Much digital ink has been spilled on the subject of business support system (BSS) and operations support system (OSS) transformation. The advent of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) drives a wedge between network infrastructure and the controlling software, providing yet another opportunity for telcos to modernize their support systems -- or introduce yet another layer of complexity, depending on your point of view.

At Mobile World Congress this March, I met with more than 30 different OSS and BSS vendors, as well as service providers including Telefónica and Deutsche Telekom, to better understand the top priorities for B/OSS transformation.

Fast time to market and customer experience featured as the highest priorities by a wide mark. Enabling marketers to launch new promotions and pricing plans with a minimum of involvement by operations staff is paramount. Of equal importance is smoothing the customer journey and developing an omni-channel (store, phone, online, social media) engagement with the customer.

Other common priorities for transformation included business agility (closely related to time to market) and innovation. In order to transform themselves from communications service providers (CSPs) into digital service providers, telcos need to partner with media companies, over-the-top (OTT) operators, messaging platforms, home security services, as well as other telcos.

Another popular response was operationalizing NFV; virtual network functions (VNF) instantiation in particular. Also mentioned was enabling new revenue streams, fixed/mobile convergence, automation, cost savings, real-time enablement and that good old favorite, simplifying the OSS stack.

We also asked what specific end-to-end processes operators should prioritize for modernization. By far the most popular response was order to cash -- enabling the CSP to quote and fulfill seamlessly. Not far behind was trouble to resolve, the multi-stage process that starts with a network or service problem and goes through root cause analysis to trouble ticketing and fault isolation, and ends with resolution. Market to launch was also cited, along with concept to design, customer journey/experience, personalized/contextualized marketing, subscriber acquisition (in particular online self-service) and after-sales support (also online).

Finally, we asked which areas of B/OSS pose the greatest risks to operators. Here there was no common denominator, but a long list of issues that can be broadly lumped into three categories:

  • Technology risks: inaccurate inventory data, Internet of Things (IoT) billing, VPN QoS and NFV uncertainty
  • Business risks: OTT substitution, revenue assurance when selling third-party content and disappointing enterprise customers
  • Generic risks: resiliency of systems to natural disasters, complexity, interoperability and security

Operators have a lot on their plates with 5G, IoT and SDN/NFV. The cautious ones are likely to put B/OSS transformation on the back burner, muddling through with existing systems until their technology infrastructure has bedded down. Arguably, this provides an opportunity for more forward-thinking operators to focus on IT and business process transformation to enable agility, better customer engagement and new service offerings by leveraging third-party developers and internal innovation.

Telco CTOs and CIOs certainly have their work cut out for them over the next few years, much like the apocryphal Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

JAMES CRAWSHAW, Senior Analyst – OSS/BSS Transformation, Heavy Reading – Light Reading