Let’s cut the BSS and go digital
BSS/OSS transformations were already a hit many years ago. Some of them were successful, but most of them failed or at least did not meet the commercial and technical targets. Reasons were many: complexity of legacy business and IT environment, poor project planning and/or execution, organizational friction, insufficient software solutions from vendors, etc… As a result, most operators still have siloed, inefficient business processes and systems.
But now the transformations are back! Programs are likely called something more exiting than BSS consolidation and many of these initiatives are riding the wave of business digitalization megatrend, but many of the problems being solved are still the same, with some new flavors and additions of course. The idea of this blog post is not to start elaborating WHY they are needed now – let’s believe the tens of other blog posts and white papers and take that for granted – but instead focus on HOW, i.e. how to actually successfully plan and execute one, using the latest concepts and toolset.
Before digging into this HOW, let’s try to respond to how the legacy and such transformations can be so difficult – a question that always comes from people not familiar with telcos or this domain within telcos. For me, this is quite straightforward math and comes simply from the number of permutations that business processes and support systems need to support with regards to:
- business segments;
- customer hierarchies;
- charging models, tariff plans and discounting schemes;
- payment methods;
- product bundles;
- physical, digital and non-material own and 3rd party products and services; and
- network technologies and service delivery platforms.
And I do not believe that the people who have implemented the existing business processes and systems were fools or intentionally wanted to make things unnecessarily complex. Sure, there are some obvious process and system harmonization to be done, for example across business segments, but the main reason for the complexity of legacy processes and systems is primarily the complexity of legacy business. And this is where we must start.
- Re-think your business. And do it for real. What are the products and services you really must have in future, what are the business processes to support, etc. – make business case calculations and decide accordingly. Digitalize, be bold, keep it as simple and lean as possible, set high targets for online sales and customer care. Look for benchmarks also outside telcos, build your digital vision. Be prepared to lose some legacy revenue, there will be more profitable revenue waiting.
- Define requirements according to new world and vision. Do not replicate legacy. Subscription-based data, 3rd party OTT, NFV-based services; sold and delivered through digital channels – this is a good list to start with. Focus on what in requirements, not on how, and do not over-specify.
- Build feasible transformation plan. Plan sufficiently but not too rigorously, implement with agile methodologies to see continuous results. Plan decommissioning of old business and systems. Select transformation approach based on your current situation, each having its pros & cons, and combine the approaches as needed:
- Vertical. Transform per business segment or technology, covering everything from top to bottom of BSS/OSS. Beware of implementing black box, lacking proper modularity in processes and systems, and making it difficult to migrate further business segments and technologies.
- Horizontal. Start either from the bottom or top of the BSS/OSS and migrate (primarily) layer by layer. Typically former is better – even though the actual customer sees the result later, this ensures that building blocks are in shape.
- New service driven. Build your new stack piece by piece, starting from new, to be rolled out services and building whole vertical stack for them, and eventually migrating only relevant existing services to new stack.
- Big bang. Migrate your whole environment at once – typically feasible option only for smaller, single-technology operators.
- Consider new purchasing models. How about SaaS model that is combined with revenue sharing- or achieved savings-based models to share risks and rewards? Do not overcomplicate though, keep pricing-related KPIs simple for clarity and focus.
- Decide between different operational models. Keep strategic areas internal, consider outsourcing maintenance, operations and development of non-strategic areas. Remember how for example SaaS already itself changes the nature of responsibilities with regards to hardware infrastructure, version upgrades, etc…
- Be prepared not to reinvent the wheel. Leading vendors have globally tested and proven blueprints for most key business processes – adapt to and use them, do not over-customize. How many (good) ways can there really be for ordering and delivering FTTx?
- Identify and choose fresh vendors. There are plenty of long-time BSS/OSS vendors and system integrators who have initially developed their systems and processes to serve the old world, but lack credible cloud, SaaS, microservices, UX, ecosystem, DevOps, mobile, etc. strategies and capabilities. Do some research about vendors using the latest approaches. Choose between best of breed and solution suite approaches depending on your organizational capabilities and strategy, but don’t give in to freshness – you do not want to build yet another legacy stack. Think how Google would do it.
- Execute vigorously. Have superb program lead and build cross-organizational team where both business and technical people are involved and engaged – this is definitely not an IT-only exercise. Establish clear, empowered governance structure, but build everything on trust, transparency and partnership. Agile, continuous way of showing results will play a key part in this.
Simple? Not really, but neither is the current business, and sometimes making something complex into something simple is the hardest thing.
Joonas is a Senior Consultant at Northstream