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The true value of a 'safe set of hands'

Tue, 08/31/2010 - 8:05pm
Stuart Mcgeechan, Vice President and General Manager of Professional Services at NDS

The transition to tru2way end-to-end solutions is opening up the market beyond the traditional duopoly. Many operators have some of the skills necessary to implement tru2way (and EBIF), but few have the full skill set required. The question is whether to develop those capabilities in-house or engage third parties that have already developed those skill sets. Another way to phrase the question is: How much is a trusted, safe and proven set of hands worth?

The hands I'm referring to are those of an experienced and reliable professional services team that is supporting its cable and satellite clients. Often the value of those hands can go unnoticed. If that's the case, the hands are doing their job and doing it right. Their role is usually under the radar – they perform as an extension of the client's team in order to ensure the utmost success and highest levels of quality of any given engagement.

We live in a world where technology is advancing and evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Within that context, it is imperative that MSOs remain focused on growing and enhancing their core business. In many cases, looking outside this core is difficult. This is where the professional services team shows its true value. They can help companies by executing complex development and integration operations while the MSOs keep their focus on their business.

Professional services organizations offer customers the desired skill set to help with architectural analysis, evaluating networks, developing business models, integration support, development programs, management of outsourcing, technical knowledge, operational support and much more.

The newest growing trend for U.S. professional services teams is the implementation of tru2way solutions for multi-systems operators. Tru2way, or OCAP (OpenCable Application Platform), is a standard that is intended to unify the way MSOs implement applications and services across their multiple platforms. It is the hope that this unification will bring many positive changes to the cable systems that consumers use today, all of which are aimed at enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Deep knowledge of building on the tru2way standard is key to a professional services organization for two major reasons: They need to bring to their customers this application-development expertise that may not be that broadly accessible within an MSO's organization, and secondly, they can act as an efficient liaison with third-party developers. Again, this speaks to helping MSOs concentrate on their core business while the professional services team works the nuts and bolts of the application-development strategy.

Although this trend has resulted in more professional services organizations working with MSOs, often times these consultants are considered a hindrance – interlopers even. There are many times that a client is so closely tied to their incumbent mode of operation that they may not see what may be causing slower productivity, integration issues or technological problems. Ironically, it's the need for an outsider's view that motivates many companies to hire outside firms, but they are often reluctant to actually let them see everything "under the hood."

But these teams need to learn everything there is to know about their client's technology, inside and out. This is where a professional services team must position themselves as a trusted advisor to their client and work to ensure that the client truly respects the opinion of an outside resource. It's one thing to walk into a job and figure out how to fix an immediate problem, but it's an entirely different story to offer advice on how to improve an overall situation or to implement a longer-term change strategy. 

Gaining trust and becoming a valued advisor are the main challenges professional services teams need to overcome in order to achieve success for their clients. Ensuring that each party involved – from the professional services team to the hardware manufacturer to the operator – are all in sync and working together toward one common goal can sometimes be a difficult journey, especially if these companies have not previously worked together. In fact, this is a major justification for the tru2way system – it will allow for one unifying standard to be implemented across multiple platforms, facilitating more capabilities on each and inviting more companies and the innovation they bring to join the party. In turn, this will provide more room for other third parties to compete for the systems integration business – something that wasn't the case a few years back.

Professional services teams can be referred to as ambidextrous management. The team manages the current operation, while simultaneously laying the foundations of the change required to implement innovation and further drive business growth. A tru2way deployment touches many aspects of an MSO's business simultaneously, which brings a whole new set of dynamics into play. Engaging an outside organization to aid in understanding what changes are required to meet their future business goals is often times a needed catalyst.

Another challenge that the professional services team needs to understand is the "do no harm" rule. The team must quickly deep dive to analyze and develop a solid and comprehensive understanding of the MSO's current incumbent end-to-end technology, operational processes and procedures. Only when this "discovery phase" has been successfully concluded, then and only then will you be in a position to advise the MSO on the end-to-end tru2way go-to-market plan in terms of what business, technology and operational changes will be required – and when.

The key here is to truly understand the ramifications of any proposed actions or changes required on any given part of the network prior to implementing the changes as you roll out tru2way. Detailed planning is crucial to this success. Companies must work through all the interdependencies and "what if?" scenarios that may be encountered along the way. This is the classic "Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance" situation (6 P's); without this proper planning, you are building your deployment on a foundation of sand.

It is recommended that MSOs take a hard look at the credentials of the professional services team it they are looking to engage. As referenced throughout this article, this organization will work hand-in-hand with the provider to ensure all goals, technology advancements and systems integrations happen on schedule and as planned. MSOs should evaluate previous successes, domain knowledge, depth of the operation in terms of skill sets, and whether or not the company is large enough to scale to the workload. But the most important question is, Can this team be trusted?

When working with third parties, professional services organizations must always remember that open communication is crucial to success. A high level of transparency and a single point of contact within similar time zones are recommended. Ensuring that assignments and responsibilities are clearly defined and expectations are made clear to all parties is also vital to a fruitful business relationship. It has been our experience that a deep understanding of the local culture and the processes the third party employs is also essential to success. 

Time to market is everything! What's new? As the U.S. cable market shifts toward these new standards and the proliferation of user applications becomes more prevalent based on consumer demand, it is vital that all parties – MSOs, their chosen professional services team and other third parties alike – unify together to ensure their collective success. Patience and a strong, reliable set of expert hands are surely required.

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