Automation: Hot Topics & Groups to Watch

Iain Morris

Automation talking points
The main automation talking points and challenges this year are likely to be as follows:

  • RPA: This is essentially about killing off manual IT processes (such as spreadsheet data entry for an expense report) through the use of software robots. Operators including Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and central Asia's KazakhTelecom have either made investments in RPA or started to look at it more seriously. Last month, KazakhTelecom told Light Reading that future automation of several internal processes could eliminate "routine manual work" for about 500 of its 23,000 employees. Deutsche Telekom has already used RPA to realize cost savings equal to about 800 full-time employees, it revealed in September 2017, when it had about 216,500 employees overall. On the networks side, traditional telecom vendors provide some RPA support. "When Ericsson takes over network management [for an operator] it will seek to use RPA to take costs out an operation and make it profitable," explains Crawshaw. (See Kazakhtelecom Fires Starting Gun on Automation and DT Trumpets Automation Savings Worth '800 Employees'.)

    Want to know more about the emerging SDN market? Check out our dedicated SDN content channel here on Light Reading.

  • AI: While this "uber" topic, as Crawshaw describes it, has generated waves of hype in the last couple of years, the rapid pace of AI development has come as a surprise to nearly everyone. In the telecom world, operators including the UK's Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Australia's Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) have taken advantage of these developments most noticeably in customer services, using AI-powered "chatbots" to handle basic customer queries. "You can take away the frontline support and allow someone to find out how much they are spending on mobile this month, for example," says Crawshaw. AI could also improve security and network management by detecting patterns in the alarms that get triggered and then determining which are relevant and which are duplicates, he adds. (See Chatbot Takes Charge: Vodafone's Customer Services Overhaul.)

  • The self-driving network: An expression that Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) has used in its marketing literature, the self-driving network looks set to be many years in the making. But the recent proliferation of industry groups in this area shows what a hot topic it is right now, and highlights the lack of any standardized approach to automating modern-day systems. Virtualization ultimately should support automation by allowing operators to modify networks through software upgrades as opposed to hardware rollout. In the short term, though, the complexity that comes with investment in SDN and NFV can make networks appear even less automated than in the old days of dedicated boxes, says Crawshaw. If that is so, then restoring a pre-NFV level of automation must be an immediate priority.

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