Nokia has a new strategy for service delivery it calls extreme automation, and it is worth sitting up and taking notice because it is a field of technology that will disrupt in a thoroughly significant way. Software robots are capable of as much severe disruption in the telecoms industry as solid metal robots inflicted on the automobile industry all those years ago.
Nokia services help communication service providers evolve and modernise their networks for scale, speed and efficiency, and ensure network and service quality through services like network implementation, network operations, network care, planning and optimisation. Nokia’s services division, which accounts for about a third of total group sales, also manages and operates networks for telcos. But what happens to service delivery when 5 billion connected people become 50 billion connected things by 2020?
As virtualisation has paved the way for digitisation, extreme automation is paving the way for robotics, which is the next big wave of change in preparation for the laying down of the main foundations for the connected world. It’s a long way from Nokia’s early beginnings. Nokia began its life producing rubber products. Before they became the undisputed leader in the mobile phones market it produced TV sets, videocassette recorders and many other varied electronics devices. And many people will be surprised to find out that Nokia started making robots a long time before it moved in to software robotics.
In fact the Finnish manufacturer began its experiments with robotics in 1966. At that time they were working with a company called Unimation to sell their robots in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In the eighties Nokia acquired licenses from Unimation and started production of their own PUMA robots, and while the Arm was a copy of the Unimate PUMA 560, the controller was designed by Nokia. Also the software was different from the Unimation models. Nokia made about 1500 such industrial robots destined for Russia.
A history of robotic success
Nokia’s initial dalliance with robotics lasted over nearly ten years until the Finnish corporation sold its Robotics division in 1990. However it gave it the bug to carry on and now Nokia is renewing that expertise and using robotics in its global delivery centers to provide services to its customers. Nokia no longer makes robots – but it is using and applying the use of robots to deliver services. These services are one-third of Nokia’s business now, and in the delivery of these services software robots help to monitor networks, implement changes in networks and carry out sophisticated tasks.
While robotic process automation (RPA) is being used in the IT industry, Nokia has taken the lead in bringing this to the telecom industry and has already deployed it in live networks. The company has been working on a sizeable number of use-cases and in the building of a library so that these use-cases can be easily deployed and used when required.
Use-cases for robotics
I spoke to Thorsten Schneider, Nokia vice president of delivery excellence - global services. I asked him to illustrate a use-case for robotics. Schneider said: “Robotics is not about cutting jobs – it’s about preparing for the connected world. For that we need to scale and software robots can support our people with speed and quality. The software robots can handle great volume, so as data continues to grow software robots are able to scale fast as they are supervised by humans.
“Robotics will be able to take all of the repetitive tasks and automate them. Since it is software operating in a cloud environment, it can be started and stopped from anywhere. The robots assist humans to increase their workload 5 times and perform tasks that are one hundred percent accurate all the time, every time.”
“An ideal use for robotics is the monitoring of an alarm, for example, although far more complex procedures can be carried out. This is an example Nokia calls ‘zero-eyes’ monitoring and ‘zero-touch’ fault management, which means that without any human intervention these robots are performing alarm monitoring and fault management in live networks.
In the use-case Schneider talks me through a robot monitors an alarm and then proceeds to manage the fault, making no errors and ensuring that the process comes to a logical conclusion.
In live operation this involves many steps which make the whole process far more complex. The robot has a number of advantages. Firstly it never deviates from a task – it does the job in strict order. Unless something malfunctions it doesn’t make mistakes. It goes step by step, from alarm monitoring to fault correction to see how the RPA handles the entire procedure. Far more complex procedures can be carried out by the software robots with exactly the same accuracy and speed.
Schneider says: “The alarm monitoring involves multiple actions – a robot enters the credentials, enters the alarm monitoring tool, selects the area assigned to it, gets the list of the alarms on the screen and acknowledges the alarm, meaning that the alarm has been seen and will be acted upon. When there are thousands of alarms we can image that it takes a lot of time and effort to do this. The robot is however able to do this quickly and can support humans to scale up quickly for the connected world.”
Benefits of robotics
Regarding benefits, Robotic Process Automation for Nokia means consistent high quality at flashing speed. Nokia’s Schneider says that Nokia typically gets five times faster operations with their robots. It means that in 10mins if a human is able to resolve one such issue, the robot can handle around five of these issues, with 100% first-time accuracy.
However, the robots’ speed can be further enhanced since the latency comes from the backend systems in operations. If the backend systems are improved further then the robots can act even faster compared to humans. The fact that these robots work in a cloud environment also gives them an advantage. The increased virtualisation of cloud data centres and improved speeds of the environments makes them ideal for the processing of high-speed software robots which can chose which part of the cloud environment is most suitable for their proper operation.
As more countries roll-out smart cities the number of software robots will increase dramatically.
Nokia is putting together a library of all its robotic software so that it can be utilised company-wide. And as Nokia expands its library with more and more use-cases, following its strategic direction, it is also moving towards digital assistance and cognitive computing.
Digital assistance envisages a software robot providing computer-generated simulations of conversations to respond to queries or to guide humans. In the near future, cognitive computing and autonomic solutions will take robotics to a new level, since the robots will gain knowledge based on their experiences and will be programmed to automatically apply what is learned.
So robotics is bound to improve the speed and performance of networks which impacts the quality of service carriers can deliver to their customers. In fact Nokia believes, that the data on the multi-layered multi-cell and multi-technology telecoms industry continues to grow in complexity as robots will be the only way in which we will be able to scale fast enough and yet maintain high quality levels.
With these developments Nokia is pioneering in the use of software robots and the extension of the modern network to support extreme automation.