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Customer Experience World Conference 2011

Subscriber Data Management (SDM):

By Ibrahim Gedeon

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Lost in Translation


I was at a loss on how to start this article to share some thoughts on identity and some of the challenges facing the service provider industry where subscriber information is concerned. I know the latest buzz work is "cloud"; network and access agnostic services are cloud services. The work on subscriber data management is more important and urgent at this juncture in time.

Customer Experience World Summit, London 2011

A bit of shameless bragging, at TELUS we have been on a relentless path of transformation and that is something that is part of our live. In 2003 IP network convergence, in 2005 network-IT convergence, 2006 wireless-fixed convergence, 2010 consumer-business convergence. 

In parallel with our work on service delivery frameworks and the launch of the first national OneAPI offering with our mobile partners in Canada, subscriber data management is the next frontier.

My title of “Lost in Translation” is indicative of the varying definitions and perceptions in this area. There is no doubt that every technology team in a service provider has their own definition and also their own plans for subscriber data management. You can see it is very easy for the various teams to evolve what they have and spend a lot of money and effort to build what we have today with simply newer technology.

Subscriber data management and services (SDM & S) is not about a single sign on, it is not about going from an HLR to an HSS, it is not about converged billing and charging, it is not about a single subscriber identifier. SDM&S is about all of the previously mentioned items and more. At its base, SDM & S is about accurate representation of the various relationships providers have with their subscribers, but the implications of that effort become far reaching quickly.

Two complimentary things are a must for success. The first is an internal system decision on subscriber data management strategy and roadmap. The second is a decision on what services will be offered and with whom.

Deciding on how to manage subscriber data is not an easy or intuitive step. Is it the subscriber identifier (SID) and creating a single subscriber instance and definition? Is it the federated approach between the various lines of businesses, and enable peering between the various business such as mobility and fixed? The fundamental questions are, what business is the provider in and what relationship do they want with their clients, what relationship do they want with other suppliers. Coming from the top geek at a networking services provider, the issue is rarely technology in this arena; the business priorities will define the optimal path for the technology and implementation. What is certain is that each technology enabling business unit has it's evolution plans for subscriber information and steps underway to deliver new systems and processes. SDM is clearly an enterprise wide transformation and if there is not a holistic strategy that everyone is executing on, then monies and resources will be invested so we can upgrade existing processes with new implementations. The decision is not black and white, probably a combination of a universal identifier for some aspects of the business and federated identity between the other aspects of the business. Easier said than done, we tend to like big bang projects, simple answers so the enormous development and operations internal machine can get to work. I will not divulge what we are doing at TELUS, needless to say we are cross-leveraging the best of both worlds from network and IT. More than decomposition of OSS-BSS systems, we have to look at the network services that are becoming applications such as telephony and the new applications that need Subscriber identity. We also have to align our SDM program with network policy and charging programs. On the technology front, I would recommend people who are going through their SDM transformation to work a few pilots, to demonstrate the art of the possible and build a base understanding. Push back on the business to see how and what a client buys from the operator. There is nothing wrong with being a dumb pipe, as long as one is the smartest dumb pipe.

I have seen so many people undertake numerous unsynchronized transformations that resulted in a sub optimal offering in the end, but more importantly, delivered what was best in class a few years back. One note of caution here, as we embrace a holistic SDM strategy we should not abandon the gains our industry has made on network, access and services abstraction. The execution of the strategy should take into consideration the rate of change in technology as well as the DNA of the teams delivering the transformation. A practical reality, most IT project take 3-5 years to deliver (nature of the beast) and certain aspects of the technology are upgraded every two years, check out wireless access and xDSL access; so ensure the two transformations are not hard hooked together. Recall when the subscriber was a telephone number, and that number was a DSL user and that DSL user bought TV services; what happened to the DSL and TV services when our subscribers wanted to move from fixed telephony to mobile telephony. Point delivered I hope. 

Part II, what services will be offered and to whom. I guess the connected world has turned every enterprise initial a networked service provider, be it through the Internet or throughout the various device application stores. The basic dilemma is twofold.  Is subscriber information an asset? Do we want to monetize this asset? If the answer to both is yes, that is the first step in a long journey. The next step is to come to the realization that we need to peer with our clients and their suppliers, where subscriber data management services are concerned. The proper technical decomposition of network resources and service management and subscriber management needs to be in place to offer services, just as importantly is the business rationale. Do we have tiers of SDM&S partners, can anyone peers with our information? But above all, our subscriber information is their information and they have to be part of any monetization decision even ones that are done to make things easier for them.

In conclusion, Identity and subscriber data management are misused and abused terms, ensure people articulate the details when talking about them to ensure you are talking about the same thing. SDM is an enterprise wide activity that not only involved network and IT people but fundamentally the business. When developing an SDM & M plan ensure that different technologies and varying rates of delivery evolution are honoured and maintained or else the slowest piece of the transformation will decide the overall benefits and pace; check out how planes are built. On SDM services, every entity with content or information or application is a connected service provider and we need to define what our relationship should be with them. Lastly, SDM&S is all about the subscriber and your relationship with them will decide how they look like, what can be shared to generate more revenue or provide them with a better user experience. 

Envision the new era of a public and trusted “identity” services collaborating entity; service providers have a critical role to play.

Many thanks to Brian Lakey and Andrew Johnston for their contributions to ensure the vision is anchored in reality.






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Subscriber Data Management (SDM) : Lost in Translation - An Article by Telus's CTO Ibrahim Gedeon