NICE, France -- TM Forum Live -- The billion-dollar investments that operators have made in billing support systems (BSS) represent a colossal waste of funds, judging by comments from KPN's chief technology officer.
Eric Hoving says he cannot understand why there is any need for BSS in the modern age, and that the industry should not conflate operational support systems (OSS), which he calls the "central core system of an operator," with unnecessary BSS.
"We've spent zillions of dollars on BSS but who is in need of a bill?" said Hoving during a panel session at this week's TM Forum Live event in Nice. "No over-the-top company sends a bill and nobody ever uses the data of the billing system. Why do we have a billing system at all?"
The comments triggered a round of applause and peals of laughter during a morning panel discussion, despite the obvious implications for executives working in the BSS area.
Hoving expressed puzzlement at the use of the term OSS/BSS 2.0, which was included in the description of the panel on which he spoke, and said he could not understand why operators used the terms almost interchangeably. "OSS and BSS have nothing to do with each other," he said.
He reckons those systems were originally linked only because of billing needs associated with certain old-fashioned telephone services, implying that operators today could unravel the stitching and dump the BSS.
Hoving's assessment received a surprising degree of support from Ulf Ewaldsson, the head of digital services for Swedish vendor Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), which has prospered partly by selling OSS and BSS technologies to service providers worldwide.
"Like everyone we have legacy but we are now looking to the future," said Ewaldsson. "The table stakes have changed and it is now all about customer experience management."
Ericsson's OSS and BSS business last year suffered a big drop in sales that was blamed partly on the decline of legacy products, and Ericsson is now looking at potential takeovers to bolster its new-look digital services unit, Ewaldsson told Light Reading earlier this week. (See Ericsson Eyes Takeovers to Bolster Digital Services Unit.)
Acquisition targets could include companies developing more dynamic revenue management and customer management systems, said Ewaldsson, as well as players in the analytics and automation areas.
Phil Jordan, the CIO of Spain's Telefónica , urged some caution on the topic of digital transformation, pointing out that "legacy technologies underpin a multi-billion-dollar industry," but similarly envisages a post-BSS future.
"We need to kill some of these old terms like OSS and BSS," he said. "I think we can get rid of the billing engine at some stage and charge in real time like digital companies."
But Hoving's attack on the current state of the industry was not limited to BSS, also targeting some of the other practices that are in widespread use.
"We ship SIMs to customers and then have to activate them but why? Who came up with that idea?" he mused. "Why can't we pre-activate SIMs? The philosophy is just wrong."
Another Hoving gripe is that the industry has been too focused on the consumer market in the past and that operators need to think more about B2B as well as B2B2C opportunities.
Jordan said operators to take steps to ensure they can address opportunities in the B2B area.
"There is not a magic wand -- we have a lot of legacy and have made the business complicated and now we need to re-engineer," he said. "Is it enough to create a winning proposition in digital consumer? Probably not. But we have still got huge value in B2B."
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading