When an enterprise builds a new service such as a web server, it typically works with several suppliers, each with their own order forms, designs, and SLAs, but without insight into each other’s supply ecosystem. The result for the enterprise customer can be a complex, time-consuming process that is very far from the ideal of rapid, flexible and automated service delivery.
So, as part of its wider work on improving enterprise customer experience, Verizon set out to create a digital enablement platform (DEP) that would allow diverse suppliers to automatically deliver the different components that make up an enterprise service.
“What we’re trying to do with DEP is … allow the customer to pull together automations from Verizon and other suppliers into one end-to-end service,” explained Colin Wilson, Solutions Architect, Verizon, in a briefing with analysts.
Verizon’s DEP provides a library of TM Forum Open APIs with which customers can request services in the form of a standard templated build, whether it is a firewall policy, network infrastructure, an operating system, or cloud computing, for example.
“The beauty of this is the customer makes a single request – for example a web server – and through automation … we’re building the components that make up that web server,” explained Wilson.
Automation, however, demands the exchange of accurate and up-to-date information, with inventory data forming the cornerstone of Verizon’s DEP.
“The key thing we’re delivering here is two-way inventory synchronization, which means the customer is not only seeing the devices and services that Verizon manages, but also information from applications that rely on them, using the dependency mapping they have in their ITSM [IT service management system], explained Rob Hodgkinson, Executive Director, Global Solutions, Verizon Business. “We can use that information to give them useful operational insights.” It also becomes possible to automate further processes.
“Once you’ve got the inventory synchronized then you can automate processes around incident problem and event management,” explained Hodgkinson, as well as change management, starting with the change request process.
DEP is part of this wider ecosystem of APIs that Verizon offers, with the operator exposing approximately 300 APIs across its business today. So far Verizon has certified twenty TM Forum Open APIs to build the DEP, which today incorporates two-way inventory synchronization with reconciliation, incident management, change management, event management, and problem management.
Suppliers and customers “can look at the specifications of those APIs on the TM Forum website, and they can link them directly into their own application,” said Hodgkinson.
Microservices and network intelligence
Another advantage of using Open APIs is that they help suppliers meet enterprise customers’ growing appetite for microservices.
“Cloud really is about the microservices architecture, and actually connecting our users just to the application is not enough,” said Hodgkinson. “This is really one of the biggest focuses of APIs.”
“You can … give applications access to the back end of a multi-cloud environment,” said Hodgkinson. “You can also link into the applications themselves and link back to micro services … to create new applications that are specific to your organization.”
And as enterprise IT usage evolves, so do customers’ networking needs.
“We’re seeing the network more and more needing to be an as-a-service offer, with intelligence built into it,” said Beth Cohen, Software Defined Networking Product Technologist at Verizon. And Open APIs are “a smart way to let customers consume the intelligence and insights that we have available on our network,” explained Wilson, with the DEP enabling enterprises to draw on data from devices linked to industrial IoT or consumer IT systems.
“Taking data in from those devices and adding it to the network gives our customers a real value-add in terms of intelligence and insight,” said Hodgkinson.
In addition, having access to an accurate and current view of software versions and the lifecycle of devices helps Verizon and its customers quickly identify any security vulnerabilities.
And when Verizon schedules maintenance, it can – if customers wish – look at what other suppliers in the same ecosystem have planned at a given site at the same time and automatically flag it. “We can start to intelligently add value to the customer by saying these are changes you might want to look at,” according to Wilson.
Other uses of the DEP include enabling customers to customize how they analyze their spending with Verizon. Customers can make each of their sites or services a component in the inventory, which links to the billing system. They can then combine components to model different scenarios when planning commercial budgets.
Working at scale
Verizon uses Open APIs with many of its customers and points out they are of particular value to those customers that need to interact with the company on a regular basis and at scale.
DEP therefore suits large enterprises with an advanced ITSM platform that requires a common network data model. The other key target group is medium-sized enterprises operating several hundred sites in a handful of countries. These customers often need to manage inventory across multiple suppliers and automate and correlate their ticket resolution and change requests. As for accessing the DEP, the majority of Verizon’s customers use ServiceNow’s ITMS, or BMC’s Remedy or Helix, with many joining the platform every year.
Although the drivers behind DEP adoption reflect a sea change in enterprise IT and network usage, some of the customer experience benefits are coming from small alterations that the system now makes possible.
“You’re able to have a conversation with the customers along the lines of ‘tell us what would help you run your business more efficiently and let us help you reach your objectives’. And what’s been surprising is that, actually, when you look at what they are trying to achieve, it’s a fairly simple fix using these APIs,” said Wilson. “And small changes can make a big difference to customer experience.”