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IP network automation: Realizing the benefits and overcoming challenges

Contributed by Sasa Nijemcevic, Vice President and General Manager, IP Network Automation business unit, Nokia.

Network automation has become a crucial topic for network operators looking for ways to streamline their operations, achieve cost savings and drive operational excellence in a rapidly evolving industry. At Nokia, we have been at the forefront in supporting operators on their journey to IP transport network automation.

Quantified benefits of automation

Looking back at projects we have deployed with our operator customers, we can see the benefits that IP network automation has brought them. Analysys Mason conducted in-depth interviews and analysis with some of them to quantify these benefits.

One of the most compelling findings is that operators can reduce network operations cost by up to 65 percent by using automation at the IP layer. Automation cuts the labor time required for repetitive manual processes by 68 percent, resulting in substantial cost avoidance. It also reduces the frequency of human errors and time to process errors by an impressive 85 percent, leading to increased network reliability and performance.

Another significant advantage of network automation is that it helps operators react faster to customer demand, leading to an 88 percent reduction in time to revenue. Automation also allows operators to resolve network issues and faults more quickly, reducing mean time to repair by 71 percent. These benefits translate into improved customer satisfaction and increased competitiveness in the market.

Threefold skill set

Realizing the full potential of network automation is not without its challenges. One key obstacle I have observed is the need for skilled personnel. Network engineers now require a diverse skill set that includes:

  • Proficiency in programming: Engineers need to know how to write and test code.
  • Familiarity with cloud environments: Engineers need IT expertise, with Kubernetes orchestration in particular.
  • Deep network knowledge: Engineers need expertise in their network domain and its associated standards and protocols. Increasingly, they require expertise across multiple domains.

Many operators lack these skills in-house, and acquiring them can be costly and time-consuming. At Nokia, we have a global team of experts who are well versed in these areas and can provide training and consultancy services to help operators overcome this challenge.

Prioritization of network automation

Prioritization is another network automation challenge. Not all processes can be automated at once, and we’re seeing operators prioritizing based on their specific business objectives.

For example, some operators are focusing on revenue generation and prioritizing the automaton of service provisioning and modification processes. Others are prioritizing assurance activities to ensure the best quality of services for their customers.

Cost reduction can also be a driving factor, so operators are applying automation to tasks such as provisioning of network equipment, as well as upgrades and backups of their software releases. Operators can also reduce cost by using automation to optimize traffic and make the best use of network resources.

A use case-based approach

My team at Nokia is taking a pragmatic approach to network automation, focusing on specific use cases that address business problems or opportunities and deliver tangible outcomes for our customers. We have developed a comprehensive catalog of use cases that cover network lifecycle management, service fulfillment, assurance and analytics. The catalog also includes use cases that deal with IP network optimization through path placement, whereby a better understanding of traffic leads to better efficiency, higher availability and lower latency in the network.

In addition, we provide a whole set of cross-domain IP–optical coordination use cases. These use cases include topology discovery, true path diversity, coordinated maintenance and troubleshooting. They ensure that operators have a holistic and integrated approach to network management across the IP and optical layers.

A key characteristic of our catalog is that it provides use cases that are predictable and fast to deploy, so our customers can save time and money.

Conclusion

Network automation offers significant benefits to operators, including cost savings, improved network reliability, faster time to revenue and enhanced customer satisfaction. However, it requires careful consideration of skills, prioritization and a pragmatic approach to use cases. At Nokia, we are committed to supporting operators in their automation journey, providing expertise, tools and solutions to help them unlock the full potential of network automation and drive operational excellence.