The complexity and cost of Telcordia's Osmine process have generated a market of consultants aiming to help

December 5, 2002

5 Min Read
Osmine's Startup Cowboys

If problems create opportunities, then Compro Consulting has a bright future -- at least for the next few months.

The Richardson, Texas-based startup is one of the first outfits to specialize in helping vendors get through the challenging Osmine process conducted by Telcordia Technologies Inc. But it's not alone: At least two others, including OS Ventures Inc., based in the Atlanta area, and software vendor Lumos Technologies, are hawking help with Osmine.

When it comes to commanding a captive market, few vendors have reached Telcordia's status. Building on the legacy of supplying software to the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) as part of Bellcore, the company has created a sizeable business keeping vendors and carriers entrenched in its wares, which comprise comprehensive, high-end network and service management systems -- carriers' operations support systems (OSSs).

Through the Osmine process, Telcordia certifies that a vendor's device can be managed with Telcordia's OSSs, which help keep most U.S. network services up and running. Osmine is therefore a prerequisite for any vendor seeking to sell to incumbent local exchange carriers in the U.S. It's also a guarantee that carriers' management systems will work properly regardless of the equipment they choose.

The trouble is, Osmine is an expensive process that takes an average of a year and a half and at least a six-figure outlay to complete (see Telcordia's Osmine Goldmine). A boon for Telcordia, but tough for vendors, particularly startups. Service providers also shell out big bucks on maintenance fees to Telcordia to ensure the goods they buy will fit into their OSS schemes.

The downturn's taken some fat off Telcordia's cash cow, though. Vendors with tight budgets can't hire the necessary help to ensure the lengthy and complicated Osmine process gets done properly. Carriers, too, are down a few personnel. Industry sources say Telcordia has been pinched by the famine.

Enter Compro and its competition, who'll help vendors decide what they need from Telcordia in order to please their prospective customers, the RBOCs. These consultants help vendors work with their carrier prospects to determine which Telcordia systems they'll need to adjust their products to. Then, they work out a reasonable plan with Telcordia to get the specs and testing done.

If it sounds simple, it isn't. There are lots of pitfalls in the process that can become money pits. "We help customers save money in a lot of ways," says Compro CEO Sharon Caswell, who used to work at ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) and Rel-Tek. "We use real project management, for one thing."

Caswell says many startups dedicate product managers without Osmine experience to oversee their Osmine process. These managers often don't know what to ask of Telcordia, or how to push back when necessary. Often they miss a deadline in the timeline set by Telcordia for getting their products coded to fit the necessary OSSs. This can generate huge penalties. "It costs vendors a couple of hundred thousand every time they miss a scheduled date," she says.

OS Venture's CEO and founder, Ian Foster, says companies seeking Osmine certification often don't know what they really want. It's not Telcordia's job to tell them what OSS products they need to comply with, and if the carrier isn't specific, the vendor can end up asking Telcordia for more help than they need. What's more, if they're not clear up front in their goals, the end result may have to be redone -- another huge expense.

Reducing the margin for error can save a ton. "We typically save customers $2 million on average per project," Foster says.

Both Compro Consulting and OS Ventures are tiny. Compro, started in February 2001, has just 12 employees. It's privately funded by an individual, Bob Hawkins, a cattle rancher turned entrepreneur who acts as COO. OS Ventures has just four employees and was funded by Foster himself.

Neither company seems to think their size is an issue. Business is moving along briskly, both claim. That's not to say any of their present or past customers are ready to go on record to testify: In recent announcements of Osmine projects, vendors such as Actelis Networks and WaveSmith Networks Inc. boasted of having achieved certification on their own (see WaveSmith Scores Osmine).Lumos, which is set to be purchased by Micromuse Inc. (Nasdaq: MUSE) for $2.7 million (see Micromuse to Acquire Lumos), is a different animal, a software vendor offering agents that work with specific OSSs from Telcordia. Lumos's wares reduce the time it takes vendors to generate the code required to meet Osmine requirements. And while Lumos isn't a consultancy, it offers templates that give vendors of Sonet, ATM, and DWDM gear the basic tools they need to specify links with Telcordia's NMA OSS. This speeds the process and helps eliminate guesswork (and extra expense).

Lumos CEO Conor Dowling says all this is a big help to Osmine seekers. "Companies now are reluctant to build out staff in areas they don't perceive as core," he says. They often can't afford to spend on having a person dedicated to the Osmine process, he says. Lumos's templates help create good specs ahead of time without requiring extra bodies.

So far, the two consultancies and Lumos are the only companies we found that offer specific help with Osmine. But the ongoing downturn, plus the vigor of Telcordia's grip on the OSS market, ensures there's plenty of room for more players.

Telcordia could not be reached for comment on this story. Spokespeople there refuse to talk to Light Reading, citing discontent over past coverage.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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