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Top Priorities for B/OSS Transformation

James Crawshaw
3/20/2017
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Much digital ink has been spilled on the subject of business support system (BSS) and operations support system (OSS) transformation. The advent of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) drives a wedge between network infrastructure and the controlling software, providing yet another opportunity for telcos to modernize their support systems -- or introduce yet another layer of complexity, depending on your point of view.

At Mobile World Congress this March, I met with more than 30 different OSS and BSS vendors, as well as service providers including Telefónica and Deutsche Telekom, to better understand the top priorities for B/OSS transformation.

Fast time to market and customer experience featured as the highest priorities by a wide mark. Enabling marketers to launch new promotions and pricing plans with a minimum of involvement by operations staff is paramount. Of equal importance is smoothing the customer journey and developing an omni-channel (store, phone, online, social media) engagement with the customer.

Other common priorities for transformation included business agility (closely related to time to market) and innovation. In order to transform themselves from communications service providers (CSPs) into digital service providers, telcos need to partner with media companies, over-the-top (OTT) operators, messaging platforms, home security services, as well as other telcos.

Another popular response was operationalizing NFV; virtual network functions (VNF) instantiation in particular. Also mentioned was enabling new revenue streams, fixed/mobile convergence, automation, cost savings, real-time enablement and that good old favorite, simplifying the OSS stack.

We also asked what specific end-to-end processes operators should prioritize for modernization. By far the most popular response was order to cash -- enabling the CSP to quote and fulfill seamlessly. Not far behind was trouble to resolve, the multi-stage process that starts with a network or service problem and goes through root cause analysis to trouble ticketing and fault isolation, and ends with resolution. Market to launch was also cited, along with concept to design, customer journey/experience, personalized/contextualized marketing, subscriber acquisition (in particular online self-service) and after-sales support (also online).

Finally, we asked which areas of B/OSS pose the greatest risks to operators. Here there was no common denominator, but a long list of issues that can be broadly lumped into three categories:

  • Technology risks: inaccurate inventory data, Internet of Things (IoT) billing, VPN QoS and NFV uncertainty
  • Business risks: OTT substitution, revenue assurance when selling third-party content and disappointing enterprise customers
  • Generic risks: resiliency of systems to natural disasters, complexity, interoperability and security

Operators have a lot on their plates with 5G, IoT and SDN/NFV. The cautious ones are likely to put B/OSS transformation on the back burner, muddling through with existing systems until their technology infrastructure has bedded down. Arguably, this provides an opportunity for more forward-thinking operators to focus on IT and business process transformation to enable agility, better customer engagement and new service offerings by leveraging third-party developers and internal innovation.

Telco CTOs and CIOs certainly have their work cut out for them over the next few years, much like the apocryphal Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, OSS/BSS Transformation, Heavy Reading

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patricknmoore
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patricknmoore,
User Rank: Lightning
3/23/2017 | 5:01:20 PM
An "Interesting" Journey we are all on...
This is a great survey of where people's heads are on this. We have started trying to distill our point of view into a multi-branched journey that operators are on, specifically that:
  • There is legacy network that just isn't going to make the trip into the future. There is a certain amount of the legacy network that will likely be decommissioned/replaced well before it can be automated as most would like it to be. It is important to recognize and identify those areas and not invest more than is required in that area.
  • There is legacy that can be made programmable by orchestration layers on top, such as Cisco's or Blue Planet's network orchestrators. This network can be used as a stepping stone to what is in store for us in the future. This must also be identified and nurtured along.
  • Then there are the newer things being added in...the "science projects" that are NFV and SDN, and others as time passes. The early versions of these are no more "programmable" than the legacy, physical devices are. However, the same techniques can be used to make them so.
  • Then there are the true programmable networking devices that are starting to come on the scene. When you have network that is exposing APIs to the northbound systems, versus having to use the various EMS/NMS/OSS tools of the past to manage them, we will begin to take control of our networks in ways not at all possible today. This is a long way off, but it is when true DevOps type management of provider networks can begin.

In this future you should be able to manage network almost like a piece of software. You will still need inventory similar to today's, but only to track the physical pieces that you can't collect information about through the APIs. For everything else, you should be able to trust your network itself as a source of truth about the network and federate this with other systems to greatly improve accuracy over what we have today.

Pie in th sky thinking? Maybe. However, if we don't aim high in our goals some of these lingering issues that have existed as long as OSS has are going to become immortal. 
atiller
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atiller,
User Rank: Blogger
3/22/2017 | 8:30:27 AM
It usually boils down to three things
In my experience, there are usually the same three top-level drivers for IT transformation projects: (1) creating a differentiated customer experience, (2) enabling business model innovation and (3) reducing operational costs.  

Usually number 1 is the easiest for the buyer and vendor to get their heads around (eg building a new omni-channel front end) - technically challenging but easy to visualise and doable.  Number 2 is a big strategic thing (eg generating new revenues by selling 3rd party digital services through open API integration) - technically harder than it sounds, and often with a difficult business case.  Number 3 is supposed to be a by-product of the other two, but often ends up being the primary driver (ie we need to turn off the expensive legacy systems as soon as possible).

The problem is that number 3 can often derail the other two goals.  The focus becomes reproducing everything currently done by the legacy systems in the new system, whether or not it's still relevant to the future business.  All the strategic stuff becomes secondary as you end up rebuilding the legacy business in the new system (including legacy products which are no longer sold and business processes which need to be changed) instead of delivering new business value.

My sense is that telcos do understand this, and want to be bolder - focusing on the new business value first, even if it means retiring the legacy systems more gradually.  However, the operational complexity of running parallel systems while you migrate customers over time is the main challenge with this approach.
James_B_Crawshaw
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James_B_Crawshaw,
User Rank: Blogger
3/21/2017 | 5:50:38 PM
Re: Machine Learning for B/OSS
Thanks Gabriel. ML and AI is probably worthy of a separate article (or even a report) rather than just a comment. I'm not sure it is early days yet though. There is an IEEE conference paper called "Artifical intelligence in telecommunications" from 1994. 

As Andy Tiller wrote recently: "The bar for what counts as Artificial Intelligence is continually rising. Technologies should lose their AI status when they become routine (optical character recognition is no longer recognised as an example of AI for this reason)."
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/21/2017 | 8:14:25 AM
Machine Learning for B/OSS
Good update James. What do you think of machine learning in a B/OSS context?

I saw Amdocs announced "aia" at MWC. And there are a bunch of examples of operators evaluating this type of technology for customer experience managment. It's very early days, of course.

 

 
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