Vendors and pundits have been banging the drum for next-generation operational support system (OSS) platforms for nearly a decade, but carriers have been slow to pick up the beat. The impetus for adoption is there. Legacy custom-built systems don't suit newer telecom business models and more complex services. But upgrading those systems carries its own baggage in terms of the time, money and commitment required to unclutter and modernize telecom operations.
"A lot of them [operators] were burned during the telecom boom" in the late 1990s by OSS vendors that folded or made lousy products, said Shira Levine, a directing analyst at Infonetics Research. "They got sucked into the PowerPoint marketing material, and when it came down to actual deployment, [they learned that] you can't just pop an OSS [platform] into the middle of your network and expect it to work."
But next-generation OSS deployments are gaining traction, and a recent survey correlated improved operations with faster time to market, highlighting the need for carriers' OSS platforms to keep pace with the next-generation networks and services they support.
Global service providers identified two major barriers to launching new services quickly in a recent survey commissioned by Amdocs, an OSS/BSS vendor that counts AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA among its customers. Fifty-nine percent said they were stymied by the complexity of their technology environments, and 58% cited the systems changes required to launch new products as a problem. Both of these obstacles tie directly to the standard value propositions for next-generation OSS platform vendors.
[Service providers] do want to bring products to market quicker, but they've been saying that for 10 years. And the problem they have [with fulfilling that] is [due to problems on] the back end.
Senior Research Analyst, Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan
Seventy percent of operators said they needed to modernize their operational environments to achieve a faster time to market, as compared to 59% of respondents to a similar 2008 survey.
"A lot of the legacy systems are still highly manual, so any time you add [subscribers] into them, you have the opportunity to screw it up, you have to build more time into the process ... and you're … gluing [databases] together," Levine said. "It makes it really difficult to do things like service bundles or creative billing bundles, so there's definitely a need for more convergence in OSS."
The siloed history of BSS and OSS platforms
Legacy business support system (BSS) and OSS platforms—which support everything from billing to network equipment inventory to service activation—are notorious for being rigid, single-purpose systems that don't easily cross-reference information with each other. A call center agent or operations specialist might have to access three different databases to verify whether a subscriber receives phone, cable and broadband services—never mind how each should be billed.
While working as a network operations strategist for US West in the early 1990s, Nancee Ruzicka discovered that her own personal subscriber information was spread throughout 42 separate databases.
"[When carriers would] roll out a new service ... they'd install a brand new stack of OSS and BSS with the intention of migrating everything [from legacy systems] to that new stack," said Ruzicka, now a senior research analyst at Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. "What they'll tell you though is they [deploy] that [new platform], but the migration never happens."
Average revenue per user (ARPU) rates weren't low enough for service providers to care about investing in next-generation OSS platforms, Ruzicka said. But competition from over-the-top (OTT) providers has forced their hand to modernize, she said.
"[Service providers] do want to bring products to market quicker, but they've been saying that for 10 years. And the problem they have [with fulfilling that] is [due to problems on] the back end," Ruzicka said. "A few years ago, I would've said there are some that get it and some that don't. Now, I think all of them get it and realize that as a business, they have to make changes."
How does a next-generation OSS platform improve time to market?
One third (33%) of the operators surveyed by Amdocs—125 wireless, wireline and cable service providers worldwide—said they require more time to get a product out to market now than they did in 2008. Another 38% saw no change in time to market since 2008.
Meanwhile, carriers that have invested in next-generation OSS platforms reported operational improvements that they directly attributed to an accelerated time to market. The top two benefits of next-generation OSS deployments were better project management and control (81%), which includes a consolidated view of services and resources; and improved organizational alignment (76%), which refers to the increased efficiency of the business processes behind service provisioning and assurance.
Amdocs' vision of the next-generation OSS platform focuses on a consolidated database, or "catalogue," of products and services that is shared by people and systems, said Cassandra Millhouse, director of product marketing for Amdocs' OSS division. That unified catalogue and subscriber-oriented visibility enables operators to introduce more automation into the provisioning process, she said.
Service providers are calling on next-generation OSS vendors such as Amdocs, ConceptWave, Telcordia, NetCracker and HP to look at operations horizontally—focusing on the subscriber—rather than the legacy vertical model, which focuses on the individual services, Ruzicka said.
Although many Tier 1 operators have hybrid OSS/BSS environments that use both homegrown and off-the-shelf software, they are increasingly looking to trusted vendors to design and deploy a next-generation OSS platform, both Levine and Ruzicka said.
Rather than do a complete rip-and-replace—a near-impossible feat for service providers with scalability and availability requirements—operators are identifying where the gaps are in their legacy system and only make investments to fill those holes, Ruzicka said.
"This is a 24-by-7 business, and you can't just turn it off and retool it like you would at an auto plant," she said. "[Service providers are taking] a much more measured approach."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.