The ultimate solution to today’s competitive telco pressures

With the telecommunications industry facing an unprecedented diversity of competitive pressures, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are rethinking their whole approach to how they manage their customers’ experience, and this is driving a review on how they architect and manage their operational infrastructure.

One of the proposed new approaches is to put subscriber identity at the core of the service creation environment and fully automate the provisioning for a wider range of home-grown as well as third-party sourced product. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is an architectural approach that addresses IT complexity through standardization, componentization, re-use and automation. It simplifies the process of creating new and differentiated services and allows subscribers to more easily self-select and adopt a wider range of differentiated products.

Industry threats
The threat to market share and revenue has never been more pronounced for today’s CSPs. Telco video services threaten to erode core cable revenues; broadband competitors, be they traditional wireline operators or alternative providers, threaten core telephony markets; while IP-enabled players, such as Google and Skype, bring VoIP and other innovative IP-based services that threaten both traditional revenue streams as well as emerging revenue opportunities. Further, the type and sophistication of services that can be sold over broadband and wireless services diversifies continually.

CSPs that are used to dealing with three or four services per customer are having to rethink their business models. Future telecommunications services will include services relating to and integrated with everything from digital TV, broadband and mobile data, to messaging and infotainment, including ring tones, non-video and graphics, gaming, mobile video, mobile TV, m-commerce, and social networking.

Figure 1: CSP differentiation...
Figure 1: CSP differentiation achieved through verticalized product bundling.

It is no longer going to be cost-effective to introduce a new set of BSS/OSS tools to accompany every new service that an operator launches, which was historically often the fastest and least disruptive way to bring a service to market. This also is the reason why most operators today have a large number of disconnected home-grown and vendor-specific OSS tools that hinder growth, efficiency, and most of all, customer-centricity.

Adapting the business
There is no doubt that traditional communications services will contribute less and less to revenues. But, as the world simply cannot function without these core services, CSPs are actually extremely well placed to leverage existing customer relationships and bundle a much wider range of products and services, thus increasing customer loyalties as well as revenues.

In this new world of rapidly diversifying revenue opportunities, CSPs should be aiming to become the intermediaries in a digital value chain in which core voice and data services are bundled with third-party content and applications into more sophisticated, value-added products.

To be able to deliver on this new breed of services, CSPs must adapt the way they create, manage and deliver an increasingly diverse range of innovative services that might overlap with existing services. The services they provide must be compelling, personalized and timely and able to truly embrace the potential of emerging technologies.

However, CSPs must also find a more cost-effective way to manage the integration of new products without compromising product or service quality. And they must be able to compete not only in terms of the range of services they provide, but also the speed with which they can integrate new opportunities into existing service offerings.

Achieving rapid and effective service delivery
If CSPs can step in to offer unprecedented levels of control and personalization, without the excessive operational systems customization and integration traditionally required with new product introduction, they will be well-placed to become the trusted providers for voice services, data and all things digital.

VoIP, for example, is increasingly attractive to the highly coveted enterprise market, as SMBs become disenchanted with high costs, lack of service functionality and flexibility, and diminished transparency in their contracts and bills with their incumbents. SMBs want flexible bundles of self-selectable advanced call features (e.g. Simultaneous Ring, Multi-Line Hunt Groups, Find Me/Follow Me, Unified Communications, etc.), Fax-Email, Voicemail-Email, broadband and WAN services that offer the flexibility to move with trends around wireless, unified messaging, managed LANs or convergent voice and data.

The issue for CSPs is that rapidly introducing new products and services typically means increasing the amount of customization and integration their BSS and OSS systems require to successfully deliver that service to the customer. As the volume of customizations grows, so does the complexity involved in creating and delivering a new service.

SOA aims to take existing BSS/OSS systems and simplify them. By decoupling the functionality of the network from the business process, SOA enables IT systems to better respond to the needs of the business. Rather than adopting a leave and layer approach, where IT systems become more and more complex, the IT system is broken down into components that can be used repeatedly and in different combinations to support the needs of the business as required.

For CSPs, SOA means implementing a set of well-defined software components, each relating to a different element of the services provided, and each guided by a set of rules that govern the way they can work together. In this way, the assembly of new products from these reusable components can be automated, and the speed and efficiency of service delivery dramatically increased.

Speed of development is increased because products can be assembled from multiple, reusable components, regardless of whether they were created in-house or by third parties, thereby limiting the amount of new component creation (customization) needed to get a product out to the market. The approach also supports innovation because components can be easily reassembled in new ways, enabling companies to refresh product offerings on a regular basis.

Personalizing services
The key to personalization is to make subscribers’ identities the reference point to which products and services are attached, rather than model information around impersonal attributes such as “network address” or “billing reference.”

For example, to support the plans for integrated services that include real-time “follow-me” transformation allowing content to move seamlessly from TV to laptop to PDA (the nirvana “multi-screen” or “triple screen” product), the challenge for platforms is to recognize subscriber context as they dynamically morph the use of their products and services across different devices and access networks.

To implement this, the data that describes the configuration of the service delivering components must be easily available to inform and influence both the product creation as well as the fulfillment activities.

Additionally, the data that defines the products and services needs to be synchronized to, or be an element of, the technical product catalog; this is the key to the data-driven fulfillment system. This technical product catalog also may need to be integrated (federated) with other catalogues of product components, such as internal or third-party (external) content management systems or Web services registries for the delivery of complex combined products, such as IPTV, or IP VOD, for example.

Data-driven fulfillment could initially be slower and more expensive to implement than the traditional, siloed, process-driven approach. Operators must build the product model, populate the technical catalogue, define assembly rules and put in place standards-based integration mechanisms to federate multiple sources of service component data and underlying provisioning systems.

Once in place, the overall benefit is that operators become much more flexible and agile in their ability to bring new products to market, which they can do more cost-effectively and much more reliably, significantly improving the overall customer experience.

Reducing the cost associated with launching new services is a major consideration as operators move into a next-generation service world. Here they will generate revenue from a “long tail” of inexpensive services rather than from a few, costly, generic services. Inexpensive services do not justify the development of their own OSS/BSS infrastructure. Data-driven fulfillment, with its ability to support the rapid addition of new components to the technical product catalog, and which does not require any changes to the common fulfillment process as a result, is far more cost-effective in the long term than traditional fulfillment.

Having control over and management of subscriber and infrastructure specific data and its ever-changing relationships will prove to be crucial in providing contextual services, in offering CSPs a clear competitive advantage over new generation operators such as Skype and Google. Traditional CSPs have an effectively untapped asset in terms of their subscriber data, which they can leverage to offer the ability to connect when, how and to which media customers chose. They can also create new revenue streams from advertising that is personalized and relevant, and support the rich communication between customers that wish to communicate with each other and who can be contextually classified.

Social networking offers another huge opportunity for CSPs. Outlets such as Facebook or MySpace allow content to be shared via a mobile device and the desktop experience shifted to a mobile one. The new revenue stream is represented by being able to support micropayments transaction handling, metering of usage, content aggregation and partner settlement.

Figure 2: Data-driven OSS...
Figure 2: Data-driven OSS aligns product creation and product fulfillment.

Empowering customers to self-provision
In the future, operators also want to put the process of new product creation and adoption into the hands of customers themselves.

Operators can empower customers to specify the elements of the product portfolio they would like and the appropriate components can be assembled into their own unique and personalized products. Done right, such user empowerment improves the customer experience considerably, thus increasing loyalty and “stickiness.”

When a customer orders a personalized product through a Web portal, every component that makes up the product will need to be provisioned – right first time. Compared to provisioning a single service, such as voice, the provisioning requirements facing operators is considerably more challenging. The fulfillment system needs to be able to oversee all the components that make up a product and must be able to co-ordinate the provisioning of each individual component in order to fulfill the product as a whole.

Simplifying fulfillment
If operators are to reduce the complexity and increase the reliability of feature and configuration management, a truly device and technology agnostic operational environment is required to allow infrastructure vendor equipment and user equipment to be used according to their merits, and make the most of individual vendors differentiating features.

For example, being able to use pre-configured device and vendor specific templates in the provisioning platform automates provisioning and configuration of complex SIP user devices through re-use of commonly needed parameters. In this scenario, CSPs only have to customize features that differentiate one service from another, and the overall reliability of provisioning is increased significantly – driving increased customer satisfaction.

Not only is component reuse critical, but so is centralization of the creation and distribution of device profiles. For example, if the VoIP operational solution centrally stores entitlements and configurations related to services as well as the service delivering infrastructure, operators can create redundancy. With redundancy, the right entitlements and configuration files can automatically be reloaded should a component fail. This allows the right service to be restored quickly and easily while improving customer satisfaction levels and lowering support costs.

As operators work to remove complexity from the use of their products and services, they require a corresponding reduction in the complexity of the configuration of the service delivery elements. This necessitates sophisticated service fulfillment that can abstract away the vendor and technology specifics from the functions needed by users and customer service reps.

Data-driven fulfillment provides a subscriber-centric view of the way products and their component services are being consumed. Additionally, linking this view in real-time to marketing, assurance and billing systems enables the system to support targeted marketing activities, such as cross and up-sell of products, and assurance functions, including the maintenance of the customer experience.