Take the BSS conversion plunge

A recent discussion with a senior IT Manager at a North American CSP revealed some interesting perspectives that will either bring tears to your eyes or make you laugh out loud.
 
He was in the middle of a major system conversion. The billing system had been built in-house many years previously, and the reluctance to change was huge. As the business expanded and developed multiple services, the flaws began to show. There was no single view of the customer, and there were embedded 'silos of thought,' as he put it, running through the organization.
 
The impetus for change came from the CEO who was seeing unhappy customers, increasing costs and the agility of the business being impaired.
 
Billing had inherited many taskmasters over the years scattered across the business. Marketing, finance, IT and customer operations all having a piece, and any change, or even the threat of change, resulted in all wanting a voice – and all wanting different things. After all, they all have different priorities, don't they?
 
A system conversion or transformation of any size is reliant on communication. It became a bartering exercise within the business. Its success or failure depended on regular communication with the Board, or lack of it, and the ability to leverage their authority.
 
The most difficult thing in any billing conversion is getting people to let go of old ideas and selling the new ideas to the business. The technology is the easier part.
 
After he broke through the reluctance to change, he was asked to take on every new conversion or upgrade that was going on in the company. He started doing the billing one, and then a new sales portal/self service installation, which included the dealer platform that needed to be attached to the existing system, and then migrated to a new IVR system as well. A several thousand seat call center overhaul followed. Then came the Enterprise Data Warehouse, a key part of the single customer view.
 
 
Even though that's actually what you want when you set out on the journey, it becomes an 'avalanche' of work. The humorous part is the fact that IT ends up selling business agility to the business. Quite amazing.
 
Providing parity is one of the most difficult deliverables. Matching what you provide the business with today while providing a platform for what they need to do tomorrow.
 
Testing was also a challenge. During eight months of testing he had to manage no less than three releases. This was not just heart surgery; it was heart surgery while sewing limbs back on.
 
Perhaps not a misconception, but there is an embedded view that BSS conversions take a long time. They will always take a long time, but you should do them as quickly as possible and be brave about it. If you plan to take a long time and something starts going wrong, the impetus drops and you risk having the thing stall. Go quick, be brutal, fix things afterwards.
 
When asked of his experience of mergers and what was the worst thing about them, he responded that apart from the uncertainty of who will stay and where one will end up, the worst thing is maintaining parity – making the impact on the customer the least that it can possibly be.
 
 
Never, ever, ever change the bill format while in the middle of a billing conversion! It is a nightmare. Changing bill formats is bad enough – everyone wants different things on their version. You should avoid major change within major change at all cost.
One of his most startling revelations was that even at this level it is still 'buyer beware'. No system out there does what it says it does. It is a problem, but it means that the suppliers must be managed. If you do not manage the suppliers, the suppliers will manage you. Care must be taken not to become a part of their release cycles, and this should be avoided. Some years previously, he learned this lesson the hard way, and he took a whole project in-house. The mess of spaghetti code that he inherited was, in his words, 'horrible.'
 
There is an equation, a formula for how he sees IT today. IT = the functionality that the business needs X the lowest cost possible – simple.
 
When asked if you should use major system changes to change processes, his response was, "no you shouldn't, but it is a great opportunity – so why not?"
 
Alex Leslie is publisher of Billingviews.com
 
This article originally appeared in TM Forum's Inside Revenue Management newsletter

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