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Three Ways for CSPs to Upgrade OSS/BSS

Bryan Adamson

Communications service providers (CSPs) have long relied on OSS and BSS systems to keep key functions like sales, payments and installations running. But as legacy architectures reach the end of life and cannot keep up with the industry's latest pursuits, major upgrades are on the horizon. The elephant in the room is that these systems are so critical and engrained into the fabric of operations that they can be difficult to replace. Still, the industry must press forward to tackle the latest demands and opportunities.

In IBB Consulting's recent work with CSPs on OSS and BSS upgrade initiatives, we have identified three primary approaches for tackling necessary evolution efforts, including legacy biller life extensions, next-generation biller migrations and greenfield deployments. These approaches address the rapid convergence taking place in the industry and are largely tied to necessary operational efficiency gains that will help power new initiatives.

For example, many CSPs are boosting their focus on customer autonomy by improving self-service options for sales and care. Other providers are making offer configuration more agile by upgrading product catalog capabilities. They are reducing processing delays around fulfillment of new orders with more intuitive user interfaces and better data visibility. There have also been initiatives to improve network capacity management by adding real-time incentives to encourage use of services during off-peak times.

On the revenue side, service providers are seeking to cut churn by improving the customer experience through better support tools. Additionally, as non-traditional players enter the market, CSPs are exploring coopetition to form new partnerships and cultivate more revenue streams.

At the heart of all these efforts is a focus on ensuring the best experiences around a bevy of new products and payment models. Wireless, OTT video, IoT and business services all require capabilities that cannot easily be added to existing OSS and BSS stacks.

For example, billing accounts have always been tied to a household address for cable and fixed-line telecom, but address-based wireless accounts would be inefficient. Another example is that CSPs have traditionally operated on a billed payment model where customers are charged based on the previous month’s usage and subscription. An evolving lineup of IoT and business services offerings use different billing structures than traditional residential broadband and video packages. Also, initiatives to penetrate low-credit and university customer segments demand prepaid payment models.

OSS and BSS deployments won't be one-size-fits-all
CSPs are plotting strategies for succeeding in a converged world where competition is taking place on a global scale. Each provider is examining different options to compete based on the capabilities, capital and expectations of the markets they serve. Not every approach will be exactly the same, but there will be common goals that all operators will work toward. Despite this, OSS and BSS upgrade paths will almost certainly not be aligned.

While there is no magic bullet approach for upgrading OSS and BSS capabilities, the following three core strategies will be considered by most operators when planning an upgrade.

Legacy biller life extension
This approach is defined by any architecture that builds on top of or around the legacy biller but still maintains the legacy biller at its core. With legacy billers, enhancements to the core biller itself are usually cost-prohibitive. Sometimes, the legacy biller is a vendor solution that is no longer supported or built on a legacy platform, such as mainframe, and does not integrate well with modern technologies. Examples of biller life extensions include building abstraction layers, modular APIs and stateless user interfaces.

Some communications service providers have attempted to abstract all user- and device-facing aspects of the OSS/BSS with a service layer that is compatible with multiple legacy billers. This architecture allows a company to integrate multiple billers that may have been inherited through mergers and acquisitions over the years, while still providing modern, homogeneous sales, care and reporting features.

The advantages of this type of a "life extension" approach are usually lower upfront capital costs and reduced disruption to the business. However, the use of this approach gradually creates a complex architecture that is increasingly expensive to maintain. In the end, this architecture can never overcome certain core concepts of the legacy biller, such as address-based accounts.

The legacy biller life extension approach may be considered as a "bandaid" or interim step to abstract core CRM, ordering and provisioning functionality out of the monolithic billers, enabling the eventual replacement of these billers with a next-gen system.

Next-generation BSS migrations
The next-generation BSS migration approach involves bringing in new modules to replace, rather than enhance, the legacy biller. Frequently, new BSS modules are brought in for new use cases that the legacy biller cannot support, with the assumption that the systems will be consolidated in the future. However, this consolidation often does not happen and the new BSS modules ultimately add to the complexity of the architecture.

On the other hand, a "big bang" approach is not recommended either due to the uncertain impact it can have on the business. Finding the right pace that maintains momentum but minimizes business impact is critical.

IBB recommends breaking the migration into releases, where each release delivers real benefits to business KPIs in a timely manner. To minimize disruption, releases can be separated by specific BSS function, consumer product and services, groups of customers and geographies. For example, a multi-service provider could focus a first release on cloud services (product) for all business customers (customer group) based in the Midwest region (geography).

The advantage of next-generation BSS modules is their ability to support new products and services while making big leaps forward in functionality and modernization. However, these initiatives often come with large upfront costs and it can be challenging to identify the right pace of change without impacting the business or running out of momentum. Furthermore, many of the strategic experts in this market are vendors selling a specific software products or system integrators selling custom integration, which makes impartial advice hard to come by.

Greenfield deployments
The greenfield approach is similar to next-generation BSS migrations but without the added complexity of replacing a pre-existing system. It shares the same common pitfall of never being able to consolidate the new modules with the existing ones.

When choosing the greenfield deployment approach, it is important to keep future integrations with existing systems in mind, as ignoring this can lead to high total cost of ownership down the line. If the business selects modules that will not integrate easily with existing systems and processes, the expected TCO should be analyzed ahead of time by the technology organizations that may inherit them, and those expected costs should be aligned to the appropriate business units before implementation.

Plotting A path forward
New trends and historical needs are driving change in the OSS and BSS stack. For many in the industry, this change feels overdue with the opportunities to efficiently support new products and modernize operations generating excitement. However, multi-service providers should proceed with caution. Changes to the OSS and BSS stack requires careful planning and analysis combined with seamless communication across technology and business organizations within the company. Internal organizations looking too narrowly, vendors pushing proprietary products, and system integrators that benefit from unnecessary complexity can all hamper success.

Although it won’t be easy, CSPs that can successfully navigate the uncertain path to a more flexible OSS and BSS architecture will reap the rewards once they are able to meet product and customer demand expectations with ease.

— Bryan Adamson, Principal Consultant, IBB Consulting Group

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