Early in June, I donned my sunglasses and made my annual trip down to the sunny South of France to join colleagues, competitors and others at the TM Forum Live event in Nice.
Like many of my peers, this event provides a valuable opportunity to get together with those from a similar business background and talk about the things that interest us.
In fact, if you think about it, this is the only event where we can talk about precisely what interests us: “software needed to run a telco”.
Nowadays, such discussions have taken on a whole new dimension, because software is everywhere. It’s now impossible to talk about communications and telco networks without talking about software in one form or another.
In her blog post after she attended this year’s TM Forum event, Nancee Ruzicka from ICT intuition said that “a very wise man” once described software as being like natural gas.
“You can’t see it or smell it but it can quickly blow up and kill you. There is no longer just a physical connection to worry about, but applications and data and other amorphous stuff and operators have to deliver and manage all of it,” she said.
To me, this resonates well in terms of what software means to telcos. And because TM Forum is one of the few places where telco software is the sole focus, this event is perhaps one of the most important dates on our calendar.
But I see danger signs. Vendors and carriers should both be paying attention to TM Forum, but vendors are increasingly taking the leadership here. Carriers are not putting their best foot forward, and the situation is getting skewed. The importance of TMF does not resonate well with the carriers and justification for attending will become even more difficult with constrained budgets.
At least, that is my perception - perhaps you disagree, and I’d welcome your views on this. My fear is that if we don’t make good use of TMF, we could end up losing it altogether. It would then be much harder to get it back.
The TM Forum is also changing meanwhile, but on the whole I think it’s doing what it needs to do. We cannot keep doing what we did 20 years ago. Things move on.
Some of the biggest indicators of change are the types of companies that are now taking part. Facebook is now a member of TM Forum, for example. What does that mean to telcos? We have talked about OTT players and unfair practices over the years. Maybe there is more we can talk about now, such as shared revenue streams. That OTT players have had a huge impact on telcos is now overwhelmingly clear.
The U.S. retail giant Walmart was also there. Why? I was told TMF was trying to inject new thinking and that telcos could learn a thing or two from other verticals. Not a bad idea for sure.
In general I think carriers need to show more leadership and continue the mindshare back home on the importance of TMF. When it comes to the TM Forum, we should use it and guide it, or we risk losing it.