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November 2011

Service Assurance Hits the Fashion Runway: The Power of Tailored Visuals

Service Assurance Hits the Fashion Runway: The Power of Tailored Visuals

“Pictures must not be too picturesque.  Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and plain dealing.  All great actions have been simple, and all great pictures are.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1844

In a way, the whole purpose of B/OSS industry magazines, conferences, and blogs is to implant simple pictures in the mind of what’s happening in the industry.

Speaking for myself, I love to scan great diagrams, maps, or charts that “speak a thousand words“ — though a great picture with accompanying captions is even better.  Frankly, I wish telecom vendors would spend more time creating engaging visuals.  Tektronix recently shipped me a free map of LTE technology.  Studying that map was 15 minutes well spent and it put me in front of the logo too.

Richard Thomas, CEO of NetEvidence, is a telecom guy who not only loves simple pictures and better visualizing complexity, he’s actually built a business around it.  His company simplifies highly complex service assurance data and makes performance data understandable to the enterprise customers of telecoms, and that’s what he’s going to talk about in this interview.

Dan Baker: Richard, the idea of making money by presenting tailored views of assurance data is brilliant.  But the notion of “simplifying service assurance data“ seems like a contradiction in terms.  It’s a technical subject area, so we fully expect complexity to go along with that.

Richard Thomas: Dan, keeping the technical details is fine as long as the person you’re conversing with is comfortable with those details.  But we’re in a world where IT and telecom have become increasingly complex, yet the value of what we do must be successfully communicated to non-technical people such as executives — and other people outside our technology sphere.

As people in the industry, we tend to obsess about our technology because we’re proud of the networks we built.  Those networks are big, fast, reliable and very cool, so we get frustrated when others can’t relate to that.  And I think the problem here is that we’ve focused a bit too much on what the service assurance tool does and not who it does it for.  That’s why the premise of our business is to translate service assurance monitoring into business outcomes — or terms the business can understand.

For instance, companies don’t spend money to increase bandwidth or to reduce the latency between London and Singapore.  They spend money to achieve a business outcome.

For instance, they want to process an airline reservation faster with that bandwidth.  Or they want to deliver a real-time Spring Fashion Show across the Web.  So the more you can show how service assurance delivers that kind of value, the more the rest of the organization will realize the good things IT is delivering to the business.

The case study you presented at the TM Forum event was a good one.  It showed how you helped a telecom with its enterprise customer, a famous fashion retailer.  Can you share some details of that with us?

Sure Dan.  The client is a high-end retailer of fashion clothing and accessories.  What the retailer did was run a live fashion show in London and stream it live to millions of people across their website and also live to their stores around the world where they invited thousands of customers to see the virtual show at a live event with a party atmosphere.  So for the retailer’s customers, it’s a great opportunity to buy what you see and be seen by other people passionate about fashion.

The telecom worked with the fashion retailer to deliver a multimedia experience across the Web and in over 200 stores around the world.  Now as you can imagine, if a live performance like this fails, big brand damage will result.

I understand that your service assurance system was monitoring the event for the telecom.  So how did you make monitoring the event easier for the retailer?

Well, the first thing we realized was that most of the retailer’s people who were interested in monitoring performance of the event are not interested in the technical detail.  And that led us to present the results of service assurance in different graphical views.

First there was the high-level picture that says simply: “Everything is going OK.“ Here we provided a business view across retail locations that shows any problems with any of the stores.  Now it doesn’t matter that the high-level people don’t have a deeper view because below them are the performance engineers who built this network.  For them we give a different perspective — the end-to-end performance in terms of packet loss and latency.  Then, at the lowest layer down, the operations guy can see the nuts and bolts underpinning all of this.

Now notice that it’s the same information being used.  But the views are completely different depending on what perspective someone needs.

Richard, I can see why presenting this information in a compelling way to different audiences was useful.  But how specifically is this technique driving value for the telecom?

Because the telco could engage with its client in ways the client could understand, people felt involved, and that helps with the relationship with the customer.  In other words, a much broader scope of people in the enterprise will become interested in their telecommunications partner because they feel involved and understand it.  And these views are in great demand.  IT is getting more complex and we should try to simplify it.

So what we are trying to do is encourage a conversation between the customer and carrier because having monthly service review to fulfill the terms of an SLA is just not enough interaction anymore.  Ideally, the point should be to figuratively put the SLA statistics in the drawer because if you need to take them out of the drawer to look at them, the relationship has probably deteriorated.

The enterprise is trying to push services away to the network service provider.  The customer would like to do things on a more agile, project focused basis.  And once the customer gains confidence that it can push project work to a carrier, that relationship gets stronger.

How do you actually deliver your solution to the client?

RT: Since our beginning, we’ve delivered our service through the cloud.  That makes us very easy to access.  Anyone who has authorization can reach us through a browser and see our reporting.

So for the project, a number of people including IT, creative, marketing were able to see the technology, and, just for this project, we needed to bring in a third party specialist in video streaming, so they were brought into our Highlight service assurance environment.

I think the message here is that there’s some wonderful commercial potential behind the way service assurance data is presented to enterprise customers.  What the telco was able to do is extend the management wrap they were applying inside that customer.  So they’ve taken our product, Highlight, beyond assuring the services they deliver, and now they are using the same environment to monitor the customer’s internal IT.

So as far as that customer is concerned, the telco became the go-to people for new IT service requests.  It’s a great position to be in because it’s a great lead-in for follow-on professional services.

This article first appeared in Billing and OSS World.

Copyright 2011 Black Swan Telecom Journal


About the Expert

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the CEO of netEvidence, a firm that monitors the performance of technologies that enable Business Outcomes.

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