Adopting platform-based business and operational models
Group-wide conformance to TM Forum Open APIs by creating an API Guild and API-conformance engine to promote automation and standardization.
- Productivity and cost reduction due to API re-use and better quality due to automation.
- Saved the group multiple millions in terms of integration costs.
- Cut API deviation by 90% thereby saving multiple millions on reworking.
- 50% increase in API adoption group-wide enabling faster times to market and better, more consistent customer experience.
- 76% savings compared to point-to-point integration.
Vodafone is one of the largest mobile and fixed network operators in Europe and Africa, and the world's biggest IoT connectivity provider, with a presence in 21 countries. As part of its five-year Tech2025 strategy, the group is implementing a digital-first customer engagement plan. To that end, it is deploying a single, autonomous cloud architecture and massive automation. The intention is that 90% of customers interactions will be digital, with the necessary automation underpinned by a zero-cost integration target and plan.
As Gartner predicted, integration work would account for 50% of the time and cost of building a digital platform through 2020, zero-cost is a hugely ambitious and critical goal. “Moreover, the complex challenges posed by digital business transformation require a radical change in the integration technology platform and in the way organizations deal with integration,” said Massimo Pezzini, Research Vice President and Gartner fellow.
Vodafone recognized that leveraging industry-standard APIs and data modeling are fundamental to the success of Tech2025’s radical goals as it moves to adopt the platform business model – developing a connected ecosystem to deliver new products and services.
The CSP’s aim is for every technical component – across all products, IT and Network – to be presented as simplified, Lego-like building blocks for internal and external consumption. Teams can assemble blocks as required to create capabilities with almost zero integration tax using standardized APIs.
“I see in the digital platform world, the APIs as bricks. I can put two or three bricks, one on top of the other, and this forms a building block, a new capability” explains Florin Tene, Enterprise Architect – Digital at Vodafone Group IT Strategy and Architecture.
This approach allows teams to experiment and be more adventurous because the financial risk and technical impact are limited. It also means Vodafone can roll out a good idea to all markets fast.
For this approach to deliver its full potential, the APIs must be consistent, available, and reused at every opportunity. If a deviant API is implemented, it hinders integration and impacts discovery, and consequently, a project’s timelines and budget. As the other user interfaces and channels are built on top of the APIs, a whole development lifecycle might have to go back to the design phase to find a problem.
To this end, Vodafone introduced the API-First rule right across its organization, whereby every API exposed in a local market or on global platforms must fully conform with the operator’s common API standards and definitions.
Vodafone adopted TM Forum’s Open APIs suite as the basis for all its APIs, hence maintaining conformance with Forum’s APIs as they evolve is essential too. The CSP took a two-pronged approach to ensuring conformity, setting up an API Guild and developing an automated API-conformance engine that is constantly measured by various KPIs.
Working with Torry Harris Integration Solutions (THIS), a specialist API strategy and delivery service provider, Vodafone designed and developed an automated API-conformance engine to verify API conformance against any official standard reference, supporting polymorphic extensions specified by TM Forum Open APIs to support new capabilities.
The diagram below shows the Automated API-Conformance Engine
Florin Tene, Enterprise Architect – Digital at Vodafone Group IT Strategy and Architecture comments, “By 2025, we want the same APIs all over the place; no more custom APIs. The key to do that is by leveraging the automation behind the scenes, allowing architects/developers/testers to quickly check that the work they are doing is still compliant with TM Forum’s APIs and not breaking something somewhere else. We’ve invested in the tool and immediately got the result. There is no burden on the developer or architect.”
The API conformance dashboards enable Vodafone to monitor each API's adoption rate, usage, and conformance per initiative, business unit, project, local operations, or globally. “Automating the API compliance leverages us, as an operating company, to deliver standardized, easy to integrate, and re-usable components in a much shorter go-to-market time,” said Alexander Chmielewski, ART System Architect at Vodafone Germany.
The tool is built on open-source technologies, libraries, and modules that have been improved and extended with additional capabilities in the development process. The API conformance is open-sourced to industry bodies, such as TM Forum, to be used in their APIs’ lifecycle.
To make decisions about the APIs, Vodafone created the API Architecture Guild. This is a distributed function based on the open-source behaviors of transparency, participation, and efficacy. Its role is to provide the people, processes, guidelines, and tools to increase and support TM Forum's Open APIs' adoption, usage, development, and extensions.
Tene explains that setting up the Guild has been “a game changer”. Usually trying to impose centralized ways of working on operating companies meets resistance, but from the start, the API Guild was built on consensus – for example agreeing to make decisions by a simple majority vote.
The Guild has about 160 members now, and Tene expects it to keep growing. Many more Guilds have sprung up within Vodafone because it has worked so well. He says that to date, API Guild has only had to vote once to reach a majority decision – the rest of the time there has been 100% agreement within it.
The main benefits of Vodafone’s approach were felt quickly, are substantial and helped the API-first policy and the API Guild gain traction.
The operator saves tens of thousands on every API deployed in direct savings on integration, results leading to multiple million pounds savings. This is based on API activity in 16 markets with 17 deployments in each per calendar year with a significant local market CapEx saving.
Improved quality slashes re-work and cost: Vodafone has reduced API deviations by 90%, whereas historically, deviant implementations caused immense re-work, particularly when deviant APIs were re-used.
Since automating API conformance, Vodafone has seen a 50% increase in the adoption of Open APIs across its markets. It is difficult to estimate the benefits, but significantly improved time to market, customer experience (through consistency across channels), and efficiency (through re-use). With an average of five clients per open API, the re-use benefit alone equates to a 76% saving compared to point-to-point integration.
“I don't see the value in keeping the tool private. I see the value in open-sourcing, in getting feedback from the community and industry standardization bodies using the tool. We constantly get feedback from the markets and we’re always evolving. If we would’ve kept to the initial ideas, it would’ve evolved slowly… ‘Use the tool then tell us what is wrong or what's not working or where you see more value’. We got some amazing feedback from [the Forum’s] Open API program. Now I cannot see Vodafone reaching the Tech2025 target without it.”
Florin Tene, Enterprise Architect – Digital at Vodafone Group IT Strategy and Architecture