Is OSS the key to recovery?
Date: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 18:37 Source: Clarity press department
The economic gloom may be slowly lifting, but the telecoms industry remains hard-hit. The struggle with refinancing and technology transformation after the perfect economic storm will continue for several years to come. Gartner has predicted that the North American and Western European telecoms markets will continue to see negative growth during 2009/10 and that operators will find the cost of refinancing dramatically increases. It has been estimated that over US$2,100bn of European corporate debt is set to mature during the next three years, of which US$113bn is telecom debtii - enough to make any operator break into a cold sweat.
In the face of these challenges, there are essentially two routes operators can take to improve their
financial situation. The first focuses on streamlining their efficiency in order to reduce operational
expenditure (OpEx) through automation, more effective asset management and better network capacity utilisation. The second route is customer-centric and concentrates on both attracting and retaining subscribers through the faster roll-out of new services, more competitive service level agreements (SLAs) and better customer targeting through subscriber data analysis.
Few operators disagree that these are the routes to greater financial stability, or that their capacity to make such changes is dependent on the operational support system (OSS). Unfortunately, then the discord begins.
THE OSS DICHOTOMY
There are currently two basic schools of thought when it comes to OSS. The classic approach is to integrate many different Best of Breed systems. This proposition does not seem unreasonable, with each layer of the OSS being driven by proven, cutting-edge software. Many operators are also reassured by spreading their OSS needs across multiple vendors, theoretically reducing the risk of a failed deployment.
However, Best of Breed solutions create a number of additional problems, not least of which is the inherent fragmentation of the OSS environment. In Best of Breed deployments, information tends to be stored in silos which require constant synchronisation. Indeed, it would not be unusual for an operator to have entirely different platforms managing the network, provisioning services and tracking customer information. Unsurprisingly, operators often face difficulties in integrating these different software units, so that they share data effectively without integrity issues or severe access latencies.
In contrast, Unified OSS focuses on simplification. All the elements of a Unified OSS are built on one database and workflow engine, allowing operational data to be easily consolidated. A centralised workflow spanning end-to-end operational processes can manage everything from network planning to end-user fault reports. Moreover, a Unified OSS can be deployed faster and with lower risks than traditional Best of Breed solutions, since it avoids integration and data synchronisation costs. Recent industry studies have shown that Best of Breed integration ends up costing three to seven times more than Unified OSS implementation and take three to five times longer.
A growing number of operators are now opting for a Best of Suite approach to OSS, which is essentially a half-way house between disparate Best of Breed OSS modules and a fully-integrated Unified OSS. The greater level of product integration allows best-of-suite solutions to be more effective. Yet, while the Best of Suite approach has undeniable advantages over a Best of Breed approach, a Unified OSS supersedes both for exactly the same reasons.
Whichever approach to OSS an operator selects will have a dramatic impact upon their ability to manage subscriber data and next-generation network (NGN) services.
DIVIDED WE FALL?
Until recently, simply understanding the bits and bytes of the network was the key focus for operators, but this process bore little or no relation to the customer experience. Nowadays operators are highly focused on understanding the customer experience and ensuring that the commitments made in the
SLA are met in order to avoid customer churn.
The OSS has become an invaluable resource of data about the usage of products and services. Unified OSS attempts to take operational network data and turn it into something that the business can make use of. Intelligent analysis of data might allow an operator to, for example, identify customers who are likely to purchase more NGN services and who may churn if they are not provided. This process is complex, with the data correlation needing to be done separately from operational systems, as the extensive number-crunching needed can cause operational systems to grind to a halt.
If you start with an OSS that stores this data in separate silos in the first place, it is a great deal harder to piece together an holistic view of the customer and their experience. As the information is in silos, there is limited referential integrity. This means that, even if you can access the data you need, what is called Bill in one database may be called Bob in another. The data not only needs to be correlated, but it also needs to be stored in a unified manner, so that the correlation makes sense. Industry analysts like Light Reading agree that there is an urgent need “for the consolidation and common management of product and customer information”.
Operators are currently striving to differentiate themselves within an expanding competitive landscape by searching for ways to brand and bundle new services like VoIP, VoD and IPTV. These services hold the key to not only raising subscriber ARPU, but also to attracting new customers and reducing churn. If operators fail to implement NGN services and generate another source of revenue from subscribers, they risk becoming dumb “pipes” or simple utility providers, with the new overlay players (such as Google, Skype and Apple) taking over customer ownership.
An operator’s OSS not only needs to be able to support the rapid deployment of such services, it must also be capable of multiple deployments in a relatively short time-frame. This is essential if an operator is to keep pace with competitors, in an environment where the lack of a single NGN service may cause significant subscriber churn and a rapid decline in new sign-ups.
Once again, due to their inherently fragmented nature, Best of Breed OSS solutions often fail to deliver the promise of seamless automation. These systems tend to have a long lead-time ahead of new services, often requiring system customisation prior to each deployment. Operators must be able to deliver new products and services without needing to completely overhaul their systems for each new offering. The service implementation cycle should take weeks, not months. Yankee Group have agreed that Unified OSS solutions are the only way carriers can effectively streamline their service delivery and service management environment.
NGN services themselves are becoming interlinked to a greater extent and require more data-sharing in their management. Thanks to quad-play, operators are now attempting to deliver a unified service, but this requires them to have a unified architecture behind the delivery of these services. Integrating voice, data and video traffic onto a single, Internet Protocol (IP)-based next-generation network allows enterprises to achieve a truly converged network that can deliver any call, any piece of data and any image or application, anywhere in real-time. A converged customer-centric focus is essential, since operators need to be able to manage fulfilment and assurance across many processes. Additionally, advanced services like IPTV are often more expensive and so subscribers undoubtedly expect a better customer experience. Any Best of Breed OSS attempting to deliver these services will be put under intense pressure. Moreover, these services mean that a great deal more customer data must be managed. Gone are the days when an operator merely had to track phone numbers; now operators must monitor a whole new set of identifiers, such as email and IP addresses.
Operators should seek to create a unified service delivery engine that creates and defines new services across all their systems. Bringing OSS to the forefront of business development plans will put great pressure on suppliers, developers and integrators to increase the pace of evolution and the type of functionality offered. The principles of NGN, and more specifically IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS) will help achieve these goals. Firstly, by breaking down silos and supporting horizontal layers of common intelligence, it is possible to build highly integrated, yet flexible systems, while the opening up of IT oriented gateways and open interfaces will make it possible to extract value and introduce new partners into the value chain.
THE FUTURE OF OSS
While Unified OSS may not be the right choice for every operator, the tactics that it aims to support are certainly ones that everyone should be pursuing. The pressures placed on OSS to work with unified customer data will only increase over time.
In the long-term, operators need an automated service delivery system that empowers subscribers to
serve themselves. They should be able to select a defined catalogue of products and services from an operator, using a unified order management provisioning inventory and activation engine. This information would feed a real-time analytical engine that understands the behaviour of the network and the servers in relation to the customer. This analytical engine can provide fault management, performance management, SLA management and automatically orchestrate changes in the network and activate field staff to ensure that customer SLAs are met.
This kind of next-generation customer management will only be possible through Unified OSS solutions.