Although operators have always had a product lifecycle, they have not always adopted a product mindset. The commoditization and regulation of bandwidth and access means that operators need to become elite retailers of connected products. Connectivity is a wholesale product and the only way to increase revenue is to augment connectivity with devices, applications, features and functionality that deliver unique, customized products.
There are two main parts to a connected Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) approach: product creation and product delivery. Both have traditionally been off-line processes disconnected from the day-to-day operations of the business. But customers want real time. When they select a device, mix and match features, and configure applications they want it to work now, not 3 days from now. They also do not care about the subtleties of access. They want to be connected to any application or any one from anywhere be it mobile, WiFi, or plugged in. That requires a more dynamic approach to product creation. If the network is IP, then all traffic is data and all services are applications.
Off-line efforts are required to create components that ensure connectivity regardless of access network, priority applications like VoIP or IPTV that include strict performance thresholds, and feature applications like voice mail, video on demand, or Facebook integration. Component applications are assigned pricing and put into the product catalog along with rules that enable bundling and prevent incompatibility. And that’s the easy part; everything else happens on-line. When the components go live and product managers, sales representatives, and customers start building and buying products; those products have to be delivered quickly and accurately.
Operators admit that they do not really have trouble deciding on new products, the problem is the time and integration required to define a new product in existing fulfillment, CRM, billing, and inventory systems. A lot of effort has been put into product creation. Centralized product catalogs, automated design workflow, and component definitions are now part of product management for numerous operators. What hasn’t materialized is the automation and integration required to turn on, support, and bill for those products as soon as the order is captured.
Many operators believe that automating current processes using existing OSS/BSS would be expensive and not result in any significant gain. Instead, they are identifying new business processes, consolidating systems, and aligning data in product, service, and resource catalogs so that PLM systems and automation can ultimately be successful. So, while PLM is not the buzz word du jour (word of the day), work is being done and systems are being implemented that move operators closer to seamless, automated product delivery.
Systems and processes are being implemented that create a collaborative PLM environment between design, development, engineering, and production teams. We’re making good progress on the product creation front and now it’s time to work on product delivery. The potential for adding connectivity to devices is virtually unlimited but without a solid approach to both parts of the product lifecycle, operators may not get off the ground.