Proximus, the largest telecommunications provider in Belgium, has been around since 1930. At present, Proximus provides internet, TV, telephone, and network-based ICT services. Their brand portfolio includes Scarlet, NBRACE, tango, ClearMedia, TeleSign, Davinsi Labs, telindus, BEMOBILE, and bics. Collectively, these brands have presence beyond Europe – in the Middle East, Americas, Africa, and APAC.
APIs Are Great – Again
Proximus has 2,000 to 3,000 applicators in the entire organization, integrating internally and externally with partners, competitors, and customers. Most importantly, these integrations have to be managed. The scenario that would result in not doing so is endless difficulty and inconvenience. A decade ago, Proximus designed their architecture for managing commodity services such as authentication, authorization, routing, and monitoring. So far, so good.
Change came in the form of agile business transformation. By becoming more agile, they were looking to deliver services faster, of better quality, and at lower cost. Proximus achieved business agility by building functionality shaped building blocks that are re-usable and loosely coupled. These building blocks are used to provide their digital solutions, all at lower costs and higher quality. Agile transformation has been made possible by WSO2 API Manager, which supports any spectrum of the API lifecycle, and WSO2 Identity Server, a holistic identity and access management (IAM) solution. Both are open source.
“We had to rethink what we were doing and essentially look at making APIs great again,” says Sean Kelly, an enterprise architect at Proximus. They’ve already worked with APIs, mainly to offer services – but agile transformation means approaching everything differently. This began by bringing together architectural domains that are well-defined and separate. For one, there was a functional domain which operated on specific blocks of functionalities (such as customer address management). Then there was an important security domain that is responsible concerns such as GDPR compliance. The application domain handles patching, upgrading, migrations, and such. And finally, the infrastructure domain is needed for deployment.
Functional Domain in Detail
Sean explains the new approach at Proximus by using the functional domain as an example. The team at Proximus documented all business capabilities and they first defined the characteristics of a capability. For starters, a capability must be a subject matter expert i.e. a customer address management capability is the owner and master of this specific block of data. This capability is the single source of data for the particular function, with a specific team attached to it. Furthermore, business capabilities are also mutually exclusive – unique, but independent, self-contained, and well defined.
The implementation of this new API-first approach happened in a very structured manner. APIs at Proximus are lightweight and powerful, with simpler life cycles and release cycles. Product teams were empowered and the API management platform is more agile. Although the API management platform is a self-service one, there are certain controls in place. Collaboration plays a big role too. Given the number of architectural domains, collaboration could be a challenge and it required a shift in mindset across the organization.
Organizational Change from Service Orientation (SOA) to Resource-Based Architecture
Proximus adopted the Bimodal practice to deal with organizational change. Introduced by Gartner, Bimodal refers to the strategy of coping with change and it’s comprised of two modes (modes 1 and 2). As per Gartner’s definition, these 2 modes are cycles, and not separate groups or departments in the company. “Mode 1 is the marathon runner, that is, it refers to APIs that perform core business functions. Mode 2 is more like a sprinter. These are the APIs that respond to the environment, are closer to your customers, more agile, and typically more disruptive,” Sean explains. At Proximus, mode 1 is applied to internal APIs and existing SOA services. Mode 2 is applied to external APIs and this is where they publish their digital products, with a strong focus on security.
Apart from the Bimodal practice, Proximus has also adopted several principles. There’s no domain dumping model at Proximus, and they use concepts that are known and understood within the organization. They design for loose coupling, as vendor-neutral APIs are preferred and it allows them to change one component to another with minimal impact. Proximus also use industry standards such as O-Auth2, XACML, SID, JWTE, etc. Another is the use of smart endpoints and dumb pipes, which is to avoid business logic in a centralized middleware. Security is coded, rather than configured. As such, the code is typically only written once and then validated by security, making it easier to manage this process as well. Proximus also do not use the latest version of a particular technology offered – they prefer to trail behind the bleeding edge, as they’re on the lookout for the first round of patches and use the functionality with greater confidence at a later time. And finally, Proximus only builds components or purchases software that is cloud native.
The team at Proximus are satisfied with their API first approach and the resulting API marketplace. “We’re focusing on delighting our customers, delivering value, and doing all this at a lower cost. We use WSO2 to do what they do best. For us, WSO2 is an API management platform and we let them handle that while we focus on the business,” says Sean. As with any innovative business, there are more changes afoot at Proximus and they’re looking to take WSO2 along with them as their business evolves.
Watch Sean’s presentation for more information about the transformation at Proximus.