing quality levels had more contentious relationships with Cisco. Here, more time is devoted to reactive bug fixes, and the relationship is hampered by perpetual fire-drills. Without the benefit of a PMO, relatively little time is spent on formal planning, architecture and maintaining the documentation needed for comprehensive feature requirements and bug fixes. Although joint working teams and executive governance may exist, they are often put in place in reaction to major technical issues resulting from insufficient planning. In turn, this perpetuates an environment of mistrust between the SP and the vendor, and inhibits the full evolution towards a partnership model.
Based on these experiences, it is my strong belief that an SP should implement joint performance objectives, results and programs with its key vendor partners. In conjunction with a joint Program Management Office, this will result in faster and higher-quality deployment of new services. It will also help the vendors to better align their internal resources with the SP’s objectives.
For a deeper dive into operational excellence, please read about our success with Vodafone and our survey findings gleaned from multiservice operators (MSOs).