IT for Telecoms

This article addresses the basic build up of IT in a telecoms company and looks at opportunities for consolidation and integration of some of the core IT processes in three primary facets - business enabler applications such as mediation, rating and billing; internal facing applications such as provisioning and enterprise resource planning; and customer facing applications. Akshay Lamba explains.

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By  Akshay Lamba Published  June 4, 2007

Enterprise Resource Planning

To succeed in the current environment, service providers require solutions that can help them navigate the deregulation process, automate and streamline business processes to improve quality and increase efficiency, and enhance relationships with customers and partners. For this purpose, enterprise resource planning (ERP) provides capabilities that support and enhance processes associated with producing and delivering telecoms products and services. Features tailored to meet these organisations' unique requirements help these companies efficiently and cost-effectively manage processes, expand opportunities, and maximise the value of customer relationships and existing assets.

A clear view of all data across the company is necessary to support sound decision-making. By integrating data from heterogeneous sources, ERP systems provide details on finances, human resources, operations, and other critical business functions. Enhanced insight into all external and internal processes and operations allows organisations to better track trends, anticipate problems, and identify opportunities. In addition, support for the complete life-cycle of critical production and operational assets enables businesses to improve facility and equipment performance and track costs for individual assets and production lines as well as entire facilities. The feature set of ERP packages used by service providers includes operations management such as procurement, logistics and distribution, asset management, and order cycle management. It also assists in extended ERP functions such as regulatory compliance and corporate governance.

Since ERP systems are established based on a logical design of an enterprise, consolidation across multiple international operations could be a little tricky. However, standardisation and subsequently building the skill sets available in-house for the standardised platform can bring in a certain amount of operational efficiency.

Customer relationship management

Much of business today is conducted between people who have never met before and are likely never to meet again, and who experience each other only as disembodied telephone voices.

Customer relationship may be defined as the sum total of a customer's experience and interaction within the contact zone, which today is becoming more virtual than physical. The three main elements of this new, virtual customer contact zone are, firstly, the customer care applications that provide the repository of information about a customer, and allow the business to perform transactions with that customer. Secondly, the call centre provides the means to create live, real-time connections between customers and the customer service representatives who use the customer care applications. Lastly, the web provides a whole new zone of customer contact, and increasingly, options for self-service business transactions.

In the service provider space, customer relationship management (CRM) forms an integral piece of the puzzle. It must integrate with the billing and service provisioning systems in order to be able to deliver to customer expectations. While most service providers now have an integrated CRM in place for all the different type of networks and services (landline, cellular, internet access, value added services, and so forth), integrating these pieces of information to deliver a single customer view and consequently running customer profile analytics, usage analytics and preferences analytics is really where the value generation is for the business units and subsequently for the customers.

Due to its inherent nature, this process has a large potential for consolidation especially for backend use to build business analytics and market analysis models by the business units. This can be a tremendous tool in the hands of the marketing gurus to target services. With virtual segregation of the customer base within the system, this process lends itself to the consolidation theory very well. It can also help in building business advantage by creating centralised call centre rather than market specific call centres where language is not a barrier.

Service delivery platform

Service delivery platform (SDP) is primarily a framework built in order to manage and deploy value added services rapidly. This has not traditionally been a part of IT in a service provider environment. This is because of its comparatively recent injection into the service provider environment. However, SDP today plays a critical revenue generation function for a service provider, and its management and deployment gives the IT organisation a chance to lead revenue generation for the enterprise. Perhaps, for the first time, giving the IT organisation the ability to transform into a profit centre.

A SDP is an integrated set of software modules that, collectively, enable carriers to launch and manage potentially thousands of services to fixed and wireless customers alike, and is regarded as an important step towards true fixed-mobile convergence. Once integrated, an SDP enables an operator to provision, manage, and bill for services delivered across its network, whether those services are created by third parties or by the service provider. SDPs are emerging as a critical enabling technology for both wireline and wireless telecoms carriers to deliver next-generation services profitably, reducing the costs and time needed to acquire, provision, maintain, and deliver applications.

Heavy Reading's Caroline Chappell, author of a recent report on the emerging platform, notes that SDPs are, "now being positioned as the critical enabler that will allow network operators to extract revenue", from the potentially inexhaustible number of niche services that third-party developers or the carriers themselves can develop for converged IP networks.

The SDP environment is probably one framework that can be utilised very well during a consolidation exercise. Moreover, it gives the service providers the ability to launch new value added services in multiple markets simultaneously without multiple deployments. It also naturally leads to operational efficiencies in delivering these services but the impact generated comes from the ability to launch a service in a specific region and based on market feedback.

In conclusion, the IT shop in any service provider is a very complex being, with a multitude of systems running and integration between all the disparate systems a major point of contention with the chief IT officers.

The author is a business and technology consultant and can be reached at akshay@lambaweb.com. The views in the article are attributed to the author alone and are not associated with the publisher or the employer in any way.

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