An article for OSS/BSS Analysts and Service Providers:
Anyone who has visited London has heard the familiar sound of a subway loudspeaker warning them to “mind the gap” between the train and platform. That same phrase could serve as a warning to today's service providers who need to “mind the gap” between their customer facing business support systems (BSS) and network facing operational support systems (OSS).
In reality, this “gap” has existed for some time. BSS systems (typically including billing and CRM), have always been separate from OSS systems (such as service activation, provisioning, fault management, etc.), which included having separate business processes and people. For example, revenue-focused BSS was always run by the IT department, and cost-focused OSS was run by network operations. This traditional binary approach would have likely continued to be sufficient if not for the major transformation the telecommunications industry is undergoing, where service providers are becoming retailers of multimedia and entertainment services.
Now, this gap is posing a major problem for both service providers and their customers. The lack of integration across these functions can result in decreased time to market for new services, faults between ordering and activating services, and low customer satisfaction. For example, this gap makes it nearly impossible for most providers to tell customers the actual status of an order. Once an order passes from customer-oriented systems to network-oriented systems, most providers find it very hard – if not impossible – to link an order back to an individual customer. Similarly, OSS systems generate important data about the status of networks. In the event of a fault, they can perform advanced diagnostics that generate useful information including pinpointing the location and the cause – but trying to tie this data to affected customers can be very difficult. That means subscribers are asking questions that the service providers' call center representatives cannot answer.
In order for service providers to deliver new services while also creating an intentional and positive experience for the customer, they must bridge the gap between BSS and OSS systems.
The 3 C's that are changing the industry
Competition, customer demand and cost reduction are changing the way service providers run their businesses . These changes are causing service providers to evaluate the BSS–OSS gap and increase their spending to close it. Analyst firm OSS Observer believes that global OSS spending will grow from $13 billion in 2005 to $18.7 billion in 2010 at a 7 percent CAGR. They also forecast that the $5.7 billion mobile OSS segment will grow to $9.5 billion in 2010 at an 11 percent CAGR (much faster than wireline's 4 percent growth). The growth is driven by increased investments in data services, increased competition in Europe and North America , wide scale UMTS deployments, and a focus on the customer experience.1
Competition is fierce . The wireless market has become saturated. Service providers need to keep customers and sell them new services. Rather than compete on price, these companies must provide services that customers want and offer superior service to keep them from leaving.
In fact, in a global independent Amdocs survey, when consumers were asked what one message they would like to give the CEO of their service provider, the top two responses were, “ When I call for help, please treat me like someone who's important to you” and “ I'm looking forward to seeing what you can deliver in terms of new services”. 2 Unfortunately, today the technical and organizational BSS-OSS gap undermines service providers' attempts to roll out next generation services and to provide tailored customer service.
Customers are demanding more . With the advent of next generation services such as WIMAX and bundled offerings, consumers are demanding that services be delivered faster, with higher quality, and in more creative bundles. With next generation networks and technology such as IMS, new services could be more easily bundled and accessed by consumers, but they aren't fully supported yet by the provider's BSS and OSS systems. If the BSS and OSS systems aren't ready to handle the new services, it can cause significant delays in rolling them out, poor customer experiences, and other issues such as inaccurate pricing. Analyst firm Forrester states it well in a recent report: “To remain competitive, all types of service providers — wireless, new entrants, wireline, and cablecos — must rush new products to market and do so with flexible OSS/BSS systems.” 3
Cost reduction is still king . The need for cost reduction is always an issue. As service providers spend most of their IT budgets on OSS and BSS, reducing cost is still going to be a top agenda item for management. 4 They are trying to accomplish this by consolidating their systems, processes and people across both customer-facing and network-facing domains.
End-to-end alignment is underway
Service providers are looking to bridge the BSS-OSS gap by using combinations of technical integration and business process management. Many have turned to TeleManagement Forum's widely used eTOM (enhanced Telecommunications Operations Map) model. eTOM is essentially a process map that helps service providers track processes across these traditionally separate domains. TeleManagement Forum is also helping service providers align their end-to-end BSS and OSS systems architecture, processes and information through its Shared Information/Data (SID) model, OSS/J and other standards.
In the short term, service providers will continue to do what they are doing – looking for ways to improve the customer experience while controlling costs. This includes trying to link their BSS and OSS through improvements in people, processes and technologies. For example, in Cingular's technical support center in Austin, there is a traffic light icon on the call center representatives' computer screens that indicates if the wireless network is operating well (green), or has some problems (yellow or red). 5 This is a first step in providing network data to the call center representatives that can help them answer customers' questions about the network. However, being able to provide the front line with complete information on the customer, such as the services they subscribe to, and the network resources that support those services, is still an evolving process for service providers. It can only be made available by consolidating BSS and OSS systems, processes and data.
The gap is closing
Bridging the BSS and OSS gap is quickly becoming a popular concept throughout the telecommunications industry. Some are even referring to the new combined BSS and OSS area as “B/OSS”. This would all be somewhat anecdotal except for the fact that industry experts themselves are getting in on the act. For example, BillingPlus magazine (once solidly in the BSS camp) recently re-launched itself as OSS/BSS Analyst. Similarly, OSS Observer, founded in 2005, covers CRM, billing and other customer-focused areas as well as OSS – how? Easy – the firm's definition of OSS actually includes BSS – again pointing to the blurring of the lines between these two, once very distinct, domains.
How should we rate the overall importance of the blurring of the line between BSS and OSS – since in this industry change is almost axiomatic and “trends” are hyped all the time? Well, you know something momentous is underway when not only the experts and analysts start lining up behind this trend, but service providers such as BT, AT&T, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telstra, and Belgacom, among others, join the game. These service providers recognized the importance of bridging BSS and OSS . As a result, they are all currently undergoing projects to transform and consolidate their networks, their systems, and their processes – all in order to deploy services to the market faster and to improve customer service. In fact, in Telstra's own progress report on the transformation, it says that it is “ reducing the number of business and operational systems – originally 1,252 systems – by 75 percent in the next three years, and 80 percent in five years.” They also state that "major transformational work programs are in various stages of completion for OSS and BSS” and t hat these achievements will help "reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve customer service." 6 If the service providers want to remain competitive and deliver a positive customer experience, they need to take note of the work being done by the companies listed above and take similar steps to effectively bridge the gap as they move into the next generation.
1 OSS Observer's Detailed Global OSS Forecast of 19 Segments, November 2005
2 Amdocs Customer Experience Survey conducted by an independent third party survey company in the United States and United Kingdom, February 2006
3 Forrester, An Overview Of Next-Generation Billing Challenges And Solutions For Service Providers, June 2006
4 Gartner, Market Focus: Communications Industry Faces Greater Challenges in 2006, January 2006
5 The New York Times, Suddenly, an Industry Is All Ears by Matt Richtel, March 2006
6 Telstra, The New Telstra, On the Move A Progress Report on Telstra's Transformation, July 2005.