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On Christmas eve, Amazon’s East coast cloud severs went down (again) and took Netflix and Heroku with it.

Management World Americas 2012
Driving down the highway to the future (Caution: objects in rearview mirror are much closer than they should be)

In 2012 the TM Forum (TMF) turned its attention to the future for Management World Americas. With the race to new higher-margin services through partnerships with OTT (over-the-top) players, and M2M taking shape in key verticals of eHealth, automotive and transportation, the decision to put aside the usual agenda of evolving standards and best practices seemed like a very good idea. However, it begged the question of whether the TMF was trying too hard to be all things to all people.

How did it turn out? The keynote speeches and especially the panel discussions showed that the major players are actively investing in their M2M and Digital Life strategies, with Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile weighing in on how carriers are the key to new services for home security, home diagnostics, smart buildings, and even smarter cars. Robert Hackl, senior VP of channel management at T-Mobile, took the opportunity to tell the capacity crowd the facts about T-Mobile’s success in the US, and made it clear that its future is bright, particularly with a MetroPCS merger on the horizon.

Similarly, Sprint marketing director Tom Nelson made a convincing argument that his company is here to stay with an M2M vision grounded in a well-thought-out strategy. Certainly the two “smaller” players in the US market are making a pitch for growth against the “big guys” in the digital future. Verizon CIO Fari Ebrahimi countered with an impressive set of investment facts that made it clear Verizon is intent on widening the digital divide between it and all other comers, and the description of Deutsche Telekom’s already available M2M services by Jürgen Hase, VP of the company’s M2M Competence Center, confirmed that the big guys are figuring out how to be more agile.

Despite the forward-looking agenda, the entertaining and educational keynotes and the promise of interactive sessions with real case studies, attendance was down from the previous year: The brochure for Management World Americas cited 1,200-plus attendees in 2011, and suggested that 2012 would be an opportunity to mingle in a group of 1,500. The official count, however, put attendance at 1,100, which is at odds with claims by TMF executives that 2012’s attendance represented year-to-year growth.

But even 1,100 seemed high when walking the halls and attending sessions. Yes, the very large venue meant there was a lot of empty space, but an informal poll of attendees suggested that it felt like some 800 people were actively participating each day. Also down was the number of companies with booths on the Expo floor: 15. While Nik Willetts, chief strategy officer of the TMF, positioned its primary goal as education rather than commerce, that has to be a disappointing figure for the Americas conference, which was designated just three years ago as focusing on the exposition.

Session attendance brought us back from the future to focus on the operational issues that must be resolved in order for that future to be realized. “Sleeping With the Enemy,” the title of a session dedicated to figuring out how carriers can successfully engage with OTT vendors, accurately captured the fact that this is still an unnatural act.

Another well-attended session, led by Ericsson executive director Grant Lenahan, explored the 15-year-old question of which internal department should be in charge of the revenue network: IT, since it’s all computing anyway, or network engineering, whose staff understand the difference between Best Efforts and Always On. The participants had come to exchange ideas about how to successfully get their teams working together, and it was clear that most of them — cable and carrier alike — are still far from being organized for synergy, let alone building bridges across the river of distrust. Solving fundamental productivity-affecting problems like these is essential in order to have the physical and operational infrastructure required for all the connected home and digital-society services to be brought to life — profitably, of course.

The mission for the TMF therefore remains complicated: Making money in the digital age is far from easy, and service providers of all types need pragmatic standards and business processes that can help them drive out inefficiencies. To remain relevant and vibrant, however, the TMF must continue to strive to be seen as both visionary and on the edge of innovative — a hard circle to square. The attendance figures for Management World Americas 2012 would seem to indicate that this time it didn’t get the balance quite right.



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