The struggle to streamline orders

Customer experience relies on the ability of oprators to not only roll out, bundle and reassemble innovative services faster, but to also successfully provision and bill the orders according to customer expectations.

With so much energy going into BI, analytics, data warehousing and other initiatives to get the right products to the right people at the right location and time, it makes no sense to lose an order once you've  "captured" the customer.

To shorten the lag between the time a service order is placed and the time it takes to get a service provisioned and into billing and CRM systems, operators need to transcend the "dumb-pipe" mentality and become true enablers in the value chain. That means embracing order management as something that is just as important as sales. That shouldn't be difficult to accept since order management can be a key enabler of a positive experience after an individual or enterprise is convinced to trust what you say about a certain service or product.

That change of mindset isn't so easy when order volumes from consumer and enterprise customers are rising at such a rapid rate.

There's no question service providers are handling an unprecedented number of order revisions and cancellations, which of course has led to high order fallout and billing discrepancies.

The problem is operators are bogged down in manual processes, fulfillment workflows, orchestration and decomposition rules, which are needed for every new service. Too often, they continue to create product-focused applications and functional fiefdoms created by silos of fulfillment systems. Quite often, usage records end up in error logs and customers and revenues are lost. This is particularly true for CSPs deeply rooted in legacy systems; fulfillment systems are not designed to handle such large numbers of orders and the ensuing changes. They cannot automatically decompose and reassemble pieces of products and services because of the number of custom-built, product-based applications.

"When you look at Asia, operators have had to slap together legacy systems to meet marketing demands, which means they can't model and manage product portfolios in efficient ways, which means business processes suffer," says Rolf Eberhardt, global practices principal at HP communications and media solutions.

"It's not good that they often have to implement products as many as three or four times - first modeling something in CRM, then modeling it again in billing, and then again in middleware, and then again in the portals for self service."

The problem isn't going to get any better if IT organizations are continuously pressured to do more with less - accommodate new offers, products and growing numbers of sales channels and partners, not to mention custom products - all while cutting the cost of infrastructure.

"It's a given that internal teams do not want to grapple with building business logic for every channel or point of sale," says Rajeev Tankh, senior director for cross-portfolio solutions at Oracle.  "They should not have to reconfigure the logic in middleware, then again in the integration layer, and then replicate it all into fulfillment, billing, provisioning and supply chain management."

When dealing with a carrier that has hundreds if not thousands of product offerings, the permutations of all the possible combinations become overwhelming. That is particularly telling in an age where social media platforms and other channels allow people to communicate in unprecedented ways their satisfaction or dissatisfaction about products, services and brands. In other words, there are many more ways for customers to either praise or taint a CSP's name if they have a bad experience.

Reality check
"Customers just won't tolerate what they used to," says Scott Kolman, from Amdocs' customer management product marketing group. "If they have a bad experience with their cable company, they can look to their telco for TV or video; if they don't like their wireline service, they can look to a cellular company or VoIP provider,"

"As you handle more bundles and more complexity, there is more that can inherently go wrong, which elevates the urgency of good order management."

For this reason, the experience from point-of-sale through to provisioning, consumption and billing, and back to up-sell and cross-sell is more important than ever. The more consistent the service experience across multiple channels, the better the chance to reduce churn and build loyalty.

Though everyone talks of personalization and dynamic provisioning and activation of services, there will be no chance of achieving "marketing to one" without enabling "on-the-fly" bundling that assembles pieces relevant to individuals.

If a CSP understands a certain subscriber has a smartphone with a touch-screen or a key pad, a regular TV or a high-def TV,  his coverage areas, and his existing services, then there are opportunities to dynamically target market. But CSPs have to first get to a point where they can ensure front-office people have the visibility necessary to ensure sales orders are carried out, if relevant discounts have been applied, accurate billing established and whether technicians have delivered the appropriate equipment.

"At the point of offer, people should be able to answer such questions as: can I definitely deliver the offer once I capture; can I do the technical qualifications to make the necessary information available in the order capture process; if not,  do I know how to handle the order so it won't fall out?" says Tankh.

Once operators can answer those questions, they should aim to tie sales organizations to field technicians so that there are updates during installation. "It should get to a point that customers can add or modify services on the fly if they change their mind by the time a field technician gets to their house or to the business location," says Kolman.

To truly lay a foundation for a concept such as rapid prototyping, a change of mindset is necessary in Asian telecoms. "For one, order management without a catalog is not useful on its own; it's just a process engine at that point," says HP's Eberhardt. "A single product catalog propagated across the enterprise is critical to accommodating many channels and ensuring consistency of processes across all channels."

Processes to consider are many - everything from the point at which an order is captured from a certain channel, to the point where an order delivery function automatically takes the order and makes use of the data needed to fulfill the order, which includes disseminating information to various systems. And the processes don't end there, as request changes and modifications have to be recognized as orders change.

"For example, someone who at first declined the special 'high-definition' offer when ordering triple-play might decide the next day to purchase a high-def TV," says Kolman. "That person may call back through an IVR or through the internet, and there are implications to pricing, billing, shipping and devices. That should all be understood and addressed."

To consistently execute so many processes across many offerings, CSPs have to start thinking about how to drive processes as much as possible through the product catalog, rather than having business processes driving product development - something Eberhardt says is difficult because NOC and operations folks traditionally do not consider that half of order management is really product lifecycle management. "Even the work we've done in the eTOM and SID reflects that management perspective."

Though there's no standard definition of the end-to-end lifecycle, it seems to include everything from the point at which the order is received from the order-capture system (typically a CRM), through to its completion, which includes the orchestration of all major functions performed by local fulfillment systems and providing the status on the progress back to CRM.

Integration is essential
Without a full feedback loop, something like revisions will trigger "kick outs," which then burden separate groups, which get "around to resolving issues" at a later date. That impacts the customer experience and opens up revenue leakage opportunities. At some point, the front office should be able to tie into networking and billing layers to have an integrated process established.

For example, to know to tell the customer to mail back an STB that no longer is appropriate for the high-def service, or to send back the modem if it won't provide the bandwidth for the requested upgrade, then an automated workflow should exist to trigger the delivery of new equipment and truck roll if necessary, as well as billing changes.

In addition to building and designing offers around lifecycles, CSPs have to consider how each order is unique. "Some orders may be time-based, some may be project-based. It's important that orchestration of an order be based on the order itself, as opposed to the product or service," says Tankh. "If you bundle a 2-megabyte circuit with a mobile service, the order changes; you don't want to have to build a whole new fulfillment flow to support that, or the bundling, say, of broadband DSL with TV."

Once operators start to think about how their architectures can drive order management out of the catalog itself, then operators can use that data-driven architecture to design and sell products that deliver a consistent experience, regardless of the channel.

For years it's been understood that efficient order management means optimizing end-to-end customer-facing business processes and integrating them with CRM, marketing, sales and service functionalities as well as functionalities found in billing and contract management so that the complete order-to-cash process is managed.

"But integration should involve more than telling a CEO something is integrated when really, all you are doing is screen convergence so that data from back-end systems are pushed to CRM systems," says Eberhardt.

He believes CSPs should do more to use Web 2.0 technologies to truly tie orders to customers and to push environments to front-ends so that users can do self-care.

"To do so, you need to have mechanisms that propagate catalog information throughout the enterprise - and to push data to the billing and other systems," says Kolman.

For that reason, order management has to be tightly integrated with other fulfillment, billing, customer care and assurance systems so the complete order-to-cash process is managed (from customer inquiries, to quotations, to order generations, to order processing, to contract management, to pricing, and billing). It is then more likely that operators can know in real time customers' product portfolios, preferences, accounts, credits and availability of devices and field force to fulfill orders, and then to track orders after they are taken through to provisioning and billing.

Part of this integration is bringing together business and technical departments, both of which need to gain an understanding of the order fulfillment times in their present modes of operation. That will help CSPs gain a sense of revenue gained or lost. They must also look at their operating costs, as order management issues are no doubt creating redundant payments for processes and systems used independently for different offers.

The bottomline
Year after year, the stats look about the same. It still takes 90 days to a year to launch a new service, almost a month on average to revise or modify offers, and as much as 30% to 40% of revenue leakage can still be attributed to order processes, and there remains a 15% to 20% fallout rate. This is unacceptable when so much is being invested on improving customer experience and becoming "service-oriented" in nature. Any latency in fulfilling customer orders or problems ensuing from lost, incomplete or incorrect orders greatly impacts the customer experience.

Order management can no longer be defined from a purely operations or management point of view in such things as the eTOM and SID. More and more vendors are starting to "standardize" what order management is, in terms of execution and visibility across the entire lifecycle.

Suppliers like Oracle, SAP, Amdocs, HP, Epicor, Sterling Commerce, Microsoft, ConceptWave,, Convergys and Comptel give varying definitions and combinations of how order management exists either as a standalone or as a complement to CRM, or order management combined with inventory, or a number of other pieces.

Regardless of the supplier, order management spans key elements, such as offer design, order capture and order delivery/fulfillment. It spans the end-to-end lifecycle of the order and the dissemination of information back to the end-users as well as to CRM systems so that customers can be made aware of issues or changes ahead of time - proactively, rather than reactively, as is the case when they have to call into a call center or launch a trouble ticket via the web or other channel.