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Service fulfillment is one of the twin pillars of the traditional OSS/BSS architecture, turning customer orders into active communication services and mirroring a parallel flow of chargeable records from network to bill. But these straightforward days are fast disappearing — are we now witnessing fulfillment’s final finale?
Together, OSS and BSS perfectly illustrated the concept of a vertically integrated telco industry, one in which the operator owned and controlled customers, network resources and services within an enclosed and tightly managed environment.
The age of aggregation
Now, however, things are not so simple. Few service providers base their offering on a single basic communications service. Many are stretching their proposition well beyond connections, creating, for example, cloud-based infrastructure and software offerings, enterprise machine-to machine applications and bespoke solutions for financial, medical and many other “verticals.” Service providers everywhere are enriching their propositions with content which allows them to be more competitive in increasingly open telecoms markets.
Almost unnoticed, many service providers have become service aggregators, creating “blended” products that combine their own services and capabilities with elements provided by partners and external suppliers. Activating these new products, given their more complex makeup and the number of external factors on which they depend, places far greater demands on legacy systems and processes than they were ever designed to support.
New “customers” for fulfillment
Service orders, too, are changing. The “order” — really just a demand for change — may not be coming through a CRM or conventional order capture system, but from the handset, as the customer enhances a “vanilla” SIM with a set of personally selected services. Or it may be coming through a policy control or automated marketing platform, which dictates the need to upgrade or modify the subscriber’s service, perhaps only for a trial period (what we might call “event-driven fulfillment”).
Wholesale carriers will need to handle service requests from multiple partners and virtual network operators, often alongside service orders from their own direct customers.
Increasingly, service orders may not relate to conventional telecoms services at all, but perhaps to an embedded communications device — in a vehicle, or a piece of consumer electronics, for example, part of a bespoke solution for major enterprise customers.
In short, telco is evolving into a much more complex landscape within which to fulfill orders for service and change. The value chain to the customer is being constantly stretched, and the new telco environment is much more complex than the clean lines and layers of a straightforward GSM operation. To adapt an old industry metaphor, it feels like our carefully assembled “lasagna” is fast reverting to a spaghetti alla puttanesca.
So service fulfillment needs to adapt to this changing world. The ever-increasing range of products that almost every service provider wishes to bring to market means that the traditional approach of “hand-tooling” processes for each product no longer plays. Future fulfillment needs to draw on service elements and capabilities that are rationalized and catalogued in a way which allows service assembly and delivery to be largely automated.
Fulfillment also needs to recognize that it longer only supports a business-to-customer relationship but will have to support many business-to-business relationships too. Service fulfillment must be able to reach out “horizontally,” as well as vertically connecting customers and networks.
Finally, we know that this all needs to be cost-effective — service fulfillment needs to be a “lean” process that commits resources at the last minute, minimizes wasted effort and demands on cash flow, and adds as little as possible to the unit cost-of-sale of any product or service.
Supporting future fulfillment
What needs to be in place to support this new world of service fulfillment?
A flexible and adaptable approach to product and service management is a fundamental requirement. Creating a new order process for every product or bundle of services offers no possibility of scaling and will slow market responsiveness.
A catalog-driven approach, which rationalizes the many components involved in order fulfillment — from partners and suppliers to products, services and network elements — and allows these to be quickly assembled into new processes, offers much greater resilience as well as vital cost-effectiveness.
Service fulfillment needs to be context-aware — understanding the real status of available resources in the fulfillment process minimizes error and unnecessary effort and recognizes the service and technology context into which the customer’s order will be delivered. This ensures that new services are compatible with the customer’s current state, minimizing the errors that drive costs up and loyalty down.
Service fulfillment needs to be fast and responsive. An order for fiber rollout can’t be fulfilled in microseconds, but upgrades to service features and characteristics certainly can. Any avoidable delay in the process lowers the quality of the customer experience and delays precious revenue to the service provider.
Finally, service fulfillment needs to be open — based not just on common standards and protocols but supporting easy communication between the service provider and the partners who make a crucial contribution to delivery. Order fulfillment needs to have more in common with the delivery processes of major online retailers — spinning up service orders that may require, entirely or in part, the coordinated resources of many suppliers.
In conclusion: Untangling the spaghetti
So are we seeing service fulfillment returning to a spaghetti of interconnecting processes, communications and service elements? It’s a real and dangerous possibility, one that could stymie service providers’ ambitions to transform their business, introduce radically different propositions and bring in very different kinds of revenue.
The good news is that the capability now exists to deploy a new kind of rational, responsive and performance service fulfillment — one which is optimized for the demands of future telco rather than oriented towards increasingly unproductive legacy services — fulfillment environments that offer proven baseline capability and performance but can be configured and reconfigured almost indefinitely to support whatever the future service provider wishes to sell.