Communications service providers (CSPs), particularly those operating mobile networks, appear to have embarked on a mass introduction of new products and services. However, they are not always geared for what this involves and many are finding that lack of planning and preparedness is costing them dearly.
The introduction of any new product, whether developed in-house or acquired from third parties requires careful planning and execution if it is to succeed. Equally important is what to do when a products reaches the end of its serviceable life. Maintaining defunct products can be more costly than simply cutting it from the company’s catalogue.
As a result, CSPs have had to quickly come to grips with the science and process of product lifecycle management (PLM) and the associated functions of business process realignment and product data management it entails.
CSPs may have been a little late to the PLM party, behind retailers and manufacturers, but they are catching up fast. Many have the ability to launch new services quickly and to tailor those services to customer needs in automated ways that don’t require expensive customization – a sort of agile PLM.
Wikipedia defines PLM in industry as “the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products. PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.”
This is not dissimilar to the view taken by CSPs, best defined by the TM Forum in a recent report that “implementing PLM, includes the deployment of product catalogues as well as efforts to drastically reduce the number of products in order to eliminate complexity from sales and support organizations. The major efforts are aimed at streamlining business processes to eliminate bottlenecks and the challenges service providers face in accomplishing all of this.”
However, achieving this is no mean feat and requires the creation of a company-wide view of products to support a multi-channel sales strategy that embraces online self-service, retail and traditional call-center channels.
In this context, a product touches almost all aspects of a network operation – how it is presented, how it is ordered, how it is delivered over the network, how it is charged for, what IT resources it needs, what happens when something goes wrong, how customer service reps are supported in answering queries about the product, etc.
As the TM Forum report highlights, “implementing product lifecycle management has not been an easy transition for even the most eager network operator, however, given that most have product data scattered around disparate systems and organized in multiple, often-confusing ways, in siloed organizations or product teams.” At its core, a coherent PLM strategy also means changing how people do their jobs and that kind of change is never easy.
As I mentioned in my last blog, those very same silos have also held back numerous transformation projects within CSPs and their dissolution is no less critical in the introduction of a successful PLM program.
To help overcome potential barriers internally, CSPs are turning to providers of PLM software to help in the process, and even adopting cloud based applications and services to provide some form of central control linking all the components of a successful product launch.
PLM must be seen as an information strategy, an enterprise strategy and, ultimately, a transformational business strategy. For a PLM strategy to succeed it will rely on enterprise-wide access to a common repository of product information and processes.
There are numerous definitions of what PLM actually involves, but it is clear that no PLM policy or implementation will succeed without direct involvement of all parties from the inception of a product to its retirement. This requires a holistic approach, not unlike that required for effective revenue assurance and customer service.
One thing is certain, if this approach is not taken, PLM will fail, and that would be very costly to any CSP, not only in terms of dissatisfied customers and lost revenues, but also in lost investment.