‘Catalog’ is no longer the ‘new new idea’. The market is maturing and the basic principles have been validated by many early adopters. Most importantly, as service portfolios have become more broad and open, service providers have come to realize that simple commercial product catalogs can’t deliver the agility and rapid deployment that they need in order to be competitive.
In many instances, commercial catalogs which are often built into CRM have become weighed down with elaborate change processes and data governance rules in an attempt to model commercial, technical and operational processes.
This approach has been labeled product lifecycle management. Ironically, the concept has often become detached from the actual capabilities of the organization, becoming an end in itself and resulting in the catalog increasing rather than shortening time to market.
This experience has re-energized thinking around how catalogs could be used to deliver the lean processing efficiencies witnessed in other high-tech industries over recent decades. This means abstracting the capabilities of the whole business to allow faster and more efficient product development, launch and delivery.
In particular, we are starting to see catalog being used less as a standalone repository or design platform, and more as a highly efficient driver of other business operations. Product information is increasingly abstracted to the catalog from fulfillment, provisioning, activation, inventory, stock control and other OSS processes.
Organizational complexity is a key driver for catalog adoption. The need to manage converging technologies and dispersed capabilities across departmental and service boundaries is demanding that formal management of the service life cycle should be a key part of any operator’s OSS/BSS architecture.
The drive for efficiency and resilience is fundamental and catalog is fast becoming a key component of the more normalized service provider IT – which operators need to deal with wide portfolios and a much more competitive market, while keeping operational costs viable. As the network becomes a multi-service platform and customers’ demand for self-bundling and self-care increases, the need to manage services more smartly in the OSS will become critical to any operator.
Challenging traditional concepts and architectures with any new and innovative technology often meets with wariness, if not actual resistance. This is especially the case when the concepts cross departmental boundaries and ROI is not clearly expressed.
Until recently, catalog strategies have been ‘a good idea in theory’, and the fuel for many proof-of-concept exercises, without making it through to operational adoption. Now, however, the combined drivers of competition, openness and technology convergence are making proper tools for product management a must-have, not just a nice option. Top-level support and strategic commitment towards organizational transformation of the structure of product and service management are also clearing the way for catalog introduction.
The biggest obstacle to catalog adoption is the fear of transformation and the impact to existing processes and product silos. This can be mitigated with department-level adoption rather than entire organizational change, but any phasing of the implementation must remain focused on the long-term target efficiencies and not just short term benefits.
Strategies that allow wrapping and reuse of legacy infrastructure into new catalog-driven models are often attractive too, allowing organizations to realize significant architecture paybacks without the need to write off previous investments.
Software vendors competing in the catalog space can help themselves here, if they accept the need to be a partner in the transformation process and not simply a provider. We’re likely to see alliances being formed between software vendors and specialized consulting practices to consolidate business and technology transformation.
There is growing acceptance that legacy OSS is not equipped to support a multi-technology, multi-product environment. However, catalogs can substantially rationalize this space, making it easier, quicker and cheaper to develop products and get them to customers. Other things being equal, faster to market means faster to revenue and -- along with cost efficiencies -- is a pillar of the catalog ROI model.
Product and service catalogs are among the most innovative and exciting OSS/BSS developments in recent years. When we consider the investments being made in network convergence, service marketplaces, real-time customer self-care, cloud services and smart devices -- and the need to personalize the delivery of products in a way that recognizes the customer’s service context -- catalog initiatives start to seem essential tools for management as well as creating huge potential for differentiation in the market.
Simon Osborne is VP at Comptel’s fulfillment product business unit. Bob Machin is principal analyst for strategic marketing