Hosted Billing, Service and Customer Care Management Platform Allows Network Service Providers to Benefit from Low Cost of Entry and Ongoing Expansion at Their Own Pace
Cable and other service providers hoping to tap the revenue potential in commercial services have an unprecedented opportunity to serve the many needs of an increasingly diversified market, provided they have the back-office tools to compete effectively.
This is a tall order, given the complexities of the billing, service fulfillment and customer management functionalities that are essential to working with today’s business customers. This commercial services environment calls for an altogether new approach to back-office operations using a billing platform that better supports tier 1, 2 and 3 service providers. A carrier-class hosted-service billing platform amortizes the costs and challenges of adapting to innovations in services, devices and software technology across a large client base.
Where brute strength in delivering commodity services was once the key to success in the business market, success today increasingly depends on the ability to deliver precisely the set of services and functionalities – with new levels of flexibility in billing and care management – that each customer requires. Cable and other operators with strong local ties are well positioned to respond to these needs, but amid an outpouring of research and statements by major MSOs attesting to the immensity of this opportunity, many companies have yet to go beyond offering what amounts to business-class voice and data versions of their broadband services.
A big reason for this is that operators’ legacy back-office systems are inadequate to meeting the requirements of today’s business market. Designed to support consumer pay TV services with later enhancements for voice and data, these billing and provisioning tools lack the flexibility to provide the billing and customer care support operators need in the new Web-driven personalized consumer services market, let alone the far more demanding commercial services market.
Even for the largest operators, any effort to enhance these back-office components to serve business customers’ needs is a daunting task. By virtue of the legacy software limitations, the entire offering can fall short of commercial services requirements.
In order to offer services to business clients, operators look into the daunting and costly task of licensing, integrating and constantly updating all the new software components required to build and sustain an enterprise-class billing and service management system.
|Operator Back-Office Needs
Any operator aspiring to create a strong commercial services business needs a back-office system that can support these services:
|“A growing number of service providers have succeeded in commercial markets by shifting their billing, service and care management operations to the carrier-class hosted-service platform developed by Cycle30.”|
A growing number of service providers have achieved these requirements by shifting their billing, service and care management operations to the carrier-class hosted-service platform developed by Cycle30.Leveraging the expertise of a team of IT and service management professionals with deep experience in cable operations, Cycle30 runs a suite of best-of-class software solutions operating 24/7 across a network of data centers in North America and Europe. Cycle30 delivers an ever-expanding array of functionalities that are essential to each operator’s full realization of its commercial service opportunities.
Even more operators are discovering they can keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving business market needs in a shared-cost environment that leverages the Cycle30 platform, data network infrastructure and persistent development efforts of its IT and telecom operations experts. In fact, many Cycle30 customers have come to realize the advantages they enjoy on the commercial services side can be applied as well to consumer service operations, with the result that they’ve been able to transform their OSS infrastructure to provide all the tools they need to address opportunities across all service and customer categories for years to come.
Opportunities in the New Commercial Services Market
Changes in Service Provider Agendas
Changes are afoot in the commercial services market which suggest non-incumbents, especially cable companies, are about to play a much greater role. On the one hand, early forays into the small-to-medium business market (SMB) have lived up to expectations, leading many operators to commit more capital and personnel to the sector with a broader portfolio of products.
U.S. cable operators generated some $6 billion in commercial services revenue in 2011, according to research firm Heavy Reading. This represented a 9 to 12 percent share of the $50-$70 billion SMB market or 4 to 5 percent of the entire $130-$140 billion commercial services market, as estimated by Heavy Reading. Among the top five MSOs (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter and Cablevision) year-to-year growth in commercial service revenues from 2010 to 2011 averaged 23 percent.
FCC Changes Create Opportunity
At the same time, the FCC’s recent order lifting the ban on mergers between cable companies and CLECs appears likely to spark even greater cable activity in the business sector. With cable plant now passing some 75 percent of all SMBs, as estimated by Heavy Reading and others, and with CLECs possessing the knowhow to build business in that space, the combination of such companies represents a more potent force to compete with incumbents than the market has seen to date.
Such merger possibilities could be an especially important spark to commercial services expansion by cable operators in the Tier 2 and 3 markets, where, if anything, the market opportunities are even greater owing to the degree to which many of these markets are under served, especially in instances where major carriers are the incumbents. As needs for more sophisticated types of services requiring a heavy emphasis on technical support and customer care increase, locally oriented service providers are well positioned to deliver advanced services to businesses.
Refocusing on Commercial Services
|“Since many of the major carrier incumbents have not prioritized service in these smaller markets, opportunities for strategic mergers can be even greater than in tier 1 markets.”|
Until recently most operators – including even the largest – focused most of their commercial services efforts on the smallest segment of the SMB market, where cost-effective delivery of high-speed Internet and multi-line voice service has been a mainstay. Even Comcast, which registered year-to-year growth of 43 percent in commercial service revenues in 2011, waited until 2011 to begin pursuing the mid-size market, loosely defined as companies with 50 to 500 employees.
Now operators are not only looking for ways to serve mid-market customers; some, especially the big MSOs, are even beginning to move into the large enterprise market, not necessarily to attempt delivering services to all segments of these companies’ far-flung empires, but to deliver specialized services in local territories where pricing, quality of service and speed to market are crucial advantages. The biggest example in this regard is the success cable operators have had in providing cellular backhaul services to big mobile companies.
The Changing Contours of Commercial Services
As operators contemplate how best to capitalize on demand for commercial services across the entire SMB sector and beyond it’s important to recognize how varied the service needs have become from one industry segment to the next – and even among individual companies within these segments. Largely, these variations are a function of technological advances touching every facet of business operations. The scale of the opportunity is indeed great, but so is the range of services, applications and customer support capabilities that must be in place to compete for this business.
|Key Trends Affecting the Commercial Services Market
While the complexity and variety of service needs increase with size, it’s frequently the case that a one-size-fits-all service paradigm is no longer applicable. Even small businesses have demanding and unique needs. A small retail store might need connectivity supporting an interactive kiosk display to expand its merchandizing capabilities or a doctor’s office may need quality-of-service guaranteed support for accessing remotely stored medical records and images.
A brief look at some of the important service developments underlying today’s commercial services opportunity makes clear both the range of opportunities and the range of challenges for operators who want to make commercial services a core part of their business.
Metro Ethernet Expands Offerings and Capabilities
Carrier Ethernet standards, including Metro Ethernet, have greatly accelerated use of Ethernet connections at the local level by assuring operability across multiple networks in and beyond local boundaries. It appears that Metro Ethernet, also known as Ethernet Services and Carrier Ethernet, is poised to become a new standard for commercial network services.
This has made it easier for operators to justify extending the reach of their fiber networks to support high-bandwidth services at a moment when businesses looking for multi-megabit carrier-class service frequently have no alternative but to pay for bonded T1 (1.5 mbps) and fractional T3 (45 mbps) links. The ability to leverage the metro fiber backbones built for residential service allows a cable operator to offer fiber-based services cost competitively against these older solutions with much greater flexibility to deliver high-capacity services to multiple tenant buildings and office parks.
Cellular backhaul has been an important proving ground for operators in the use of Metro Ethernet, including experience with the highly demanding T1 voice emulation capabilities that are part of the standards set by the Metro Ethernet Forum. By virtue of cellular providers’ ever greater data transport requirements as they evolve from 3G to 4G networks, this promises to be a strong business for operators for some time to come, including repeat business with existing customers who will require more transport capacity.
Metro Ethernet Service Classes
Carrier Ethernet has significant promise beyond the backhaul business. With the ability to remotely scale bandwidth in increments as granular as one megabit per second and as grand as one gigabit per second, Metro Ethernet-compliant operators can deliver several classes of service backed by strong service level agreements (SLAs), including:
- Ethernet Private Line Service – Point-to-point connectivity between two customer sites for bandwidth-intensive applications.
- Ethernet Virtual Private Line Service – A point-to-multipoint connection that allows customers to tailor bandwidth, performance characteristics and cost to meet the needs of their applications.
- Ethernet Network Service – Multipoint-to-multipoint connectivity for organizations with high-bandwidth requirements and multiple locations.
- Ethernet Dedicated Internet Access Service – Continuous, high-bandwidth connectivity between customers’ LANs and the public Internet.
Suppliers of Metro Ethernet services like these are discovering several types of business and institutions common to all local markets are hungry for such services. For example:
- School districts and local governments are now seeking to support centralized storage and distribution of video and other bandwidth-intensive content for libraries and classrooms as well as high-speed data interconnection of all facilities with central administrative offices.
- Hospitals and clinics want to connect to X-Ray and other imaging storage centers.
- Banks need to have high-capacity, advanced-feature connections to their regional facilities.
Cloud-based services requiring very high-speed connectivity to data centers are also driving demand for Ethernet connections from many different types of business. Alongside SMBs, every locality hosts major enterprises’ branch or headquarters facilities that need support voice and data services. Metro Ethernet is a great candidate to fulfill their requirements.
With specialized finance and technical personnel, a mission-critical intolerance for outages, and complex multiple-location accounts, operators are finding that commercial clients require a different level of customer support and billing support than do their familiar residential customers.
PRI and Hosted PBX
Operators are also discovering they can cost effectively support high demand for multi-line voices services, including the commonly used 23-line Private Line Interface (PRI) service traditionally delivered over T1 telephone trunks. Because multi-line service can be fractionalized using the digital voice capabilities of high-speed data connections, operators are able to offer such options on a per-line cost basis rather than in the traditional one-size (and price) fits-all mode of PRI.
In cases where DOCSIS 3.0 is deployed, operators are able to offer businesses PRI-class trunk replacement service bundled with Internet access at speeds of up to 100 mbps at a fraction of prices traditionally charged for copper-based bundles with much lower data speeds. Hosted PBX, too, has become an important opportunity that leverages existing hybrid-fiber-coax (HFC) plant as well as Ethernet fiber extensions to deliver low-cost PBX support from the cloud.
The emergence of video as a linchpin to operations is one of the big drivers behind demand for high bandwidth among businesses of all types. The enterprise video impact extends to marketing and training; real-time applications in surveillance, home security, distance learning, digital signage, healthcare and video-based collaboration and conferencing, and robust file transport in advertising, motion pictures and myriad other enterprises,
A variety of recent studies and reports shed some light on the size and growth potential of some of these verticals:
- Digital Signage – Intel has been watching this market with keen interest, noting that analysts’ predictions call for CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in the 35 percent range over the next few years. In a recent blog, Jose Avalos, retail sector general manager for Intel’s Intelligent Systems Group, says the company has raised its prediction for total digital sign deployments worldwide by 2015 from 16 million to 22 million in light of falling costs and growing awareness of the effectiveness of the medium.
- Distance Learning – In a recent presentation, “2012 Education Technology Market Watch,” officials from the Center for Digital Education, a national research and advisory organization, reported the market for online education is growing at the K-12 as well as higher education levels, driven by budget cuts and growing acceptance of the effectiveness of digital-based instruction. Over 14,000 public school districts nationwide now have implemented distance learning components to their curriculums with enrollment toping 49 million students. While most of this activity is over the Internet, in contrast to distance learning projects that once used closed circuit video system to reach students remotely, the need for good connectivity is vital to market growth. The researchers calculate the amount spent by K-12 schools on network services and telecommunications links is in the range of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion nationwide.
- Video Surveillance – This traditionally analog application employed on premises for security purposes at big companies has exploded into a pervasive phenomenon. Digitization with HD cameras and the use of wide area networking to centralize multi-facilities surveillance and cloud-based security services have transformed methodologies and the scope of usage. IMS, in a recent research report, says a growing number of suppliers are offering HD-over-Coax surveillance systems, with projections calling for a doubling of demand in 2012. Cloud-based surveillance, also known as Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS), saw 20-30 percent sales growth in 2011. This is still an emerging market, but the researcher believes it will grow rapidly, fueled in part by the combining of other applications into the VSaaS package, such as use of video to stream location images to consumers over the Internet and for other non-security purposes in combination with other apps.
- Telepresence and Videoconferencing – Infonetics Research reports this market is growing worldwide, fueled by a confluence of factors, including the proliferation of video-capable equipment, demographic and communication trends that favor video and industry use cases like tele-learning and tele-medicine. IMS reports sales of telepresence and videoconferencing equipment surged in 2010 and 2011, driven in part by use of video on enterprise IP PBX systems.
Managed Service Support for Collaboration
Support for network-based collaboration across multiple locations has become another important opportunity for service providers with the flexibility to shape such support to specific customer needs. Collaboration is a catch-all term that spans a wide range of apps and services, including messaging, webcasting, internal wikis and blogs, document management, videoconferencing and unified communications. Once the domain of large enterprises, these activities are now a fundamental part of doing business in the SMB sector as well.
|“… companies that purchase collaboration technology and services average a fourfold return on their investments.”|
The important common denominator is that all of those apps and services require a network, and many require managed-service support. For example, many enterprise collaboration products are available on a hosted or software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis. Because such products typically have a lower upfront cost than would be incurred buying software outright, collaboration systems are now an option for small as well as large businesses.
There’s no denying that the absence of standardization, competing vendor claims and the need to precisely tailor solutions to customers’ needs pose significant challenges to service providers who want to offer managed services. But for operators who take the trouble to equip themselves to support such services, the payoff could be immense in light of what collaboration means to businesses. According to an October 2009 study conducted by Frost & Sullivan on behalf of Cisco and Verizon, companies that purchase collaboration technology and services average a fourfold return on their investments.
Machine to Machine (M2M)
Rapid shifts in the machine-to-machine ecosystem are creating new opportunities for service providers of every description. Gartner, it its 2011 report titled “The M2M Market Evolution: Growth Attracts Everyone,” says that, following slower-than-anticipated growth in the mid-2000s, the M2M market has rebounded with total revenues generated for services and products growing at an annual rate of 30-40 percent.
Most profoundly, the center of activity is shifting from mobile carriers’ efforts to develop new markets in a maturing cell phone business to industry-generated activity in multiple sectors where M2M is all about saving money through automation. With the information age mindset now ascendant throughout the business world, looking for ways to extend automation across communications networks to create efficiencies and new applications.
|Sample M2M Verticals|
Each of those verticals is tied to a whole different set of requirements for applications and devices but with sufficient commonalities to allow a shared-resources approach to serving the market:
These applications call for all types of short-range access solutions tying into high-capacity backhaul links, including Wi-Fi and wireline connections. As a result, the cable industry’s lead technical organizations, CableLabs and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, are beginning to explore what needs to be done to make cable resources more readily useful for M2M applications both internally and as possible new service adjuncts.
Back-Office Support for 21st Century Commercial Services
With so vast a range of opportunities any one service provider, no matter how big, would be hard-pressed to pursue all of them at once. But operators can pursue any and all of them incrementally over time, leveraging initial revenues to expand into ever more usage and customer categories, provided they have an OSS infrastructure in place that facilitates an opportunistic growth agenda.
The Market-Driven Emergence of Cycle30
Cycle30 built its carrier-class back-office service platform to serve as the core of this next-generation support infrastructure. It delivers all the billing and customer management capabilities operators need, freeing them from having to rely on back-office systems that weren’t designed to deal with the complexities of managing commercial services in an increasingly diversified market environment.
Built by an Operator for their Own Use
The Cycle30 platform was built from the perspective of the real-world needs of its parent company, Alaska MSO General Communications, Inc. (GCI). As an operator offering quad-play services in the consumer and business markets, GCI was not able to find an existing Business Support System (BSS) solution that would allow it to easily evolve its service offerings in response to changing conditions in the consumer and business markets. For commercial services, GCI needed a platform that could support the full-service billing, service fulfillment and customer management requirements for delivering Ethernet, PRI and a host of specialized services to businesses of every description across Alaska, including major enterprise clients like British Petroleum and Wells Fargo.
A New Way of Thinking about OSS
It was clear that old billing system paradigms had to be replaced with one that encompassed all the requirements of a 21st century commercial services operating environment. The new model not only had to overcome traditional hassles associated with software licensing, data center operations and vendor relations; it had to satisfy all the service fulfillment and customer management requirements of a diverse business services market. To be successful, the 21st century billing system has to enable – not hinder – the operator’s marketing, accounting, regulatory and engineering departments.
By exploiting the advantages of a hosted service platform that meets the rigorous performance standards of today’s cloud-based enterprise operations (see Figure 1), Cycle30’s team of IT, billing systems and customer care experts made it possible for service providers of all types and sizes to address every nuance of the billing, service management and customer care requirements associated with delivering voice, data and video services over fixed and mobile networks to business customers as well as consumers. As a result, operators now have an affordable way to implement state-of-the-art back-office support for commercial services while minimizing their costs of keeping up with the developments in software, network technology, CPE, mobile devices and services that require ongoing adjustments in back-office operations.
The Cycle30 hosted platform runs across a distributed network of data centers to provide operators in North America and Europe immediate access to all applications and features. With expandable storage and processing capacity across all points, Cycle30 is positioned to deliver enterprise-class back-office support for a rapidly expanding base of Tier 1, 2 and 3 customers.
The Cycle30 Solution
The Cycle30 platform collects hosted applications and features into a single-source offering. It is modular, allowing clients to integrate their existing investment with their new system (see Figure 2). Tight integration among all these applications through the platform’s workflow engine assures efficient use of processing resources and operator-controlled coordination of access to functionalities across multiple user interfaces tied to organizational hierarchies and departmental tasks.
The comprehensive set of functionalities of the Cycle30 platform work in concert with other operator OSS and channel components to support customer, service and billing management. In addition, Cycle30 provides access to analytics essential to all facets of service management.
Cycle30 applications fall into three categories:
- Billing and Management.
- Service Fulfillment.
- Customer Management.
As an additional service, Cycle30 offers a comprehensive platform for business analytics to aggregate and analyze data from end-user activity and other sources tied into the Cycle30 environment.
Along with providing the full scope of support essential to delivering carrier-class commercial services, Cycle30’s platform affords operators maximum flexibility to tailor these applications precisely to their needs. In addition to addressing the normal aspects of billing, service and customer management, operators can:
- Shape workflows.
- Alter product catalogs
- Define how user profiles are managed.
- Brand and design user interfaces.
- Orchestrate administrative access to data and analytics around organization hierarchies.
Custom Interfaces for Job Roles
Seen from the administrative side in the day-to-day operating environment, anyone using the platform will find various combinations of these applications coming into play through their user interface, depending on their role in the company and the tasks at hand. The flexibility to combine facets of these applications into a set of functionalities specifically useful to any given staff member, from departmental administrators and service representatives to high-level managers, or to any given end user from the operator’s customer base is a key advantage of the Cycle30 back-office management environment. Figure 3 illustrates the modes of interaction and support between Cycle30 and its customers that enable this flexible response to ongoing needs down to the individual administrative level.
Cycle30 has given operators maximum flexibility to configure use of its platform to precisely match all their billing, service and customer management needs now and as they unfold over time.
Account Set-Up & Product Management
When an operator engages with the Cycle30 platform to establish a billing and customer management base for its commercial service operations, the evolution from a legacy back-office system becomes apparent. For instance, rather than having to choose from stock templartes, Cycle30 maximizes their flexibility by configuring their service models as best suits their business.
Cycle30’s business-process automation systems allows operators to create automated and manual workflows to suit different operations policies, including automated product and plan selection that facilitate rapid order entry. Manual selection processes tied to special offers and internal offer-approval processes expand the marketing and sales efforts, enabling the sales team to make the best offering for the prospect. Cycle30 experts ensure their workflows follow industry best-practice processes.
Realizing Product Offering Flexibility
In creating product offerings to be supported on the platform, each operator is able to set up, manage and revise the product catalog to fit whatever service offerings are in play from any given center of operations. Thus a service provider with networks in multiple localities may want to create some service profiles that are specific to each location with others that are common to all.
This flexibility in account set-up greatly enhances account serviceability by associating addresses, services and inventory with geographic areas. Other types of associations are possible as well, such as between addresses and equipment types when operators register customer orders to enable checks for serviceability from the same interface.
All data pertinent to these product offerings, including the fields that need to be captured to match the operator’s provisioning systems, the phone numbers and Internet addresses to be used in service activation, usage policies and pricing, and much else are defined and collected on a customer-by-customer basis. Customers can obtain assistance initializing these processes from the Cycle30 professional services team.
For day-to-day operations, the platform maximizes customers’ ability to manage the platform as they see fit without engaging Cycle30 professional services. Through Cycle30’s administrative tools – and without calling on Cycle30 personnel – customers can:
- Replicate and modify packages, services, discounts and time-limited promotions.
- Alter how features are visually presented on user interfaces.
- Adjust immediately to new market opportunities.
Promotions can be defined as account exclusive or non-exclusive and offered on a percentage discount basis or as flat rate, incremental or tiered discounts. Discounts as well as unit credit promotions can be applied at the group, account or individual service instance level.
Because the platform automatically populates all processing, data collection and user interface points with directions relevant to making such changes, the process requires very little manual interventions. A price discount that would take hours or even days to implement on other platforms can be accomplished in minutes on the Cycle30 service.
With the initial set-up and after, the services, usage and billing policies can be modeled to whatever granularity the operator desires. For example, a cable operator with the flexibility to offer multiple line counts with a VoIP-based PRI service can specify bandwidth allocations as well as pricing levels for each service component. Customers can offer packages with optional cost-plus features, such as extra email addresses, IP addresses or higher data caps. They can set up a data access where, say, a one gigabit-per-second data rate is shared across multiple designated branches of a business customer.
Billing that Is Prepared for Commercial Sales
As demonstrated earlier, commercial sales functions differently from residential sales, and the back-office system needs additional capabilities. For instance, if an operator wants to alter pricing for individual cases, as might be necessary to win business from a new customer, Cycle30 makes it possible to implement a unique condition for a specific case apart from the pricing that’s been built into that operator’s catalog and billing engine. This is dramatically different from the configuration of exceptions in most residentially focused OSS systems. The system also facilitates sales operations in such instances by overcoming obstacles to individual sales negotiations and including a timely approval process that speeds the execution of new accounts.
Working on the Cycle30 platform, if a sales representative needs a manager’s approval to go over a stipulated discount pricing threshold, that person need not pick up the phone. The workflow manages the process. All the details surrounding the proposed service deal can be amassed and communicated instantly to the manager through the system. The manager is immediately notified through the personalized user interface (UI) that a request for approval is pending. As such requests are approved or denied the manager receives a running account of sales results emanating from such decisions. By running reports on this activity the manager is able to continually keep track of whether the net impact is a plus or minus to the bottom line.
On approval of the quote, the sales agent can exercise options to obtain the customers signature on the order via email, printed document or mobile app. Through the whole process, Cycle30 has eliminated the need to repeatedly input information, because it has all been captured in the system from the initial quote and is generated for each participant’s use in each step along the way.
Frictionless Service Activation
Once an order is placed, the system communicates with the operator’s provisioning platform via a comprehensive service activation process, which identifies all the network elements to be activated by the provisioning platform for any given service. By virtue of its integration with the billing system’s inventory management component, operators are assured that the inventory they select for a given customer is valid for the chosen network. At the same time, operators are assured that services provisioned are always in sync with billed services.
|“Operators are assured that services provisioned are always in sync with billed services.”|
The system interfaces directly with the operator’s workflow management system to ensure all orders are registered and schedule for installation. This is done automatically, eliminating the need for CSRs to interact with another user interface to set the process in motion.
Workflow Management and Dispatching Available
As an option, Cycle30 also offers an advanced workflow management system based on the ETADirect workforce management engine from TOA, which has been fully integrated into the Cycle30 service. This includes routing and scheduling modules that allow dispatchers to save time and money by efficiently matching installers and technicians with the most appropriate jobs based on their availability and location as reflected in the daily schedules of each employee.
The Cycle30 platform provides granular and customer-specific billing management that enables commercial services. The platform supports both postpaid and prepaid billing models by processing each account’s usage, tying usage to the appropriate rating structures and feeding the results to the invoicing platform.
In postpaid billing, the system itemizes and consolidates charges for each customer’s invoicing and collection cycle in accord with customer requirements. It tabulates payments through various modes, including credit, check and electronic transfer, to continuously update records in preparation for the next issuance of invoices. Charges can be consolidated across an account hierarchy spanning multiple accounts and service types with application of various discounting, taxation and other adjustments tied to aggregate usage.
Complex Billing Problems Addressed
The operator can consolidate charges across an account hierarchy spanning multiple accounts and service types. This way the operator can tie various discounting, taxation and other adjustments to aggregate usage. The Cycle30 tax modules compute service-specific taxation rates in compliance with universal taxation results as well as any exceptions to those rules arising out of special circumstances.
Easing Collections and Settlements
The Cycle30 platfor can identify delinquencies and generate notices for collection or service suspensions in accord with the operator’s policies. In addition, the system helps when addressing billing disputes by enabling settlements tied to the policies expected by commercial clients, such as credits for missed SLA commitments, outages or other anomalies. It enables many other types of adjustments such as service credits or billing increases tied to individual or company-wide accounts. In all cases, operators are able to set terms for whether any given type of adjustment is triggered automatically or only in instances when specific requests are made.
Records for Financials
From a records-keeping standpoint, the Cycle30 system allows operators to define the types of financial reports they need to assist with general ledger and financial system reconciliation. The system continuously generates a complete transaction record from each account, including charges, discounts, taxes, payments and adjustments, into the operator’s reporting process. It continuously reconciles active services with billing records to help prevent waste from inaccuracies in usage data generated from client or network facilities.
When CSRs have to shift from one application to another – as they frequently do to activate a new device and set up a new billing – errors happen. Cycle30 reduces errors by integrating all CSR functions, even those that are not a part of the Cycle30 offering, in a single application.
The customer management functions of the Cycle30 platform tie into all the processes associated with order, activation, billing and workflow management to support an operator-customizable customer care platform accessible through CSR and end-user interfaces. The customer management system brings whatever information and interactive options the operator wants to expose onto a single interface, thereby eliminating the need to sort through different Web locations to perform a given task, from order entry to scheduling installations to billing and usage reviews to determining the status of execution on trouble tickets.
Speed Up New Customer Setup
At the point of order entry, the system maximizes efficiency through a lightweight ordering component that allows data conversion across multiple API calls to the billing platform, greatly reducing the time it takes to construct the complete order and facilitating bulk ordering as well. The platform’s Web Services Integration Framework, another factor streamlining customer management through all phases of the relationship, leverages the lightweight ordering component and Cycle30’s proprietary APIs to simplify integration with external customer and third-party systems.
Enable the Customer Service Commercial Users Require
Customers, particularly commercial customers, want their interactions with customer service to be fast and efficient. With Cycle30 in the bck office, CSRs are given more information than ever befoe to respond quickly. Whenever a CSR takes a call no matter what the subject, all the information essential to providing the answers the end user seeks is immediately at hand. The first thing the CSR sees is the account summary reflecting services authorized and current activity, with the ability to drill down on any service or billing detail as the conversation unfolds. The CSR can view all the usage associated with the account on all authorized services, including who else besides the CRS has accessed the account, the purpose of that activity and when it occurred.
For example, if the user has a cap on data, voice minutes or other usage elements, the CSR can immediately relay how close the user is to the cap. If the operator chooses, the system can allow the CSR to make goodwill adjustments or correct errors to modify the record. At the same time the system allows operators to set triggers for delivering automated SMS or email notices to end users once they cross a certain level of usage so as to give them the option to add minutes, modify their account or avoid added charges by reducing consumption.
Along with having an instant view of outstanding invoices and any notes left from earlier CSR encounters with the account, the CSR can access a longer-term historical view of the account to help gain perspective on the issues at hand. Such views can contribute to resolution if, for example, the CSR has the latitude to decide whether to terminate, suspend or extend service on a delinquent account.
Another important aid to customer service is the CSR’s ability to access the customer’s invoice as it is presented to the customer. This means that the CSR, by viewing the invoice as built by the operator from templates and tools available on the billing platform, can speak to the user in terms precisely mirroring what the end user sees.
Finally, a Customer Self Service Web Portal
The same functionalities supporting aggregation of a rich reservoir of customer information for CSRs can be employed by the operator to create self-help interfaces online. An easy-to-use, comprehensively featured self-care component is vital to efficient operations, minimizing the staffing required for customer support and augmenting the appeal of the operator’s service to customers who value the ability to manage their own accounts.
Operators have complete freedom to determine what information and options are made available to end users in coordination with how their enterprise customers want to set up access to self-help at various levels from senior administrators down to individual users. This includes providing an application that allows end users to export information from their self-care interfaces to their own files, such as Excel spread sheets, where they can aggregate and analyze the data as they see fit. This capability also simplifies the process of incorporating service usage data into processes that perform analysis involving other company metrics, such as sales productivity analysis.
Each operator’s self-help portal can be custom designed to fit the look and feel of other elements of the operator’s online and off-line branding and style. From the end-user perspective the self-help portal is just another part of the online experience with the service provider, with no hint that the functions are tied to another platform.
Commercial customers are coming to expect the ability to use self-serve websites to manage their own accounts. The Cycle30 self-help platform also affords operators the opportunity to deliver special promotional and advertising messages on the user interfaces. With the user metrics generated by the billing platform, operators can personalize such messages for each account and for each user on the account.
|Three Basic Self-Care Functionalities
Cycle30 Integrates with Other Platforms
The Cycle30 customer management platform also allows operators to import data from other platforms, such as information from tech support on the status of trouble tickets or data collected from the provisioning system as it captures milestones in the provisioning process, including completion of installations. The solution captures all aspects of the services fulfillment process through a configurable workflow engine to provide the CSR with up-to-date information about order status when a call comes in.
More Friendly E-Commerce
Cycle30’s support for e-commerce offers user-friendly benefits that more precisely tie the customer’s service options to devices associated with those options. This is particularly important in mobile services, where the usual interface merely lists all the handsets available, leaving it for the user to click through all the options to determine which ones go with which service plan.
With the platform’s e-commerce system, operators can precisely match service options and handsets or other services and devices in cases where CPE is involved with, for instance, a type of Ethernet or PRI service. This is a convenience to the end user and facilitates bringing the user to the purchase decision quickly, minimizing postponed or missed orders.
Business Intelligence Linked to Real Data
A well-run commercial services operation needs to be able to flexibly aggregate and analyze data from within and beyond the billing platform to provide an up-to-date flow of information in support of staff responsibilities at various levels across multiple departments, including finance, operations, marketing and senior management. The business intelligence platform must be able to present these user-specific reports in whatever formats and graphic representations the user desires to meet recurrent needs as well as special requirements tied to management requests, meetings and other contingencies.
The Cycle30 business intelligence system draws data from all networks and service categories to help operators tabulate customer purchasing behavior and usage trends as well as all the metrics essential to financial reporting and tracking performance on SLAs and customer care. The system’s operator-configured data warehouse and analytical algorithms support pre-defined analysis cubes and ad-hoc requirements for current reporting along with compilations for auditing historical states.
Reporting for Commercial Services
Entering into the new and expanding commercial services market, operators look to reporting to understand the effect of their efforts. With the Cycle30 platform, reports of all types can be broken into specific client groups, service groups and other categories with comparative analysis as desired across whatever categories are of interest. Every activity including notes pertaining to specific clients, account modifications, customer service calls, all usage and each instance of individual user access is logged in the data warehouse for ready access by the analytics engine.
|Example: Business Intelligence Usage Analytics Cube |
The Business Intelligence Usage Analytics Cube supports, among others:
The Subscriber Analytics can be used to understand the full life cycle of a customer, including what packages, promotions and discounts that person once had and has now. This view allows for effective churn analysis so that data analysts can better understand the business.
Administrators using the Business Insight dashboard can control every staff interface. They can expose information and enable functionalities in accord with departmental and hierarchical responsibilities. Over time, as the operator’s administrators and directors gain a better sense of what their reporting priorities are, they can modify the data flow and the volume and design of reports on each dashboard to maximize effective use of information at all levels.
Graphically Represented Data Aids Decision Making
Graphic representations of data can be easily changed in response to each staffer’s needs on each dashboard without affecting how the same data is presented on another dashboard. If, for example, a user finds a set of several pie charts do not lend themselves to easily visualized comparison on certain metrics, the user can instruct the graphics engine to deliver the information to the dashboard as bar charts.
Make Your Own Reports Anytime
If a particular staff member has been called on at a moment’s notice to deliver a report on specific information for a forthcoming meeting, the employee can use Business Insight to pull together the information in a graphically compelling presentation in a matter of minutes. This contrasts with the usual time-consuming process for addressing such ad hoc needs, in which the employee would have to submit an emergency help request to the service department, consuming time to confirm authorization for the changes and to execute them.
Reports prepared for such meetings or other ad hoc occasions can be revised in response to questions or request for additional information. Drawing on the data amassed for that meeting, the Business Insight tool can perform alternative compilations, add new categories of information and make adjustments in graphic presentations of the data as needed.
Relevant Data Presentation
Administrators can request information to be presented in hierarchical aggregations from, say, daily, to weekly, to monthly to annually, or across disparate geographical areas. If a sales manager employs color highlights to identify states of performance in specific areas, localized displays will readily reveal where performance is subpar, facilitating deeper probes into what needs to be done to improve sales.
Advanced analytic capabilities allow operators to combine information from different sources to support innovative approaches to judging service performance and causes behind anomalies in the trend lines. For example, network and selling data can be combined to facilitate churn analysis. Patterns of dropped calls can be linked to specific users through data generated from SIM cards or other device clients to facilitate proactive responses to emerging problems.
Moreover, operators can allocate such tool functionalities to their customers to create their own analytic reports. For example, a customer can be authorized to pull up data on year-to-year usage of a given service by a department or individual and to compare that with internally generated sales performance data to determine the effectiveness of a given type of service over time.
Integration and Special Services
Cycle30’s expertise in systems integration is a key factor in its ability to help operators move beyond the limitations of legacy back-office systems. Along with the large portfolio of pre-integrated workflows, datasets and functionalities tied to best-of-breed software components, Cycle30 provides operators support for interoperability between its platform and all the operator’s systems that are essential to commercial service operations.
These applications include:
- General ledger feeds from the billing system to operators’ financial and accounting processes and to systems supporting e-commerce, point-of-sale purchases and payment processing at financial institutions;
- Content and billing feeds as well as reconciliation processes in affiliations with applications and content providers;
- Account activation, real-time transactions and payment processing and other aspects of account management tied to retail and channel operations, including a single point of entry for channel personnel to use in registering point-of-sale purchases, returns, procurements and inventory replenishment.
SDKs and Integration Opportunities
The Cycle30 platform also includes software development kits (SDKs) and integration wrappers supporting a variety of partner integrations among carriers, resellers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). It provides SDKs and wrappers for industry, regulatory and clearinghouse partners, such as E911, CNAM, LIDB, NPAC and fraud management solutions.
Execution on integration projects is an ongoing facet of Cycle30’s support for the platform as it continually introduces new features and applications. For example, through Cycle30’s efforts GCI recently became one of the first Tier 2 mobile carriers to support Apple’s iPhone.
Support for iPhone Oferings
Carriers offering service to the iPhone have typically spent hundreds of millions of dollars and taken months to achieve full integration with Apple’s back-end system. With support from Cycle30 this is no longer the case. When GCI gained the rights to launch iPhone 4 service, Apple’s representatives told Cycle30’s IT team it would take three months or more to complete the integration, but Cycle30 did the work in two weeks.
The team was then able to create apps supporting iPhone access to user accounts for commercial and consumer services. Along with enabling self-care related to end users’ ordering and managing mobile service to the iPhone, the Cycle30 platform now supports a range of back-office applications for operators’ personnel such as capturing signatures for new orders from their customers’ iPhones and accessing data from Business Intelligence on their own iPhones.
Paralleling ongoing integrations supporting general customer needs, Cycle30 performs specific integrations customized to specific customer requirements. This is part of the comprehensive professional services Cycle30 offers to help customers through each stage of their engagement with the platform.
|Cycle30 Capabilities to Enhance Commercial Services
Consequently, customers have complete assurance that they will have full back-office support as they develop new service offerings, move into new territories, merge with other entities, change out and add new OSS elements from other vendors, launch new transport systems and implement new billing and service management functionalities.
Operators of every size and description now have an opportunity to expand revenues from commercial service offerings without restrictions on their flexibility to tailor services to their immediate and long-term capabilities. By relying on the Cycle30 full-service platform, they can continually evolve their product portfolios and service reach as new opportunities arise with absolute assurance they will be able to support billing, service management, customer care and business analytics at a level unmatched by competitors relying on legacy systems.
By leveraging Cycle30’s expertise in integration and professional services in tandem with other operators, each customer is able to deliver carrier-class support for commercial services at a fraction of the costs they would incur on self-hosted platforms. Moreover, they benefit from continual updates in functionalities and integrations that would be nearly impossible for each customer to achieve individually.
Clearly, the complexity of service opportunities and the need to precisely tune each service to each client’s needs marks a break with the commodity service profile of the past. But operators can pursue expansion into ever more service segments at their own pace at an affordable starting point without fear that they’ll be encumbered by the costs and limitations of an inflexible back-office system. This is the key to full exploitation of the commercial services opportunity over whatever timeframe works for any given operator. The window on growth prospects in commercial services has never been wider.