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Customers at the center

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 9:35am
Jessica Zimet, special to CED

Just as cable operators are looking to provide a consistent viewer experience across screens, they are interested in ensuring a consistent experience when it comes to all aspects of customer care. There is as much innovation going on in business and operations support systems (B/OSS) as there is in the delivery network itself.

The Management World Americas conference was organized by the TM Forum.

In a panel discussion on the first day, Kevin Rhatigan, executive director of strategic process design at Comcast Cable; Bruce Beeco, director of architecture, integration and services at Cox Communications; and Steve Madden, customer experience architect at Charter Communications, looked at transforming to enable a cross-channel connected customer experience.

For example, said Rhatigan, if customers have 17 different ways to buy, why are there 17 different ways, and are we creating a consistent experience? When you look at customers, what’s their experience? Beeco cited looking at customer logs as a great way to pull out and examine how their experience is being impacted by new services. Their processes are housed inside each application, and they’re now looking to bring them out to be separate, but also thin enough to be agile and fast.

Mining customer logs also lets providers learn how customers use their systems – often in unexpected ways – and glean what they’re doing that’s working, and what’s not. Rhatigan said that experience proves that you can’t just take what you have today and automate it; you have to look at it from beginning to end, and rethink it as needed.

An admitted challenge is that service providers sometimes don’t see the entire customer transaction across all channels – they might see a sale, but not the problems encountered along the way in setup and activation that ultimately resulted in losing the customer.

When asked why it’s so tough for cable providers to emerge as a top-loved brand, there were a few answers: 1) The customer experience has only become a priority in the last few years, and they are still transforming the technology to support; 2) The cable industry represented leading technology 15 years ago but now finds itself beholden to outdated hardware. Basically, the focus in cable has changed from devices and addresses to customers and people, which has required not only changes to systems, but to company cultures, as well.

Tom Wise, director of QMS at Comcast, talked about business process transformation and how to become truly agile and adaptive. Comcast took a new look at how they run their transformation processes and decided they needed to choose the right process for each transformation instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. That enabled them to reduce project times, lower costs and have the right people on each project.

At the beginning of each project, they consider whether: a) they know what the problem is; b) they know what the solution is; and c) how complex it will be. Then they decide on the approach, ranging from “just do it” (simple problem, clear solution), to task force (unclear solution), to maturity models like CMMI (complex) and more. To succeed, they recommend focusing on short transformation lifecycles, short-term wins, improvements that require less rigor, a clear definition of “done” and being adaptive to change.

The first day of the conference was built around cable provider case studies, starting with three in Latin America. Simon Tadeo, customer experience and innovation manager of Cablevision SA, explained how his company is using eTom as a map to help foster discussions and get everyone – IT, business and IPv6 experts – speaking the same language about business processes for a major B/OSS transformation.

Cablevision’s advice? Get your IT guys, business guys and hired technical experts together in the same room from the start to hammer out the plan. Focus on the user experience, and use transformation as an opportunity to build things right from the beginning. And don’t leave business processes until the end.

(So eTom is a business process framework. Now that eTom is inclusive of all service providers, its full spell-out – the enhanced Telecom Operations Map – is almost never used anymore.)

Ramon Cerecedo, network operations center director of Cablevision Argentina, talked about service assurance and his company’s journey to the triple play. The complexity of the new processes required a new way to manage services and infrastructure. Cerecedo said his company benefited by having a complete OSS strategy upfront, executive sponsorship, a skilled technical project manager, IT-operations integration, and metrics around efficiency and customer satisfaction results. To build executive support, they advise showing initial results from quick wins.

A Net Servicos case study with CIO Rodrigo Duclos examined his company’s B/OSS and mediation transformation and how it affects their customer experience. He highlighted the importance of key use cases, geography, competitive response, technology elements and plans for keeping processes up to date post-transformation.

Net Servicos uses a single, unified mediation system, a trend that is being seen across South America. As with Cablevision, they also found that bringing IT operations and engineers together was critical to the project. During the session, some discussion broke out around “IT as the protagonist of transformations” versus the business side. The question being: Who is responsible for defining the business – and putting down the cash to fund what is needed?

TM Forum’s IPDR lead Kevin Alcox, vice president of services and delivery at the TM Forum and IPDR lead at OpenVault, talked about the next generation of IPDR (Internet Protocol Detail Record), citing industry changes such as digital services opportunities as (thankfully) forcing more clarity. IPDRs are often collected but left unused, though a cloud-based IPDR “store” could let people query what they need from the available data.

Alcox mentioned some of the challenges, as well – IPDRs are network-centric, not user-centric (they need to be both), and don’t differentiate between residential and business customers or allow you to prioritize data. The cable industry needs more, faster and smarter data – i.e., not just more data, but more of what’s needed – per specific devices, or only data that has changed. TM Forum is looking for more IPDR stories from the IPDR trenches and will publish their findings. Alcox expects next steps to include applications to smart energy and eHealth.

A panel with Dan Jamieson, director of OSS architecture at Time Warner Cable, Gary Bonneau, senior product manager of Cox, and James Matthews, vice president of enterprise architecture and strategy at Charter Communications, looked at critical factors for success in the commercial services market.

Critical factors for success include scalable, ubiquitous services; carrier-class service quality and reliability; and speed to market. Audience polls showed that the cable industry isn’t quite where it needs to be to support all these – but it’s not that far away, either. Bonneau recommended simplified product offerings and only selling what you can deliver in order to meet strict SLAs, which are very different in the commercial space.

Though the networks won’t satisfy carrier-grade requirements without some tweaking, Matthews advocates that providers start with what they can do – pick and choose, provide services to verticals or industries that work, and grow from there. Per Matthews, providing commercial services means you have to start to think like a communications service provider instead of a TV installation guy.

The day finished off with a case study from Mike Lurye, senior director of business intelligence architecture at Time Warner Cable, on the implications of big data. He started off dispelling a few common myths about big data, which he cites as being at the peak of its “hype cycle.” Contrary to popular belief, big data is not brand new, and it doesn’t (only) equal Hadoop, social data or NoSQL.

What is it? He defines it as any of the traditional three V’s (volume, variety, velocity) that push you outside of your comfort zone. And if you use it right, you can pull out some interesting information about your customers. Like “zombie” data, or a user who watches four hours straight without switching the channel and is likely asleep. Big data may also be the key to unlocking information required for critical advertising dollars. Cable companies have to come up with a way to measure viewership to see who’s watching what, when and how many times. That used to be easy on a set-top box but is nearly impossible over IP. But soon, it might not be.

Jessica Zimet is head of social media marketing at Amdocs. She has live coverage of Management World Americas this week on the @Amdocs twitter channel and the Amdocs blog network. Amdocs was a sponsor of Management World Americas.

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