Lucent Technologies INS President, Janet Davidson tells Priscilla Awde why OSSs are crucial to providing both a network transformation and the best service to customers
Hidden behind the economic downturn of the past several years, a quiet revolution has been going on in the communications industry. It is one driven less by telcos and operators and more by consumers: end users are demanding more independence, flexibility, speed and functionality. Consumers are flexing muscles and, driven by greater choice and mobility, they are putting pressure on operators to deliver.
People want access to multimedia services in near real time regardless of where they are, what kind of device they are using and whether they are using it for business or pleasure. Indeed – whether terminating on fixed or mobile devices, at home or in offices – convergent, multimedia content and applications are forcing changes both in the type and organisation of service providers, and the communications networks themselves.
Lucent Technologies is committed to helping operators deliver convergent services seamlessly and efficiently over fully integrated IT platforms. Janet Davidson, Lucent's President of Integrated Network Solutions and their OSS software unit, explains: "To support new business processes, service providers need to completely link their business processes and their operations software environments.
"In the old world, dominated by POTs and ISDN, the number and variety of services were dictated and constrained by network technologies and limited supply. In today's brave new communications world, Davidson suggests, it is the networks and operators which must adapt to deliver high quality service levels to an even more demanding, better informed and more dynamic needs of the customer base.
Telcos are restructuring and becoming more streamlined, both out of economic necessity, and to serve rapidly changing markets. Lured by the benefits of co-ordinating front and back office functions, integrating disparate systems under a seamless IT umbrella, and using automation to save money and become more efficient, companies are turning to enterprise-wide OSSs. Davidson's goal is to convert telcos into organisations in which customer needs are a priority.
Working together, vendors, operators and content owners are creating new networks, software, systems and solutions designed to give customers what they want and when they want it. Old arguments about whether operators' core business is bandwidth or value added services have largely been won in favour of the latter.
Needing to keep customers and increase their lifetime value, telcos are marrying state-of-the-art networks with a portfolio of appropriately priced applications governed by service level agreements (SLAs). They are reducing churn by bundling voice/data services and creating new convergent applications and differentiated service levels. Managed services, hosted, bundled multimedia applications, value added and premium services are replacing basic connectivity, flat fees and fixed internet access.
"The challenges for service providers are to tailor their business processes to support the new business models and link them to their OSS," says Davidson. "Convergence is, in the end, the dynamic interaction of end users, networks and service providers, enabled by technology in the service of personal empowerment at work, at home and on the move. This dynamic is driving not just the transformation of networks but service provider business models."
Convergent networks, technologies and services create opportunities for new business models that exploit a telco's resident expertise in network provisioning and customer relationship management (CRM). In the world of converged services, the value lies in making things easy for customers. It lies in convenience, simplicity, location, connectivity and the transparent integration and delivery of information services.
"The challenge for service providers is to tune and/or develop new business processes to support these new ventures. To do that profitably, service providers need to completely link their business processes and operations software environments," Davidson explains.
The new generation of OSS and business solutions software is designed precisely to support the necessary convergence and internal re-organisation. Davidson suggests there is a shift in the enabling technologies to control and measure how networks perform. The emphasis is less on simple connectivity and more on service level agreements: a move from complex backbone network technologies to high-speed, broadband fibre access systems.
Service providers' business models are moving towards measuring how customers are served; towards a customer-oriented view of the network. A change that Davidson believes will not happen piecemeal. "Service providers need to adopt a systematic approach to network builds, service layering and service creation and assurance," she says. "In our view, the foundation is an MPLS, core/optical transport network capable of delivering all end-user applications, and servicing all end-user devices. The MPLS/optical core unifies all current networks infrastructures – wireless/wireline, voice and data, metro optical, and cable. On that foundation, it is relatively easy for service providers to deliver mobile voice and high-speed data, VOIP, and legacy voice service and/or even cable service. Our Service Intelligent Architecture gives service providers a systematic way to capitalise on opportunities at each layer of the network. And includes Next-Gen OSS to support both legacy and new network services and elements, as new services and network elements are deployed.
Barrier free collaboration
"The ultimate goals are simplicity in network architecture and OSS, and flexibility in creating, delivering and managing services."
Davidson defines such 'barrier free' communications as the transparent, seamless exchange of information between service providers, network technology suppliers, content and application suppliers, and end users. The aims are to support consumer choice both in the types of applications, delivery methods and billing, independent of time or place, while simplifying users' experience and gaining maximum service awareness to improve take-up rates.
Success demands seamless, near real time data feedback shared amongst all partners. Increasingly complex relationships between operators, their suppliers and technology partners must be managed in new ways that support diversity and flexibility. The end result for service providers, Davidson suggests, will be new, differentiated revenue streams, richer consumer relationships and better management of capital and operational expenditure.
Telcos realise the benefits of highly automated barrier free communications systems in better flow- through, improved quality procedures, lower costs, shorter product lifecycles and faster times to market. In the process, they develop more flexible, integrated and responsive business systems designed to improve their ability to respond to fast moving competitive markets.
"The operational task is to govern priorities, organisational processes and resources to make sure the company is working on the things that drive business value," Davidson explains.
"Flow through rates must continue to ascend and also support session-based services. Self-service and selection must be measured and improved with end-to-end process ownerships.
Customer and service centric view
"Exploiting converged service opportunities requires that operators assure the quality of these services. Increasingly, providers will need to raise the service level bar to maintain differentiation and offer tiered services to extract the maximum value per segment. The value of managing service quality is immense."
The new service-centric view of the business makes it faster and easier to segment customers and offer differentiated service levels. Yet segmentation depends on operators knowing and understanding user patterns and behaviour. Real time network and session visibility are essential if telcos are to model, poll and predict service quality from customers' perspectives.
"Software needs to help support the free exchange of service quality and business optimisation information, and automatically distribute and monitor actionable events to all critical stakeholders," says Davidson.
Switching a business to a more holistic and service centric model and, in the process making it more agile and proactive, is enabled by tightly integrated IT platforms. Yet measuring and managing operations from a service perspective in complex multi-vendor networks is complicated, and made more so by the move to IP transmission. Telcos are simultaneously introducing new services and access options to an explosive number of feature-rich end user devices. For most operators this is an on-going, expensive and sometimes frustrating exercise, which, in the short term, may slow down new product launches.
Ultimately, believes Davidson: "The goals of agile integration are to reduce this integration tax and speed software service delivery without breaking anything."
Agile integration enhances profitability
It is the task of OSS software vendors to make the integration process as painless and as productive as possible. It is up to vendors to design the enterprise-wide solutions that will help operators manage their enormous and ever changing product portfolio and tariffs.
Davidson's recipe for vendors includes: standards involvement and advancement; service-oriented architecture (SOA) software design; improved software delivery and development lifecycles; and effective content and technology partnerships. All of which are essential in designing the requisite software to allow operators to move from their current situation in which the pervading 'spaghetti junction' of bolted-on legacy systems inhibit fast reaction to either market changes or customer demand. Integrated IT platforms are essential for operators wanting to succeed in the new communications market. Soon presence-enabled conferencing, personalised ring-back tones, speech activated services, multimedia entertainment and productivity applications will infiltrate all aspects of work and lifestyles.
"Users will be able to find, order and experience content quickly and simply. Users will hear, see, talk, purchase, do and create from a wide range of access means and applications with the aid of converged services," explains Davidson. "In the new network environment, services revolve around users, not users around the services.
"Networks will be fluid, responsive, dynamic. They will adapt to the changing location and preferences of an end user. In this environment, providers need to ensure robust, flexible services by means of progressive security, QOS-enforced IP routes, flexible pricing and pricing options and policy based end user service selections.
Getting to this point depends on operators evolving from the bureaucratic entities many are, into modern, flexible businesses in which units seamlessly interact. Wholesale and retail billing systems must be linked with marketing and revenue assurance amongst others, and be fast enough to allow operators to change tariffs quickly. Information held in disparate databases should be accessible to authorised staff who can interrogate it to discover patterns of customer behaviour and/or the success of different services and change parameters as necessary.
Automating business processes
Successful implementations of OSS depend on close working relationships between vendor and service provider. Working with one incumbent operator, Lucent deployed OSS software that increased provisioning efficiencies by more than 50 per cent in the provider's large multi-vendor, multi-platform network with more than a dozen regional management centres delivering a variety of services to numerous customers.
Using Lucent's software to automate their subscriber management and activation processes to rapidly meet demand, another mobile operator now activates upwards of 600,000 orders (adds and changes) daily with 95 per cent flow-through.
Network traffic patterning products have helped operators improve network operations and revenue leakage analysis as well as reduce disputes with other carriers/partners and significantly increase call completion rates.
"We are helping service providers pioneer dual and triple mode access authorisation for 3G data and WiFi," says Davidson. "We have recently begun field-testing IP configuration software that can automatically analyse the capacity of and re-route the IP paths based on operations needs."
Ultimately, suggests Davidson, operators who understand the market dynamics and offer high quality services for a range of access devices will keep customers and increase ARPU.
In the triple play of home entertainment services (voice, video and data), operators must know and have more control over their networks and their subscribers if they are to increase performance, customer loyalty and take-up rates. Bandwidth hungry business applications depend on fast networks and high application throughput.
Whichever markets they sell into, guaranteeing service levels is as important for all operators as good customer relations and the quantity and quality of applications.
"Ultimately service providers must anticipate the needs of customers and position themselves as the supplier of 'first convenience'," concludes Davidson. "The value of communications services will be measured by how well they satisfy and empower end users at home, at work and on the move."
Priscilla Awde is a freelance communications writer