TM Forum: Integrating CIO and CTO functions isn't easy, but it's necessary

The blending of the IT and engineering is complex and must be handled carefully, according a report by the TM Forum. (Pixabay)

The transformational changes in how telecom networks and services operate are leading to an equally radical change in CSPs' structure. The marriage of the IT and engineering is complex and must be handled carefully, according to the TM Forum.

“The convergence of IT and engineering technologies and skills, across multiple domains of the business, means that a single technology strategy is essential," wrote TM Forum senior analyst and report author Catherine Haslam in response to questions emailed by FierceTelecom. "Combining CIO and CTO roles ensures the development and implementation of a single strategy. While creating a single role is not essential, bringing the two remits together is. Therefore, even if a CTIO is not appointed, the responsibility for overall technology strategy needs to sit in a single role with input from both engineering and IT.”

The TM Forum report identifies and explores several issues, including ways in which CSPs are integrating these functions, the cultural issues that can impede integration, how the move impacts vendor relationships, the way in which CTIOs are dealing with the multiple parallel evolutions, changes in required skill sets as software becomes predominant and approaches to legacy systems.

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The integration of the CIO and CTO functions is hard, especially as organizations continue to serve existing subscribers, add new ones, launch products and services and integrate new technology. “It is very difficult to deal with all the moving parts. However, integrating CTO and CIO remits shouldn’t be another competing activity," Haslam wrote.

The changes are not just technical. Innovation on the business side also is better supported by the integration of CIO and CTO roles, according to TM Forum. "For example, on-demand services require developments across IT functions from the customer interface, down through billing, to provisioning," Haslam wrote. "It also requires network resources to be allocated and optimized in real time and to become programmable. Without any of these elements the service won’t work effectively. IT and engineering must work together to create and operate the kinds of services being developed for the business."

CSPs are making the changes at their pace. “The challenges of bringing these roles together are much the same for all CSPs, however, the timing is and should be different. CSPs are at different stages of their technology development," according to Haslam. "The key drivers for bringing the two roles together are software increasing in importance in networks (NFV/SDN) and the increasing use of in-house IT in operational systems beyond those used by staff, call centers and retail systems. The latter is usually driven by increased demand for personalization, flexibility and/or efficiency. Therefore, only when these developments begin does it truly make sense to bring the two remits together."

Another element is simple time management. "There are also very practical resource considerations," Haslam wrote. "For example, if a CTO is deep into a 4G or fiber rollout, they will not have the bandwidth to address the IT and engineering convergence challenges.”

The report concludes with six recommendations. TM Forum counsels CSPs to create a single technology strategy, recognize and address cultural differences, focus on a few technology priorities, include legacy transformation planning, increase software accessibility for all, and collaborate on convergence.

All journeys start at the beginning. "The first step must be to develop a single technology strategy," Haslam wrote. "This brings together the two offices to define common objectives and priorities. There are many different approaches being used to bring the two offices together, such as mirroring job titles, training everyone to code, only working in cross-function teams etc., but none of these are effective without an over-arching strategy in place."