Wireless service providers are now appreciating the vital role that OSS can play in a successful operation, says Kieran Moynihan
With the exception of areas such as billing, OSS has never enjoyed a high profile. In the eyes of many a CFO, it was just a cost centre, strewn around the back office, and senior management in general didn't really understand what exactly it did day-to-day. In the severe opex and capex cuts in wireless service providers over the last two years, senior management have appreciated for the first time the importance of OSS in streamlining the operations of the network and acting as the overall foundation for the business processes employed in the network. As the network complexity continues to spiral and there are less people to manage the network, OSS has now entered a new phase of its evolution as the cornerstone of operating a wireless business.
Wireless service providers are under unrelenting pressure to improve their earnings performance, leverage their existing network infrastructure, improve customer satisfaction and bring new services to market more quickly. They are competing in an environment of intense competition with rapidly evolving and diverse technology challenges. One of the most expensive and painful problems facing wireless service providers today is that their multi-vendor OSS systems do not offer the level of interoperability and flexibility required to efficiently achieve their business goals, while reducing both the cost of ownership of the OSS and the effort needed by the service provider to maintain the OSS infrastructure.
The importance of interoperability
Both the wireless service provider and the OSS community have long understood the business benefits of interoperability. However, in practice, the level of open standards and interoperability achieved has been very disappointing. The OSS vendor community, the system integrator community and the wireless carriers need to share the blame for the lack of progress here. On the vendor side, there has always been a reluctance to work on standards with competitors, coupled with the financial pressure to maximise deployment and integration revenue from deploying 'complex' solutions. System Integrators did what came naturally to them and assumed the responsibility of knitting the disparate OSS systems together in expensive integration projects. Wireless service providers discouraged OSS products companies from conforming to standards by frequently requesting custom solutions to meet their special requirements, thereby creating a spiral of legacy OSS integration which is still in existence today.
The OSS landscape is now undergoing a fundamental change with a genuine sea-change in attitude to the importance of OSS standards and interoperability. In the current climate of microscopic focus on opex, service providers cannot keep sustaining the 'OSS integration tax' and unnecessarily high cost of ownership. Wireless service providers have accordingly increased the emphasis on OSS vendors conforming to the TeleManagement Forum (TMF) and emerging standards such as OSS/J. Wireless OSS vendors are reacting to this pressure from the service providers. Wireless OSS vendors are also, interestingly, reacting to the increasing pressure from their shareholders who have recognised that in most cases, the most successful OSS products companies, in terms of shareholder value, had high-volume OSS products with particular strengths in ease-of-deployment and interoperability. Finally the system integrator community is beginning to transition their revenue generation focus away from costly integration projects to high-value business transformation projects as it sees, for example, the business process transformation projects associated with the introduction of a Service Quality & Service Level Agreement management system.
While the basic concepts of service provisioning, activation and service assurance are well understood, the process of integrating these systems together so that they 'talk' to each other has been difficult, requiring service providers to undergo lengthy and costly software customisation projects or to build entirely new applications. The challenge of integrating diverse OSS components is a deep-rooted problem in the evolution of OSS technology. Wireless service providers are realising that it's no longer feasible to develop and maintain a costly customised OSS solution environment, particularly with the increasingly complex infrastructure environments of 2.5 and 3G networks.
Service providers try and use a best-of-breed approach to identifying OSS vendors that offer the best product or service. However, at some point, these disparate OSS solutions must be integrated into a unified OSS system to manage all aspects of their business operations. In order to achieve interoperability, wireless service providers are faced with cost-prohibitive integration costs and a lengthy data migration process that can often stretch into years. Wireless service providers who want to profitably deliver next-generation services must rely on OSS vendor support to meet the changing needs of consumer demands in an evolving digital economy.
The need for industry standardisation
A major challenge for wireless service providers is how to manage multi-technology, multi-vendor networks more efficiently. To meet the market demand for standardisation, standards bodies such as the TeleManagement Forum and OSS/J were created to better define development standards for OSS application development.
Wireless service providers have been hard pressed to find a standard set of applications from multiple vendors that will work together and, often, have chosen all of their products from a single vendor, which has resulted in deploying proprietary solutions, not solutions developed on a set of industry standards.
To meet the growing demand from wireless service providers requesting interoperable OSS solutions and industry standard applications, four leading independent providers of OSS solutions joined together to form the Service Management Alliance (SMA). The four companies, Argogroup, Casabyte, NetTest and WatchMark-Comnitel, are working together to promote the advancement, awareness and industry collaboration of service management solutions for the benefit of wireless service providers. The SMA is focused on developing a solution to the traditional problem of interoperability between multi-vendor OSS applications in the service assurance space that are often complex, proprietary, or require custom application development. Several other vendors in the wireless service assurance space have recognised the overall benefits of this alliance and have formally submitted requests to join the SMA. Early feedback from the wireless service provider community has been extremely positive and has acknowledged the proactive approach by several of the leading vendors in the wireless service assurance space to promote standards and interoperability and reducing the cost of ownership.
OSS' changing role
With the tremendous pressure on service providers to improve their service quality levels, reduce customer churn, improve customer satisfaction and increase their profitability, wireless service providers are now taking a different view of the OSS vendor community and recognising the significant role that OSS plays in their business operations.
It's time for wireless service providers to differentiate themselves in a commoditised business environment and they must now rely on value-added services, quality of service, speed to market for new services and a quality customer experience as market differentiators.
There's mounting competition for high-value customers and service providers must be able to address network, service and customer issues and opportunities simultaneously to ensure profitable operations. To achieve acceptable customer retention, service providers must develop new ways of viewing service quality through the eyes of the customer. This is a view that experience tells us is often out of sync with the traditional network-centric view. This transition to a customer-centric approach to managing networks, in a profitable manner, represents a fundamental change for wireless service providers as they roll out 2.5G and 3G services.
Wireless service providers have now recognised that the introduction of service management in wireless networks acts as a catalyst to bring together network operations, customer care, corporate account management and sales and marketing, to extend their current cooperation levels to a new powerful paradigm where all teams are integrated around a common core objective of delivering consistent service quality to customers in a profitable manner.
By implementing OSS solutions that truly offer interoperability, service providers will benefit by improved earnings performance, a reduction of OSS integration and maintenance costs, faster deployment of new services, improved customer satisfaction and loyalty and an overall increase in revenue per customer.
Kieran Moynihan, CTO, WatchMark-Comnitel can be contacted via tel: +353 21 730 6002; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org