Maria Martinez, Corporate Vice President, Communications Sector, Microsoft Corporation, tells Alun Lewis why she believes the software giant is uniquely placed to help drive the telecommunications sector
Transformation seems to be the name of the game in telecommunications these days. While the financial discipline of the last few years has to remain, there are a host of new challenges on the horizon to deal with – from VoIP to the addition of content services to traditional service portfolios.European Communications– Alun Lewis caught up with one of the architects of this diverse new world at the TeleManagement's recent conference in Long Beach, California, meeting Maria Martinez, Corporate Vice President, Communications Sector, Microsoft Corporation.
AL: Maria, your keynote speech focused very much on some of the challenges facing us as an industry. Can you summarise these as you see them? MM: For a start, there's a tremendous amount of FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – out there. We all know that convergence is changing the industry in a big way and that it's a big challenge to plan where a business should go in this new environment. However, figuring out which technology will take you there can sometimes be even more difficult.According to Gartner, the worldwide revenue for telecommunications services and equipment is only expected to grow 3.9 per cent by 2007 – down from 9.7 per cent in 2003. What's most interesting is the role that software is playing in this growth. Software will grow at a rate nearly 10 per cent by 2007. So, if software is clearly a key growth area that is contributing to the overall industry improvement, it's surely more a question of "how can we use software to create new services and revenue?"
AL: And what's Microsoft's strategy in this space?
MM: In the final analysis, convergence will only truly come to life through software-powered service networks. Microsoft's committed to the telecommunications space and we've made three big commitments that will help companies survive, thrive, and win in this newly converged marketplace.
Firstly, we're simplifying relationships across the board between application developers, systems integrators, content owners, distribution channels, services providers, and end users. Microsoft has important technologies and significant partnerships in all of these areas, with over six million developers and thousands of partners – now delivering mission critical applications, the largest databases in the world, delivering content to mobile phones, OSS/BSS systems and recently large billing applications.
Turning such a highly complex communications services value chain into a profitable business requires dealing very efficiently with many issues such as service aggregation, business process automation, business-to-business transactions and end-to-end quality of service management. The group I lead at Microsoft – called the Communications Sector Group – is today bringing all of Microsoft's internal assets together with industry partnerships in a co-ordinated way.
Secondly, we're facilitating the deployment of those rapid and cost-effective breakaway applications and services that will define success in rapidly changing markets. A great example of this is how BT joined forces with Microsoft to launch a one-stop-shop IT and broadband solution, including Hosted Exchange – an innovative first for small businesses in the UK. We've also helped AT&T Wireless differentiate their mobile data services through a portal that improves the end user experience of provisioning a mobile phone. Another example is our recently announced IP Television solution that's in trial now with several service providers around the world.
The solutions we are building around collaboration, hosted services, media and entertainment are designed to get to service providers to market quickly with the minimum investment in a way that they can rapidly monetize. But this new set of services demanded by the market creates unprecedented challenges for the integration of these platforms with existing OSS/BSS environments – which is where I see the TeleManagement Forum's New Generation OSS (NGOSS) effort playing a key role.
Finally, we're providing our service provider customers with a multi-services platform that offers the best opportunity to extend and differentiate new service offerings – while also reducing overall costs. Our biggest contribution in this area is our commitment to Web Services and driving standardisation through our joint efforts with IBM, Vodafone and others. Web services are the universal connectivity layer that will solve the many interoperability challenges.
AL: Obviously one of the biggest shifts underway is towards universal IP and an end to the old circuit switched environment. How's Microsoft interpreting that change?
MM: Today, IP, mobile cellular and broadband have emerged and are all pretty much ubiquitous. IP is now the leading protocol and forms the basis for most of the new services out there, whether through data, voice or video or the integration of all of them. Microsoft strongly supports standards like TCP/IP, IPv6, http, XML and SOAP, as well as the development and standardisation of key technologies like Windows Media and Digital Rights Management.
In transport, where IP is the basis for most of the new services, security and quality of service are vitally important. But the introduction of IP is forcing a change to a new business model in which service providers are no longer paid by distance.
Revenue must instead be made up in services and content. Here, developers using Microsoft platforms are driving solutions that include ring tones, music, video-on-demand and voice over IP for a unified communications experience, and innovative data services such as location and tracking information. Content provision is essentially about relationships, and that means having a set of partners who can build new and compelling offerings, increase distribution, and raise market share.
AL: Microsoft's business breadth must be a significant help in enabling this cooperation.
MM: Partnerships are definitely the key to succeeding in a converged world and, at Microsoft, around 96 per cent of our revenue is delivered through our partners. We have an existing base of thousands of best-of-breed partners who makes it easier than ever to streamline processes and solve business problems collaboratively. This means that service provider customers can pick the combination of partners and solutions that are right for their business needs – no one-size-fits-all, long-term commitment.
AL: And specifically in the OSS space?
MM: NGOSS is a critical piece of the puzzle when we integrate our services framework with a service provider's existing OSS/BSS network. We are designing Web Services interfaces that use the Telemanagement Forum's NGOSS specification to seamlessly integrate services with our customers' operational and business networks. We are very interested in partnering with other industry players to define Web Services interfaces in this area.
AL: Security and network integrity is also becoming a hot issue as we rely more and more on networked communications. What's the take from Redmond on this?
MM: Spam is a big issue that continually interferes with digital communications. We are working hard to educate the public and build anti-spam safeguards into our products to keep spam under control. We're also committed to pursuing legal action against spammers. Earlier this year, we teamed up with America Online, EarthLink, and Yahoo! to file the first major industry lawsuits under the new federal anti-spam law. And, several months ago at the RSA Conference, Bill Gates announced a detailed vision and proposal on how technology can be used to help put an end to spam. This included outlining our Co-ordinated Spam Reduction Initiative and technical specifications for the establishment of Sender ID for e-mail.
Addressing privacy concerns as new technology and services take hold is another challenge. Again, public education is the key here, with clear explanations of why information is needed, what information will be used for, and giving the consumer control over it. Our Chief Privacy Strategist, Peter Cullen, is leading this effort to keep consumers and businesses educated on privacy.
As always, security is a big concern for all of us, especially with the proliferation of new solutions and services that are arriving. Viruses, the risk of identity theft and other threats can have serious impacts along every link in the communications chain. Here again, we are working with service providers, software vendors, and even competitors, to define the legal environment, the processes and deliver the tools that will make the Internet safer. One of the ways we're working hard to improve security is by leading the formation of GIAIS, or the Global Infrastructure Alliance for Internet Safety. This organization provides technology and communications support to the worldwide service provider industry, and facilitates collaboration to help manage and improve security for millions of end users. During a recent virus attack, GIAIS members were able to e-mail 200 million Internet users worldwide within twenty-four hours of the attack to alert and advise them on specific actions to protect themselves from the virus.
And, of course, standards are also a big challenge. We will continue to drive web services standards across the board. We are also working with several standards organisations, like the TeleManagement Forum and the ITU Telecommunications Standardisation Sector, to further develop standards to best address the needs of the industry.
AL: You mentioned earlier the term 'software-powered service networks.' What exactly do you mean by that?
MM: A network used to be defined in terms of physical nodes and physical links. A service network can be thought of in a similar way, except that the nodes are services – such as messaging, authentication and billing – and the links are provided by the Web Services interfaces.
For example, location and third party content can now be thought of as network 'nodes', that can be leveraged and easily interfaced with any other node on the network to develop richer and more dynamic service packages. These new nodes will therefore need to be manageable in the same sense as traditional network components – provisionable, meterable, measured against a service level agreement, and so on. The service network is not tied to any specific type of device or transport. In fact, it is an inherently cross-physical network, and cross-device – for example, the recent addition of voice communications to the Xbox Live network has taken gaming to a whole new level.
Now, there are a number of implications of this trend.
Firstly, it allows operators to leverage all current capabilities and investments of the current networks while allowing for much larger and more dynamic networks, as it includes many more 'nodes' and participants. Second, it brings the network world and application world together, which means that the business application people, IT people, as well as network people, are increasingly speaking a common language. Thirdly, it also means that features and applications that are exposed as services need to adhere to principles of network management, which many today do not.
Going a step further, for Microsoft this means:
• providing the tools and framework for creating, deploying and executing aggregated services – such as a 'price-check' service that automatically compares prices for a product on several e-commerce sites and displays the information on a mobile phone.
• defining how applications and solutions can become well-managed services; and of course NGOSS is an important piece of this work.
We believe this approach will provide a powerful, flexible environment that will enable companies to choose the best possible directions and future strategy – and win. Change, after all, is a constant, and it always brings challenges and opportunities.
Alun Lewis is a freelance communications writer and consultant: email@example.com [l=www.microsoft.com/]http://www.microsoft.com/[/l]