Meet Nik Willetts, CEO at Telecommunications Community: TM Forum

TM Forum is a community of agents of change. The Forum is an alliance of over 850 companies from around the globe that are working together to break down technology and cultural barriers between digital service providers, technology suppliers, consultancies, and system integrators within the tech communications industry. We aim to connect cultures, businesses, economies, and people to make ideas a reality. Over the last 10 years the Forum has defined and developed many technical standards to accelerate the telecoms industry, including the eTOM (enhanced Telecom Operations Map) and SID (information framework).

As a not-for-profit organisation, we exist to drive real change through collaboration. We take the visionaries, creatives, innovators – the best minds of the telco industry – and bring them together to collaborate through the shared goal of digital transformation. TM Forum offers a space of community for our members to come together and tap into each other’s collective experiences and abilities to solve complex industry-wide challenges, deploy new services, and create technology breakthroughs to accelerate change.
TM Forum - How to manage Digital Transformation, Agile Business Operations  & Connected Digital Ecosystems

What is the history of the company and how did it evolve to where it is today?

TM Forum has a long history. It was originally founded in 1988 but under a different name. It was called the OSI/Network Management Forum and consisted of eight core companies that wanted to collaboratively solve systems and operational management issues with open systems interconnection protocols (OSI). The companies included Amdahl, AT&T, British Telecom, Hewlett-Packard, Northern Telecom, Inc., Telecom Canada, STC PLC, and Unisys Corp. Their vision was “accelerated availability of interoperable network management products.” Our membership grew rapidly within ten years to over 250 members in 35 countries and together they defined and developed many technical standards to accelerate the telecoms industry.

In 1998, the organisation changed the name to the TeleManagement Forum to broaden their reach and began a series of conferences. It also had a mission to make ‘plug and play’ interoperability for organisations a reality and progression was rapid and several frameworks for the industry were defined.

In 2006, we launched the online community which now has over 50,000 member professionals. Shortly after we launched the Excellence Awards and introduced extensive webinar and training programmes. By 2008, we rebranded to TM Forum, and had over 700 members in more than 195 countries. And today, our members include 10 of the world’s top 10 network and communications providers and represent 180 countries.

Additionally, we’ve ramped up our innovation and drive for industry change due to the rapid changes in telcos due to the pandemic. Connectivity became key for communicating and telco providers were part of the necessary framework to keep people connected throughout whether it was work, school, family, emergency services like healthcare – all of it required our industry to meet demand and often, to digitise. What other industry could overnight deal with a doubling in demand for its services? There was a whole profound new purpose for the services that telecoms delivers and the impact they have on society around us.

Today, the Forum has driven the creation of an Open Digital Architecture (ODA) as well as Open APIs, providing the industry with the potential to bring new products and services to a wider user base. The ODA helps to radically simplify and automate existing operations and increase agility that is needed to ensure CSPs survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace. To continue this innovation, we have launched our Catalyst projects. They bring together companies large and small to create innovative solutions to common challenges, leveraging key TM Forum best practices and standards to ensure scalability, reuse and reduced costs and risk.


How has TM Forum changed as a result of the pandemic?

The last 18 months have been life-changing for so many, and as an industry, we have learned so much about our customers and our ability to transform. We know how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, stay fit to compete in an increasingly competitive market, unlock growth, and solve challenges at speeds we never knew were possible. As an industry, we have a renewed purpose to ensure we can serve our customers in the best possible way. Our new purpose consists of inspiring real change, overcoming industry-wide challenges, together, and uncovering ground-breaking opportunities to grow and evolve.

Post-pandemic, the importance to continue to foster collaboration between members of the global telco community has become even clearer. At TM Forum we want to inspire conversations around the next generation of telecoms. Our focus as an industry association to drive collective problem-solving to maximise the business success of communications and digital service providers has never been more important. If anything, the pandemic brought upon us a new wave of change and a sense of urgency to ramp up our efforts to develop the industry.

What can we hope to see from TM Forum in the future?

The possibilities are endless for the telecommunications industry now. Take 5G for example, as it is rolled out globally, the opportunities faster-than-broadband offer to businesses, from large manufacturers to disruptive retailers, are truly staggering. Cloud-native operability, achieved through frameworks like our ODA, gives operators the chance to work with businesses and seize the opportunity to capitalise on a growing multi-billion-dollar market. Furthermore, the telecom industry can’t pivot to 5G without AI.

There is 700 billion dollars’ worth of revenue ready for communication services providers who want to really go into the 5G enterprise space. But what’s critical is to realise those business cases and those use cases are you fundamentally must automate all their services. I mean, today, on a traditional telco network, there are about 400 instances per hour. That’s going to go up to 10,000 after the implementation of 5G. AI is essential for business resilience and continuity. Therefore, we are ramping up not only our ODA programme but also our autonomous network operations.

Our ODA framework is in its second phase of development. We also recently began a pilot programme for an inclusion and diversity score within the telecoms industry; and have announced strategic partnerships of our own with other global associations to increase the speed of projects that will support others in achieving digital transformation. The next few months will bring another string of announcements of achievements as well, as the pandemic hasn’t slowed us down, but fuelled us to move faster.