Reducing revenue leakage and maximising profits is the nirvana of every operator in the market. So, what are they doing to achieve this goal? John Maclean investigates

According to the experts the future is starting to look rosy again for the global and European telecoms markets. Gartner reports that revenue decline is slowing for the top North American telcos, while in Western Europe, the EITO (European Information Technology Observatory) expects the industry's rate of growth to increase from 2004 to 2005.
Although the picture is certainly looking less bleak, Gartner also reports that worldwide, the BSS and OSS markets will only see incremental and uneven recovery until telcos resume sustainable profitability. But surely, the BSS and OSS markets should be recovering ahead of telco profitability? As the market eases, telcos are looking to pick up the pace in launching new services and deploying new technologies. But a complete inversion of investment priorities, focusing on new services rather than back office processes, could in the long term produce precisely the results that they are trying to avoid. Profitability will come by maintaining the focus on the back office to give a strong set of customer facing processes, upon which new services and offerings can be delivered -- quickly, effectively and profitably.
In order to achieve profitability, telcos need, principally, to ensure that they minimise the time and cost associated with turning customer orders into cash. The less it costs a telco to provision and service a customer effectively, the greater chance it has of keeping valued customers and of making a profit. For example, as a Western European mobile operator recently commented: "Our financial figures are now in the top five of the operators in Europe. We automated our order management process within the past two and a half years and this has totally helped the system compared with the manual processes of the past."
This quote came from a recent research study by Analysys, which highlighted that despite many recent improvements in order-to-cash processes, most telcos acknowledge there is still significant work to do to fully optimise the order to cash lifecycle.
Analysys surveyed over 40 telecoms operators in Europe and North America; a staggering 80 per cent of respondents admitted that further order management improvements are essential if they are to achieve better financial results and competitive differentiation. Fifty per cent of telecoms operators, and within this, all bar one of the large operators, are without a single common process for order taking across all lines of business.
One in three of the operators that had met obstacles in improving order to cash processes had to stop or delay critical product launches -- a highly detrimental factor in the quest for profitability in a competitive marketplace. Operators looking to jump start their market expansion plans need to ensure faster time-to-market, especially as the pressure intensifies to introduce new services and tariffs.
With profitability as the ultimate target and order management the means of getting there, there are also a number of goals to be achieved along the way. Namely, in the Analysys research, half of the operators surveyed cited improved cash flow, better service, increased customer satisfaction and revenue growth as benefits made possible when the obstacles to improved order management are removed.

Hurdles to clear

Analysys outlines two main hurdles to achieving these goals. These are the sheer complexity of the order management processes that need to be overhauled, and the impact of seemingly irreplaceable legacy systems that still remain the backbone of telcos' IT infrastructures.
The issue with the order management business processes themselves is that they are becoming increasingly complex as telecoms businesses become more diverse, nimble and affected by rapid market change. Issues like constant development of new services to keep competitive edge and a high rate of market consolidation, mean that the market landscape for telcos is constantly evolving. Despite their increasing complexity, processes need to be effective, resilient and efficient in order to deliver profitability.
The complexity of IT systems and difficulty in customising legacy IT systems is blatantly clear from the survey. 29 per cent of telcos are trying to hard wire critical systems needed across order management to create an integrated process. While this may serve today's needs, hard wiring usually means that there is little option for change. How will these telcos fair in the future, when their order management processes, and probably the systems needed to support them, have changed beyond all recognition?
Only one in five operators has invested in integration tools with standard technology interfaces, despite that fact that these systems offer a more future proof route to profitability because they are based on open standards that allow any combination of systems to be integrated.

Lip service to industry standards?

The Analysys survey shows an increase in the awareness of industry standards such as the TeleManagement Forum's (TMF) Enhanced Telecom Operations Map (eTOM), which provides a blueprint for successful business, processes like order management. But while 60 per cent of large and medium sized operators are tracking and analysing these standards for ways to create value in order management, only five per cent are actually developing order management solutions using the industry standards. Over the next few years, the market needs to follow these early adopters who have successfully made order management improvements using standards based solutions.
One early standards adopter is R (formerly R Cable), one of the fastest-growing telecommunications companies in Spain. In early 2004, R decided to take the standards based approach to order management by implementing Vitria:OrderAccelerator, a solution based on the TMF's eTOM framework, which streamlines and automates manual, order-related business process flows across OSS and BSS systems.
The decision by R to standardise on an order management platform was based on the desire to run the entire process of customer subscriptions and services provisioning from one place. It is integrating information flow between the web, its customer relationship management platform, service activation systems, on-site workforce systems, network inventory system, its Interactive Voice Response facility, and billing system in a single environment.
"The strong competition in the telecommunications sector requires a sustained effort to provide the best levels of operating efficiency and service," comments Antonio Gómez, Systems, Organisation and Quality Manager at R. "Vitria addresses specific issues that have a direct impact on efficiency and quality through the automation of processes and the integration of information flows inside the company. By offering visibility of customer details and services across the organisation, Vitria also helps us reduce costs and improve service."

The revenue impact

An earlier study by Analysys, in February 2004, showed that, with revenues overall growing more slowly, management of existing revenues has become increasingly important. Under the global title of 'revenue assurance', this has become an absolutely essential project for operators. The study showed that of the top six causes of revenue loss, three were in the area of order management and processing, namely 'Poor Processes and Procedures', 'Poor Systems Integration' and 'Applying New products and Services'.
Even more surprising was the gap between assumed revenue loss and likely real revenue loss. In Western and Central/Eastern Europe an acceptable loss level was around 1 per cent of revenue. However, the research suggested that the actual loss level was probably well over 7 per cent. This was unlikely to be due to complacency but more the result of vertical organisational structures, and a resultant inability to recognise the real causes of revenue loss, and more importantly, put in place effective measures to reduce them.
In today's climate, lost revenue is close to being a crime and it is vital that operators focus on eliminating it before getting carried away with the front-end technology. It will be of no long-term value to have launched the most leading-edge services if, at the same time, an operator is leaking more revenue at the back.

A two-pronged attack

It is clear that although the improved overall climate for operators is permitting some renewed opportunity to launch new technology based services such as 3G in mobile and VoIP in fixed, the biggest risk is if they de-focus on the back office. A strong and determined effort to 'sort out' order management, and its associated processes and procedures, will have the triple benefits of reducing costs, stemming some key sources of revenue loss and, most importantly, allow the more effective and timely launch of new and exciting service offerings.         

John Maclean is Telecoms Marketing Director EMEA at Vitria, and can contacted via tel: +44 (0)1628 421852;

Louis Meyer argues that the drive for a more advanced
OSS should begin at a board level

As 2005 kicks off, it would appear, finally, that telecoms carriers are beginning to recognise the strategic importance of driving OSS investment from the boardroom. UMTS shows a great deal of promise for the future, and many carriers are realising the necessity for a highly proactive approach in developing and delivering innovative new services that are tempting subscribers to spend more. Certainly MMS is starting to take off, 'push-to-talk' is proving increasingly popular, and SMS-based voting services are an intriguing possibility.
The mainstream use of 3G services is firmly on the horizon. But as the industry readies itself to gauge the market's reaction to these ambitious new services, the benefits of installing new infrastructures to manage their efficient delivery is being overlooked by many carriers. Lack of business value-supporting OSS/BSS are emerging as a potential source of seriously numbing headaches in the coming years. Carriers will need to fully equip themselves for the strenuous demands that the introduction of new services will place on their delivery infrastructure in the near future, or risk being left behind by their competitors as the pace of change quickens.
The automation of network management is an ongoing process with significant advances already having been made, and with many improvements and refinements in the pipeline. The widespread adoption of these automated infrastructures must appear increasingly necessary and desirable at a board level to executives who are looking to improve efficiency, in practical and economic terms, maximising operating profits and ensuring that their networks will continue to deliver value and cope under the strain.
OSS has taken a prominent role in recent industry conventions and, as expected, billing and billing mediation solutions have received plenty of attention due to the convergence of pre-pay, pay now, and post-pay services, with an array of new applications under evaluation by operators. The prevalence of GIS systems vendors has demonstrated a high level of interest in services with a location-based flavour. Certainly analysts have been generally surprised at the strong presence of pure OSS vendors at the latest showcase events.
At TeleManagement World 2004, communication service providers readily admitted that their business processes could be made more efficient, but tight budgets -- in combination with the perennial misalignment between the requirements of IT and the board -- were often blamed as the reason for the lack of a systematic approach to the enhancement of network management.
It seems the problems most commonly encountered in the telecoms industry are receiving repeat calls from customers, the inconsistent distribution of work, and an over-dependence on an experienced workforce -- instead of highly automated processes or systems -- to complete the myriad of tasks in hand. However, it is encouraging that telecom professionals are at least aware of these inefficiencies and of their causes, even if they feel they have their hands tied when it comes to implementing solutions. This highlights the importance of aligning IT and business goals if operational efficiency improvements are to be realised, and that the drive for a more advanced OSS should begin at a board level.
There can be no doubt that OSS, and the attitudes surrounding its use, currently stand at a critical crossroads. The market led approach to mobile communications -- selling a product, before considering the suitability of the infrastructure to support the roll out of new services -- is sure to lead to some major problems in delivering a satisfactory level of customer quality and satisfaction.
There are two possible outcomes of this approach. Firstly, there is the possibility that the industry will intelligently fine tune investments in both network infrastructure and OSS/BSS to match market growth and tackle the changing demands as they arise. The second outcome is that there is a significant mismatch in growth and delivery capability, creating very public service quality problems, which could negatively impact on and perhaps irreversibly damage a firm's brand image.
The outstanding challenge for most carriers will be managing the huge volume of change ahead, both in terms of network growth and growth of the customer base. In some cases, the number of additions to the network could reach many hundreds each day. Without the human programming of diagnostic rules it is simply not possible to adapt to this rate of change. As far as the improvement of the level of service in network operations centres (NOCs) is concerned, the telecoms industry is now undergoing a sea-change where it is possible to largely automate network management and fault resolution, cutting human resource costs and the time taken to analyse and fix faults.
Next generation OSS infrastructure utilises artificial intelligence (AI), originally developed for use in the nuclear industry, where diagnostic decisions have a critical impact, to analyse and discover the root causes of network problems and reduce the number of events that need human intervention. This delivers greater OSS productivity without increased hardware investment; improved SLA compliance and service levels, reducing the likelihood of incurring SLA penalty costs; and improved network reliability leading to significantly reduced churn. Which in board-speak means reduced opex and lowered TCO with a very attractive ROI.
Carriers and by extension, their end users, can benefit greatly from task-based management and reason-led systems that allow for more rapid deployment of closed-loop control. Some carriers have reported a 98 per cent success rate when applying these AI solutions to identify and resolve errors that arise in the day-to-day running of their networks, which can mean up to two million individual problems fixed automatically every day.
Executives must recognise that their firms' reputation is at stake here and put in the extra effort to secure the necessary investment in high efficiency hands-off automated OSS, an investment which will make a tangible difference to the bottom line and may ultimately prove to be crucial to carriers' survival in the coming years.                                                     

Louis Meyer is CEO of Pivetal, and can be contacted via e-mail: louism@pivetal.com   www.pivetal.com

As UMTS finally takes off across Europe, network planners are exploring how best to meet projected 3G subscriber growth. The technology at the base station RF interface holds many of the answers, writes Joerg Springer

In the latter half of 2004, the third-generation (3G)/universal mobile telecommunications system found its feet in Europe. This technology should provide answers to many of the business challenges facing the region's aging second-generation (2G)/global system for mobile communications networks. While Western Europe's GSM networks still enjoy steady subscriber growth, many are over a decade old, and face serious capacity limitations.
UMTS is founded on wideband code division multiple access (W-CDMA) technology, and promises relief from the current capacity headache. W-CDMA offers a capacity-per-MHz far greater than that of time division multiple access (TDMA)-based GSM, plus reduced OPEX. It also promises more established and sustained average revenue per unit growth -- a powerful driver in an industry climbing its way out of a three-year ARPU slump. The earliest experiences with 2.5G data services suggest that the more advanced 3G will be an important factor in industry growth.

Unique challenges

Although the European '3G beast' is now flying, there are unique challenges ahead from a network expansion and RF perspective. Today's 2G-to-3G transition is a different scenario to that of the mid-nineties leap from first generation analogue services to digital.
In just over a decade, Europe's cellular services have matured dramatically, with penetrations at around 85 per cent. The downside of this is that all the prime base station sites are occupied. The environmental requirements regarding site location and visibility have also 'matured' to become some of the world's most demanding.
The transition from TDMA-based GSM to W-CDMA-based UMTS technology also influences network planning. Where TDMA planning strategies are based on minimising co-channel interference by re-using a select number of     channels over a group of cells, W-CDMA uses the full frequency band in each cell. Moreover, W-CDMA cells are said to 'breathe' -- the size of the cell varies with the number of callers within the cell, the transferred data rate and so on. The resulting co-channel interference that can occur in the W-CDMA network increases the noise floor, and progressively depletes the capacity of the network. It presents a notoriously tougher network planning challenge when compared with GSM, particularly in addressing the interference resulting from adjacent cells.
Perhaps most challenging of all is subscriber expectation with regards to quality of service (QoS). No longer are subscribers willing to condone dropped calls and fades -- Western Europe has arguably the highest cellular QoS in the world. The new UMTS services have much to live up to.

Rooftop realities

The majority of Europe's urban cell sites are rooftop-based. Given the tough site acquisition conditions, the easiest 3G roll-out option (and the one largely chosen to-date by Europe's UMTS operators) is co-siting.
The situation on European rooftops today has much in common with a crowded early morning commuter train -- no-one enjoys the congestion, there are established long-term disputes and rivalries between some 'passengers', but on the whole, the system works. To accommodate UMTS spectrum, new antennas are required, so the 'train' needs to be reorganised. The most popular strategy adopted to-date is the multi-band antenna solution. This is manifesting in strong demand across Europe for dual- and tri-band antenna solutions supporting combinations of UMTS 2100 MHz, GSM 900 MHz and GSM 1800 MHz.
A further challenge is co-siting interference. When antennas operating at different frequencies are located in close proximity, there is potential for RF interferences. These are caused by intermodulation products orspurious emissions, which can in turn lead to BTS or Node B blocking. The most extreme cases of these occur when the core band spectral separation is narrow (a pair of UMTS 2100 MHz and GSM 1800 MHz services is a most obvious case), and the antennas are physically close. As a result, UMTS/GSM co-location isn't always straightforward. In some cases, it simply isn't practical, and the new UMTS operator is forced to opt for a site that is nearby, but 'sub-optimal'. The RF challenge is to make the best of such a bad situation, and to optimise the RF footprint to suit the alternative location.

RF flexibility

The upshot of this highly constrained site location scenario -- coupled with the exacting requirements of W-CDMA network planning -- is that Europe's 3G operators are demanding higher levels of base station RF precision and flexibility. First and foremost is the issue of antenna performance: new-generation 'precision footprint' antennas feature diminished side and rear lobe radiation levels, improved null fill, and increased front-to-back ratios.
'Flexibility' is being sought on a number of RF technology fronts -- specifically in the control of cell footprint size, shape, direction and power. To compensate for CDMA-style cell breathing and less-than-optimal site locations, variable electrical tilt is de rigueur. Increasingly, this is accompanied by remote tilt control functionality, linked back to the network management centre via industry standard communication protocols.
There is also a demand for tower-mounted amplifiers (TMAs) across the majority of Europe's 3G sites. These provide amplification in the uplink signal from the terminal, which overcomes losses in feeder and co-siting components, decreases the system noise, plus increases the potential cell size. The need again is for flexibility -- a broad choice of amplification levels, dual and multiband configurations, and a wide selection of antenna gains.
In addition, the challenge of W-CDMA adjacent cell interference has created a demand for alternative apertures. Where the 65-degree tri-sector is the norm in 2G/GSM networks, antenna apertures of 90-, 45- and even 33-degrees permit the W-CDMA network planner to 'break the symmetry' of the final cell pattern, and thus minimise cell-to-cell interference.
The not-too-distant future holds even more RF challenges -- significantly, the evolution from a coverage-driven to a capacity-driven strategy. In the very short term, we'll see UMTS operators continue to expand and enhance their 3G coverage across the major city and urban centres. These are the areas that present the greatest revenue earning potential, and are also the most voice capacity-challenged.

Longer term challenge

More challenging, though, is the longer term. Analysts predict a 50-fold increase in Europe's UMTS subscriber levels between end-2004 and end-2009. In essence, this suggests Western Europe will see 3G subscriber levels rise to almost equal those of the region's current GSM count, in a time frame just over half that afforded to the evolution of GSM. This represents extraordinary subscriber growth, and presents unique challenges to 3G network planners and RF technology providers.
To meet the fast-growing capacity requirements as GSM subscribers migrate to UMTS, we can expect to see even more advances in base station RF technology. These will almost certainly be founded on two key elements: advanced 'hybrid' (a mix of active and passive components) antenna solutions, plus greater intelligence and control functionality built into the antennas.
While today's antennas are purely passive, tomorrow's antennas will need to integrate active RF conditioning components, such as low-noise amplifiers, multiplexers and filters, with even greater levels of control. Similarly, by providing more onboard intelligence within the antenna, an increasingly broad range of antenna pattern parameters might be adjusted and controlled. This will provide superior levels of flexibility to the network planner.
Over time, we'll also see a vast improvement in W-CDMA network simulation tools. This should result in more dynamic and intelligent network management strategies, and possibly lead to the realisation of the so-called 'dynamic antenna performance control'. Here, the adjustable parameters of the antenna components -- both active and passive -- could be corrected in response to the simulation tools, perhaps even in a closed-loop real-time configuration. It is these types of super-flexible base station RF solutions that will play a significant role in the establishment of UMTS in the longer term.     

Joerg Springer is the Chief Marketing Officer, Radio Frequency Systems (RFS). He can be contacted via: tel +49 511 676 2516; e-mail: joerg.springer@rfsworld.com

Andrew Beutmueller and Phil Haddock examine the
effectiveness of an automated rights management system

Recently, the Assicurazioni Generali, the third largest European life insurance company, controlling 626 companies worldwide, made the strategic decision to implement an Identity and Access Management solution to automate rights management across a range of diverse systems. Beginning at its Swiss division, Generali Group Switzerland, the new system has helped to streamline increasingly complex IT environments, and cut operating costs and errors.
A series of mergers and acquisitions brought a number of formerly independent Swiss insurance companies under one roof, resulting in rapid growth in the number of IT users requiring access to a broad range of services, data and applications running on a variety of platforms across the Generali Group Switzerland.
Despite the increased work load resulting from the merger, resource provisioning was still performed manually using printed paper forms to assign each user a set of access rights to a specific configuration of systems and resources. This system of 'manual rights assignment' worked well enough in the past, but with the merger and today's increasingly complex IT environments, manual rights assigning has become costly, time-consuming and inaccurate.

Role-based provisioning

The objective was, of course to replace the labour-intensive, system-specific assignment of user rights and permissions then in place at Generali; this referenced an emerging standard known as Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). This was replaced by "a strategic, centrally administered directory service (role concept) based on standards (X.500, LDAP)," according to Jürgen Lorek, Internal Auditor of Generali (Schweiz).
After some research, it was discovered that the best option would be to implement a Meta Directory solution that was built around a role-based approach to identity and access management.
Role-based provisioning is based on the RBAC standard developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The solution deployed at Generali Group Switzerland enables cross-platform provisioning at a level that closely mirrors the organisational structure of the enterprise. The definition of roles, role hierarchies, relationships, and constraints reflects the levels of responsibility and specific operations to be executed by persons in particular jobs. Each role is assigned one or more permissions containing bundles of access rights, and each employee is assigned one or more roles. The specialised Meta Directory solution enables access rights to be granted, refused, withdrawn and monitored dynamically, independently of the platforms and applications used. Once a role-based framework has been put in place for an organisation, the principal administrative actions are the user-to-role (user-to-job) assignments.

The DirX product

The Identity and Access Management solution implemented at Generali Group Switzerland is based on the following components of the Siemens DirX product suite: 1) The DirX V6.0D10, a high-performance LDAPv3/X.500 directory server that stores employee data, the DirXmetahub configuration and all roles, groups and accounts, and 2) the Siemens HiPath SIcurity DirXmetahub V6.5B10, which is a Meta Directory Engine supporting the HiPath SIcurity DirXmetaRole Version V2.0B00 for provisioning user and access Management.
Master identity data is maintained consistently in the DirX directory server and made available centrally. The Meta Directory engine DirXmetahub ensures the automatic synchronization of data between all connected systems. HiPath SIcurity DirXmetaRole enables the provisioning.
Three separate systems for development, test and production of the DirX-based solution were put in place. Siemens provided the software components and licenses along with project consulting and a standard set of maintenance services.

Putting theory into practice

The Generali Group Switzerland's Legal Protection division offers legal insurance -- it was this part of the company that was targeted for the initial implementation of the solution. It was a prime candidate, as some 55 users required differentiated access to diverse resources and services: sales administration, contract management, and damage-assessment systems (all running under Oracle), and Microsoft ADS/Exchange.
A great deal of preparatory work went into the description of specific job functions and their definition in terms of roles, and a key requirement was to enable HR personnel to perform a 'user-to-role' assignment for each employee. Once the name, address, salary, contract start, effective date of entry, etc. was registered, the HR manager was to assign a role corresponding to a specific job.
At that point, the automatic procedures would take over: the entire user-to-role assignment would be read from the HR database and passed back to HiPath SIcurity DirXmetaRole, where the corresponding assignment of access rights was to take place.

Problem solving in real time

The objective of achieving flawless synchronization between the meta-directory and the HR management system is simple enough in theory, but making it work in real time was a challenge. Fortunately, the solution is flexible enough to take into account the possibility that customer-specific extensions of the DirXmetaRole might be necessary for effective integration in legacy environments.
Moreover, synchronization between the directory and the Generali application systems was critical. Once the role-based rights configurations had been integrated in the DirX meta-directory, they had to be mapped back into the different application systems and resources accurately.
"Our core business is built on the Oracle platform and is structured very similarly across the different applications, so this backwards compatibility with the current database applications in production was absolutely critical," explains Lorek.
Now that the solution is in place, when a new employee enters the system or when the role assignments of existing employees change, all that isrequired from Generali's HR manager is to check a box on screen. The new software reads the status of all user-to-role assignments-enabled, added or deleted -- and the result is automatically synchronised with the entire legacy system. As such, "the whole complexity of the paper-based, manual process in place prior to the project has been reduced to a single mouse-click," says Lorek.

Success at hand

The Identity and Access Management solution has been in production in the Legal Protection division for almost a year now. Under the previous manual system, correcting an error in rights assignment cost three or four hours and involved several different people in HR or IT administration. This was obviously highly cost intensive. And if you think about the potential damage from misuse of obsolete or erroneous access rights, the risks were obvious.
"We underestimated the amount of work involved, but we also underestimated the impact our success would have on the organization," said Lorek. "The solution improved the security of our systems; it reduced the risk of misuse and potential damage to the business."
Furthermore, as remaining non-core applications continue to be integrated into the central system, the benefits become clearer, especially in terms of significantly lower administration costs; near-perfect accuracy in terms of moves, adds and changes; and greater confidence in the security of the IT environment and the company's ability to satisfy evolving regulatory requirements.

Jürgen Lorek talks about Identity and Access Management at Generali Group Switzerland

Q: Although you have a background as an IT professional, you also brought a business point of view to the challenge of resource provisioning. Can you give us a little more detail?
Lorek: I was lucky in the sense that I could take on both the IT and the business analysis and bring them together in a form of interdisciplinary thinking.
I studied this problem and, in doing so, added complementary business and financial analysis skills to my professional IT expertise. As such I was able to couch the resource provisioning issue in terms that non-IT colleagues and external solution providers could understand; I chose an object-oriented analysis and design tool known as UML (Unified Modeling Language). With this I was able to analyse and model Generali Group Switzerland in terms of its organisational structure and business processes. The UML model was a real milestone. It was clear that if we could find a product capable of implementing it, we would have a solution.
We began with classical organisational theory and looked at Generali's business in terms of how it was organised and in terms of business processes, as an operational organisation. We evaluated all of the resources available in the company under these two points of view. Although functions often cross departmental divisions, it's very difficult to change the way people traditionally think and work, so we're proceeding on a two-track path.
As far as provisioning is concerned, we've introduced an operational structure. We have Siemens HiPath SIcurity DirXmetaRole set up to map functional responsibilities in terms of roles and corresponding privileges. We've modelled everything that a person does within the enterprise, the day-to-day business in a functional organisation as well as project-oriented business, and together that provides the summa summarum of all rights and privileges for that person.
Q: What sort of impact did this approach have on the project?
Lorek: I think it's one of the main reasons the project has been successful-the fact that we were able to convince management to look at it as a business issue rather than as a purely technical challenge. It was a business and organisational challenge that could be resolved using IT tools.                       

Negotiating telecoms contracts can be a daunting prospect but, as David Warren explains, there's no gain without pain

Having squeezed out 'low hanging' inefficiencies, organisations are now turning to review their telecommunications cost structure on a European scale. The money enterprises spend on telecommunications services has long been considered a cost of doing business.
Yet, in today's business environment, no area of spend is sacred -- especially with expenditure on telecommunications amounting to one to two per cent of sales. A good telecommunications review could reduce the investment by 20-25 per cent. Repeated every one to two years, those savings could continue at 10-15 per cent.
In recent years, national players in telecommunications are being challenged by global carriers who, in turn, are being challenged by pan-European suppliers. Business models for pricing are being rewritten. We are juggling with 'postalisation' of rates, voice over IP, escalation of mobile usage, a switch to the receiver paying (through freephone numbers), and volume -- not distance -- pricing as data becomes the prominent form of traffic.

Corporate lethargy

But there remains a corporate lethargy for action.  National contracts, in many cases, remain untouched.  Business users, although dictating and escalating the expenditure, are not taking responsibility for it.  Telecoms suppliers are making the most of the profitability window.
  Daunted by complexity, inaction is understandable.  But it is better to instigate a review than to have a review instigated on you.
Having decided the time is right -- how do you get started? Renegotiation of a telecommunications contract or contracts is similar to any other legal agreement and just as serious. To embark on a review the telecoms manager(s) responsible must begin with a phase of Discovery. The Discovery Phase may need to take place within each of your operating territories. Each territory will need to work together to ensure that all parties involved are fully aware of the parameters and ambitions of the review. This first step is critical to a successful contract, as it informs you of the complete telecoms expenditure of your organisation. The fact is that most users don't know what they have, what they use and what they are paying for.
It is worth noting that decisions defining mobile needs are different to traditional voice services and very nationally focused. International mobile communications are on the increase and charges for these services are very expensive, and international roaming makes this very difficult to control. The actual charges are very dependant upon the various supplier partnerships in place in each country and the network provider used for the home network. Mobile on a European basis therefore warrants a different, but linked, evaluation and negotiation. 
The Discovery Phase is followed with a renegotiation. Renegotiation should begin with a sharing of the discovery findings with the incumbent supplier(s), along with your strategic plans and projections for the future. The incumbent should be given the opportunity to respond.   One time out of five the vendor team responds successfully. Often the vendor escalates the review within their organisation: if this happens 50 per cent of the escalations provide a favourable response.
Risk is a prerequisite to an effective telecom services agreement. To obtain favourable rates and concessions from vendors, telecom customers must convince vendors that they are willing to change service providers. Put simply: clients considered to be 'at risk' get the best prices.
If successful the review process can end there. But, if not, it will move on to the time consuming process of Request for Proposal (RFP), a second renegotiation, then if necessary wider circulation of the RFP, final selection, negotiation, award and conversion. One way to ease the pain of this process is to use proxy bids based on market data to test the proposal of your incumbent organisation. The results of similar discoveries conducted at other customer organisations provide a comparative context, allowing negotiations to be based on actual market rates.

Priorities in the RFP

f you get to RFP, three priorities for inclusion are: pricing linked to market rates, annual reviews and demanding quality of service parameters.
1) Firstly, with regard to pricing, the RFP should insist that vendors commit to coming within 15 per cent of the current market prices and be explicit and not tied to controlled price lists or confidential contracts.     
2) The second 'must' is to include a contractual provision for annual renegotiations against market rates, to allow for adjustments in response to new market conditions and changing business requirements. Flexibility can also be enhanced through a low minimum annual commitment, which should be less than 66 per cent of expected annual spend.
3) And finally, to ensure quality of service, the terms must include non-linear credits for service outages. What I mean by this is that telecom agreements are typically structured so that, in the event of a service outage, the vendor provides 'credits' for additional service, rather than a monetary payment. If the penalty isn't sufficiently painful, the vendor may prefer to dole out credits rather than to fix an underlying problem causing outages. An effective contract must therefore escalate penalties after each outage. An escalated penalty structure provides the telecom vendor with a clearincentive  to ensure that the cause of the initial outage is investigated and addressed, in order to prevent future problems. For the customer, meanwhile, quality of service is ensured.
After the RFP is prepared, give your supplier the opportunity for a second renegotiation. If this fails to achieve the concessions you require publish the RFP to the wider competition.This does not necessarily mean a change in vendor; indeed most often the incumbent retains the business.   
RFP response assessment will most likely uncover two best responses with which the final negotiations take place. Both organisations should discuss the strategic view of their businesses and ensure a mutual fit in ambition over the coming years. If a new carrier is chosen,  conversion must be managed as smoothly and amicably as possible. The vendor's ability to execute this conversion transparently from the end-user point of view will set the tone for the life of the contract.
This process needs to be repeated for each carrier in each territory. Phasing is important, as there may be opportunities for one supplier to offer a service across several other territories, or for one supplier to operate across all territories, in the style of an international managed service. More and more businesses, in our experience, are taking this approach.
So you have concluded negotiations and agreed on your carrier(s) of choice. But it's not over.

Carrier pre-select

Carrier pre-select is another feature that is driving down telecommunication rates, as companies can use different carriers for different purpose: taking advantage of time of day discounts for one carrier, and favourable international rates for another, while using mainstream carriers for the majority of their telecommunications requirements. 
A bit like deciding whether to take the train, bus or car for a particular journey, these decisions can be made on the 'fly'. There is, however, a limit to the complexity that is appropriate to build in. For the most part, large companies are continuing with single contracts with mainstream carriers, but increasingly medium sized companies are using carrier pre-select. To compete, traditional carriers must respond with favourable pricing that competes with the incentive to use pre-select.

Get out and be proactive

As customers demand more, in the coming months and years, telecoms suppliers must get out and be proactive: once a customer has started the review process the supplier is on the back foot. Carriers should take new pricing models to their customers proactively and demonstrate how they can save them money and the carrier can keep a profitable loyal customer. 
Similarly telecoms manager must remember that suppliers are running profitable businesses: squeezing prices into oblivion will not do you or them any favours.  Understand the true market pricing and be realistic.  Forcing short-term cost cutting as far as possible    doesn't work either.
Both parties want a strong ongoing relationship: for the supplier it means more business; for the customer it means simplicity. It can still be a 'customer for life' approach, this time based on open relationship building on both sides.
In summary, telecoms costs are typically one to two per cent of a company's sales. Yet most users don't know what they have, what they're using, or what they're paying for. It's not uncommon for enterprises to have multiple telecoms contracts covering the same services, and to pay several times for the same service. Effective negotiations and management of telecom contracts can have a measurable impact on a business' financial performance. Telecoms managers can drive this change and ensure a profitable relationship, on both sides.

David Warren is managing consultant specialising in telecommunications, at Compass Management Consulting, and can be contacted via tel: +44 1483 514500 e-mail: info@compassmc.co.uk

As potential breaches of IT security become reality, the cost of doing nothing could be severe. And, as Craig Pollard explains, it's not just data that needs tightened security...

In today's business environment, IT network security is vitally important, with security breaches across voice and data networks growing by the day. Emotive terms such as 'cyber attack' and 'cyber-terrorism' are always certain to generate plenty of media excitement, with science-fiction visions of malevolent hackers creating vicious computer viruses to rampage through cyberspace, doing unseen and untold damage to the infrastructures that support our way of life. However, while the reality of IT security is far more mundane than such science-fiction ideas, the threat to a network from malicious attack remains real and the consequences just as frightening. Every business is dependent upon information technology, which brings with it inevitable vulnerability.
Dark rumours of underground hacker networks and conferences give rise to the belief in a vast and growing number of aggressive, deliberately destructive hackers. Significantly, the methods these hackers adopt to gain unauthorised access to corporate resources are now also extending to embrace telecommunications systems.

The terrorist threat

he hacker phenomenon has a serious and far-reaching influence. Were communications on two continents ever disrupted by moving telecommunications satellites? Have computing resources belonging to government agencies ever been hacked? Have environmental controls in a shopping centre ever been altered via a modem? The answer to all of these questions is yes. But, unlike other crime groups who receive high profile coverage in the media, the individuals responsible for these incidents are rarely caught.
As if that is not enough, unauthorised use of telecommunications facilities is the preferred methodology for people who sympathise or support terrorist organisations, and want their activities to remain invisible.
The French authorities studying the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, for example, are investigating whether the bombers hacked into the telephone exchange of a bank near Paris as they were planning their attack. The telephone calls involved were made by phreaking -- a practice similar to hacking that bypasses the charging system.

Combating telephony fraud
The PBX is among the most susceptible areas to telecommunications fraud. Typical methods of fraudulent abuse involve the misuse of common PBX functions such as DISA (Direct Inward System Access), looping, call forwarding, voicemail and auto attendant features.
Another area popular for frequent fraudulent exploitation is the maintenance port of PBXs. Hackers often use the dial-up modem attached to such ports to assist in remote maintenance activities. When a PBX is linked to an organisation's IT network -- as is increasingly the case with call centres, for instance -- a poorly protected maintenance port can offer hackers an open and undefended 'back door' into such critical assets as customer databases and business applications.

When things go wrong

It is clearly important to balance the cost of securing your voice infrastructure from attack against the cost of doing nothing. The consequences from inaction can include:
*  Direct financial loss through fraudulent call misuse (internal or external)
*  Missed cost saving opportunities through identification on surplus circuits
*  Adverse publicity, damage to reputation and loss of customer confidence
*  Litigation and consequential financial loss
*  Loss of service and inability to dispense contractual obligations
*  Regulatory fines or increased regulatory supervision
As is the trend with hacking data networks, the threat to PBXs comes primarily from within. For example, an employee, a contractor, or even a cleaner could forward an extension in a seldom-used meeting room to an overseas number and make international calls by calling a local rate number in the office.
The perpetrator could likewise be the beneficiary of a premium rate telephone number in this country or abroad and continue to leave phones off the hook or on a re-direct to that number netting thousands of pounds in illicit gains in a weekend.
And, of course, let's not forget about the new telecommunications technologies which are based around open communications via the Internet. These include IP-driven PBXs supported by all the adjunct devices, the deployment of CTS (Computerised Telephone Systems), CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) and Voice over IP.  The introduction of these technologies means IT and telecoms managers need now to become even more alert to prevent new and existing threats that are typically associated with data networks, now impacting upon voice networks. Without diligent attention, telecoms systems are in grave danger of becoming the weak link in the network and utterly defenceless against targeted attacks by hackers.

Practical measures

So, what practical measures can telecom or IT managers take to help prevent becoming a victim of telecom fraud?
One of the most effective approaches to improving the security of telephony systems includes conducting regular audits of:
*  Station privileges and restrictions
*  Voice and data calling patterns
*  Public and private network routing access
*  Automatic route selection
*  Software defined networks
*  Private switched and tandem networks
*  System management and maintenance capabilities
*  Auto attendant and voicemail
*  Direct inward system access (DISA)
*  Call centre services (ACD)
*  Station message detail reporting
*  Adjunct system privileges
*  Remote maintenance protection
*  Primary cable terminations and physical security of the site and equipment rooms
Other measures include reviewing the configuration of your PBX against known hacking techniques, comparing configuration details against best practice and any regulatory requirements that may pertain to your industry sector.
Ensure default voicemail and maintenance passwords are changed and introduce a policy to prevent easily guessable passwords being used. Make sure that the policy demands regular password changes and take steps to ensure the policy is enforced.
Installing a call logging solution, to provide notification of suspicious activity on your PBX, is a useful measure and one that can often give valuable early warning of an attack. In addition, review existing PBX control functions that might be at risk or which could allow errors to occur.
Be aware that many voice systems now have an IP address and are therefore connected to your data network. Therefore, you must assess what provisions you have to segment both networks. Security exposures can also result from the way multiple PBX platforms are connected across a corporate network or from interconnectivity with existing applications.
Research and investigate operating system weaknesses, including analytical findings, manufacturer recommendations, prioritisation and mitigation or closure needs -- and implement a regular schedule of reviewing server service packs, patches, hot-fixes and anti-virus software.
Finally, formalise and instigate a regular testing plan that includes prioritisation of the elements and components to be assessed, and supplement this by conducting a series of probing exercises to confirm the effectiveness of the security controls used.
To achieve this level of security on a voice network requires an advanced level of expertise. Insight and Siemens are drawing on their combined skills and experience in information security and telephony solutions to introduce a new portfolio of voice security services that provide a comprehensive approach to mitigating the threats that voice networks face.
These services include security audits, vulnerability assessments, incident response, forensic investigation as well as telecom policy review and development. All services will be compatible with voice equipment from Avaya, Cisco, Ericsson, Nortel, Mitel, Siemens and others.                                                   

Insight Consulting, a division of Siemems plc, are exhibiting at Infosecurity Europe on the 26th - 28th April 2005 in the Grand Hall, Olympia.

Craig Pollard, Head of Security Solutions, Siemens Communications

This year's TeleManagement World looks set to provide a platform for the most pressing telecoms issues of the day

This year's TeleManagement World event (Nice, France, May 16 - 19) is expected to be the TM Forum's biggest and most successful event ever, as the telecom industry finally returns to something approaching normality. After three years of hunkering down and trimming costs, telecom operators are now gearing up to invest in next generation services. And the evidence will be at TeleManagement World's Catalyst Showcase.
TM Forum Catalysts Projects are where OSS/BSS suppliers combine to produce integrated solutions by following the TM Forum's specifications and guidelines. The objective is to produce a prototype solution, which can then be demonstrated to potential customers. TM Forum calls its Catalyst Program a 'Living Lab' because of its pragmatic, customer-driven approach -- and it claims that the level of participation in the Catalyst Showcase can be taken as a bellwether for the health of the sector.
This year TeleManagement World is set to host the greatest number of Catalyst Projects in its Catalyst Showcase feature since 2001, at the very  peak of the boom. The Catalyst Showcase is an area at TeleManagement World devoted to demonstrating multi-vendor demonstrator projects that have been developed to TM Forum specifications, such as eTOM (enhanced Telecommunications Operations Map) and SID, the data and integration model. 
"This time around we've had a complete resurgence," says Debbie Burkett, TM Forum's director of market collaboration. "We have 10 Catalysts and, better yet, the scope is wider than ever before."
According to Burkett the fact that all the Catalyst Projects are sponsored by at least one service provider (sometimes several) proves that there is real procurement intent behind the activity. "In a healthy industry the Catalysts are viewed as a way of developing quick prototypes," she says.
And the range of Catalysts is broader this year. As well as Catalyst Projects exploring aspects of the TM Forum's core NGOSS (new generation operations systems and software) Burkett points out that there are Catalysts targeting topics such as process management, content billing, and revenue assurance. "And most of them are new subjects, rather than being second or third phases of earlier projects," she points out.
While the increase in Catalyst Projects and sponsors is a sign that service providers are preparing to spend on OSS/BSS, the specific topics chosen provide insight into the new directions that the spending might take.
A key unifying concept within the TM Forum is the idea of 'lean operations': a catalogue of best practice for service providers facing a highly competitive 21st century market.

Pre-requisite for survival

According to the TM Forum, lean operations aren't a feel-good aspiration -- they're a pre-requisite for survival as prices spiral downwards and liberalisation and consolidation intensify competition. Lean service providers find ways to reduce costs and, at the same time, generate more revenue by getting to market with value-laden services to beat the competition. So lean doesn't mean chopping operations to the bone. It means making them both more efficient and more responsive and agile.
The work of the TM Forum is about promoting this 'lean' idea: to assist service providers complete the required metamorphosis from slightly paunchy, sometimes overly bureaucratic organisations that often arrange their procedures to suit themselves rather than their customers, to customer-facing organisations that prize continuous change and improvement.
One place to start with a makeover on this scale is with the very DNA of any service provider: its business processes. All organisations have processes -- Business Process Management (BPA) is a way of codifying and then managing them in a structured way, and the technique is an up-and-coming one within telecoms.              A Catalyst demonstration at TeleManagement World will show how the technology can be used to drive speedier change in service provider businessprocesses  such as Service Fulfilment and Supplier Partner Management. 
Another Catalyst will demonstrate how processes can be measured and monitored. The Business Activity Monitoring Catalyst will show a system tapping into the information that flows between applications, in real-time, to show business performance. This treats a telecom business as if it were a network requiring management -- not only can instant action be taken if the equivalent of an 'alert' appears, (say, customer fulfilment not being processed efficiently for the last two days) but, as with network management, trends can be monitored and improvements to the way the business is actually organised can be made.

A live issue

Revenue Assurance (techniques to actually bank the money you've earned) is always a live issue in telecoms. The TM Forum's Revenue Assurance team will present a Catalyst to demonstrate how revenue assurance systems can plug revenue leakages by checking customer bills against provisioned services, making sure that the right customer is using the right service (and paying for it).
Data and Content Charging will become a big issue, especially in the mobile sector as it moves rapidly towards third generation services, which will rely more heavily on data and content to turn a profit. The business relationships required to deliver profitable content are complex and will also change as the services evolve.
The TM Forum's Data and Content Charging team will use the Catalyst Showcase to demonstrate a flexible architecture designed to spread across today's borders of fixed and mobile environments. The architecture will involve third party arrangements as well as customer self-generated content and a wide variety of business relationships will be catered for.
Pragmatism may be the watchword for many of the demonstrations, but more strategic issues will also be aired in the Catalyst showcase. An MDA  (model driven architecture) Catalyst will demonstrate how the TM Forum's NGOSS framework could be implemented using MDA-based tools to integrate OSS components.
  Another strategic issue will be aired by the Open OSS Catalyst, the first ever Open OSS demonstration.  Open OSS may prove to be a very important strand in the TM Forum's technical work. The idea is to provide open source, free components which can be extended to provide TM Forum members with a permanent and evolvable OSS test bed and base of reference software.
The intention is not to create carrier class open source software, says the team developing the Catalyst, but to exploit the open source development approach to stimulate collaboration between different organisations.
These Catalyst demonstrations will have an appreciative audience at Nice and the OSS/BSS industry is expecting a steady up-tick in interest and orders from the service providers who visit TeleManagement World. However, unlike in the boom days of the late 1990s, there will be no spending gold rush. Instead, service providers will be looking to carefully choose systems which will help them bring services to market more quickly and, most important, help them to reduce operations costs.
This is where the TM Forum's Catalyst Program shows its worth, says Burkett, since it showcases suppliers in combination, focusing on their ability to produce integrated OSS/BSS solutions that solve real problems, rather than just push individual components. The increased popularity of the Catalysts is also an indication that suppliers understand the value of working together.
 "I would say about 50 per cent of the benefit for the vendors participating in the catalysts is technical -- it's an ideal way to develop prototype systems.
"The other 50 per cent is about building relationships with other suppliers," she claims. "What starts as a tactical, short term relationship to accomplish a particular prototype solution, can end up as a strategic long-term relationship."                                             


Could the ancient art of speech recognition have finally found resonance in the interactive voice response marketplace? Paul Welham explains

Speech recognition technology has been around for many years. The first speech synthesiser was produced in 1936, so there is a valid question to ask  namely: "Why has it taken so long to make reliable and commercially available systems available for deployment?"
The answer is really twofold. Firstly, there were constraining limitations in the availability and power of early computing technology. Secondly, and perhaps crucially, linguists found key difficulties differentiating between textbook grammar and the vocabulary structure of typical conversation.
Over the last few years, however, speech technology has come of age. The first public-facing system in Europe was deployed by Odeon cinemas in 1998 and was deemed a great success by both Odeon and their customers. Odeon were able to reduce call centre costs and improve their marketing. In 2004 Odeon made their Film line system totally speech driven, taking over 300,000 calls per weekend.
Speech recognition systems  now more usable, realistic and practical than in the past  are taking over the interactive voice response (IVR) marketplace. 
Over 70 per cent of the current voice business is linked with telephony communications and, according to leading analyst, Datamonitor, global voice business will be worth $2 billion by 2007.
Unlike IVR, natural language speech recognition systems are proving extremely popular with users. Speaking to a real person may be perceived as ideal, but when it involves a lengthy wait, over 80 per cent of callers/users prefer to use speech driven systems. Telephony is the area of speech recognition that is of most interest to organisations. It can offer cost effective ways of deploying speech recognition to solve everyday communication problems, and benefit other areas - such as data capture, intelligent routing and the dissemination of information.
There is a growing consensus that organisations need to be able to interact with their stakeholders 24x7. Speech recognition solutions can help achieve this goal, while providing a rare opportunity to automate mundane processes, improve telephony, reduce staff costs and improve services to customers and staff, all at the same time.
The technology can be used to solve common issues, including operator recruitment, excessive internal calls to the operator, expensive internal directory production and out of hours call handling. An operator's job is an anti-social one and, often, an underpaid role. Yet operators are a valuable resource as they have a detailed knowledge of how their organisation works  so it is crucial that they are customer facing. However, an operator's time is often claimed by internal staff asking for numbers.
Far from removing the human element, speech recognition call routing systems can relieve operators of mundane calls, giving them more time to deal with complex enquiries, where their specialist knowledge is essential.
Aerospace giant, GKN, for instance, wanted to reduce its costs partly as a good business practice in general, but also in the wake of the entire industry being affected by the appalling events of 9/11. The company looked at where it was spending money and how it could spend less, and the switchboard came up as a possible area for cuts. Cost benefits following the implementation of a speech driven virtual operator started to emerge very quickly: ROI can be achieved within months, and a speech solution can cope with the work of four operators for less than the cost of one human operator.
The alternatives to using speech recognition are few. Touch-tone or auto-attendant systems that ask you to either enter an extension number or press 1 etc. for your preferred option, are often used. These systems are seen as extremely frustrating by all types of callers and can never cater for the full range of options a caller may have in complex environments.
Speech recognition enables callers to interact with automated systems in the same way they would with a person, while at the same time removing those negative elements usually associated with automated IVR systems.
Excellent alternative
In the call centre sector, speech recognition provides an excellent alternative to the much-debated outsourcing issue. Providing queue management, skills based routing and automated transactions, all driven by speech, agents can deal with complex enquiries where their skills are needed, yet the cost per call to the organisation is greatly reduced due to the automation of many routine transactions. Peaks and troughs in call traffic can also be catered for without the need to hire extra temporary staff. Organisations such as Odeon cinemas are already employing this technology with great results.
When considering the design and implementation of speech recognition there are several important issues to be considered. These systems often cater for large user groups, including the general public, and as such will encounter a multitude of regional and ethnic accents. Only systems that are able to deal with these variations should be considered, to avoid alienating the people you serve.
There is a tendency to look to suppliers who provide existing legacy touch-tone communications, but speech recognition is an extremely complex area, so specialist knowledge should be sought from companies that understand speech. It is therefore wise to avoid legacy touch tone systems which have had speech applications bolted on as an afterthought, as the vendor may lack the necessary expertise to develop and deploy systems that work with the general public. A touch-tone platform is not the ideal speech platform, no matter how often legacy system vendors try to say it is.
Absolute must
An absolute 'must' is a professional recording service, to ensure speech recognition services sound seamless and professional to callers. Ultimately the caller is looking for an efficient experience when making a phone call, and is not looking to be entertained or distracted. They do not want music, sound effects, long monotonic greetings, persona or unnatural sounding voices. 
Systems should use industry standard software and hardware, ensuring they can be integrated with emerging telephony and IT technologies and other vendors' products, such as call loggers and pagers, to protect existing investment in telephony systems. Always visit reference sites that are similar in size to your own organisation and have the same business needs.
Always trial a solution before committing to buy  speech vendors confident in their systems' ability will, of course, offer this without any commitment from you. The true test of a solution is how it works in the environment you wish to place it and only a trial can provide you with the honest outcome. It also allows for any fine-tuning that needs to be made before general release to the wider population. First impressions are always lasting impressions with most users of this type of system, so it is important to get it right first time.
The implementation of a speech driven system will be very smooth if these simple guidelines are adhered to. The natural interface will remove any existing negative perceptions of automated systems, and users will accept that the system is ultimately ensuring that they achieve their goal  being connected to an empathetic, helpful human.                                         

Paul Welham, Director of Sales and  Marketing, Telephonetics, can be contacted via tel: +44 1442 242242; e-mail: paulw@telephonetics.co.uk[l=www.telephonetics.com/]http://www.telephonetics.com/[/l]

Service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability, says Bhaskar Gorti

Years of upheaval in the global communications markets have led to new challenges and mandated new strategies for today's service providers. Over-capacity in the network and excessive carrier spending have resulted in an industry shake-up characterised by consolidations, downsizings, and bankruptcies. Service providers that survived are facing intensified competition, the commoditisation of products and services, erosion of customer loyalty, decreasing margins, and an intense pressure to differentiate.
In response, service providers are searching for business processes and technologies that will enable them to focus on retaining profitable customers by improving the customers' experience. With innovative new services-such as mobile gaming, customised ring-tones, e-mail and web-surfing capabilities-they hope to reduce churn and improve customer satisfaction. Many are also branching out from their home countries to establish global brands to compete on a worldwide basis, or considering Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) relationships.
Driving value to the bottom line
During the boom years, operators spent billions of dollars focusing on customer acquisition and network build out. Today, an objective of communication companies is to drive value to the bottom line  and time to market is the key to their success. Service providers must evolve their business systems so they can enter new markets quickly and effectively to respond to competitive threats and take advantage of market opportunities. Differentiation  creating true brand value  elevates a service provider out of the morass of cut-throat price competition and costly churn. With rapidly changing technology and shifts in consumer trends, smart service providers are also looking for ways to quickly bring high-margin products and services to market.
Services are now driven by the customer  not the technology. Not only do today's customers have a variety of service options to choose from, they also expect a variety of payment options including prepaid, postpaid, and nowpaid. Many customers, especially those with multiple service plans at the home or the office, are demanding convergent service pricing, discounting, and multiple payment options. This presents a major challenge for service providers who are dependent upon legacy billing and customer management systems that were built specifically to manage revenues for individual services or individual payment options.
The resulting proliferation of multiple, fragmented billing systems, coupled with highly customised applications built for 'point-in-time' purposes limits a service provider's ability to quickly respond to new opportunities and roll out new services. The inability to tie-in multiple billing applications for different services or cost-effectively modify an existing billing application, can lead to excessive expense, wasted time, and customer attrition.
Managing revenue streams
Enterprise applications are converging around three areas of information management: customer, financial, and revenue. With an increased focus on revenue, billing has emerged as a true competitive differentiator and a key asset of the company. Savvy service providers are transitioning from billing as a tactical back-office application to a strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. In much the same way that CRM evolved from sales force management to the unification of relationships between the customer and the enterprise, billing has evolved to become revenue management  the unified management of all of the service provider's different revenue streams. This approach optimises the value of customers by enabling service providers to develop, introduce, and sell the right products to the customer while minimising revenue leakage and the total cost of billing operations. Finally, a revenue management approach provides the business with the agility essential to rapidly launch profitable products and services and quickly respond to competitive pressures.
Optimally, revenue management solutions are also 'future proof', providing the foundation for supporting new products, services, and technologies. A true revenue management solution isn't just another silo in the enterprise, but an integration and unification of revenue processes across the business. With the broad business processes it encompasses, revenue management impacts the way providers introduce new products and services, manage customer accounts, and track revenues across the business.
Revenue management is a lifecycle of unified processes to generate, capture, and collect revenue for each customer. The lifecycle also includes an ongoing process of analysing, evaluating, and optimising each phase to maximise performance and deliver comprehensive insight and intelligence into the customer revenue relationships.
Revenue generation
Revenue generation enables services to be delivered to customers that are optimally priced for the user, service provider and any partners. With real-time access to customer data, the business processes associated with this phase maximise customer and partner value through a single view of the customer, combined with complex account management and agile service delivery.
Revenue capture
Revenue capture maximises market share using competitive pricing models and flexible balance and credit control to enable any service for any subscriber. As services are authorised and consumed, transactions are captured, rated, discounted, and charged while balances are managed. Real-time interactions help reduce the risk of revenue leakage, improve customer satisfaction, and encourage usage.
Revenue collection
Revenue collection ensures all invoices are generated and appropriate monies are collected from the correct debtors. Postings are made to accounts receivable and general ledger accounts, while handling all payments terms, settlements and disputes to ensure an accurate accounting of all revenue. A real-time, accurate view of revenue provides insight to customer profitability as well as the health of the business, while enabling the provider to respond quickly to changing market dynamics.
Revenue analysis
Revenue analysis spans the entire revenue management lifecycle. Understanding the revenue relationships with customers and partners improves their satisfaction. It provides real-time verification, reporting and analysis of all events and actions, which maximises revenue and minimises losses associated with fraud and revenue leakage.
Value chain
In today's complex environment, service providers cannot address these challenges and deliver exciting new services on their own. They must work with the best partners and content providers for their markets.  Because revenue management provides the ability to view all of the revenue touch points between the customer and the service provider, it facilitates the creation of an efficient value chain. The value chain is the sum of all processes in a product''s creation including design, pricing, procurement, and fulfilment. The value chain enables the service provider to capture points of value and reward innovation throughout the chain.
To make these value chains successful, service providers must develop relationships with their partners that create differentiated value, increase customer profitability and reward partner innovation. At the heart of an efficient value chain is a business system that tracks and charges for events; manages customer profiles, accounts, and subscriptions; collects revenues; and manages settlements with the value chain partners. 
Business partners, content providers and enabling networks, therefore, help service providers build an efficient value chain and pricing models. A value-add pricing model, for example, tracks both a variety of packaging types (such as subscriptions, pay-per-use, volume discounts, device specific and loyalty points) and a host of different payment methods.
Several leading service providers have already embarked along this path. Vodafone live!, Vodafone's easy-to-use consumer service that offers customers a wide variety of colour, sound and pictures, is an excellent example. Vodafone live! sought to increase subscriber revenues by establishing a global brand and consistent user experience while leveraging the various Vodafone operating companies' customer billing relationships. It was important that all of Vodafone's operating companies could quickly launch this service into their markets. The results have been excellent.  Vodafone live! is driving higher than average usage and ARPU and reached its target of eight million subscribers by June of 2004. And, for the period from October 2002 to July 2003, Vodafone live!'s customers downloaded over three million games and ten million ring tones.
To accomplish this, Vodafone live! utilises a model whereby the content that is in highest demand can be quickly and efficiently offered to the Vodafone community. Vodafone established a value chain that is driven by customer demand rather than by technological advancements. Vodafone's recipe for success? Find out what the customer wants, build an interface to the content partner, and offer simplified pricing that encourages near and long-term adoption. Vodafone is able to quickly 'plug in' partners without costly or time-consuming integration, while allowing the pricing to be more intuitive to the end user. End-users are offered multiple pricing options, including a 'pay as you go' model, thus attracting more people to try the services without making major commitments. Once a Vodafone live! end-user understands the value, they can move to different levels of commitment in the form of subscriptions and bundles.
Another exciting success story is Orange, the leading wireless provider in the UK. Orange wanted the ability to launch new data and content services quickly and offer next generation multi-media services. Their legacy system wouldn't support this capability. By utilising a revenue management approach, they were able to launch a new system that enabled them to quickly take new prepaid and postpaid GPRS services to market.  At the same time, they maximised their network investment by integrating their new system with their legacy billing infrastructure while future-proofing their platform so that it could support any future product offering. 
The right steps forward
Moving to a revenue management approach for doing business can be done in phases. As such, a model of 'co-existence' between legacy billing systems and more modern revenue management platforms that can handle the breadth of new service offerings is essential. As appropriate, revenue management platforms can transitionally replace legacy voice systems while continuing to enable new service deployments. The revenue management approach completes the value chain by linking the third party content providers to the end users and supporting real-time authorisation, authentication and accounting, real time advice of charge, and automated remittances and settlements. 
For service providers competing in a saturated market within an increasingly global economy, a revenue management approach offers a compelling strategy for creating new customer opportunities and dramatically reducing legacy billing costs. Industry pioneers, including Vodafone live! and Orange, are implementing revenue management strategies to develop a complete picture of their customer touch points in order to maximise revenue and optimize profitability.
With the global communications and media markets evolving, business solutions are consolidating to manage the entire revenue lifecycle. Billing has evolved from a single service, single payment model to the strategic solution for maximising customer profitability in a complex service and payment environment. Using the revenue management lifecycle approach to business, service providers can optimise customer value by unifying revenue relationships. This allows them to focus on their most profitable customers and maximise profitability through the consolidation and rationalisation of multiple, fragmented legacy billing applications. As a result, service providers can rapidly bring new products and services to market, demonstrating true business agility in a highly competitive industry.                                         

Bhaskar Gorti is Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances and Global Accounts, Portal Software

Flushed with success in its traditional Russian marketplace, Bercut is now looking West to further expand its range of services to European operators, as Priscilla Awde explains

From Russia with...well certainly interest. But also, what appears to be a different approach to solving the needs of telcos  especially in getting multimedia products to market fast.
Bucking the trend, Russian software solutions developer, Bercut, is challenging the scepticism and prejudices which traditionally hamper Eastern European companies wanting to do business outside their domestic markets. Started in 1996 at a time when access to Russia was restricted, the company developed a range of solutions mainly for mobile operators and, importantly, largely without the help or influence of Western suppliers or their technologies.
Rather than a burden, building 'everything from nothing' meant that software developers were not hampered by tradition, and could take a new approach to some old problems. "We started from scratch, explains Roland Orlie, Director of Global Business Development at Bercut International. "We didn't follow American or Western ideas, so our products have features and technologies which are highly innovative but unconventional. Although our software runs on open platforms and interconnects to standard systems, our products operate unconventionally and take advantage of optimal solutions. We can configure and create solutions very fast and, because we didn't have to go through all the different stages, we have leapfrogged much of the GSM technology.
"Initially reactions from Western suppliers and telcos were adverse, but when we asked them to look at and test our products they were pleasantly surprised."
Apparently they liked what they saw. The company is expanding from its solid base with Russian operators and winning contracts both regionally and within sophisticated and developing telecoms markets around the world.
Having grown up in a Russian market that has evolved from numerous, highly localised, small mobile operators into a few national carriers, Bercut expects to turnover £30 million this year. Supporting its push to develop end-to-end solutions, the company has developed selective partnerships with companies in Western Europe  a model it aims to expand along with marketing channels.
Orlie attributes Bercut's success to the fact that the software not only works well but saves operators money in the process by cutting roaming charges, increasing flexibility and making it faster and easier to communicate with customers.
"Mobile operators will only survive if useful applications and content are brought to consumers fast and easily," he notes. "There is huge competition for telcos especially as new services like VoIP are being offered by companies which aren't telecoms based. Packet data is easily delivered and will be cheap. Because of competition, mobile telcos are at the mercy of market demand  consumers drive the show in the mobile world which is why it is so important to make it easy and convenient to get information to end users.
"The new growth is in mobile systems which can be upgraded very fast and flexibly. Although enterprises are not getting the answers they are looking for, this is only the start of a vast, explosive proliferation of devices and technologies. There is a constant evolution of services and applications  nothing is fixed.
Bercut's strength, Orlie believes, lies in the fact that it is staffed by young, highly educated and motivated engineers who speak the same technical language as customers and who are more interested in bits and bytes than politics.
"Others stick to a standardised approach, but we are more dynamic and individual and therefore more flexible," he says. "Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen so that customers don't have to be squeezed into a mould. The business case determines buying decisions and our systems give a fast return on investment."
Innovation extends to payment methods developed for the low cost Russian economy. In a scaleable investment approach, telcos pay for what they use which reduces the cost of entry. Further, prices only increase with traffic volumes and subscriber numbers, so fees rise along with the growth in the business. Offering sophisticated, scaleable software systems at low cost is a model Orlie expects will work well in the world's developing countries in which mobile communications are growing fast, but where the economics leave little room for high up-front investment.
Grouped into three lines of business  managed solutions, customer care and CRM, and intelligent multi-services  products are based on a smart platform and offer all the advanced features common to modern telecoms systems. Implemented as stand-alone or in combination with third party systems, all products provide end-to-end management of customer applications and services in a secure and scalable environment. Easily configured, all systems are based on open standards and can therefore be quickly integrated into existing systems. Content providers can quickly write applications to run on a variety of transport systems.
Fundamental to the product range, the IN@family is a scalable, multi-services intelligent network which, as well as ready-to-use applications, includes customisation tools for bespoke development. Based on an open three-layer architecture and supporting OSA/Parlay specifications, the platform can be integrated with switching equipment from all the major vendors. The system supports fully featured VPNs including separate rates for different users on the network. Dynamic filters allow users to bar calls, create individual profiles and route calls as needed via SMS, USSD, the SIM menu or over the Internet.
The roaming platform analyses and processes signalling traffic between host and client operators in real time, providing end users with cost effective international connectivity. Using the USSD GSM transport protocol rather than SMS for mapping, allows operators to roam at the lowest costs possible and pass on savings to customers.
Based on a Java card in the mobile phone, menu based browsing makes it easy for operators to personalise services to individual users, sending them particular information as requested. One national Russian operator has successfully scaled up its browsing system from one to 13 million subscribers.
Pre- and post-paid customers are handled on the same service platform and the system supports real time billing for auxiliary services, including SMS, USSD and GPRS. Making life easy for telcos, Bercut's CRM product includes an out-of-the-box call centre and unified customer self-care system. Operators have all the tools required to offer customers a personal service and to support the rapid development and launch of new products.
Orlie is convinced that because Bercut systems have supported Russian operators as they evolved from small local companies and grown via consolidation into national carriers, they will work anywhere.
Taking a single minded, entrepreneurial approach, Bercut has streamlined its goals and focuses on making it easy for telcos to communicate with customers and introduce value added services fast, efficiently and cost effectively. The aim is to fix problems for customers and especially for the big, global operators which purchase centrally but which need flexible systems that can be easily adapted to meet local conditions.
"Innovation is the company culture,"  Orlie says. "We have short lines of communication with customers and provide individual solutions rather than standard off-the-shelf systems. We don't religiously stick to a standardised approach but are more dynamic, individual and therefore more flexible. Bercut is a very different company. Our engineers are motivated to solve problems and make things happen; to offer scalability and functionality at low cost."
Guided by its own 'can do' philosophy, Bercut is going West.                               

Priscilla Awde is a freelance communications writer

3GSM World Congress 2005 promises to be the biggest and best event yet, reckons Bill Gajda

2005 will be a truly pivotal year for the global mobile industry. It will define where new revenue streams will come from, and how to drive the service uptake that will generate them. For the first time, many operators will have at their disposal new broadband technologies, exciting content partnerships, maturing business models and every indication that the momentum of GSM is building more rapidly than ever.
In February 2004, the one-billion-user milestone was passed  an incredible figure in its own right  but between then and September 2004, a further quarter billion subscribers have signed up. It took a dozen years to reach the first billion, but only half a dozen months to get quarter of the way to the next.
GSM's continuing growth is underpinned by that fact that it is now deployed, or is in deployment, in every country with a population of more than one million with the exception of Japan and Korea. Deployments in many countries and territories with smaller populations simply underline the technology's flexibility. However, Japanese and Korean operators have joined the growing ranks in the more mature markets of Europe, Asia, the US, the Middle East and Africa in upgrading to 3GSM to prepare the ground for profitable new broadband mobility for their subscribers. Four days at the beginning of 2005 will define the direction that mobile operators, content developers and technology suppliers take and will reveal the decisions they make.
3GSM World Congress 2005 will be the biggest in the event's 18-year history, with visitors and delegates expected to grow in number as the industry itself grows. In 2004, 28,000 visitors, 4,200 delegates and more than 600 exhibitors attended what was the largest event to date. In 2005, not only is attendance expected to exceed this, but more importantly, the quality of the conference programme will be at its highest ever.
The world's most influential mobile industry executives will take to the podium for keynote sessions in a speaking and educational programme that has unrivalled gravitas. It all begins with the GSM Association's Leadership Summit on the eve of the Congress. The inaugural invitation-only event in 2004 attracted more than 150 GSMA operator and associate member CEOs to agree and disseminate strategy for the year ahead. 
Over the following four days, the chief executive officers, presidents or board members of the leading industry players will share their insights with Congress delegates, presenting keynotes on how the industry is changing, where it is going, and how to gain maximum value from these developments.
The highlights will include 'Defining Future Opportunities - No Limits To Growth,' where Rob Conway, Chief Executive of the GSM Association will outline our plans for industry development. Joining Rob Conway during this first keynote session will be Lothar Pauly, President and CEO of Siemens Communications, who will outline what opportunities the convergence of the Internet and wireless worlds presents. Pascal Debon, President of Nortel networks' Carrier networks division will discuss the key mechanisms that will drive business transformation for operators.
Fireside chats
The Fireside Chats that proved so popular at the 3GSM World Congress 2004 in Singapore will encourage delegates to eavesdrop on what the decision makers think. Craig Ehrlich, the Chairman of the GSM Association, will scrutinise the issues of the day with Sanjiv Ahuja, CEO of Orange Group, Masao Nakamura, President and CEO of NTT DoCoMo and Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile International.
The GSM Association understands that dialogue between developing and developed markets is important, and the speaking programme reflects this. Sunil Mittal, CEO of Bharti Telecom, the biggest GSM operator in India, will offer a snapshot of his expectations for the sub continent's mobile prospects as it becomes one of the fastest growing markets on the planet. Lim Chuan Poh, CEO of SingTel Mobile will discuss how to evolve beyond traditional services without the risk of revenue cannibalisation. Naguib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO of Orascom, the leading operator group serving the Middle East and North Africa will give his perspective on how to develop low-cost handsets for emerging markets.
In fact, the GSM Association hopes to see many more delegates, visitors and increased media attention from developing markets as these areas begin to play a vital role in how the industry develops. Often, these markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe and China have demonstrated they are actually leading much of the innovative service creation and deployment we can expect to see more of during 2005. For example, Napolean Nazareno, President and CEO of the Smart, and Gerry Ablaza, CEO of Globe will join a panel alongside Verisign and Simpay, to reveal how innovative text-based services and micropayment systems are now being used to transfer funds across borders.
Political and technical theme
In what will be a strong political and technical theme, Karim Khoja, CEO of Roshan of Afghanistan, will bring to the Congress his experience of building mobile networks that can support growing economies. In many developing continents, mobile communication remains superior to the fixed line infrastructure and could also become the broadband network of choice.
In its commitment to discussing the concerns of developing markets, the GSM Association has invited experts from outside the operator and vendor communities to talk about the prospects for the industry. Jay Naidoo, Chairman, of the Development Bank of South Africa will show how mobile communications are a fundamental driver for economic growth. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the easyGroup will share his thoughts on how revolutionary business models can transform industries, a discussion that will chime with operators who are seeking leaner operations.
The mobile industry has always been an entrepreneurial one, and so a Venture-Funded Technologies session is incorporated in the Congress agenda. This gives 30 privately funded companies a window to 'elevator pitch' an audience consisting of top venture fund firms, and attempt to monetise their ideas.
In acknowledgement that the mobile industry constantly seeks to innovate, 3GSM World Congress 2005 will present leadership on a wide range of issues that are testing the creativity and resolve of all operators. Panel sessions here include pricing and value strategies, customer ownership and brand value, handset customisation and usability, a banking view on co-operation for mobile commerce, the interplay of mobile and TV, restructuring the handset supply chain and how to adapt content. Ralph Simon, Chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum Americas will moderate the Mobile Entertainment Summit, a new addition to the conference programme for 2005.
There is no doubt that entertainment will form important revenue streams for operators, and the Entertainment Forum will bring together the operators and content developers. Issues for discussion will include how to maximise revenue, protect consumers against inappropriate content, delivering TV-to-mobile content, personalising third party content and what it takes to offer end-to-end content delivery.
The 'Cool and Connected' Fashion show returns again in 2005, showcasing wearable mobile technology from the catwalk to the consumer, and reaffirming that consumer branding and design are all-important.
In many ways, the 2005 World Congress will mark a new pinnacle in the event's history.  But it will also mark a fond farewell to Cannes as its signature venue, as the Congress will move from Cannes to Catalonia in 2006.
The need to accommodate rising visitor numbers and continually growing demand for exhibition space from the ever expanding eco-system of suppliers to the GSM community will see the event relocate to Barcelona.  This decision has not been taken lightly, but we believe it is the best way forward as we work to accommodate an event and an industry that is growing at a pace few of us would have predicted even a few years ago.
Bill Gajda is Chief Marketing Officer, GSM Association

As new data services emerge, mobile operators need a way of updating millions of handsets without users having to replace them. And OTA just could be the answer, says Joos Cadonau

As mobile data services fail to meet expectations, operators are looking for ways to roll out new services and convert subscribers into regular mobile data users. Increasingly this search has focused on solving one conundrum: how to upgrade billions of existing handsets to receive new services without having to corral their owners to invest in new models.Over-the-air (OTA) technology is one possible solution. It allows operators to add new types of services directly to the subscriber's SIM card and configure handsets remotely to support these new services.

OTA in action
Before we look at commercial benefits, it is worth explaining how OTA works.  OTA is based on classic network architecture. At one end is the back-end management programme selected by the operator, typically a billing or customer care system; and at the other is the customer's SIM card.  To deliver a software update from the operator to the customer, the back-end system sends a service request to an OTA Gateway, which transforms the request into a binary SMS to be sent to the SIM card. With an OTA platform, operators can seamlessly manage and update a customer's SIM card and cost-effectively deliver new applications without ever being physically connected to the handset itself. With this kind of power at their fingertips, there are a host of ways that operators can benefit from OTA. 

Driving data services
Mobile devices have evolved from 'dumb' terminals with basic telephony functionality into sophisticated smartphones with multimedia capabilities. However, for subscribers to use more advanced services, operators need to ensure their device settings and software are automatically configured. Through OTA technology, this once laborious process happens seamlessly and inexpensively.The result is that operators can convert more subscribers into regular mobile data users and rollout new services at lightening speed.  And for the consumer, the OTA approach is ideal. Subscribers don't have to worry about figuring out how to configure their mobile handsets to use these services  with OTA this is done automatically. Not only does it save them the cost of upgrading their handset, it eliminates the physical hassle of going in-store to buy Java games or back-up their address books, for example. Extensive tariff functionality gives the operator the flexibility of deciding whether to charge subscribers per service, as a package of services or per SMS sent.  Alternatively some operators may choose not to charge for these OTA services, seeing them purely as a way to increase revenues by increasing customer satisfaction and reducing churn.In addition, OTA is equally effective at revenue generation abroad. Through OTA technology, operators can keep their subscribers attached to a partner's network when roaming, which ensures that revenue streams are maintained.

Eliminating the recall revenue drain
As mobile phones become more complex and feature-rich, software glitches are increasingly commonplace. This is further aggravated by shorter time-to-market which leaves less room for thorough testing and increases the likelihood of widespread recalls  a major setback experienced by 3 and DoCoMo in recent years.While upgrading PC software via the Internet is routine, firmware updates for mobile phones are still very manual and expensive. Customers suffer the inconvenience of visiting service centres to fix their phones.By updating faulty software and fixing bugs remotely, OTA technology could potentially eliminate the cost of recalling and replacing handsets and return this lost revenue to the operators  balance sheets, improving customer service in the process.

Battling the virus threat
Earlier this year, the first wireless worm was detected targeting smartphones. As more and more computer functionality is added to mobile phones, the risk from hackers and viruses will undoubtedly increase.  To help stay ahead, operators are starting to use OTA software management to distribute virus protection and software patches wirelessly to end-users anywhere on a network. Rather than allowing viruses to proliferate, operators can use OTA to provide the necessary security before these attacks ever occur by filtering or blocking access from non-trusted sources to the handset.

Overcoming barriers to OTA
While OTA can deliver major revenue and service benefits to operators, its implementation is not without obstacles. Reassuringly, most of these can be overcome by sensible planning.First, the threat of mobile phone viruses means that security is essential when using OTA to modify the content of SIM cards or transmit additional information. However, operators keep SIM cards secure by encrypting communications and securing the link between back-end systems and subscriber's mobile phones using GSM 03.48 transport security.Secondly, when considering OTA solutions, operators should ensure that the technology complies with industry standards such as OMA (SyncML) DM and can integrate with complementary applications.  Operators should not put themselves in a position where they would need to replace functioning back-end systems to accommodate OTA technology.

Into the future
Today, OTA technology offers a practical solution to the age-old problem of how to service and upgrade handsets without the owner being present. What's more, there are genuine improvements to look forward to. OTA can be used to transmit information to next generation cards like USIM (UTMS SIMs), which support 3G services. Not only do USIM cards contain a link that automatically identifies a subscriber, they can receive OTA applications over GPRS, which is much quicker and more efficient than SMS. In addition, USIM cards provide storage for subscription and subscriber related information, giving users more opportunity to personalise services, which in turn builds customer loyalty. When you consider these technology enhancements, the conclusion has to be that both the present and future look unequivocally bright for OTA.     

Joos Cadonau, product manager, Sicap can be contacted via tel: +41 31 978 9090 www.sicap.com[l=www.sicap.com/]http://www.sicap.com/[/l]



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