In recent years, business and business models within the telecom industry have experienced incredible change, especially wireless communications. The speed of change has accelerated, and Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are challenged with the need to change to remain competitive. Business Support Systems (BSS) have evolved into solutions encompassing telecommunication services, connectivity-based services, digital content, and more.
We recognize in our industry that OSS and BSS provide the operating foundation of the traditional telecommunications business. Together they support the end-to-end customer experience journey from customer product exploration to product servicing. The integrated solutions support network operations, service delivery and management, overall business operations, and customer care. In general, OSS solutions are geared towards service, and network operations support, while BSS solutions are more customer-facing, supporting revenue generation and overall business processes.
For example, Ordering is considered a BSS function, and Service Activation an OSS function. More important than the label of BSS and OSS, however, is the continued importance of seamless integration between all components of the technology stack and the need to change the way we approach automation solutions.
Over the last two decades, change was influenced mainly by the large CSP, impacting both customers and IT partners. Thinking of the customer, it is fair to say that change “happened” to the customers.
Today, however, drivers have shifted, and end-customers are the primary change agents, relentless in demanding better services and seamless experiences and putting more pressure on service providers. Simply, customers want services when and how they want them.
Market dynamics and heightened customer expectations have driven the industry body TM Forum to rewrite frameworks that underpin BSS. The goal is to provide more powerful, smarter, and agile suites that keep the Communication Service Providers relevant and nimble. This constant change is the new normal, and traditional legacy approaches no longer work.
It is well accepted that customizations directly impact a business in terms of costs, time to market, and customer experience. As part of the BSS improvement, service providers must address the need to have agile platforms that adapt quickly to change by simple configurations that can be deployed dynamically–following a typical Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipeline process. An effective CI/CD pipeline not only supports a strong build and change control process but adopts automated regression testing and security scanning techniques as part of the code deployment process.
Recent trends suggest that network operators are looking for easy-to-manage solutions that leverage “low code / no-code” models. This shift requires the use of open standards such as Open APIs that can drive significant efficiencies, cost savings, and increase interoperability. Further, virtualization of network functions is a key part of the software-defined network movement, isolating functions that are deployable and agnostic of physical environments.
Another critical process to be re-engineered is the managed service operations. Applications developed using microservices-based architecture and open published APIs will reduce maintenance efforts as they provide elasticity, flexibility, and re-use via modularity to the solution. In this area, successful CSPs will have adopted an overall API governance framework and culture that rewards re-use within their firm.
A related emergence is the adoption of DevOps methodologies that drive increased productivity while enabling frequent software changes leveraging Continuous Integration and Delivery methods.
To be a reliable and nimble operation in today’s digital world means self-deploying, automated, and secure software updates in manageable controlled components that will integrate automatically with the embedded base. As Service Providers continue to evaluate and move more of their computing infrastructure to the Cloud, the DevOps frameworks and supporting tools will need to be revisited.
Effective data management will help CSPs in the quest to mitigate operational issues, control costs, and grow their business. Cloud computing will continue to be a strategic imperative for CSPs and many business customers due to the economics and added advantage of dynamic scalability, improved monitoring, and automation that is often part of the cloud service provider solution set. In this hybrid multi-cloud compute environment, data management will increase in importance and introduce new challenges. Vendor solutions continue to emerge as innovative companies are bringing cloud-based data management solutions to the industry. As CSPs look at the overall data fabric challenge, they must take the time to build an overall data architecture, data governance process, and data management capability.
Past the storage, governance, and security aspects of data management, telcos are working feverishly to understand their data and figure out how to maximize the value of their data. Data mining, data cleansing, normalization, and privacy issues will remain important drivers to manage this asset. Successful CSPs will have established a data science culture that adopts analytics as a key business function across the enterprise. However, a key ingredient that brings success will be the shift in the functional discipline of data science to key business groups. In contrast, centralized IT groups focus on important aspects like data security, integrity, availability, and reliability.
The breakdown between IT service providers and CSPs is becoming ever more prevalent, as they struggle to align with the changing market and customer demands. Solving this requires an approach that combines technology and consultation. The years of attempted failures in transforming BSS platforms will likely not work in the new paradigm.
Leveraging new technical frameworks will demand a “re-do” in many parts of the BSS value chain. Although most CSPs’ upfront investments will be considered high, the risk of not pivoting is significant as the threat of new entrants with technical sophistication continues to be a major threat.
This shift requires a change in the way leading IT suppliers and integrators engage with CSPs. These service providers will need to become consulting partners that can influence this essential pivot. They need to help business leaders understand the importance and value proposition of re-engineering their BSS environments; they need to partner with technology advocates within these firms to define roadmaps that support such a major change and embrace creative partnership models that include pay for performance and revenue share.
Another factor that leads to better cooperation requires a revamp of the RFP and solution selection process. You should no longer differentiate on feature/function with traditional spreadsheet methods. instead, adopt a joint lab environment where vendors and service providers can quickly define the problem they are trying to solve and move quickly into a Proof of Value phase that clearly shows the solution’s benefit. This collaborative lab-like approach removes the wasted time of misunderstood requirements that plague RFPs, quickly showcases differentiators, and provides a jump start for the adoption of the selected vendor.
Traditional RFP methods can lead to failed projects as the selected technology reveals shortcomings late in the life cycle. The recommended shift supports the “fail fast” culture of nimble and fast-moving companies. This paradigm shift also requires a change across the organization, not just IT. These changes will span Supply Chain and Procurement teams, Finance, Business Unit decision-makers, and even Legal. You must think differently to be different.
The innovative spirit and fail-fast mentality have propelled many Service Providers forward in the adoption of change. The success in driving change includes a focus on the organization’s culture with very visible support from the executive ranks. Unfortunately, the eagerness to move fast sometimes overlooks establishing a clear vision from the top, buy-in at multiple levels, and organization alignment around a major change.
Since BSS solutions touch many different business units, a transformational change needs to involve all the key stakeholders. The “design by committee” nightmares can be overcome with strong executive sponsorship that truly understands the benefit of the shift and a focus on role clarity within the firm. The protection of turfs needs to be addressed early, and the possibility of organizational impact (job changes, function elimination, etc.) must be discussed openly and honestly from the onset. This transparency from the start is pivotal in establishing trust and supporting the likely need for an organizational restructure to support the shifts.
The solution must be less about BSS and more about a customer-centric digital transformation in this new paradigm. This is more complicated than purchasing a CRM solution or a cloud-based SaaS point solution. It is about changing the way the organization approaches systems and operational design. It is about asking the hard questions as to why you do things a certain way and having the courage to change jobs, processes, and systems that have been core enablers in the past but become a hurdle in today’s fast-moving marketplace. It is hard, it is demanding, it is emotional. The reward, however, is a step-change in the way you do business.
The organization leaders need to make clear that the generic approach for BSS or even OSS adoption and utilization is a hindrance to achieving full digital transformation. Traditional BSS transformation focuses on upgrading existing applications for a better UI and feature-rich products with integrated processes. At the same time, digital transformation also focuses on the customer experience and behaviors. This customer-centric model requires the adoption of Digital User Experience and Design Based thinking techniques that need to be a core part of the transformation.
If you are not familiar with these techniques, it is time to begin an educational effort within the firm. Fast-moving Communication Service Providers have already adopted these practices and are showing solid results.
The pace of change continues to accelerate, and customers have become key change agents. BSS needs to transform into something that is much more flexible, dynamic, and agile. This article touched on some frameworks and disciplines such as DevOps, CICD, microservices, data management, and lab-driven RFPs that are essential components of this shift. As CSPs at all tiers continue to think about their BSS architecture and operation, they need to understand that the change will come in two ways. Suppose they do not begin to put a roadmap in place. In that case, they will likely follow a reactive approach which will look more like a traditional slow change management process, based on identifying specific areas, products, or processes and addressing a narrow opportunity – possibly a repeat of past experiences. The better approach is a proactive and intentional change that starts with a clear vision from the top and a roadmap that includes frameworks for new ways of doing business and automating the business that is transformational.
It is a major undertaking that must be planned thoughtfully, and it will take time. The shift will require revisiting the full compute architecture and requires an organizational culture change. It means asking hard questions and having the courage to make essential changes that include system frameworks, organization structures, roles, and decision making. Communication Service Providers that embrace a proactive approach for this shift, understand that it’s not just about technology, and that have the resilience to stick it out will be poised to come out the winners.