Thoughts on looking ahead to the IMS World Forum, April 2008.

As the end of March approaches, we find ourselves caught between fading memories of the MWC in Barcelona and anticipation of the IMS World Forum in Paris at the end of April. Barcelona was great – by far the most successful event for Gintel to date – but it’s interesting to consider how the hype pendulum has swung between this year and the last. For example, it was striking how the buzz surrounding IMS has quietly diminished to be replaced by that surrounding femtocells and mobile content distribution models. And yet, with the largest event in the industry dedicated to IMS fast approaching, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the challenges still presented by IMS and how it is shaping our industry: after all, it’s clear that the hype hasn’t entirely evaporated.

For an application provider like Gintel, IMS has always been peripheral to our strategy. Yes, we need to be very aware of the standards. Yes, we need to understand how our applications can fit into the IMS application layer. Yes, we need to understand how our applications can leverage common capabilities exposed via the IMS presentation layers. But, we don’t see the world exclusively through an IMS-shaped prism. When we talk to customers, we find that IMS readiness matters less than the specific business case for a particular service.

In fact, after determining whether a particular service can be profitable, the issue of the platform on which it can run is secondary – the technical decision makers simply validate what is being proposed by the marketers and ensure overall compatibility with the network architecture schemes that are being considered, regardless of the platform. If this is the case, it might be indicative of a power shift in the operator hierarchy, moving from the traditional engineering-led company to a more innovative market-led operation.

Putting that to one side for a moment, the issue of business case is one that has to be dealt with across the entire organisation. It’s not just the service in question, but it also serves to define the operator itself. For example, in saturated markets, where can companies seek differentiation? One obvious choice is to adopt a bias exclusively to a particular segment, to occupy this niche and to achieve excellence here rather than seeking to draw battle lines with more established players. Logically, it makes more sense to chase niches that offer better margin potential than others. One such niche is the SME market and there is rich potential in the delivery of revenue-generating enhanced services directly to enterprise customers.

Thus, the business case that drives the application is intimately connected to the business case that drives the overall strategy. This level of focus goes above and beyond anything that might be related to IMS, SDPs and the like. These may well be of vital importance to how an operator delivers services, but they are clearly of incidental importance to which services the operator actually chooses to offer, for it is via their service package that they can define themselves and achieve leadership positions in their chosen markets.

So where does that leave the IMS World Forum? Past experience has shown this to be a lively and interesting event, but clearly things need to move on from discussions about the arcane complexities of the IMS architecture. What really matters in order to provide this event with the vigour that continues to make MWC so compelling, is that the complete value-chain of the IMS movement needs to be addressed, so that the end-to-end proposition can be made clear to operators – and that includes a particular emphasis on the applications that will be delivered via the emerging IMS infrastructure.

The event should not simply be a discussion about what an elegant solution IMS is to a range of technical issues (though of course that last point has been much debated) – it also needs to be made clear that there are applications available that can be deployed today and do not need to wait until some future point when there are sufficient IMS client end-points available to make it worthwhile: that’s just the sort of argument to make the current decision makers in the industry walk away shaking their heads.

This is why the power-shift matters – just as we at Gintel have to play to our markets and emphasise the unique and compelling merits of our products to the appropriate people, conferences like the IMS WF have to continually look to ensure that the event is attractive to the right decision makers in the industry. This suggests that both the delegate profile and the event should evolve to encompass marketers and product managers, not just R&D staff, and to present more applications that deliver meaningful and, potentially profitable, benefits.

Of course, Gintel will be present and strongly endorses the event, having been invited to present in the application showcase. Of course, we are bound to say that such showcases are just what the IMS World Forum needs, but in this case, we are convinced it is true: we need to motivate the industry with clear and compelling applications that may happen to leverage this technology. If we can do that, then surely the technology will follow behind?

Tore Saeter,

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