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Bridging the CIO/CTO gap

Fri, 07/31/2009 - 8:35pm
Craig Kuhl, Contributing Editor

Pressure mounts for OSS/BSS and network to play together.

Mounting pressure to create and deliver innovative new services to an increasingly tech-savvy and expectant customer base is forcing OSS/BSS and network operations closer together.

A more collaborative effort between what have traditionally been separate domains is now a crucial component to service creation and velocity. And the hoped-for result, at least in theory, is a barrier breakdown of the lines separating operations support systems and business support systems on the one side and network operations on the other, and the people who manage them.

Getting the two sides to play well together – integrating critical systems on the fly – is an ongoing challenge, particularly with time-to-market issues, the sophistication of modern networks and the complexity of billing systems. Service providers have been studiously ignoring the problem, but for some it cannot be put off any longer.

Tim Dotson
Dotson

“Traditional lines between IT and the network side were pretty clear-cut. Now it takes both the CIO and CTO and communication between the two. New services like VoIP have forced the software and network guys to look at things differently,” said Tim Dotson, CIO of SureWest Communications, an IP-based network serving Sacramento, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo.

Different indeed. Today’s CIO (or whoever runs the IT department) must deal with a whirlwind of new services and associated OSS/BSS functions such as billing, data storage, customer care and more. Meanwhile, CTOs must deliver the connectivity, reliability and QoS to both residential and business customers.

“The storm of innovation brings combined services to the service velocity point, and it’s driving more complexity into the OSS/BSS world,” said Bret Griess, CIO and executive vice president of the convergent services and solutions business unit at CSG Systems, a customer interaction management company. “Now, operators must manage Internet, e-mail, e911 interfaces with telephony and more. The biggest change is the increase in complexity, and when combined with service velocity, an architecture is needed to tie together the network and OSS/BSS. The companies that deliver the best are the ones that bring all those together.”

Together is the operative word, experts maintain. “Most of our budget has been for operations – about 90 percent. The rest is on the support side,” said J.R. Walden, CTO and senior vice president of technology at Mediacom Communications. “But that’s changing. For the first time, we’re looking for a CIO role, for example, in data warehousing and call center technology. We need someone with overarching responsibility because the IT/OSS side has advanced, and the back office is much more complicated. It’s begging for a higher profile position to see that those things succeed.”

SureWest OSS / BSS Architecture
Source: SureWest Communications

Yet success will only come via collaboration between the OSS/BSS and network operations disciplines, insisted Sanjay Mewada, vice president of strategy for OSS provider NetCracker Technology.

“Billing, OSS/BSS systems, CRM, bundling and management of content all happens outside the world of the network, and 70 percent of services originate in the IT domain while the network enables the connectivity. But the growth is in providing content and services, and that’s the world of the CIO. Operators are figuring out that the CTO and CIO are the same teams. The CIO side shines, but without both, it doesn’t work,” Mewada said.

What does work, he added, is collaboration. “Strong leadership and management must be in place, and a clean demarcation line between OSS/BSS and the network. Those are the metrics for who owns what.”

Those metrics include the telephony side, as well, most notably for companies such as Verizon, which is not immune to the OSS/BSS/network operations transformation.

Mustansir Jhaveri
Jhaveri

“We’re seeing the lines blurring between the network and OSS. Devices that used to just sit on the network have moved to computing devices, and the line between what we managed before is blurring. The constraints are changing OSS/BSS, while data centers are being automated and transforming the capabilities we are designing our systems for. OSS is stepping up to those capabilities, and collaboration must happen from a centralized workforce,” said Mustansir Jhaveri, vice president of IT network systems for Verizon.

The addition of FiOS, he noted, has increased the pressure for the OSS/BSS side to work more closely with the network. “With FiOS, it’s a three- to five-day turnaround, on demand, with changes made on the fly. That’s been a transformation factor in our OSS/BSS today. The new paradigm is the bundle, and the system in milliseconds must figure out all the services a customer has, then pass those smarts to the right location across all layers. All must be brought together,” Jhaveri said.

To do that, Verizon has incorporated its global VZ Connect internal network, which according to Dave Landry, Verizon Business’ executive director of billing systems, “allows us as an IT team to perform levels of collaboration and more freely share information and maintain knowledge to move quickly. We’re taking that concept and spreading it throughout the enterprise.”

Considering what’s at stake – potential new customers and the retention of existing ones – the concept of collaboration between OSS/BSS and the network operations people is likely to catch on. And fast.

“CIO and CTO domains are merging, with much tighter collaboration. The Internet world has expected us to get real-time answers. OSS/BSS used to be purely in the IT domain. Now it must work together with the network. Separation is no longer an option,” said Alice Bartram, associate vice president of marketing for Comverse, an OSS/BSS systems provider.

A clear signal that service providers are indeed taking OSS/BSS and network collaboration seriously is the number of new faces showing up at forums such as the TeleManagement Forum (TMF).

“We now have CIOs participating in TMF, along with CTOs and strategy people. They’re starting to understand what’s happening. Network engineering groups and CIOs are paying much more attention because it’s impacting them more than ever before. CIOs want to be involved with the network side and new service creations. They’re starting to cross the traditional boundaries,” concluded Johanne Mayer, director of communication systems and applications integration for Alcatel-Lucent.

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