By Fred Dawson
July 10, 2013 – Notwithstanding enduring barriers to back-office consolidation posed by long-standing billing silos, network service providers across the globe are finding ways to incrementally introduce next-generation BSS/OSS platforms that open a migration path to greater efficiency over time.
There are many entry points for introducing such solutions, including billing requirements for new services, the need to more efficiently manage network component inventories across multiple networks and geographic locations and opportunities to streamline billing processes by introducing mediation and ratings systems that operate across multiple legacy billing silos. All of these points of transformation and more have been driving the rapid expansion of the customer base at NetCracker Technologies, says Sanjay Mewada, vice president of strategy at the BSS/OSS systems supplier.
“Our footprint is expanding from intersections with customers that enable capturing of orders on the front end to OSS support in the heart of the network to improving order fulfillment to delivering a comprehensive solution for a new service category,” Mewada says. While the fast pace of service expansion is driving more spending on such systems, the money is being spent more wisely than in the past, he adds.
“Service providers are addressing their needs in a very smart way,” he says. “They’re not trying to build their own solutions when it’s possible to find products that fit their needs. They’re finding strategic partners to help them bring things together across multiple platforms.”
As evidence of the scale and pace of spending now underway Mewada can point to a rapid escalation in customer wins, including engagements with Verizon, Cox Communications, Sprint, Videotron, Bell Aliant, Liberty Global and many other top tier cable MSOs and telcos in the U.S. and abroad. NetCracker is seeing implementation of advanced strategies in the second tier markets as well with the likes of Summit Communications and Midcontinent Communications.
In an example of how service providers are focusing on specific service categories to introduce new approaches to BSS operations Cox Communications has entered into a multi-year managed services BSS engagement with NetCracker aimed at enhancing the entire lead-to-cash process for Cox Business, which serves over 300,000 commercial customers in the SMB, healthcare, education and government sectors. Cox is putting NetCracker’s TOMS (Telecom Operations & Management Solutions) version 9.0 to use to streamline a number of operations, including work force automation, customer and service order management, information management and resource inventory management.
These capabilities will be integrated into NetCracker’s ICOMS billing solution already in use by Cox, as well as other business and operational support systems, to create an end-to-end BSS platform capable of meeting the specific needs of Cox Business, now the fastest growing segment of Cox Communications with ambitions to reach $2 billion in revenue by 2016. “NetCracker’s solution is built on a unified platform that will simplify our systems architecture and provide our business operations with the flexibility needed to compete in the commercial market today,” says Cox CTO Kevin Hart.
“We are leveraging the Cable Information Architecture (CIA) that we developed with CableLabs and other MSOs to optimize our ability to enable the business,” Hart adds. The reference is to the framework developed as part of the Cable Information Services agenda at CableLabs to tie legacy and next-generation BSS and OSS elements into a more unified mode of operations support than has been possible in the past. Leveraging developments across the telecom IT world, including the Frameworx standard developed by TM Forum, the CIA effort has helped create road maps vendors like NetCracker can follow to develop solutions that will work in multiple BSS/OSS environments.
Significantly, such advanced solutions are enabling smaller operators to address service migration needs in ways that were only doable at the Tier 1 level. For example, Midcontinent Communications is moving its affiliation with NetCracker to the next level under a long-term contract extension for convergent next-generation solutions it signed with the supplier late last year.
Midcontinent will continue utilizing NetCracker’s BSS solutions for its billing and customer care and will also be implementing NetCracker’s secure SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture), including Web services, for a standardized approach to customer and service management, says Gary Shawd, vice president of information systems at Midcontinent. The addition of these enhanced Web services will give Midcontinent easier access to billing and customer data through interfaces with external applications, such as Web portals, IVRs and mobile devices, Shawd says.
As a result, Midcontinent will be able to quickly and securely integrate and invoke the billing system for new applications and thereby reduce costs and enhance the customer experience. “The adoption of NetCracker’s SOA and Web services to our BSS solution will enable us to deliver a superior experience to our customers in the near term,” he says. “And as an important addition to Midcontinent’s infrastructure , these services will also enable us to address customer needs and business challenges as we grow and expand in the future.”
One of the critical steps toward service integration is implementation of mediation and ratings systems that can capture usage records and perform real-time ratings to be fed into existing billing systems across all service categories and networks. “Our mediation system picks up billable events and brings them to the rater,” Mewada says. “Service providers need to capture all the things happening on the Internet as well as in their voice, video and mobile service domains. The rater has to be bullet proof, exceptionally fast and robust.”
As part of the modular TOMS platform, the NetCracker Revenue Management system includes a rules-based event mediation process that collects, decodes, converts, correlates and enriches detail records of all types before submitting them to the rating and charging systems. Together, these elements provide operators a scalable, high-performance processing platform capable of supporting vastly increased numbers of smaller transactions with shorter response time expectations, Mewada notes.
With dozens of legacy billing systems in place in many cases, service providers tend to take an evolutionary approach to introducing the advanced billing and back-office components of the TOMS platform, he adds. “In some cases they focus on a given service, such as mobile, where maybe they’ll concentrate all the B2B components on one system and then go from there,” he explains. “The other track is to bring in the new system with implementation of a new service category.”
But there are those who are ready to rip out the old billing infrastructure to speed migration to convergence. A case in point is Canal Digital Kabel-TV, the cable triple-play arm of Telenor Norway, which recently announced it was replacing its legacy revenue management system with NetCracker’s next-generation BSS for a comprehensive transformation of its billing environment. Canal Digital Kabel-TV will first migrate its VoIP customers to the NetCracker platform, followed by its digital TV and broadband customers, says Geir Inge Fevang, the operator’s CIO.
“The performance and stability of NetCracker’s billing solution have been demonstrated at several of our sister companies within the Telenor Group,” Fevang says. “Their experience with the solution and its numerous benefits made the decision to replace our legacy system with NetCracker’s BSS both easy and logical.”