Technology will Empower it All
Telecom and Technology
The two constants in Telecom are technology and change. The players, names, networks, protocols, architectures and languages are in a constant state of flux. The advent of Intelligent and Least Cost Routing platforms means interconnecting and integrating with multiple carriers supporting multiple Call Detail Record (CDR) formats as a necessity. Customers want new devices and technologies, and demand more information and self-help options via portals and smartphone enabled applications. Business Units require information and reporting from multiple systems.
"Regardless of the data source and system, workflow controls transformations into a common reporting platform and structure"
Carriers and Service Providers have to enable new features and technologies to remain relevant in the conversation, by launching new services, platforms and solutions. This leads to additional integration points, introduces new requirements and delivery demands, and adds a new layer to integrate with. Advances in Cloud Computing, Virtualization, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Software Defined Networks (SDN) indicates that the technology landscape will continue to change and grow as the Telecom Industry shifts from TDM to an all IP world. Unfortunately, during all of that, the existing Operation Support System (OSS) and Billing Support System (BSS) continue to age and grow in technical debt. In my experience, the ROI on projects to bolster or replace infrastructure, hardware or software is one of the toughest initiatives to sell to a Finance Department.
Customer experience is central to the Telecom industry as people become more tech-savvy by the day. They demand intuitive user portals that put information at their fingertips, and a similar experience for tablets and smartphones. They want cloud solutions in the SaaS model such as Disaster Recovery, Storage and Automated Backups. They are looking for comprehensive solutions that cover voice, data, connectivity and data center products, ranging from collocation, managed servers and virtualization.
And they want portals to order, view, and monitor and make changes to those services. They want Unified Communications and smart apps that allow call control or configuration from any location; they want it NOW and as cheap as possible. Oh, and if you can’t do it, they’ll find someone else that can. How can an IT group meet those challenges without an unlimited budget and an army of developers?
One of my core beliefs is that standardized interfaces, regardless of whether they impact the OSS or BSS, make systems easier to enhance and maintain. That guarantees a consistent and repeatable result for the process, regardless of which system invoked it. To meet that end, we’ve focused on standardized interfaces to our systems and processes allowing us to expose services that can be used ubiquitously from any source within our ecosystem. The interface or service is responsible for enforcing the business rules and processing; simply returning the result to the source. This means that the same processes, features and controls are used from the desk phone, workflow, smartphone or browser. We have successfully employed this approach for business functions that have multiple sources or targets. Leveraging these common interfaces and services has enabled us to integrate a myriad of disparate systems, third party tools, functions and processes into a seamless experience for business users and customers alike.
I believe you can have as many of the well-defined standards and interfaces as you create, and integrate them seamlessly in a portal for the user experience, but they are ultimately silos of functionality without defined and understood processes, and a flexible workflow engine to enforce them. That allows for a combination of manual and automated tasks, but forces them to be repeatable and most importantly, monitored. It guarantees timely processing, enables process monitoring and alerting, and improves arguably the most important lifecycle metric of all: Ink to Bill. The one attribute that cannot be stated enough is flexibility, both in terms of changes to the workflow steps, technology or interface to support it. I have yet to deploy a process that hasn’t required a change or modification post deployment.
Monitoring and Reporting
At the core of all of these different platforms, technologies and standards is the need to monitor the systems, processes and billing to provide information and visibility to the Business Users and Customers alike. Business Users require standardized reporting covering all Operational, Financial, Sales and Network activity plus the ability to do ad hoc reporting. Customers want visibility to invoices, services, network performance metrics, along with the “standard” portal activities like E-pay and E-bill. We’ve employed the same two strategies to meet these needs in deploying a data warehouse that provides 360 degree reporting: Standardization and Workflow. Regardless of the data source and system, workflow controls transformations into a common reporting platform and structure. This means that for reporting purposes, all customer data is contained and available, regardless of service offering, system and source. Instead of arguing about data accuracy, and what report or system it came from, we are able to focus on operating the business.
What does the future hold for the Telecom Industry? The demand for continued convergence between wired and wireless services, software defined networks and network function virtualization will continue to drive innovation for users and providers alike. WebRTC may or may not drive telephony to the desktop and the TDM networks will go away in favor of IP, but in the end I’m convinced that technology will empower it all.