The recent news in the telecom industry has seemed like a litany of despair with cutbacks, layoffs, bankruptcies, retrenchment and spending freezes.\u00a0 And make no mistake, all those have occurred.\u00a0 But as 2004 appears over the horizon, there are indications of green shoots sprouting.\u00a0What to Expect in 2004While there is activity in every sector, three areas stand out as being foremost in the minds of most service providers. Broadband is certainly an area destined to receive a lot of attention and investment.\u00a0 The Verizon, BellSouth and SBC are poised to make a major push with their fiber to the premises collaboration.\u00a0 Wireless is also hot and a wide range of mobile services from Wi-Fi to 3G-like applications are rapidly gaining momentum, even though the US still lags mobile leaders such as Japan and Scandinavia.\u00a0 A new raft of handheld devices promises to expand the service envelope even farther.\u00a0 And last, but certainly not least, management is being recognized as a key enabler of business success and profitability which is key given the relentless pressures operators face in today's competitive market.Constant Pressure - the New Reality for Service ProvidersOne lasting impact of the downturn is that the telecom business will never be the same.\u00a0 Service providers today face continual downward pressure on price and continual upward pressure on customer service and business flexibility.\u00a0 The traditional approach to solving this has been simple cost cutting.\u00a0 But this has limitations because many times, these cuts impact an operator's ability to deliver quality services.\u00a0 This leads to declining profits, which then leads to more cuts, and a death spiral ensues.\u00a0Learning From Other IndustriesOther industries such as manufacturing, banking and retail have all had to react to these same pressures and changes and remake their operational practices and infrastructure. Remember when Toyota re-invented auto manufacturing in the 80's and almost put Detroit under?\u00a0\u00a0 The bad news is that telecom is decades behind these industries productivity-wise.\u00a0\u00a0 The good news is that the means for them to do it is at hand.\u00a0 But it won't happen with cosmetic surgery.Fundamental Business Transformation is KeyIf telecom operators are to return to financial health and offer the kind of world-class service a competitive market demands, they must fundamentally change how they manage their businesses. They have to adopt a "lean operations" approach in order to increase their efficiency by an order of magnitude. This streamlined approach to cost savings and increased ROI is critical to reducing operating costs and driving up revenuesOnly by completely transforming their key business processes and the management systems that underpin them can a service provider remain profitable and grow.\u00a0 But this is easier said than done mainly because of the huge legacy base.\u00a0The Nasty BitToday's Operational and Business Support Systems (OSS\/BSS) were developed for a different environment.\u00a0 They are largely stand-alone "silos" that don't interoperate or share data.\u00a0 And if they do, it's only by spending an inordinate amount of time on money on custom integration.\u00a0 This 'integration tax' siphons money that should be applied in other more worthwhile ways.\u00a0Add to that the problem that from an organizational perspective, most operators are structured around internal departments and not the customer.\u00a0 Almost all key business processes cross departmental lines which means no one owns it end-to-end.\u00a0 This makes it all the more difficult to streamline the process so that it's performing at maximum efficiency.Enter the Lean OperatorThere are answers emerging under the leadership of the TeleManagement Forum, a not-for-profit global consortium focused on providing strategic guidance and practical solutions for improving telecom management.\u00a0 For the past several years, the Forum has worked on a comprehensive program for the industry known as NGOSS - New Generation Operations Systems and Software.\u00a0NGOSS provides a framework for developing, procuring and deploying OSS\/BSS and includes a business process map, an enterprise data model and integration architecture - the key infrastructure components.\u00a0 It uses modern IT and Business Process Management techniques to enable telecom service providers to rapidly respond to market opportunities to deliver high quality, innovative services to their customers. In short, it enables them to better manage their business assets.It All Starts at the TopThe key to transformation is a willingness to change and that has to come from the top down.\u00a0 If an operator is serious about becoming lean and agile, the tools are there.\u00a0 If they think all they have to do is wait for the good old days to return, they may find those green shoots are nothing but weeds and moss.Jim Warner is the president of the TeleManagement Forum, a not-for-profit global consortium focused on providing strategic guidance and practical solutions for improving telecom management.\u00a0 This year the TM Forum celebrates in 15 year anniversary. For more information on the TM Forum visit www.tmforum.org.