The integration and alignment of Operational and Business Support Systems is a pressing topic for many in the telecommunications industry. The Operational Support Systems, or OSS, are the set of processes and systems that is responsible for the smooth delivery and maintenance of their networks and services. They support the infrastructure over which services are delivered and activated – and are thus essential for their overall performance and ability to function.
Business Support Systems, or BSS, span the entirety of systems that are concerned with the business side of an operator’s activities – in other words, the customer relationships they maintain. As such, one can say that the BSS is focused on selling and customer relationships, while the OSS relates to ensuring that customers can obtain what they are buying. Together, the OSS and BSS span an extensive array of assets, all of which are of existential importance. Put simply, without an OSS and BSS, operators cannot function.
However, while this separation is useful, it can lead to problems. For example, it can create a siloed effect within the organization. One group of teams is concerned with customers and the issues of buying and selling, while another is focused on making things work. It’s simplistic to suggest that these exist in splendid isolation and separation from each other, but there is a kernel of truth in this.
Each has its own reporting function, its own set of key performance indicators and objectives, its own processes and functions. The separation can be quite real and profound and have evolved through time – but can lead to considerable inefficiencies and limit performance delivery. But, as operators seek to transform their businesses and operations in order to drive competitive positions, to acquire the agility enjoyed by younger and more nimble competitors, and to reduce costs by increasing efficiency and productivity, the separation between OSS and BSS is becoming a critical gap that needs to be closed.
In short, OSS and BSS alignment and integration is now a key concern. It is understood to be a key driver that can help operators transition to a new era of business competition and also to help them manage the transition to entirely new and more complex networks, based on virtual architecture. So, how can OSS and BSS integration be achieved?
That’s a big question, but here are five simple tips for finding opportunities for effective OSS and BSS integration. What we need are drivers that address pain points that can be made tangible. Of course, it’s not the full answer, but these are five key concerns that will help to identify opportunities for achieving more effective integration – and are a good place to focus efforts.
The first opportunity is to recognize that the challenge exists and to convert that understanding into action. It’s one thing to aspire to OSS and BSS integration, but it’s quite another to treat it as an intractable problem which is just too big to be tackled. Many organizations have avoided taking even basic steps towards effective integration because they fear the consequences, cannot secure agreement between those different groups, or cannot choose the right place to start.
Worse, past failures can inhibit innovation and leadership. Many projects are designed and initiated, but not many deliver the results expected. Failure to achieve results can act as an inhibitor to future action or lead to unreachable thresholds for accepting projects in the first place. Leadership must be clear – if OSS and BSS integration is desirable, the cost of not taking action must be considered properly.
And, if we consider the average operator, which has to maintain multiple parallel networks, may have acquired assets through mergers and acquisitions, or be governed by regulation which means they must continue to deliver legacy or minority services, we can see that such inertia must be inevitable for many. None-the-less, it must be overcome. Action must be seen as unescapable.
The business of an operator is to sell and deliver services, usually on a commercial basis. The business of an operator is also to create, manage and maintain services. It can sometimes seem as if these goals are incompatible. A clear opportunity for successful OSS and BSS integration is to align these simple objectives.
Customer-facing teams need to be able to clearly articulate offers – and to be able to do so quickly and efficiently, while creating new propositions enabled by the BSS. Technically-oriented teams, responsible for the OSS, must be able to align network capabilities with the services that are offered and to ensure their smooth performance. This means understanding what a service is, how it is composed and what it takes to deliver it.
Sadly, this is not always possible. Closing the gap between the two is a huge step towards OSS and BSS integration and which will also enable a more competitive orientation. In practice, this means enabling requests from the sell side to be effectively translated into deliverables.
It may seem strange, but operators can be challenged to connect a service to the resources that are required for its delivery. The key to resolving this challenge is to obtain a clear understanding of the asset base (because services are based on combinations of assets and resources, which are linked to customers and locations – even in mobile networks), and then the resources that are required for a specific service, together with the performance parameters that are defined.
This understanding starts with the inventory of all assets, physical or otherwise. It is an unavoidable truth that OSS and BSS alignment must begin with a picture of what’s there – sales cannot sell what cannot be defined, and services cannot be delivered unless engineering knows what’s there to enable and support them, or how to find them!
Problems with services can be observed at several levels. If a customer is affected, the impact is very clear. But, issues may not be apparent to customers and observed only internally. Either way, OSS and BSS integration is necessary in order to understand best what is affected, how, where and what it means in terms of technical and commercial impact. Does it cost the operator money and reputation, or does it lead to unforeseen expenses?
Technical impacts may be observed in the OSS, while business and commercial impacts are viewed through the BSS. Without alignment through OSS and BSS integration, operators will see only part of the problem and from disconnected perspectives. They need a single source of truth that shows accurate correlation across everything from technical to customer-facing views.
Moreover, if a problem is observed by a customer, then the analysis of the issue’s root cause can only be performed if operatives can trace all the way from the customer account to the specific resource or asset that might have been impacted, together with its location. Again, an accurate understanding of inventory is the foundation of this and is thus fundamental to successful OSS and BSS integration – which, in turn, is essential to aligning services with problems and their resolution.
Information always has value and operators have become increasingly aware of how it can deliver insights to their businesses. The use of data is growing as a result, which means that there is a growing need to ensure that key performance questions can be addressed, both from a financial and operational perspective.
For example, a customer-facing executive may wish to know the margin on a specific service. This cannot be known unless all elements from which this service is composed are clearly understood. Similarly, a technical executive may wish to know which physical assets such as leased lines are surplus to requirements, so they can be retired or repurposed.
Neither question can be answered without knowing what is involved in the specific service or what elements are available – in other words, a clear asset inventory and its correlation with charges and costs is necessary. However, unlocking such insights helps operators control costs, understand their business performance and create improvement schemes. Integrating OSS and BSS more effectively is critical to unlocking such insights from both a technical and commercial perspective.
There are many reasons why OSS and BSS integration has become a key imperative. These examples merely serve to illustrate the breadth and scope of the problem, by highlighting opportunities to begin tackling integration. Each of them could be compelling on its own – but in the aggregate, they tell a clear story.
OSS and BSS integration is a clear opportunity for operators to take more effective control of their businesses. Doing so will help them adapt to the future and introduce the agility they need to thrive.