The secret of smarter software and systems


Fibre leadership

The secret of smarter software and systems

Mike Bywater, Software Development Director, CityFibre

6 October 2022

Mike Bywater jpeg

CityFibre is helping to rid the telco industry of its slow-moving image through software innovation and promotion of TM Forum open APIs for event-driven architectures.

Improving customer experience. Being more responsive. Both are essential for forward-thinking organisations because customers these days want to get their hands on the latest service features as soon as possible, or get problems fixed immediately, rather than having to wait three or six months until the next software release.

At CityFibre we understand this all too clearly. We’re committed to helping our ISP partners become much more fleet-of-foot – like a Facebook or Google Cloud, say – pushing out new service features quickly and reliably to their customers. To do that we need IT systems and software that’s nimble, scalable, smart and secure.

When it comes to agility though, the big industry barrier and elephant in the room is the double whammy of non-standardised interfaces and vendor lock-ins. Together these cause friction and unnecessary cost for service providers and wholesalers looking to update and migrate systems quickly and seamlessly, and ultimately it is consumers who pay the price.

The solution is to promote open and standardised application programming interfaces (APIs) between vendors and service providers. The ideal is to ensure that when systems are migrated or upgraded, the new systems use the same standardised APIs as the ones they’re replacing. It’s common sense but there is much work to be done and it’s something we wanted to champion to fruition.

Fresh eyes for future benefits

As a young company unencumbered by multiple legacy IT systems, CityFibre is accelerating an approach to software development that not only helps our ISP partners but the industry overall.

We’ve already introduced more flexible ways of working to develop solutions for our wholesale partners faster and more efficiently. By increasing automation in our deployment and testing processes, we are also pushing service features into production much faster. But deeper change means looking beyond our own organisation.

At an industry level, we are actively championing open APIs using TM Forum (TMF) standards to support event-driven architectures.

The ‘event-driven’ concept has been around for some time. It’s where an ‘event’ – an order, perhaps, placed using a website app – triggers a workflow. What we are advocating, though, is a standardised approach. The goal is to be able to remove, add, or upgrade one app without interfering with other apps. For example, a warehouse app processing the order, won’t need development work to accommodate an upgrade to the order app.

Once standardisation is achieved, changes become much easier, quicker and cheaper to implement, and the whole industry benefits, including end customers.

A modern mindset

Rapid-fire deployment of new releases is a key part of how CityFibre approaches software development. And so too is taking a more ‘DevOps’ approach, bringing together Development and Operations teams and stakeholders to work on shared business goals.

We actively practice Flow, Feedback, and Continuous Learning and Improvement – ‘the three ways of the DevOps’ movement. We aim to have a fast and smooth flow of features into our applications. Small incremental changes that add value, each going through a series of feedback loops to ensure the change meets our standards and fulfils the scenarios to be supported by that feature.

We enable the three ways by following the industry-leading methodology - Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). This methodology complements our DevOps approach, enabling us to make changes to features that are in development in minutes and hours rather than weeks or months.

We’re already reaping the business benefits of this mindset and methodology. Through CI/CD we’ve developed a migration solution in tandem with a wholesale customer that sought to move their customers quickly and smoothly from an outdated product to our FTTH product.

As opposed to the old ‘Big Bang’ approach, which seeks to get everything ‘right’ before product launch – a painful and bureaucratic process that can take months with no guarantee of success at the end of it – the DevOps approach to product design is step-by-step, in small stages. If something is ‘wrong’ it can be rolled back immediately thanks to the constant and automated feedback loop.

This approach also encourages innovation. In companies with lots of legacy system baggage, change can be painful and new software releases are deemed risky – and so done infrequently. As a young, agile company that’s built new systems from scratch and to modern standards, CityFibre is able to make frequent, ongoing improvements for ISP partners, benefitting them and their customers.

There’s always room for improvement though and it’s no different with software. We’re a company that sees no benefit in standing still and saying something is good enough if we believe it can be better. Going forward, we plan to interface much more closely with both build partners and wholesale customers to bring them into our DevOps ‘loop’. The goal is to roll out new features almost constantly in a controlled, intuitive and headache-free way. It’s about leading the way – but always in partnership.

Catalyst for change with TMF

Today, if operators buy a product off-the-shelf – CRM software, for example – it won’t natively work in an event-driven way with other apps. Bespoke code has to be written on top of it. With open APIs, however, products can plug together easily. Having consistent APIs for communication allows industry not only to be nimbler but also reap the cost benefits of a much more competitive supplier landscape.

TMF open API standards underpin the Forum’s vision of an Open Digital Framework (ODA) where all APIs are exposed in order to create standardised components. By using an ODA, operators’ ‘concept to cash’ timeframe can be cut from months to days.

The ODA vision is one CityFibre fully supports for event-driven architectures, it aligns with our challenger mentality and desire to set new standards for our industry. This is why we’re playing a lead role in a TMF Catalyst proof-of-concept (PoC) project – Async open APIs for event-based architectures. In summer 2022, two of our leading systems architects received an Outstanding Contributor Award for their part in TM Forum Collaboration work to drive progress in this space.

In September, the event-driven Catalyst proof of concept, which has input from other operators and various vendors, was demonstrated and warmly received at the TMF Digital Transformation World event in Copenhagen.

TMF collaboration is something we’ll be implementing from now on and is another example of how we seek constantly to raise standards and expectations, for the benefit of everyone.

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