OSS Vendors Taken to Task

ATLANTA -- Supercomm -- The operational support systems (OSSs) carriers use to configure, manage, and bill for their services aren't cutting it. And big changes are needed for carriers to roll out new broadband, IP, and wireless offerings successfully.

That was the verdict of a five-man panel of vendors, industry pundits, and one carrier here at Supercomm 2002 yesterday. Led by Rich LaPerch, CEO of Vibrant Solutions, which makes software for managing carrier revenue records, the panel included Randy Browning, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Yuval Shahar, cofounder and CEO of P-cube Inc., a software vendor specializing in IP billing systems; Rob Rich, executive VP at the Yankee Group; and Drew Caplan, VP of national network services at wireless carrier Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL).

As the sole carrier representative on the panel, Caplan took center stage (literally) in voicing concerns about the state of carrier OSSs. "As much money is wasted on OSSs as is spent productively," he said. "No one is doing as well as possible... The false starts, the reworkings... are tremendously costly."

Estimates of growth in the market for software to create and manage network services seem incredible (see RHK's Fat OSS and Billing Software Market Worth $30B?). But even skeptics say OSSs are a big-ticket item for most carriers, requiring big money outlays on an ongoing basis.

"The purchase price [of OSS products] is only a down payment," Caplan said. Over time, carriers must continue to shell out resources to the software vendors and integrators to maintain their OSSs. Often, suppliers yoke their customers to elaborate, highly customized architectures that soak up millions annually in ongoing care and feeding (see Telcordia's Osmine Goldmine).

Horror stories abound: Rob Rich of Yankee said a client spent $70 million on a customer resource management (CRM) software suite, only to have huge portions of it lie fallow in the IT department. "It's too much for the customer to handle. They don't understand it. The integration costs are killing them."

So what's the solution? All panelists agreed change is needed, particularly if carriers expect to start making money out of emerging packet-based, wireless, and video services. Some of the suggestions to carriers that emerged today:

  • Buy carefully. "We focus long and hard on vendor partners," Caplan says. In today's tough times more than ever, he says his team investigates a potential supplier's qualifications from top to bottom, especially its track record with other OSS customers.

  • Recognize unrealistic expectations. Compromises must often be made. Nextel wasted a year, Caplan says, when a configuration product it bought couldn't meet the goals originally set. "After we recognized what we wanted to do wasn't possible, we broke the project into bite-sized chunks," he says. And Nextel started thinking in terms of getting a percentage of benefit for its effort, rather than expecting unqualified success.

  • Encourage vendor partnerships. Carriers don't like having to buy into resource-sapping architectures, but they're not having much luck piecing together different products on their own, either. Panelists would like to see vendors get together and present integrated solutions at the outset of an OSS project.

    Still, partnerships should be well considered, not merely expedient. "Too many suppliers are making tactical partnerships [just] to get business," Rich noted. Pair-ups need to make sense and lead to real action.

  • Avoid quick fixes, flashy gimmicks, or cheap solutions. "Too many new vendors aren't focused on solving customer problems," said panel chair Rich LaPerch. Ideas that are interesting but hard to implement are disasters waiting to happen.

  • Look for information, not data. Carriers face no shortage of data about their networks, panelists said. The challenge is to get meaning out of that data -- for instance, to see how revenue actually balances against network investment. Products should aid that effort, not just generate more data to analyze.

  • Assign top staff to managing OSS processes. Panelists cited the need for top management assigned specifically to setting OSS goals and revising plans that don't make sense. Rob Rich cited a two-year survey Yankee conducted that shows carriers with well-run OSSs are in the minority. "Only about 35 percent of Tier 1 carriers have good, well-disciplined processes in place," he maintained. Having people devoted to the process full-time might help.

  • Don't expect standards to help. Panelists agreed that looking to organizations like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a dead end. To date, OSS vendors have guarded their wares and discouraged true interoperability, ostensibly to keep the OSS integration gravy train moving. The panel said the most that should be expected of industry groups like Telemanagement Forum is to get people talking.

These improvements won't fix things overnight. Problem areas remain, such as how to track usage of IP and wireless services, or how to coordinate billing for a range of services. Ultimately, panelists seemed to agree that progress can only come with the ongoing effort by carriers to demand better of their vendors -- and the willingness of those vendors to respond.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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AAL5 12/4/2012 | 10:17:59 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task BobbyMax (aka Harvey Mudd aka Verbal-Diarrhea-Man),

It must be possible to write some sort of program to simulate Harvey's responses.

if Bell Labs mentioned
Post positive article about the old days
else if lucent mentioned
Complain about the management
else if any other company mentioned
Post non-logical, drivel finding fault in
everything that every company does

BobbyMax 12/4/2012 | 10:17:59 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task I am simply amazed by the comments made by certain vendors regarding the price of OSS'. Except Telcordia (formerly Bell Communications Research) and Lucent,no other company in the world can make quality OSS'. Both Bell Labs and Telcordia have spent a lot of resources and many years of development.

The comments made by a select group of vendors shows their lack of understanding of the underlying technology and efforts needed to develop this product.
ThouShaltNotJudge 12/4/2012 | 10:17:57 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task May I suggest "illogical" instead of "non-logical"? - it will make you sound smarter.
EtherNut 12/4/2012 | 10:17:57 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task Is anyone surprised that buying a software package is just a down payment ?
- Come on guys -
Most service providers have rigorous procedures to test and deploy hardware but none even close for OSS. Wonder why.
System integrators are just resellers - that's it.

Roll-up your sleeves and code. Ain't no short cuts for software integration. No one wants to fight software with software - everyone seems to just come up with a bunch of gap analysis documents

Not too impressed with the panel but check-list sounds quite reasonable.
AAL5 12/4/2012 | 10:17:56 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task Criticizing the syntax that somebody has used to convey a message is usually the sign of someone that hasnG«÷t the ability to engage in semantic based arguments. Since the part of the message that you criticized was written in a pseudo-code like format, the meaning is more important than the syntax.

G«ˇThouShaltNotJudgeG«ˇ I have never seen you posting before. Hey Harvey are you not brave enough to post under your new pseudonym without having to create a new one.

litehearted 12/4/2012 | 10:17:56 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task I have been in the telecom OSS business for over 7 years with hardware and software vendors, and service providers.

As of this time, I have yet to see a product anywhere that meets the expectations of all customers everywhere. Unlike hardware solutions, the customer business processes are built around the OSS platform or the OSS platform is built around the customer business processes. I have lived both scenarios.

Everyone wants "plug-and-play" or OTS (Off-The-Shelf) to match their environments. If you provide tools, the customer does not want to pay or attend training. If you "customize" it for the customer, he or she wants it for free. The price is always too high. If the OSS needs to be modified or upgraded, it has to be done with no network impacts and has to be free. "Forget giving me a migration script and having me migrate it. You are the vendor, you provide the migration"

OSS vendors and standards bodies do share in some of the blame. There has been too little direction, and too little desire to follow the directions that come too late.

Equipment vendors sometimes force their OSS platforms to cover deficiencies in equipment management because the revenue lies with the hardware.

How many service providers today have the same network equipment environment, with the same functionality and equipment interfaces, with the same SLAs, with the same business process, the same legacy OSS platforms, the same OSS budget, the same level of training, the same operations environment? Please let me know when you find them.

I think there is plenty of blame that can be shared by many. We always want it now and to be everything we want it to be. The OSS market space is fragmented with no real market leader (please don't waste your time debating this with me. I have "sliced and diced" this market many, many times.) Until there is a clear-cut leader that the majority of customers are willing to support, we will have these problems.

Look at Microsoft. They won most of the PC OS market and most of the basic business applications. We have modeled most of our day-to-day activities after their product offerings. We have become "accustomed" to the nuances of MS products and restart or reboot whenever it is required.

Today's OSS vendors could learn somethings from MS. Attaching to the right vendors, customers, and partners is critical.

Now where is my "magic 8 ball"?
ThouShaltNotJudge 12/4/2012 | 10:17:55 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task Might I further suggest you re-think the hypocrisy between attacking another's motives for posting an opinion versus sarcasm related to one's diction?

... and Harvey doesn't live here anymore, he couldn't pay the rent.
light_geeking 12/4/2012 | 10:17:55 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task I would like to share the following comments on OSS:
1. Just like in the Service Provider and Equipment Vendor space,consolidation is needed in the OSS suppliers space
2. OSS should not be an after thought. As M&A occurs in Service Provider space, have a OSS consolidation strategy in mind upfront
3. Functional OSS, providing real operator productivity gains is not something that will be available for cheap as it requires multitude of skills and hence critical mass of talent is needed to deliver carrier class OSS
4. Service Providers should also consider full OSS integration costs and OSS evolution costs not just OSS software acquisition costs
5. Just like ripping out existing TDM network elements and replacing everything with something next-gen concept hit a brick wall, the same applies to OSS. Any proposals to overhaul OSS with next gen whiz-bang revolutionary technology without addressing legacy and current-gen problems has the potential to result in more heartburns rather than solving the customers' business problem
6. OSS vendors and standards bodies have to understand that they stand to gain if they all agree to a small set of standards rather than creating new standards using new technologies solving the same business problems. The thought here is that solve real business problem, and therefore allow the end customer, i.e. the Service Provider to gain better revenues, and that shall make more money available for innovation in OSS space.
7. Service Providers should force incumbent OSS suppliers to demonstrate how upgrading to the next release of their OSS is allowing the carriers to improve productivity by orders of magnitude. Set multi-release price/performance benchmark clauses in the contract
AAL5 12/4/2012 | 10:17:54 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task
I was being purely observational regarding HarveyG«÷s continual glum outlook on all things not Bell Labs.

Why does Harvey continually have to defend himself using pseudonyms G«ˇThouShaltNotJudgeG«÷?

umustbejokin 12/4/2012 | 10:17:54 PM
re: OSS Vendors Taken to Task I think one must consider the rapid pace of technological change over the last couple of years and the rise of single box vendors as being a major contributor to the problem. Large hardware vendors have often rolled their own EMS/NMS solutions while smaller one box shops have attempted to depend on third parties to pick up the slack. The end result is a large amount of systems integration work that has to be done to manage heterogeneous networks under a common OSS. This has to be considered as part of the TCO equation when evaluating hardware. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your position in the marketplace this no doubt favors larger vendors who can offer more complete solutions, OSMINE compliance, etc.
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