More bang for the buck

“The most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do” – Thomas Jefferson

If one could rephrase the above quote by replacing “words” with “systems”, we would arguably be touching upon the elusive dream of every Information technology manager to create a simple, yet efficient IT infrastructure. The irony, however, is that the pressures of responding to market needs, customer demands and competitor initiatives within unreasonable deadlines do not help in simplifying the architecture. Quick procurement decisions are taken and multiple disparate systems are stitched into the original fabric to tide over the challenges at hand. The arguments in favor of squeezing out every possible drop from every system are becoming more vociferous in the turbulent economic times that we are in.

Billing systems have been around in some form or the other for as long as there have been service providers, but we have always believed that the era of standalone billing systems is long gone.

Many communication service providers across the globe have to make a procurement decision every time they wish to rollout a new service or technology. This is either because their existing systems are incapable of handling the challenges of a growing business, or, because their customer management capabilities will be compromised if they do not change. Ambitious OSS/BSS product and solution vendors should work toward developing products that are future ready and address the operator’s OSS/BSS needs comprehensively. In addition, vendor’s need to go that extra mile to learn to co-exist by keeping in mind the end objective of optimizing the operator’s present and future investments.

Empower and grow
We understand that subscribers and revenues share a directly proportional relationship. That said, increasing subscriber numbers tend to ring alarm bells because they call for network, OSS/BSS and resource ramp-up.  What some operators have realized is that, while a certain amount of ramp-up is inevitable in the course of growth, a fair number can be done away with the intelligent use of their OSS/BSS platforms

One of the strategies for making operations easily scalable to acquire and service more customers is to implement an environment that empowers service providers’ own personnel, their channel partners’ personnel and the customers themselves to manage various aspects of their relationship. Picture an environment where the service provider’s own personnel have quick access to relevant information about their customers and they are in a position to make better-informed decisions. Picture  the channel partner being empowered to service the end-customer, thus reducing the load on the service provider’s resources. Picture the customer being able to self manage the relationship himself, to his/her satisfaction, anytime, anywhere.

The relationship with your customer is as special as the relationship that you share with your family; and the foundations are almost the same – integrity, trust and mutual respect. While an accurate bill definitely goes a long way in cementing a relationship with your customer, the bad news is that an accurate bill is the least that the customer expects from his service provider these days. We strongly believe that customers do not merely sign up for a GSM, CDMA, ISP or Wimax connection. They sign up to fulfill higher level intangible needs like communication, entertainment, freedom, dignity, lifestyle, knowledge, livelihood and much more.

The line between billing and CRM platforms are blurring day by day. The “human” and “relationship” factors that a CRM addresses are so crucial that a service provider cannot afford to go wrong with his choice, and yet, mostly they do. Swayed by brand and peer pressure, quite often, service providers end up procuring CRM solutions that do not understand the nuances of their business operations or their customers. A telco specific CRM is needed and a great opportunity that vendors are trying to address.

Visibility for decision making
One of the important aspects of running a communication service operation amidst tough competition is to obtain visibility of various day-to-day operational aspects of your business. An alarmingly large number of senior managers and decision makers do not have the means to real-time data relevant to their areas of operations and have to make do with rudimentary methods of reporting. This not only brings in the risk of irrelevant information but also takes away the power that comes along with knowing what is happening on the ground right now.

While some service providers have already started using advanced dashboards and interactive GIS-based tracking and monitoring of network as well as sales channel activities, the availability of the right kind of products and solutions is far and few. Real-time information such as the number of SIMs in a region where a promotion is planned or the number of sales personnel in a town where a launch is scheduled or the amount of churn forecasted in a particular region can give the cutting edge that an agile service provider of today requires to excel in his geographies.

One consistent message that goes out to my team regularly is to have their ears to the ground and eyes toward the horizon to ensure that we do not miss out on valuable feedback sprouting from the grass roots level and yet, not miss out on the big picture in front of us. I firmly believe that only such organizations will survive that can maintain that delicate balance.

Atul Chopra is COO and president of Tecnotree