Today's power users are embracing "always on" communications to meet their 24x7 digital lifestyles. At the same time, they are demanding unparalleled choice, convenience and control. How can operators best cater to these "always on" digital customers‾
For today's communications and content providers, winning and retaining customers is a high-stakes game in which new services, offers and promotions must be continuously rolled out to meet the lifestyle needs of a new breed of user.
These customers are power users with a mix of personal, business and family communication needs who require "always on" communications so they can access everything they want, anytime, with total control and immediate satisfaction.
They are highly mobile users whose lifestyles demand leading-edge voice, video and data services, personalized account management and flexible spending control. They want to choose how and when they pay for different services, and real-time cost controls to optimize their overall spending, whether it's for one or multiple accounts.
Nourishing these digital customers requires providing unparalleled multi-service, multi-payment convenience and personalization - a level of service that is impossible to achieve with a conventional infrastructure. For example, traditional IT-based BSS and "silo" architectures originally built to support postpaid voice services fail to support real-time promotions or authorizations. Meanwhile, network-based prepaid-only systems are unable to incorporate customer traits, nor can they cope with the robust financial management, auditing and tracking functions needed today.
This creates daunting challenges for a legacy infrastructure - challenges that require an overall business transformation for many operators. A critical step in this transformation is to move the BSS from its traditional place in IT into the network itself.
Billing as a network-based service
Moving BSS into the network offers operators a number of important advantages:
Real-time notifications, authorizations, promotions, usage monitoring (by both operator and customer) and other real-time activities are supported 24x7. Now the "always on" digital subscriber is supported by a real-time billing and customer care environment that is also always on.
Operators can offer a new world of choice, convenience and control that strengthens customer loyalty and increases ARPU. Improving and facilitating the customer experience to locate and order a product or service will increase the likelihood of purchase.
The convergence of IT and network infrastructure creates cost and technology efficiencies that can ripple positively throughout all aspects of operations.
Operators become ideally positioned to support 24x7 self-service. To create a friendly, convenient experience, self-service systems require continuous feeds of real-time usage data - which is only possible with an "always on" BSS.
Transforming legacy infrastructures into a network-based 24x7 system requires focus, perseverance and a convergence partner who knows the ropes.
Operators should bring network and IT together. Prepaid/real-time billing is traditionally the domain of the network group, while postpaid billing is typically the domain of IT personnel. These two organizations have different mandates and skill sets. Even their mindsets are different - the network group thinks real-time, high availability and online, while the IT group thinks monthly cycles and overnight batch processing.
In some companies, blending has already begun - network equipment is beginning to resemble the same servers managed by IT and some batch systems are becoming more real-time in nature. However, for many operators, internal politics and embedded behaviors may prevent progress towards a converged platform. Whatever the situation, operators need to assure fruitful cooperation between the network and IT groups.
Architecture should also be kept simple. Most operators want a clean, easy-to-manage architecture that lets them transition to full convergence in phases without having to throw away interim investments. To avoid implementing a short-term solution that needs to be replaced in two to three years, the architecture should serve short and long term needs.
Some service providers start with a subset of customers, such as high-ARPU convergent customers. Others phase in their move by individual service offering. Operators need to be sure that if they deploy an "add on" rating or mediation solution today, they won't end up at a dead-end tomorrow. A billing partner must possess a broad set of assets for the future, including strong R&D and product capabilities - not merely what's needed today.
Operators should also integrate one data model. A highly robust system is based on a unified database containing all billing, ordering and customer information. To achieve unified customer management, operators need a billing partner with a product architecture that harmonizes multiple data views so that duplication issues associated with patching together multiple conventional systems are eliminated.
To make sure this product architecture is integrated into a specific OSS/BSS environment without introducing synchronization problems, operators should work with experienced professionals. While many companies claim to have the acumen to achieve this unified customer view quickly and cost-efficiently, few have actual real-world experience in the nuances of convergence.
It's also important to stay fast and flexible. Services and offers should be dynamic all the time. Operators should be prepared to creatively define market-driven solutions and be willing to modify them quickly if they don't work as anticipated.
Operators should likewise revolutionize self-service. The "always on" digital customer wants to self-provision and self-configure with 24x7 convenience. Gartner projects that self-service will eventually represent 60-65% of all customer service transactions, making self-service a vital element of a winning sales and service strategy.
But legacy systems were never intended to support real-time self-service and are inherently incapable of providing the superior self-service ergonomics that customers require. Operators need to collaborate with a self-service partner who offers an out-of-the-box feature set that's already pre-integrated with back-end OSS/BSS.