In the fast-paced world of telecommunications, efficiency, speed, and precision are essential. To achieve these goals, telecom businesses are increasingly turning to automation technologies. Understanding the hierarchy of these technologies is crucial for telecom companies to streamline processes, enhance productivity, and stay ahead in the competitive landscape.
The Automation Hierarchy
The hierarchy of Automation technologies can be broken down into several layers. In understanding this hierarchy, businesses can identify which layers they need to focus on to streamline their processes and improve their bottom line.
Layer 1: At the lowest level are the network management elements, each of which have native capabilities which are usually invisible to you, but they will focus on the direct management of the immediately connected infrastructure. These elements ensure that the technology and equipment in the field operate together efficiently and effectively.
Automation at this level is not defined or configured by the CSP and will be identical in operation when other similar network elements are deployed in competitor CSP networks. Different vendors may implement identical, similar, or different automations at this level.
Layer 2: Automations at this layer can be configured by CSPs, but not changed. Above this level is an explicit layer of Automation capability; Automation which is built into the vendor and supplier equipment and applications natively too. This Automation ensures that functional components throughout an organisation have the correct connections and priorities. For example, determining how to route calls.
Layer 3: On top of these layers are Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and scripting. These technologies automate repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing up employees for more complex work. Automation at this layer is created specifically by or for the CSP to address a siloed challenge. The choice of technology is made arbitrarily, with a variety of choices across the organisation in play at any point in time. These technologies have little to no reuse; little to no documentation and little to no governance. In addition, bespoke skill sets are often lost when the Automation creator leaves.
Layer 4: At the highest level are end-to-end Process Automation and Service Orchestration. These technologies ensure that all the individual components of a process are invoked in the correct order and at the right time, with the right data; and that exceptions are identified, captured, and handled.
This is the ONLY way to achieve significant advantage and value as a CSP. ROI should be measured in millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions per year.
The end-to-end process execution can be implemented in code/scripts which deliver the type of ROI necessary for an organisation. It’s here that CORTEX adds significant value as a solution. CORTEX has a rapid development environment, offering intuitive graphical interfaces and easy to understand definitions. In addition, CORTEX promotes distributed ownership and encourages the reuse of components. Its ability to offer integrated verification capabilities, integrated version management and integrated release management is instrumental in delivering strong ROI for CSPs.
Technologies in Automation
The table below demonstrates the range of processes and tools, which a CSP can employ when looking to develop their automation capabilities. Consideration should be given to understanding the processes fully to ensure the correct technology is being deployed.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of Automation used by CSPs, amongst many business types, to automate point-to-point interactions. RPA is simple; including its deployment and the likely uses. The key advantage of RPA is that it normally offers a quicker return on investment than end-to-end Process Automation.
Easy to understand, to use and to deploy, it is an ideal solution for the simplest lower-level tasks that require Automation. It is often used for Data Entry or Data Retrieval operations. It is used for task-based activities where there’s a short-term need to automate interactions.
Later, as your needs grow and mature, as well as increase, existing RPA can be incorporated as part of an Integration strategy. This should be adopted and defined as:
- API first
- Command Line
- Manual swivel chair if all else fails.
If you have opted for an Enterprise Automation capability, it should be possible to take the RPA work you do and include it the overall process designs.
However, RPA does also have limitations. It interacts with systems almost as if it were a human,. This embeds technical debt into the Process Automation, with little opportunity to vastly increase speed with this approach. RPA is unlikely to be able to be iteratively improved. While it is often thought of as a ‘set and forget’ technology, organisations are continually needing to tweak their RPA implementations for reasons such as screen colour change, field position on screens changing and screen sizing changing.
Sadly, RPA solutions are not often documented. Consequently, when a business starts to overhaul processes strategically, RPA becomes a weak point in the process, thus defeating its original value, and sometimes having a net effect of costing more, or creating more weakness than the original processes it replaced. This can make it difficult for a CSP to advance Automation processes later. RPA does have a quick ROI, but it is often more expensive, and can be wasteful.
Process Automation and RPA – When is it Best to Use RPA?
RPA and Process Automation complement each other and can provide an advanced Automation capability.
Process Automation adds significant value to RPA, and releases much of the risk referred to earlier when RPA is used standalone. It is used to orchestrate an end-to-end process, collecting data from other systems or people, making decisions about when an RPA process should be invoked, and passing the data to that RPA. Making RPA context sensitive, or intelligent, is not only more effective from a results perspective, but often reduces the cost of running RPA.
RPA software is often triggered by the number of executions or transactions it performs. In other words, how often you ask it to ‘run’, every few minutes, every hour, every day, or every week. It will then run irrespective of whether it needs to. For example, RPA is used to transport data from System A to System B. The data may be incomplete, incorrect, or mid-process.
The RPA estate has a limited capacity, determined by purchased licences and available bot executers. Running a bot like this not only uses up a licence, but it also prevents another bot – which may have a higher priority and/or have all clean data and/or deliver bigger benefit – from running at that time.
CORTEX can be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the bot environment, by ensuring bots are more likely to be executed successfully first-time round. CORTEX can also manage jeopardy, so that if the bot doesn’t start/complete within a certain timeframe, CORTEX can re-prioritise it, or can escalate for manual intervention.
Process Automation can further enhance RPA by enabling complex decision-based end-to-end processes and coordinating less context-aware task Automations into a sequence that delivers value. This results in a higher capability, return on investment, and advanced Automation.
AI and Automation
AI is a massive area which covers a vast spectrum of technologies and capabilities. We acknowledge and understand that there is a huge demand for AI across businesses. However, this is often in advance of the reality curve for what can be achieved. Aspects of AI are currently being applied successfully in silos, and we expect this to continue.
It’s important to understand that in many cases, you can only use AI if you have proper foundational Automation in place. This is because you need exceptionally coherent and accurate data sets to be able to apply analytical AI successfully.
As a wide-ranging topic, classed by many as a ‘future trend’ this is something we intend to cover in more detail in our Expert’s Automation Guide.
What Can CORTEX Offer?
CORTEX can help a client with RPA installed by orchestrating end-to-end processes and managing the activities that happen before and after the RPA is invoked. It can collect and validate data, make decisions on when to invoke the RPA bot, pass data to the bot, monitor its progress, and collect the data after completion for downstream decision making. Our process can also monitor the bot for failure and take appropriate action.
CORTEX prioritises RPA to make sure it is invoked correctly. The ability to sequence bots and activities according to the precursors and successes is an intelligent capability that is essential in a CSP when data errors can be catastrophic. For example, billing errors have implications on revenue assurance, customer satisfaction, contact centre workloads and reputational damage. Each of these will have further downstream impacts for you.
Process Automation is necessary, and RPA is part of the answer, just not all of it. Use RPA as part of a wider Process Automation strategy so it is complemented by advanced Automation capabilities.
Where to Change Gear?
Ultimately, the decision to move up the Automation hierarchy depends on the specific needs and goals of your organisation. This is typically when you need to automate and orchestrate more complex decision-based, end-to-end processes; usually involving coordinating less context-aware task Automations into a sequence that delivers value from end-to-end.
Process Automation (seen in Layer 4 in the Hierarchy diagram) can help achieve this by talking directly to devices and orchestrating the entire process. Moving up the Automation hierarchy increases capability and return on investment.
You may hear that the organisation has an Automation mission such as Zero Touch Automation, or Self-Healing Networks. These are often a trigger to change gear from RPA and tactical Automations to adopt advanced Automation or Orchestration, but what are these missions?
Zero Touch Automation (ZTA)
Zero TouchAutomation refers to the end-to-end Automation of a specific part of a company’s business, such as service provisioning, service assurance, billing, shipping, and resource management. Achieving Zero Touch Automation means that processes are automated without any human involvement, except potentially in submitting the initial request. Getting to ZTA, particularly for some complex, customer-facing areas is not achieved in one step, but in phases. It is prudent to adjust whilst maintaining some human interaction. This interaction may be necessary, or simply preferred.
While Zero Touch Automation is certainly achievable today, it may not be suitable for all parts of a business. For example, would you allow machine-speed automated changes to applied to a live production network?
Self-Healing Network Automation
Like ZTA this an achievable level of Automation but not across an entire ‘Network Operator’. Careful consideration should be given to the application of a self-healing network.
Self-healing networks rely on knowing how to identify and then respond to every issue that could occur. Programmatically, this is a lot of design and build, but it clearly has material long term value to your organisation. The best use cases today are for Life-Cycle Management of inventory, Cyber-compliance of IT or Network Operations elements; areas of your operation which are large, but well-understood
It’s clear that successful automation isn’t only about technology; it’s also about people, processes and visionary leadership. Executive sponsorship, organisational readiness, stakeholder involvement, and cultural preparedness are key for any CSP to drive automation success.
The telecom industry stands at a pivotal moment where automation technologies are not just tools; they are enablers of progress, efficiency, and innovation. By understanding the nuances of each layer in the automation hierarchy, CSPs can deliver an agile and precise future for their organisation.
If you want to find out more about the challenges of Automation for CSPs, download our free eBook A Buyer’s Guide to Automation for CSPs.