Taking control of technology integration

Experts from Booz & Co discuss the challenges of integrating telecom technology
Hilal Halaoui, partner, Booz & Co.
Hilal Halaoui, partner, Booz & Co.
Dany Sammour, principal, Booz & Co.
Dany Sammour, principal, Booz & Co.
Hani Zein, associate, Booz & Co.
Hani Zein, associate, Booz & Co.

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Telecom companies are trying to respond to the digital revolution and growing customer demand and sophistication with more focus on providing an excellent customer experience. The challenges to achieving this are substantial and include the fast-changing environment, increasing technological complexity, and associated cost pressures.

One of the best ways forward that addresses all of these issues is to embrace technological integration by bringing together business support systems (BSS) applications and operations support systems (OSS) applications. Integrating these technologies can make operations more efficient and improve technology synergies—it is also inevitable.

Such a transformation, however, is about more than technology. It also has implications for how telecom companies are organised. BSS–OSS integration therefore demands that telecom companies build technological and organizational capabilities to be fully in control of this complex process and ensure its success. Operators will need to take a holistic and selective approach to BSS–OSS integration that is aligned with their commercial strategy, and reject a narrow, technology-only focus.

The growing use of digital applications has had several consequences that telecom companies often struggle with: increased user sophistication and so more demanding customers; a resulting greater focus on customer experience, including an emphasis on providing a seamlessly integrated complex array of offered services; and an explosion in the volume of data traffic. Telecom companies are generally thought to possess the capacity to handle this volume. However, they must do more than deal with this surge in traffic. They must respond to increasing user sophistication and unprecedented sensitivity of applications to data quality, which results in the need for them to build the analytical capabilities to deliver innovative services and an excellent customer experience.

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These trends mean that telecom companies have no choice but to rethink the long-standing divide between BSS (previously managed by the IT department) and OSS (previously managed by the network department) at both the technological and organisational levels. The need to manage burgeoning data demand in a cost-efficient manner, the complexity of the systems involved, and evolving technology infrastructure also militate for integration.

Equally, there are sound commercial reasons for merging BSS and OSS. Combining these systems can help companies increase their efficiency and agility, which is critical for operators seeking to cut the fat and build muscle that will lead to growth.

BSS–OSS integration should happen at two levels: horizontally and vertically. Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers have been implementing the horizontal integration for a while by pursuing support system transformations that allow the efficient delivery of converged services (telephone, video, and data) that meet high customer expectations. These transformations involved separate integration improvements within the BSS and OSS domains. Support systems must now undergo vertical integration because customers now expect near real time delivery of digital services and they are more and more demanding an excellence customer experience.

A well-integrated BSS–OSS stack would make possible several additional benefits to complement the current process of horizontal integration. For example, the vertical integration of BSS and OSS offers operators the capability to fully automate delivery and maintenance of services, from customer touch points to the configuration of network elements. Investing beyond the horizontal integration to vertical integration, therefore, reduces the complexity and costs of technology, and enables a superior customer experience. Integration of BSS and OSS systems leads to increased efficiency, automated service delivery, improved quality of customer experience, and next-generation billing.

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Bridging this divide, however, involves crossing substantial internal obstacles, many of which are technical in nature. Telecom companies have maintained a fragmented systems architecture consisting of legacy equipment and thousands of proprietary vendor systems for both BSS and OSS. All these systems involve substantial support costs and have limited potential for integration because they were developed before the evolution of industry-wide standards. The migration of such systems will be financially onerous and presents a high risk of failure as not all of these systems are fully supported or documented.

In addition, telecom companies have to deal with the difficulties related to data inconsistencies and migration. A significant number of BSS–OSS transformation programs fail during the data migration stages because data cleansing either takes too much time, proves to be too expensive, or is not properly completed—resulting in problems after the formal switchover. Migration issues become more complicated when telecom operators consider the integration of available market solutions that may complement existing systems. These solutions may be marketed as completed and ready to use, but often they are not.

Other notable challenges to BSS–OSS integration involve organizational change. Such transformations combine several development and maintenance activities in one organization. As a result, individuals may become resistant to change as they fear losing their organizational influence or job security. Moreover, the usual executive mind-set may block integration because it views technology as a target for cost savings rather than a vehicle for growth. Operators also need to be convinced of the value of IT in advancing corporate strategy if they are to commit to the investment required for BSS–OSS integration.

All these challenges can be addressed through a structured approach that holistically addresses organizational and technology issues while selectively focusing on building operators’ specific strengths. This means prioritizing those areas where maximum benefit can be realised from integration. Such well-planned and selective BSS–OSS integration programs will allow telecom operators to better address their particular customer needs and will free up funds to invest in their strategic priorities—and thus better position operators for growth.

By Hilal Halaoui, Dany Sammour, and Hani Zein, partner, principal, and associate at Booz & Company.

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