CTO Sessions: George Glass, TM Forum

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? “In telecoms, the role of the CTO is changing significantly as organisations are looking for software engineering skills to develop differentiated services…”

Headshot of George Glass, CTO at TM Forum
TM Forum

Name: George Glass

Company: TM Forum

Job title: Chief Technology Officer

Date started current role: April 2020

Location: Belfast, Ireland

As CTO, George oversees the work of TM Forum's Collaboration Community to develop the Open Digital Framework. Prior to joining TM Forum, George worked at BT for more than 31 years, and was Chief Systems Architect where he led architectural transformations for over 15 years. He was one of the original authors and creators of BT’s Service Oriented Architecture, built upon TM Forum standards.

What was your first job? I started my IT career working as a software engineer at BT, developing a ‘digital twin’ of our telephone network in an Oracle database to enable us to model and predict network behaviour and avoid congestion issues. It provided alternate call routing paths based on the insights we could garner from the model in the database at times of heavy call traffic. 

Did you always want to work in IT? No, not really, as IT did not really exist when I was growing up. This was before the days of personal computers or computer studies courses in schools. 

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have always been an inventor at heart, from my days a school when I was entering science projects in Ireland’s Young Scientist and the UK’s Young Engineer for Britain competition. I was planning on going to Queen’s University in Belfast to study Maths and Physics, but my father, a Pure Mathemetics lecturer at the university, told me about a course that they were creating called Information Technology, that was a blend of Mathematics, Physics, Engineering and Computer Science.  

I quickly realised that the Computer Science elements were the ones I found most interesting, but I still carried on studying the other elements (except Mathematics, much to my father's disappointment) and that is how I came to study for a degree in Information Technology at Queen’s University Belfast.  

What type of CTO are you? I am a CTO who loves nothing more than to get deep into working on a technical challenge in a room full of architects and designers. Those scenarios give you the opportunity to grapple with a complex problem and try to produce innovative and elegant ways of solving that business problem using technology.  

I also love talking about technology with both technical and non-technical audiences. I enjoy explaining the solutions to complex problems in a way that gets those listening excited about the opportunities and possibilities that technology offers to transform business. 

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. After university, I joined BT as a software engineer. This was during the era when you developed all your applications from scratch because there were no vendors selling the solutions we needed. I got the opportunity to work on a few major transformation projects in this role. These projects enabled me to move into design and then architecture of networks and systems.  

 I then spent 3 years working collaboratively with AT&T and BT, before returning to BT as the Chief Architect for our retail division. It was in this stint at BT that I became involved in the work of the TM Forum. I saw an opportunity to drive for a degree of standardisation and interoperability that we had never had before. From these discussions we worked on the creation of TM Forum’s industry standard Open APIs, designed to simplify, and speed up the integration of common business functions used by all telcos such as customer management, billing, product catalogue and product ordering.  

 After spending 31 years at BT, I joined TM Forum in 2018 as VP of Architecture and APIs. I immediately set about further developing the fledgling Open Digital Architecture, that we had been creating with members for about 6 months, expanding into the network domain with our work on Autonomous Networks. In 2020 I became CTO at TM Forum driving innovation in digital architecture, API’s, AI, and next generation connectivity services. I also work with the members of the TM Forum transform our industry with the adoption of the TM Forum Open Digital Architecture. 

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? We have been developing the frameworks to enables telcos to adopt and manage AI at scale, and this presents us with the opportunity to take the design, build and operational management of future networks to an unprecedented level of automation. With dynamic, programmable, virtual network resources running in the cloud, managed by ever improving AI functions, it means we will be able to deliver new levels of network features, services, and performance at a fraction of the cost of today's networks. 

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I think 5G has been significantly overhyped and it is only recently starting to deliver on its full potential. It is just another “G”, we have had four already and there was not the obvious technology enabled step change in personal mobile services that happened with each of the previous “G’s”. Our industry took far too long to develop the necessary standards, and the cost of the network roll out coupled with the lack of innovative solutions that require the features potentially delivered by a 5G network means we have had, in many instances, a solution looking for a problem to solve. 

What is one unique initiative that you have employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? We have been developing and creating our industry standard Open APIs over the last 5 years, continuously improving them collaboratively with our members, increasing the coverage of the architecture which they support. With their adoption gaining widespread support across our industry as they simplify and standardise the integration of the components of our Open Digital Architecture (ODA), I was extremely proud when we reached 500,000 downloads of our APIs in March of this year, testament to their importance to our members throughout the world. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? In attempt to combat our fast-paced world, many organisations are embarking on their own digital transformations – however this can be difficult and complex to navigate. The TM Forum team and I are working with leading CSPs and global consultancies in a collaboration project to develop the definitive telecommunications industry standard for digital transformation. We have created the Digital Maturity Model and a set of key strategic KPIs to help organisations successfully start and finish their digital transformations. 

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? As 5G is launching around the world, organisations are looking into how they can harness the power it can offer. However, the fast adoptions of the cloud coupled with the adoption of 5G have changed CSPs IT challenges. We have developed our Open Digital Architecture (ODA) to enable the management of 5G and other emerging dynamic network services that are only going to get more complex, meaning CSPs will need to design their capabilities in a way that not only delivers the best performance but also remains secure. 

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? As a global association it can be difficult to ensure we can help achieve each and every member’s end goals. I discuss with our members about what type of business outcomes they would like to see and how we can ensure these outcomes are met, and whether technology is needed to achieve these. With that, we then collaborate on the technologies needed to effectively meet these expectations. 

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? As an Industry Association we are driven by our members, meaning that our members, facilitated by our collaboration projects, are tapping into each other’s experiences and abilities to collectively solve industry wide problems. Every solution we create is developed because it's something our members want and need in order to continue to drive innovation. Our members are then able to apply and adapt the service in a way that suits them. 

What makes an effective tech strategy? Technology is constantly evolving, so a deep understanding of both new and old technologies is critical to an effective strategy. Organisations need to be able to reflect on previous experiences, understanding what worked, what didn’t and what could be elaborated on. You need to ensure you’re providing your team, customers and partners with the most engaging experiences as possible. 

When developing a tech strategy, it is important to understand the business constraints that you are working with. For example, if you have un-depreciated legacy that is still capable of providing cost effective business solutions you need to develop a tech strategy that enables the dual operation of strategic and legacy applications simultaneously until you can retire your legacy. 

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? In telecoms, the role of the CTO is changing significantly as organisations are looking for software engineering skills to develop differentiated services that will enable them to stand out from their competitors. This requires buy-in from every aspect of the business, meaning the CTO needs to help an organisation take IT from the back room to the boardroom.  

Telcos are becoming Techco’s- and the leaders of a technology business needs to have a technology strategy that creates opportunities for business growth.  

The IT department of modern businesses need to be the innovation centre and powerhouses. It should not be portrayed as a cost centre so needs CTOs that are ready to engage with their business partners to explain and demonstrate how IT can enable new market opportunities, create new partnering capabilities and deliver innovative and inspiring new products that appeal to a new generation of tech-savvy customers. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? During the early part of my career, I was working in billing. I was part of a small team that designed and developed a rules and data driven pricing and discounting capability that we secured worldwide patents on. This capability was deployed into our billing suit and delivered innovative services for many years that enabled us to bundle products, calculate prices, create offers, apply discounts without the need to write code or involve IT. This was in 1994! 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Life is not a dress rehearsal, you live once, and the experiences both good and bad, have made me into the person that I am today. So, I am not a person who wishes I could go back and change things because I would likely miss out on learning some important lessons that have shaped my character today. 

What are you reading now? I’m not actually reading anything at the moment. The last book I read was One Man’s Everest: The autobiography of Kenton Cool.

Most people don't know that I… would hate to drive around in a dirty car. I always like my cars to be clean, which is difficult in Ireland when we have so much rain. I have been known to wash a car more than once in a day just so it looked its best when I was going out in the evening.

In my spare time, I like to…work on significant building or home renovation projects.

Ask me to do anything but… go on an action-packed sightseeing holiday. On holiday I relax, which involves reading whilst enjoying the sunshine and little else.