Is your network inventory truly integrated?

12 December 2019

Is your network inventory truly integrated?

It’s becoming increasingly clear to many that network inventory integration is fundamental to the next phase of evolution for telecoms operators and network and service providers. Indeed, it’s fundamental to achieving key strategic objectives.

Why does network inventory integration matter?

That’s because, while networks are changing to a new architecture, providers are also trying to adopt a more agile footing, with increased levels of automation and enhanced efficiency. If operators are to achieve these strategic ambitions, they need to ensure that network inventory is both accurate and tightly integrated with core processes. In this blog, we’ll explore why this is important.

Lessons from other industries – inventory as a process

At this time of year, a question that has become popular is, “where’s my stuff”? It’s a good question. If you buy goods online, chances are that an automated request is made from the web front-end, triggering a picking list in a warehouse, collection and then dispatch to your chosen address. This process is accompanied by a series of notifications – confirmation of the order, perhaps a note indicating that it’s in preparation and then, finally, the longed-for “out for delivery” notice.

In turn, this might be accompanied by additional notices, typically in the form of an SMS, confirming the dispatcher, the time window and so on. All of this is designed to get your order to you as quickly, efficiently and, from the point of view of the customer, as conveniently as possible, so that you can be there when it arrives. Many such providers also offer alternative forms of delivery – to collection points, to secret locations and so on. These are also part of the inventory and delivery process. While the service implementation may differ, the process is entirely dependent on the ability to match an order to stock and to predict delivery timescales accordingly.

Inventory management is key to this. “Where’s my stuff” is a literal query that allows data to be retrieved during the process, bringing all elements together - but first you need to know what’s available so you can grab it before it goes! And, the vendor needs to understand the match between interest (viewing a product), orders and order frequency, so that it can adjust and plan stock levels accordingly – ensuring sufficient resource capacity is another key element of an efficient inventory system.

Network inventory integration lessons for telecoms

It’s the same for telecoms operators. Network inventory integration has two key dimensions in this context. First, the ability to see everything that’s available and the resources required to support a service or offer, in a single place. This implies integration of all relevant sources of data into a consolidated record that is easily accessible. To relate to our online vendor, this means knowing what they have, where it is and how many of them there are.

Second, integration also requires the ability for this information to be used by other processes. Again, returning to our vendor, this means allowing ordering systems to query inventory, while triggering dispatch processes that update inventory to determine how the goods can be reserved and to update the systems once an order has been processed – and to ensure future capacity allowances are adjusted appropriately.

In the telco world, an obvious example is a customer buying a fiber connection. This might be an upgrade to an existing DSL service, a new connection for an existing customer, or a brand new customer. In each case, a different set of actions needs to be taken to achieve the same result. For example, in the former case, the provider must be able to determine if the resources required for the new service are available in the right locations. In the latter, the same information must also be captured but now a new step may need to be taken, for example, if a landline phone number needs to be ported to the new provider.

With an integrated network inventory system, all of this can be achieved because the data can be obtained and relevant information queried. True network inventory integration would allow everything necessary (the need to port a number, for example) to be obtained, so that the relevant workflows can be triggered (check availability of service in the location, dispatch new modem, order service activation, and so on).

The importance of this should be clear and the parallels with other online ordering systems obvious. But, in telecoms there can be many additional complexities, for which other integration tasks are necessary.

Growing your business - the next level of network inventory integration

Imagine that our telecoms operator has recently merged with or acquired another provider – perhaps to grow its footprint in a specific location or to expand into new areas. In either case, it will need to be able to service customers and, ultimately to unify its brand and

processes, so that it can enjoy efficiency synergies that are supposed to result from such transactions. This means that aligning the data repositories and network inventory systems to a single inventory as quickly as possible is essential.

To give another example, let’s imagine that both providers offer fiber (albeit with different systems, from different vendors). But, the acquiring party also offers a home TV and sports package, perhaps with premium content. One obvious goal for the transaction is to sell the premium package to existing fiber customers of the operator that has been acquired (after all, they are now all customers of party A and there’s an upselling opportunity!). Now, the operator must be able to identify existing customers of party B, obtain an understanding of the resources they have and then to target likely customers with an offer to encourage the upgrade.

This cannot easily be achieved without a unified network inventory platform integrated with key business processes. So, it’s not enough to have such a system, or to ensure integration with operational and business processes – it must also be possible to migrate data from a platform in another operator (or an external platform) to the master system, so that redundant systems can be dispensed with and a new, dynamically unified view obtained that provides a picture of the new resource and service landscape.

As a final example, many operators also serve business partners and customers. They provide services to other operators. A particularly relevant current example is those operators that provide fiber networks for 5G cell sites on behalf of mobile providers. The cell sites may be deployed by mobile operators, but the fiber provider must provide backhaul coverage for them all – so, as the mobile operator rolls out cell coverage into a new area, this will trigger deployment of the necessary fiber to support coverage and capacity demands. The cell coverage plan must trigger a corresponding footprint of fiber deployment.

Again, effective network inventory integration is required to ensure that this process proceeds as smoothly as possible, so that the necessary work can be undertaken and the resulting connection managed and billed correctly.

So, the real question is – can your network deliver in all situations and provide a platform to support your transformation and growth targets? Can you smoothly and seamlessly fulfil customer requests, assure and maintain your network, and capitalize on new opportunities? If there are gaps and uncertainties, then perhaps you don’t have the true network inventory integration that you need? Network inventory integration is now a serious strategic issue. As telecoms transforms and advances to the next phase of network evolution, it’s one that can no longer be ignored.