Meeting NGN demands

There is a need to redefine the problem service providers face as the world of IT back-office software continues to add complexity in the operator environment. The coexistence of heterogeneous next-generation networks with new demands will complicate the issue if it is not used as an opportunity by the software vendors to get ahead of the game.
 
For years, vendors have helped service providers tackle software challenges by selling upgrades and enhancements that have solved a short-term problem, and in the process helped create unmanageable layers of software systems that must be maintained. In addition, most tier 1 providers in mature markets still have a strong not-invented-here prejudice against using third-party software or development for anything but peripheral systems.
 
Few options can be proposed to address this problem. Service providers can leverage the considerable internal resources of the IT department to build and operate a customized BSS/OSS platform to meet the requirements of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Vendors can continue to offer best-of-breed products in conjunction with professional services branded as "now supporting 4G".
 
Our belief is that the net result will be similar in both cases: new layers of spaghetti code, increasing complexity leading to ever-expanding opex budgets and making it a nightmare to operate reliably. In fact, managed services companies will leverage this complexity to their advantage by pitching to "manage your mess for less."
 
We believe that now is the right time to take a fresh look at the business problems BSS/OSS software will be required to address in the next five years and then build a product from the ground up. No more Band-Aids.
 
What is needed?
 
The next-generation wireless networks will have different radio networks cooperating in a heterogeneous wireless access infrastructure environment that includes GPRS,UMTS, WLAN, etc, enabling operators to serve customers efficiently by directing them to have the best experience based on service area, location, preferences and network performance. The BSS/OSS community needs to agree on the capabilities that should be built into their business applications and the operational software systems to support that.
 
Given the quest for broader bandwidth and the collision of wireless data and voice networks leveraging multi-standard and multi-service broadband sessions, how should systems be designed to effectively rate, charge and bill for new services in real time? How fast can a new service be modeled, tested and deployed for a target set of customers? Can it be monitored and measured in real time? It will require complete alignment of a variety of groups within the service provider organization - marketing, product development, IT and network staff - so that they understand this new world, what is expected from them and then execute on it to make the necessary adjustments within the multiple BSS/OSS environment to make it work.
 
The demands of 4G networks will require operators to leverage the event-driven architecture paradigm to monitor, measure and act on thousands of network and customer initiated events to make intelligent decisions. This imposes stringent requirements regarding latency and scalability on the software system. In addition, the software system has the responsibility to hide this complexity from the customer and make interactions simple and easy to drive the best customer experience.
 

Service providers and vendors need to be very aware of the chasm between where software systems are today and where they should be. We outline the five steps needed to bridge the chasm.
 
Build the BSS/OSS on the event-driven architecture paradigm. The networks of tomorrow are going to need a real-time BSS/OSS system that processes event stream data from customer interactions in channels such as websites, retail and agent stores, kiosks and contact centers. The massive explosion of these interaction events have to be modeled, monitored and made sense of as they happen so that the operator can optimize its service to the customers in real time.
 
For example, the order-to-cash process for an individual customer will generate many events in the operator ecosystem. These include recognizing the customer profile and the type of interaction, personalizing the experience to suit the profile, recommending the products the customer is likely buy and then once it is bought triggering a set of provisioning, activation, assurance, billing and partner management events within the operator network. This instant processing of events designed to fulfill this process from start to finish will require an event-driven architecture to enable it.
 
Make the architecture flat and fast. The software systems should be built with the minimum number of layers possible. These systems will have to deliver real-time performance on all fronts. ln the next decade software systems will process complex events real time and provide the users the best actions to take based on those events. This directly enables the service provider to lower risks and provide an excellent experience to customers. This technology is available today in the financial industry and can be deployed to suit the needs of service providers to where there will be a growing need to provide an engine to process high volume, low latency applications.
 
Open APIs with zero integration tax. It is not sufficient to provide interfaces that will work with an adjacent package. The barriers to integration really must be lowered to enable interoperability as we have not seen before. The service provider should incur near-zero cost to build and maintain the integration between the old and new systems, and between the modules of the new system. The new systems must include pre-built adapters to help the service provider migrate to the solution in a phased manner.
 
Focus on a consistent experience at all touch points. Software systems must be experience-centric and not provider-centric, which means providing a single platform to deliver a consistent customer experience from the order handling, activation, provisioning and billing functions.
 
Provide an accurate and simple bill. The coexistence of the old and new networks, a variety of voice and data products, different QoS on hybrid networks, multiple profiles and multiple devices will need a software system that is designed to hide all the technology complexity and present a simple easy to understand bill to customers.
 
Ashvin Vellody is a SVP at Yankee Group

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