On joining a a combined wireless and wireline telecommunications carrier in 1999, I quickly learned that there were two technology departments within a telecom company. This arrangement was foreign to me coming from a non-telecom industry.
BSS (Business Support Systems) is the familiar, traditional IT department, whereas OSS (Operational Support Systems) managed the commercial delivery network that telecom customer’s use. OSS and BSS had separate lines of communication, technology infrastructure, vendor relationships and management philosophies.
Fast-forward to today and a lot is changing. Specific to Wireless telecom, mobile devices now continually access the commercial network, 4G/LTE is delivered by familiar IP packet networks, billing events and call control have moved to more robust real time devices, and the customer experience is driven by a lot of back office systems such as policy and enforcement rules established by both BSS and OSS groups. Despite these changes, entrenched constituencies seek to maintain traditional OSS and BSS roles with rigid, often inefficient, demarcations of who owns what component of the customer experience chain.
What is Requiring these Teams to Work Closer Together?
In 1999, the OSS team would maintain its commercial network, voice mail platforms, text messaging services and handle all of the complexities of roaming and call completion. BSS teams would in turn bill for the services consumed after the fact in addition to the corporate IT functions to its employees. In some cases, the BSS WAN would traverse completely different data facilities than the customer-serving network, missing out on opportunities to leverage relationships and resources.
Fast-forward to 2014 where more of the customer experience is being driven by the commercial network with both OSS and BSS elements interacting simultaneously. And the introduction of 4G/LTE has introduced standards of communications that are familiar to both teams. With this shared role, several new product ideas are evolving, such as:
• Standard vs. Premium Service Differentiation—Premium services can be added based on purchased subscription services.
• Subscriptions that are Personalized to Customer Needs— Enhanced video streaming, social media access, and packages of certain types of usage can be purchased without penalty of the base-underlying package.
• OTT (Over-The-Top) Providers Interested in Reaching Mobile Customers—Sports networks, movie services, and cable operators are interested in subsidies to wireless carriers to leverage connected networks most of which require integrated OSS and BSS systems to provide, track and bill for such services.
• Targeted Offers based on usage patterns (Big Data)—Based on content consumed or other rich real-time information extracted from usage data, wireless carriers may offer add-on just-intime services that best fit customer usage patterns.
• M2M (Machine-To-Machine)—With the Internet of Things, more connected devices are evolving over the wireless network. Cars that communicate their statuses are an example as well as connected homes.
• Commercial Services—Fleet management offerings for SMB’s are now affordable, as well as remote connected offices over LTE devices as either as failover service to wireline connected routers.
"Despite changes, constituencies seek to maintain traditional OSS and BSS roles with rigid, often inefficient, demarcations of who owns what component of the customer experience chain"
How Are These Changes Impacting Traditional BSS IT Teams?
In addition to currently popular corporate IT trends placing demands on IT to optimize its portfolio and decentralize its control, telecom IT departments are facing some significant changes to enrich its customers’ experiences such as:
• Typical large billing systems are not the only critical element in service delivery. Postpaid all-in billing systems may have gaps that are becoming critical for wireless carriers such as robust point of service systems, as well as real time event processing across all product offerings. Prepaid systems have traditionally performed well with real time voice processing, but have typically been leveraged for credit challenged customers. Prepaid and postpaid services are converging quickly.
• Billing and settlement of customer accounts receivable are requiring ERPlike functions integrated into parts of subsidiary billing systems. Extended credit arrangements such as handset financing, and real time purchase settlements for subscription based services are placing burdens on typical in-advanced billing system architectures.
• With data driving the customer experience, Big Data initiatives that feed customer experience offerings abound. Subscription services, location services, and offer management options that are being driven based on customer activities are on the rise. Traditional warehouses have been used to analyze customer habits and predict churn, but now are being pushed forward to enhance the real time customer experience. Rating engines have to interact in real time with middleware systems to report an accurate state of a customer’s account.
• Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems need to see deeper into the Network Systems provided by OSS Teams. It used to be acceptable for a customer to call into a telecom’s call center and inquire why their voice minutes had exceeded a threshold and its accuracy within the past few hours. Today, it is not as easy to explain to customers what usage habits specifically caused the consumption of gigabytes of data moments ago.
• Middleware or Mediation Systems are becoming more intelligent as an intermediary between back-office legacy billing systems and the network. The middleware systems that see the real time usage events are at the BSS edge of the OSS network and way ahead of legacy BSS billing systems. These systems are in an ultimately favorable position to enable delivery systems to provide the desired customer experience. Not all companies are in a position to execute a massive BSS upgrade and therefore must leverage its legacy assets in modern ways.
These are very interesting times in wireless telecom IT. Traditional methods of IT systems operating independently of Network systems are no longer the best way to deliver acceptable customer experiences. Ultimate customer experiences are being charted with integration points from the edge of both BSS and OSS information systems. Enabling customers to configure their personalized experiences and companies to capitalize on these customer behaviors require BSS and OSS teams and strategies to come together for a unified service delivery network.