Pssst! Wanna buy a new BSS‾

One of the best ways to see what's available in the world of BSS is to be part of the selection process within an operator.


One of the challenges I face in my role at TM Forum is keeping abreast of all the innovation and advancement of BSS, especially around billing and customer care. With the acceptance and adoption of service oriented architectures (SOA) and the move toward all-IP next generation networks, there is a distinct move away from departmental silos and toward taking a more holistic view of requirements. 


The biggest movement appears to be occurring in the Tier 2, Tier 3 and virtual network operator (VNO) space, where the expectations from any BSS is to accelerate processes, improve service and reduce costs - quite a tall order.


For most of us, the best way to see what is available is to attend one of the numerous billing and customer care events held around the world each year, including our own Management World series. Here, we not only get to hear about advancements in technology and process, we also get to see them.


Telco technology is now very much led by vendors, particularly so in the BSS arena. However, to learn more, you have to be able to 'deep dive.' With so many vendors and products in the marketplace, this becomes a daunting task.


One other way is to be part of a selection process within an operator looking for a new BSS - an opportunity I was recently fortunate enough to have. This was a VNO and this was no ordinary method. There was a requirement to make a quick, yet calculated decision in the shortest possible time and with minimal disruption to operations. The other critical factor was secrecy, a key element to avoid being inundated by unwanted advances and potentially upsetting existing relationships.


An outside consultant/advisor was brought in to determine requirements and draft an architecture for the complete BSS. This was completed in three weeks, and a long list of potential vendors was drawn up. The key requirements were identified and given priority against vendor claims.


The VNO prized a strong working relationship with its vendor partner and a flexible architecture that allowed easy integration with its existing customer care partner. Utilizing a managed service, the proximity of the partner and good reference customers of similar ilk were the next key items, and the list was whittled down even further.


At about this stage, an RFI and then an RFP is issued.


But as we all know, everyone is compliant on every point in some way, so the whole evaluation process is pretty much useless. That was all replaced by a 'beauty contest' where the short-listed potential partners were invited to an all-day workshop with a set of broad requirements that had to be demonstrated live to the selection panel. That panel was made up of staff from different areas of the operator who attended only the sections that affected them, thus minimizing disruption to internal operations.


The evaluations were held off-site and phones and email barred in the room. A tight timetable and diligent, time-conscious staff had the whole process working like a Swiss clock. Four short-listed vendors, one dedicated day for each, in front of a focused and well-versed audience who 'scored' what they saw. The scorecards had their own hidden weightings as well to ensure that the final result would be skewed toward the key criteria being sought.


The fifth day was used to go over all the results, listen to individual comments and concerns, and collate the whole process into a final list of two. This was also the next stage for pricing and contract discussions, which was set for 16 working days. It was committed to have the first stage of a system up and running by January 2009. That's a total of eight weeks from requirements gathering to contract and a further 11 weeks to implementation. Not bad.


The part that I found most amazing was the vendor responses and the quality of their systems. Although each was unique in some way, the combination of technology, experience, product knowledge and willingness to participate in a not-so-ordinary selection process speaks volumes about the state of our industry as we move toward NGNs and transformation projects in all types and size of operations. I hope to be able to share the results of the whole process in the months to come.


Tony Poulos is head of revenue management sector, TM Forum