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To virtualise is to normalise – how digital services are a level playing field for all organisations

To virtualise is to normalise – how digital services are a level playing field for all organisations

Posted by IoT Now MagazineMay 15, 2014

Keith Willetts is chairman of TM Forum, the global trade association trusted by the world’s largest enterprises, service providers and suppliers to help them continuously transform to succeed in the digital economy.

VanillaPlus: Why have you changed the name of the event to TM Forum Live!?

TM Forum Live!Keith Willetts: We transformed Management World into TM Forum Live! in response to a market that is changing. Lines are blurring with other industries and it has become more than just managing services that’s important – it’s every element of operating a successful digital business. In the past Management World focused mainly on OSS/BSS business and technology and provided insights to help decision makers manage communications networks and revenues. Today the event covers the broader source of new revenues opportunities that are enabled through new and innovative technologies and business models, helping our attendees secure their future in transforming to a digital enterprise. Rebranding as TM Forum Live! is a natural next step in this evolutionary process, to acknowledge and extend this broader focus.

TM Forum Live! means something – think of it as the chance to see the work of Forum in a live setting. Throughout the year you follow the releases of a band to listen to at home and then buy a ticket to see them live, this is the Forum playing live at a big stadium. For example, one of the changes at the event is the creation of The Hub, the heart of everything the Forum has to offer. We’ve built the show around a hub that showcases the work of the Forum.

We came up with lots of alternative names all of which seemed to have too short a lifespan because technology and issues change all of the time. So to avoid changing it frequently, we have a topical tag line that describes the focus of the conference in addition to the main TM Forum Live! name. At this year’s event that tagline is Transforming to a Successful Digital Business.

VP: What else is new this year?

KW: The conference itself is an evolution from last year but there are lots of interesting new things built around it. There are six conference tracks, called Forums: Internet of Things, Big Data and Customer Engagement, Agile Business and IT Transformation, Security and Privacy, Revenue Management and Virtualising Everything: Cloud, SDN and NFV.

We have a great speaker line-up, both from the telecoms sector and other industries. These include: JP Rangaswami, the chief scientist at, Fay Arjomandi, the chief executive of Vodafone Xone, David Moffat, recently chief executive of Lebara Group, Anne Bouverot, the director general of the GSMA, Michael Harte, group executive and CIO at Barclays, Albert Hitchcock, group CIO of Pearson, Phil Jordan, group CIO of Telefónica and Dean Walters, group CIO at Liberty Global.

We’ll also have additional attractions built around the event such as our Open House, Open Mic un-conference session on network functions virtualization (NFV) which will be held in a Jazz bar downtown and allows speakers to take the stage and speak for five minutes. The audience will get red cards can vote a speaker off if they go ‘off piste’ or give sales pitches. Now that’s going to be fun.

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VP: How difficult has it been to redefine the event to take account of varied nature of all the different businesses involved in the digital services value chain?

KW: There are huge numbers of new digital service providers appearing – almost every company in every business sector is launching some form of digital service. Yet they all share many common operational and business issues. But with a rapidly virtualizing approach – even embracing networks – the differences in managing an application, a data center, a network or content are narrowing, while the degree of interconnection between those things in value chains is rapidly rising. What we can’t afford is to let fragmentation put cost and customer service barriers between those service elements.  Operational complexity adds cost and reduces the customer experience, so to sum up our focus across most things – it’s all about making life simpler and easier, taking out cost and improving things for the customer.

Providers have to look at the totality of the services they deliver, including taking into consideration the complex partnerships involved in the digital world. Today, there is no guidance at the moment for managing a network of things – Apple does one thing, Android does another and that will only proliferate as new services come to market. How to get them to integrate and work together is an enormous challenge so there really has to be a growing convergence in the industry that gets real about operating and controlling an internet of things. At the Forum, we want to get that debate rolling and we want feedback on what’s being done.

Keith Willetts is chairman of TM Forum, the global trade association trusted by the world’s largest enterprises, service providers and suppliers to help them continuously transform to succeed in the digital economy. This year, the Forum transformed its Management World conference and exhibition into TM Forum Live! to bring together all the elements of TM Forum’s focus on leading the successful transformation of service providers and global enterprises to succeed in the digital world. The event will be held in Nice, France on 2-5 June 2014. Here, Willetts tells VanillaPlus how the event has changed to encompass the digital economy across all sectors and how the expanded scope will bring real value to visitors.  
Keith Willetts
Keith Willetts
TM Forum


VP: One of the themes of the event is Internet of Things – why have you chosen that?

KW: The Internet of Things forum at TM Forum Live! drilling into what the reality of 50 billion connected devices will look like – across the connected home, car, smart cities, education, health, government and so on. We want to avoid the danger that a mess will be created that is composed of multiple, disparate providers and incompatible their technology and services – of course they will all use IP but it’s the operational and management issues that we are focusing on – how do you check they are working correctly; how do you reset them and so on. You can already see the complexity that will be created by things such as sensors not talking to other sensors.

Anne Bouverot from the GSMA will give her views on the future of mobile in the internet of things and I think we can use that track to stimulate a really good debate.

VP: Another key theme this year is NFV and SDN. That feels more like the Forum’s traditional focus, how will you make that relevant to organisations from the wider digital services business?

KW: Virtualization started with the data centre and, as I said before, our view is that virtualisation normalises everything. Network functions are all just apps at the end of the day, but with characteristics like real-time and high reliability. There are, of course, different layers of apps and we want to collapse down the way of doing things. You have got to get over the network view of life and those barriers are getting taken down.

Right now, NFV and SDN haven’t really become a reality yet but that makes it absolutely the right time to focus on the operational issues and get it right before we have yet another pile of complex legacy technology.

This track is part of a multi-year journey of how we progressively approach managing things in virtualised environments and I’m sure we will see lots of very interesting discussions.

VP: It’s a big step for CSPs to see their networks as an app. Do you think they are shifting their mindsets to enable that and provide third parties with network APIs so the network really can be used as an app?

KW: A lot of work is being done to open up network APIs because no app provider wants to produce thousands of different interfaces because of the amount of resource that would take. But, not all CSPs get the concept from the point of view of using network APIs to drive revenue. I think there is still attitude among some CSPs of: “The API is my differential advantage and I should own and control it.” Maybe but look at how other companies have flourished by opening up their platforms. Even Microsoft is supporting Office on Android and IOS – that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. The key is to attract application developers, not erect barriers – it’s like having a special type of plug on your TV that requires you to rewire your house to use it. You will simply choose another TV with a normal plug.

The telecoms industry is very rapidly changing from seeing over the top (OTT) providers as the enemy to looking at how it can become more intimate with them and the wider value chain. This shift is reflected in the expanded membership of the Forum over the last few years and in the expanded scope of TM Forum Live! We’re really looking forward to welcoming everyone to Nice to explore and enjoy the new show.


About TM Forum:

TM Forum is a global, non-profit industry association focused on simplifying the complexity of running a service provider’s business. As an established industry thought-leader, the Forum serves as a unifying force, enabling more than 850 companies across 195 countries to solve critical business issues through access to a wealth of knowledge, intellectual capital and standards. The Forum provides a unique, fair and safe environment for the entire value-chain to collaborate on pressing industry issues, helping companies of all sizes gain a competitive edge and the flexibility and speed they need to underpin future growth. For more information, visit


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