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How Zero-Touch Operations Went From Pipe Dream to Real Possibility (and What’s Next)

For communications and media organizations, zero touch may be the key to amplifying speed while also lowering costs. Here’s how it could look.

A stream of two gradient lights interwoven.

Communications and media organizations are racing to expand connectivity around the globe. Along the way, they’re navigating network complexity, building 5G strategies and managing an influx of IoT devices. And all this change is happening when they’re facing significant staff and skill shortages.

To tackle these challenges, many communications and media organizations have set their sights on zero-touch operations. The goal: strip out manual processes to speed service delivery and innovation while driving down costs.

Here’s how it could work:

  1. Start with new cloud-native technologies.
  2. Layer on APIs to allow cross-stack communication and orchestration.
  3. Then, AI and machine learning (ML) provide the logic to make a zero-touch workflow.

Without question, AI and ML are transformative on their own. But it’s the combination of these advancements that are making zero touch a reality.

The dream state for zero-touch operations is a network that can configure, heal, optimize and protect itself. While that’s still over the horizon, some companies have used existing technologies and automation capabilities to make steady progress.

I believe that each step on the path to zero touch unlocks new opportunities to reduce labor-intensive manual effort. As that happens, people can perform higher value work, taking on elevated roles in incident detection, investigation and response.

With the rise of AI and ML capabilities, coupled with cloud-native technology, we’re closer than ever to the dream of full zero touch. It won’t happen overnight — and communications and media companies can take different roads to get to their zero-touch destinations.

Some companies may pursue zero-touch provisioning (ZTP). Others may prioritize auto resolution for security incidents or customer issues. No matter where they start, each step can help lower costs and improve experiences for both customers and employees.

Bringing the zero touch dream to life

Communications and media companies haven’t just been waiting around for zero touch. Processes are far less manual than they were five years ago — and that journey will continue.

Companies can move closer to zero-touch automation by following a roadmap that evolves with technology, avoids operational disruption and earns employee buy-in.

Here are three key considerations I think belong on that roadmap:

  • Monitoring and anomaly detection

    Communications and media organizations must monitor a broad operational scope. Tracking down issues by hand is obviously time-consuming and inefficient. But each step on the path to zero touch reduces manual work significantly.

    As companies advance to the zero-touch goal, they can monitor networks automatically — spotting glitches or vulnerabilities before they disrupt services. Organizations can start by understanding what "typical" really looks like across geographies, time of day and seasons, ultimately making it easier to identify genuine anomalies.

  • Root cause analysis and troubleshooting

    Monitoring and anomaly detection help communications and media organizations know what’s happening. Root cause analysis explains why it’s happening and what to do about it. It’s a powerful combination already — and zero touch could take it even further.

    Imagine that an issue arises in the network. A zero-touch solution detects a change in operational performance, then identifies and deploys the right patch to fix it fast, with minimal downtime. That’s great.

    But then imagine the technology doesn’t stop there. Instead, it immediately goes to work spinning up resources or changing the service path to address the challenge. It finds the root cause and takes action to prevent recurrence.

    Over time, predictable, repeatable actions can occur automatically — without a need for hands-on intervention. Instead of spending time on simple fixes, zero-touch automation frees up experts to review high-level trends and patterns to discover opportunities to fortify the network and enhance efficiency.

  • Threat remediation and reporting

    Security incidents demand speed. If communications and media companies don’t respond quickly, the issue can spread and damage customer perception along the way. But security teams only have so much time — and staffing and skill shortages are a real industry challenge.

    By adopting SOAR (security, orchestration, automation and response) tools, organizations can automate more security tasks. This works nicely with risk-based alerting, which helps teams focus on the most critical issues, reducing alert fatigue.

    For instance, reporting processes have historically been very time-consuming, but now communications and media organizations can automate many of them.

    Together, these advancements make more security processes zero touch and free up security teams to focus on the most complex or pressing issues.

Cross-stack visibility is the foundation for zero touch

Today, we’re closer to full zero touch than ever before.

The industry designed its modern service stacks for automation, and that’s helped communications and media companies move down the zero-touch path.

Cross-stack visibility is the foundation for full zero touch. Companies will need a unified view into service state, quality and underlying infrastructure. Then, they can see what matters, what’s happening and what to do about it — all in one place.

This visibility powers automated AI- and ML-fueled incident detection — and lets teams take efficient, informed action. That way organizations can monitor networks end-to-end, overcoming silos to pinpoint anomalies, perform root-cause analysis and speed resolutions.

With the insights available via zero touch, communications and media organizations can meet service quality benchmarks, while providing customers with the efficient, differentiated experiences they deserve. At the same time, they can distinguish themselves as innovators and win customer loyalty in an era of fierce competition.

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