Virginie Hollebecque, Vice President and Head of Regional Business for EMEA at Ciena: You know how it goes, after a hard day at work, perhaps you need to unwind and stream the latest show, chat with friends and family, or get a recipe from your smart device for dinner. In an instant all these devices connect. 

Then your show buffers, your call drops, and the smart device goes red. You end up turning your router off and on, then you are call-waiting to speak to the help desk. 

It does not need to be this way. Modern analytics can flag a network issue before they affect your service by redirecting your connection and ensuring extra capacity, when needed. You would never know this is happening automatically in the background, nor should you. All you need to know is that your shows stay on, chats continue, and dinner is in the oven. 

This user experience is possible. Service providers are constantly increasing coverage, improving network quality, and constantly driving innovation. In fact, service providers across EMEA have digital transformation as a key corporate objective. It’s a top topic that keeps coming up and is associated with greater operational efficiency, reducing costs, boosting competitiveness, and increasing collaboration. I caught up with Jürgen Hatheier, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Strategic Sales at Ciena here in EMEA, to delve further into digital transformation. 

Jürgen Hatheier: Digital transformation is a top priority, and a complex one. It’s a priority because in most cases we are hearing the term used to address service providers’ urgent challenges, such as overcoming outdated ways of operating legacy technology leading to significant business challenges. It’s complex in that it means different things to different people. Ironically, while service providers are great enablers of digital transformation for other industries, the telecoms sector is also in great need of digital transformation, as it's gearing up to tackle faster technology cycles, combat competitor actions, and meet ever-increasing customer demands. 

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Virginie: That need for digital transformation isn’t new though, the telecommunication industry is always in flux and constantly being disrupted. As an industry, we are constantly addressing these challenges in new and innovative ways. Our customers have an assortment of vendors that are all contributing to different aspects of a digital transformation. We, Ciena, are primarily focused on network modernization, helping our service provider customers enable on-demand services and digital offerings that enable new disruptive technologies like IoT, 5G, and edge cloud. What is Ciena’s role in this mix? 

Jürgen: There are a number of common technology barriers that are inhibiting innovation for network operators, particularly in terms of network infrastructure and systems that are no longer able to meet modern challenges and opportunities. This can take any number of forms, such as legacy modernization, network transformation, or increasing intelligent network automation.

New service activation is a prime example. Many service providers still need several weeks to months and intensive manual interventions to introduce and deliver services to the market. This is because if they are on legacy networks, they are not able to do things as quickly as required, which leads to a competitive disadvantage. Or, if they are not on an agile network and they are not able to turn up or turn down services. Or, they may not have flexibility in the offerings they can provide. 

Ciena can help by initiating a revised or new product lifecycle, occasionally with new business processes that greatly accelerate their journey towards having a better or competitively enhanced service portfolio. 

For example, today, it can take a service provider up to 30 days to roll out a new service due to manual operational tasks, offline and manual planning exercises, acquiring necessary approvals, and so on. Our professional services team can run end-to-end virtual functions for applications such as capacity planning, route optimization, service restoration, and more within six hours. Leveraging orchestration, a VPN can now be rolled out within a matter of minutes, rather than days. 

Virginie: What would Ciena’s proposed network transformation look like? 

Jürgen: It starts with understanding. For new service activation, we get into the details of the service provider's network, their portfolio, their objectives, and how it drives revenue. Through our strategic network consulting service and carrier managed service (CMS) capabilities, we have a lot of experience in helping network operators bring new services to market, and expertise in solutions that drive the most business value. Sometimes it is not about introducing something new; rather, it is about doing what you already do, albeit much better. 

Virginie: You mentioned that service providers are great enablers of digital transformation for other industries, and these can have real-life implications. We are all affected by household connectivity, as I used in the introduction earlier, but one example that is on everyone’s minds right now is the very fast evolution happening in healthcare. Up until recently, many of the forces for digital transformation in that industry were novelties, but they are about to transform into a new reality for patients.

Jürgen: For sure. Just think about all the healthcare applications that depend on ultra-fast networks:

  • Sharing 3D medical imaging and video-enabled electronic health records with remote colleagues in a heartbeat
  • IoT-connected devices that report on patients’ health and vital statistics 24x7
  • Temporary diagnosis and treatment clinics set up to treat overflow of patients during an emergency
  • Telemedicine applications like video consultations that extend critical treatment to geographically isolated communities and patients with mobility issues
  • AI solutions and genomics for proactive patient diagnosis and personalized health treatment
  • Augmented reality, and other tools like remote surgery consultation, that depend on ultra-low-latency connectivity to support ‘live’ patient operations and other complex medical procedures.

All of these applications largely rely on service provider networks, and healthcare is just one example. Many industries will need to adjust to keep pace with growing data volumes and traffic. With all of this in mind, services providers will no longer be able to rely on fixed, static connections with limited ability to scale, when and where required. The challenge will be in how to increase capacity and agility without major architecture redesigns and overhaul that are very expensive, risky, and highly time-consuming.

Virginie: We have heard our CTO, Steve Alexander, speak about the need for networks to be faster, closer, and smarter. Faster in that service providers need more velocity and greater agility to reduce time to market. Closer to the edge as low latency is critical for the vast range of new interactive services, real-time IoT communications, AR/VR, and all the healthcare applications that are on the horizon. And smarter because intelligent automation has the ability to make very complex connectivity infrastructure not only seem seamless and easy to operate, but also able to anticipate customer demands and adapt without manual intervention. Ciena’s Adaptive NetworkTM makes this possible, can you tell us how?

Jürgen: Ciena’s Adaptive Network and consultative approach ensure our service provider customers have access to the right technology, software and expertise to navigate this complex journey. The Adaptive Network is all about transforming various elements to create a more digital, more agile, more flexible service provider with:

  • Programmable infrastructure – to support scalability on demand for new high-bandwidth and low-latency services, and to ensure that networks can take demand spikes in stride
  • Intelligent automation - to optimize traffic routing, and to predict and address network issues before they impact service reliability or performance
  • Software control and automation – to simplify the end-to-end management and automation of services across multi-layer, multi-vendor, multi-domain hybrid networks
  • Open technologies - that integrate seamlessly with third-party infrastructure and NFVs, which means service providers can deploy new services as virtualized network functions and choose ‘best-of-breed’ technologies from any supplier or technology partner
  • Plus, end-to-end services support - from consulting on the right technology and business strategies, integration, and implementation, to operation and optimization

Virginie: Thanks Jurgen. We know that network modernization will continue to be a key concern in service providers’ digital transformation journeys – after all, it has the potential to change the network from a static cost center to an innovation gamechanger. Ciena’s team are here to provide the insights, skills, and processes to strive for greater efficiencies, reduce costs, increase competitiveness, and improve collaboration, all of which will help make a digital transformation vision a reality.

This article is part of a series of posts, originally on LinkedIn, in which Virginie Hollebecque speaks to Ciena experts to address some common themes being raised by our customers. The other articles in the series are: