We all know we are in the middle of a Digital Revolution that is deeply transforming our lives and opens new growth opportunities. The rules of this new ‘Digital World’ are not yet written; we are all in the process of shaping the change aggressively while challenging the status quo.
Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have started the journey to transform into Digital Service Providers (DSPs), opening the window to this ‘digital world’ for their customers, but will they make it? This is a relevant question because so many of the systems required to support that move are simply not up to the task.
The management and monetization of digital services is proving to be a challenge for many traditional CSPs mainly because their existing systems were designed for specific services like voice and data and not easily optimized for the broader range of digital services now being offered.
These ‘legacy’ platforms of CSPs are simply not agile enough or designed to cope with the variety of new digital services. The extended time required to get new services to market, in this context, translates directly to lost revenue opportunities.
There has been a lot of publicity recently about the need for agile systems that can be easily adapted to all the new services we are likely to be bombarded with over the next few years but there are precious few examples of smooth transformation projects that have complete new billing and/or online charging systems.
The frightening experiences and bad memories of the late 1990s and early 2000s convergent billing installations are still are still fresh in many C-level minds. They were a breakthrough in technology and thinking and came at a time when CSPs where having to bill more than voice handled adequately well by their legacy systems.
The results were hybrid systems or bolt-ons that grew over time as more and more news services evolved that could not be billed on one of the existing systems. In many cases it was cheaper to do that than alter an existing system.
It would be very rare, more likely impossible; to find any multi-play CSP using just one billing or OCS system for all its services and the question has to be asked – why? It’s not that capable systems do not exist; it’s more likely to be an issue of cost or simple fear.
By fear, I mean the fear of taking on such a massive undertaking while still maintaining existing systems. Disruption to customer service, the chance of making big IT mistakes, the overruns, the change management issues, the possibility of losing one’s job or staff due to all of above weigh heavily on the decision makers.
In the past, the services of a systems integrator would be sought, not just to manage the mayhem, but maybe to have someone else responsible if things do go wrong. Today, this is seen as a luxury to many CSPs who chance it by going alone or relying on the systems vendor to manage the implementation and integration. Rarely do they have ‘spare’ staff of their own to allocate to the task. Another recipe for potential disaster.
Is one answer to phase out all those complex rating plans and services we have accumulated over the years and move to much simpler subscription models, or should CSPs continue to try and support the old with new? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with having hundreds of systems?
Well, probably not if they are all working and don’t carry high maintenance costs. But with the digitization of the world economy opening up new business opportunities, not only to CSPs, but many business are wanting to deliver digital services to customers – as quickly, cheaply and easily as possible. The dynamic nature of the possible business and monetisation models necessities systems with the ability to adopt any type of process and transaction value flows in a necessity.
They will all need to monetize those services and collect money from the users of the services. It will be interesting to see if they follow the old CSP model or seek out ‘agile’ alternatives.