Email a colleague    

August 2012

Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs

Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs

We knew Shakespeare was a great poet.  We now learn he was a remarkable soothsayer too.

Last week, scholars at England’s famed East Anglia University discovered a long lost manuscript of the bard which accurately foretells the plight of the 21st century wireline business.  Here’s an excerpt:

Our revels now are ended.  These telecom services,
As I foretold you, were all electrons, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And like the baseless fabric of CSP visions,
The cloud-capp‘d towers, the VoIP gateways,
The solemn switches, and the global net itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack nor server blade behind.
Telecom is such stuff as dreams are made on;
And each business it makes is soon rounded with a sleep.

Wireline service providers have lived through plenty of drama in the past 30 years.  If Shakespeare were alive today, the wireline business could easily supply enough material for his next tragedy.  Consider the following play outline in three Acts:

Act 1.  Circuit Voice Long Distance had a long and profitable run until fiberoptics and Dense Wave Multiplexing transformed the precious wine into water out of a spigot.

Act 2.  Voice Mail and IN Services were among the most profitable products telecoms ever offered, but IP enhanced services and unified communications have steadily chipped away the luster of the former gold mine.

Act 3.  VoIP was once the darling of wireline’s future.  But an explosion of VoIP service providers and mobile competition have whittled VoIP’s profits to the bone.

So what can small telcos and cable operators do to ensure a profitable Act 4?  Well, to answer that question, you should talk to John Frame, Director of Product Marketing at Sigma Systems.  John’s got a plan — a well-thought out one — that Sigma Systems will soon be rolling out to its customer base of 60+ service providers.  The new script calls for Sigma to play a far more challenging role — shifting from plain ol‘ OSS software supplier to packager of on-net and SaaS solutions from a bewildering array of third party cloud providers.

Dan Baker:   John, wireline providers have certainly been down the service commoditization road before.  Exactly where will service providers go to boost their bottom line?

John Frame: Actually Dan, the scenario is not as bleak as it may sound.  Service providers already enjoy a great relationship with their customers.  The trick is for cable operators and telcos to augment their traditional services with SaaS services.  We think there are tremendous opportunities here, especially around serving small-to-medium businesses or SMBs.

Our customers already rely on Sigma Systems to manage their service orders and provision their elements and mobile devices.  Now, with a small incremental investment,  they can add to that traditional OSS stack various cloud services such as Mozy storage backup, Google Apps, Go To Meeting, SugarCRM, and Symantec dotCloud security.  And we enable service providers to package all this up into an offering for their SMB customers.  We chose to use well-known brands with a high level of market awareness.  Our end goal is to have 15 to 20 applications in the SaaS catalog.  We also include a portal for the SMB to actually self-manage their services.

Microsoft is still the biggest name in business software.  So I’m curious why Microsoft is not among the SaaS applications you’re rolling out.

At Sigma, we have a great relationship working with Microsoft.  We are partnered and working with Microsoft to add them to our solution.

At the same time, telecoms can earn margins working with folks like Google or Zoho.  Our system diagram (below) shows the full range of what we offer.  On the left side (in orange) are the traditional services that the Sigma Systems platform has been provisioning for a number of years: high-speed data, managed voice, etc.  On the right-hand side, we show the new third party cloud services we are provisioning with the brand names below.

The key is to bring all these services under a single service management or provisioning umbrella.  As the orders come in, we break them apart and hand off the order components to the right places.  We can also do a partial rollback, full rollback, and manual intervention to improve the customer’s flexibility and experience of the service.

From in-house software to cloud services is quite a leap, isn‘t it?

Well, for two years now, we have offered our customers the option of deploying our Service Management Platform in the cloud, which we run on top of Amazon’s AWS.

But I hasten to add that the cloud deployment is optional.  They can choose either traditional software or move to the cloud.  Privacy and regulatory concerns over cloud services are being addressed, so we think SaaS will become the preferred option as we go forward; however, we are perfectly happy to support traditional in-house deployments.  Our J2EE application allows us that flexibility.  If a customer wants our solution on-premises, we simply provide the hardware specs needed to support that in-house.

How do service providers interface with the SaaS providers in this new business scenario?

Basically the service providers need to get into the Cloud Service Brokerage business.  The manner of brokering varies quite a bit but essentially boils down to three kinds of SaaS vendor partnering:

  • Advertising Channel — At a basic level, the telecom works with the SaaS provider to merely publicize a particular cloud application to SMBs.  No billing or provisioning is done and the telecom typically earns a sales commission.
  • SaaS Partner’s Application Distribution — The next step up is full brokerage of the SaaS solution — doing provisioning and Tier 1 customer support for the application where the SaaS partner’s brand is fully visible to the SMB customer.
  • White Label Distribution — Finally, the telecom could roll the SaaS partner’s application into a larger suite.  So instead of the SMB customer seeing a family of SaaS brands, the telecom’s label is what they see — even though it’s the same third party applications under the covers.

At Sigma, we can enable the telecom to support any or all of these partnering roles.  As you know, we grew up as a service management or OSS supplier, so we are basically integrated into pretty much every billing system out there, which makes our life a lot easier.  We simply add billing and SaaS services that are generally billed at a flat per user, per month, or per period subscription rate.

For many of the customers and prospects I am talking about, the billing answer is to simply have the SMB pull out their credit card and be separately billed over-the-top.

Another advantage is that we can combine the cloud services bill with the on-net services (voice, high speed internet, etc.) bill to deliver a single bill to the SMB customer.

Wow, if you can pull that off successfully, it will be quite a feat.  I’ve got experience working with ISPs who will certainly compete with CSPs for the SMB cloud business.  My impression is the ISPs are still struggling to make the customer ordering experience smooth.  Today it’s very clunky.

Yes, you can almost hear the chair swiveling in the background as people try to cut and paste information from one system to another.  Mistakes happen when they do that and it just goes on and on.

With us, a single platform handles the network and the cloud-based services.  This allows us to open up some pretty cool integration benefits.  For example, if the telecom provides hosted voice out to the SMB, when the phone rings, the SugarCRM package pops up details on the person who is phoning in.  So boom, you know who’s ringing and can direct the call to the right person if they require special treatment.

Another advantage is that we integrate on one portal.  If a new employee is coming on board today, you simply add the employee here, give them their extension, pick the apps you want to give them and they are off and running.  A welcome email is sent to them with instructions on how to configure the applications.  In short, this is a big time saver for a small business.  SMBs are typically short-staffed, so integrated telco/cloud services makes them more productive.

Let’s not forget the Verizons and AT&Ts want a piece of these cloud services.

Yes, the large carriers will compete; however, they are unlikely to pursue, say, a 20-person flower shop with three stores in the Greater Denver area.  For that type of account, local cable operators such as Charter or Cox Communications will probably have the upper hand.

When it comes to that 50 employee or less firm, the cable operator or the Tier II/Tier III telcos are in a beautiful position to really bring really strong packages to market.  At the same time, they don‘t have a national footprint that would allow them to compete at the large enterprise level.

Even though you are dealing with only one portal, the user or administrator still needs to learn your terminology and sort out a dozen or more fairly complex services with many options — it’s like the TV remote that scares people because it has so many buttons.

Yes, Dan, we definitely have to get the interface right.  We will provide a set of reports, for example, that will answer the SMB’s question: “Am I getting full value from the Mozy backup service?  Are people at my company truly backing up their files?”

Another must-have feature is single sign-on.  Here we are working with the individual SaaS providers to provide a single password to access the SMB’s application.  It’s a big advantage because the SMB no longer needs to remember names, passwords, and URLs for the various applications they subscribe to.  I go to the one portal provided by the telco or cable operator and from there I can see all the details around the subscription — down to the individual user level if you need that.  For instance, we can see what services a Larry or Lisa has signed up for.  And maybe we notice that Lisa has signed for hosted voice, but not online backup, so we can guide Lisa to ensure she takes full advantage of the applications available to her.

We think the administrator at many of these SMBs will often be the CEO equipped with an iPad, so we’re rushing to support that interface too.

This article first appeared in Billing and OSS World.

Copyright 2012 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Expert

John Frame

John Frame

John Frame, Director of Product Management for Sigma Systems, delivers service providers with a broad array of SaaS applications for their customers.  He brings 20 years of experience in the computing industry and has held many roles in software development with 12 years specifically in product management.  In the late 90s, he delivered solutions such as the SaaS distribution platform to top software manufacturers and ecommerce firms such as Dell, Staples, and Gateway.  He holds a BS in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.   Contact John via

Related Stories

  • Flexing the OSS & Network to Support the Digital Ecosystem interview with Ken Dilbeck — The need for telecoms to support a broader digital ecosystem requires an enormous change to OSS infrastructures and the way networks are being managed.  This interview sheds light on these challenges.
  • The Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Boom: Is Your Sales/Engineering Team Equipped to Win? by Dan Baker — The build-out of enterprise clouds and data centers is a golden opportunity for systems integrators, carriers, and cloud providers.  But the firms who win this business will have sales and engineering teams who can drive an effective and streamlined requirements-to-design-to-order process.  This white paper points to a solution — a collaborative solution designs system — and explains 8 key capabilities of an ideal platform.
  • Navigating the Telecom Solutions Wilderness: Advice from Some Veteran Mountaineers interview with Al Brisard — Telecom solutions vendors struggle mightily to position their solutions and figure out what to offer next in a market where there’s considerable product and service crossover.  In this article, a veteran order management specialist firm lays out its strategy for mixing deep-bench functional expertise with process consulting, analytics, and custom API development.
  • Will Telecoms Sink Under the Weight of their Bloated and Out-of-Control Product Stacks? interview with Simon Muderack — Telecoms pay daily for their lack of product integration as they constantly reinvent product wheels, lose customer intelligence, and waste time/money.  This article makes the case of an enterprise product catalog.  Drawing on central catalog cases at a few Tier 1 operators, the article explains the benefits: reducing billing and provisioning costs, promoting product reuse, and smoothing operations.
  • Virtual Operator Life: Enabling Multi-Level Resellers Through an Active Product Catalog interview with Rob Hill — The value of product distribution via virtual operators is immense.  They enable a carrier to sell to markets it cannot profitably serve directly.  Yet the need for greater reseller flexibility in the bundling and pricing of increasingly complex IP and cloud services is now a major channel barrier.  This article explains what’s behind an innovative product catalog solution that doubles as a service creation environment for resellers in multiple tiers.
  • Telecom Blocking & Tackling: Executing the Fundamentals of the Order-to-Bill Process interview with Ron Angner — Just as football teams need to be good at the basics of blocking and tackling, telecoms need to excel at their own fundamental skillset: the order-to-cash process.  In this article, a leading consulting firm explains its methodology for taking operators on the path towards order-to-cash excellence.  Issues discussed include: provisioning intervals; standardization and simplicity; the transition from legacy to improved process; and the major role that industry metrics play.
  • Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs interview with John Frame — As revenue from telephony services has steadily declined, fixed network operators have scrambled to support VoIP, enhanced IP services, and now cloud applications.  This shift has also brought challenges to the provisioning software vendors who support the operators.  In this interview, a leading supplier explains how it’s transforming from plain ol‘ OSS software provider to packager of on-net and SaaS solutions from an array of third party cloud providers.
  • Is Order Management a Provisioning System or Your Best Salesperson? by John Konczal — Order management as a differentiator is a very new concept to many CSP people, but it’s become a very real sales booster in many industries.  Using electronics retailer BestBuy as an example, the article points to several innovations that can — and are — being applied by CSPs today.  The article concludes with 8 key questions an operator should ask to measure advanced order management progress.
  • Real-Time Provisioning of SIM Cards: A Boon to GSM Operators interview with Simo Isomaki — Software-controlled SIM card configuration is revolutionizing the activation of GSM phones.  The article explains how dynamic SIM management decouples the selection of numbers/services and delivers new opportunities to market during the customer acquisition and intial provisoining phase.
  • 21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation by John Konczal — Selling a mobile service is generally not a one-and-done transaction.  It often involves several interactions — across the web, call center, store, and even kiosks.  This article explains the power of a “cross-channel hub” which sits above all sales channels, interacts with them all, and allows a CSP to keep the sales conversation moving forward seamlessly.

Related Articles

  • Pure Play NFV: Lessons Learned from Masergy’s Virtual Deployment for a Global Enterprise interview with Prayson Pate — NFV is just getting off the ground, but one cloud provider to enterprises making a stir in virtual technology waters is Masergy.  Here are lessons learned from Masergy’s recent global deployment using a NFV pure play software approach.
  • The Digital Enabler: A Charging, Self-Care & Marketing Platform at the Core of the Mobile Business interview with Jennifer Kyriakakis — The digital enabler is a central platform that ties together charging, self-care, and marketing.  The article explains why leading operators consider digital enablers pivotal to their digital strategies.
  • Delivering Service Assurance Excellence at a Reduced Operating Cost interview with Gregg Hara — The great diversity and complexity of today’s networks make service assurance a big challenge.  But advances in off-the-shelf software now permit the configuring and visualizing of services across multiple technologies on a modest operating budget.
  • Are Cloud-Based Call Centers the Next Hot Product for the SMB Market? interview with Doron Dovrat — Quality customer service can improve a company’s corporate identity and drive business growth.  But many SMBs are priced out of acquiring modern call center technology.  This article explains the benefits of affordable and flexible cloud-based call centers.
  • Flexing the OSS & Network to Support the Digital Ecosystem interview with Ken Dilbeck — The need for telecoms to support a broader digital ecosystem requires an enormous change to OSS infrastructures and the way networks are being managed.  This interview sheds light on these challenges.
  • Crossing the Rubicon: Is it Time for Tier Ones to Move to a Real-Time Analytics BSS? interview with Andy Tiller — Will tier one operators continue to maintain their quilt works of legacy and adjunct platforms — or will they radically transform their BSS architecture into a new  system designed to address the new telecom era?  An advocate for radical transformation discusses: real-time analytics, billing for enterprises, partnering mashups, and on-going transformation work at Telenor.
  • Paradigm Shift in OSS Software: Network Topology Views via Enterprise-Search interview with Benedict Enweani — Enterprise-search is a wildly successful technology on the web, yet its influence has not yet rippled to the IT main stream.  But now a large Middle Eastern operator has deployed a major service assurance application using enterprise-search.  The interview discusses this multi-dimensional topology solution and compares it to traditional network inventory.
  • The Multi-Vendor MPLS: Enabling Tier 2 and 3 Telecoms to Offer World-Class Networks to SMBs interview with Prabhu Ramachandran — MPLS is a networking technology that has caught fire in the last decade.  Yet the complexity of MPLS has relegated to being mostly a large carrier solution.  Now a developer of a multi-vendor MPLS solutions explains why the next wave of MPLS adoption will come from tier 2/3 carriers supporting SMB customers.
  • Enabling Telecoms & Utilities to Adapt to the Winds of Business Change interview with Kirill Rechter — Billing is in the midst of momentous change.  Its value is no longer just around delivering multi-play services or sophisticated rating.  In this article you’ll learn how a billing/CRM supplier has adapted to the times by offering deeper value around the larger business issues of its telecom and utility clients.
  • Driving Customer Care Results & Cost Savings from Big Data Facts interview with Brian Jurutka — Mobile broadband and today’s dizzying array of app and network technology present a big challenge to customer care.  In fact, care agents have a hard time staying one step ahead of customers who call to report problems.  But network analytics comes to the rescue with advanced mobile handset troubleshooting and an ability to put greater intelligence at the fingertips of highly trained reps.
  • Hadoop and M2M Meet Device and Network Management Systems interview with Eric Wegner — Telecom big-data in networks is more than customer experience managment: it’s also about M2M plus network and element management systems.  This interview discusses the explosion in machine-to-machine devices, the virtues and drawbacks of Hadoop, and the network impact of shrink-wrapped search.
  • The Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Boom: Is Your Sales/Engineering Team Equipped to Win? by Dan Baker — The build-out of enterprise clouds and data centers is a golden opportunity for systems integrators, carriers, and cloud providers.  But the firms who win this business will have sales and engineering teams who can drive an effective and streamlined requirements-to-design-to-order process.  This white paper points to a solution — a collaborative solution designs system — and explains 8 key capabilities of an ideal platform.
  • Big Data: Is it Ready for Prime Time in Customer Experience Management? interview with Thomas Sutter — Customer experience management is one of the most challenging of OSS domains and some suppliers are touting “big data” solutions as the silver bullet for CEM upgrades and consolidation.  This interview challenges the readiness of big data soluions to tackle OSS issues and deliver the cost savings.  The article also provides advice on managing technology risks, software vendor partnering, and the strategies of different OSS suppliers.
  • Calculated Risk: The Race to Deliver the Next Generation of LTE Service Management interview with Edoardo Rizzi — LTE and the emerging heterogeneous networks are likely to shake up the service management and customer experience management worlds.  Learn about the many new network management challenges LTE presents, and how a small OSS software firm aims to beat the big established players to market with a bold new technology and strategy.
  • Decom Dilemma: Why Tearing Down Networks is Often Harder than Deploying Them interview with Dan Hays — For every new 4G LTE and IP-based infrastructure deployed, there typically a legacy network that’s been rendered obsolete and needs to be decommissioned.  This article takes you through the many complexities of network decom, such as facilities planning, site lease terminations, green-safe equipment disposal, and tax relief programs.
  • Migration Success or Migraine Headache: Why Upfront Planning is Key to Network Decom interview with Ron Angner — Shutting down old networks and migrating customers to new ones is among the most challenging activities a network operators does today.  This article provides advice on the many network issues surrounding migration and decommissioning.  Topics discussed include inventory reconciliation, LEC/CLEC coordination, and protection of customers in the midst of projects that require great program management skills.
  • Navigating the Telecom Solutions Wilderness: Advice from Some Veteran Mountaineers interview with Al Brisard — Telecom solutions vendors struggle mightily to position their solutions and figure out what to offer next in a market where there’s considerable product and service crossover.  In this article, a veteran order management specialist firm lays out its strategy for mixing deep-bench functional expertise with process consulting, analytics, and custom API development.
  • Will Telecoms Sink Under the Weight of their Bloated and Out-of-Control Product Stacks? interview with Simon Muderack — Telecoms pay daily for their lack of product integration as they constantly reinvent product wheels, lose customer intelligence, and waste time/money.  This article makes the case of an enterprise product catalog.  Drawing on central catalog cases at a few Tier 1 operators, the article explains the benefits: reducing billing and provisioning costs, promoting product reuse, and smoothing operations.
  • Virtual Operator Life: Enabling Multi-Level Resellers Through an Active Product Catalog interview with Rob Hill — The value of product distribution via virtual operators is immense.  They enable a carrier to sell to markets it cannot profitably serve directly.  Yet the need for greater reseller flexibility in the bundling and pricing of increasingly complex IP and cloud services is now a major channel barrier.  This article explains what’s behind an innovative product catalog solution that doubles as a service creation environment for resellers in multiple tiers.
  • Telecom Blocking & Tackling: Executing the Fundamentals of the Order-to-Bill Process interview with Ron Angner — Just as football teams need to be good at the basics of blocking and tackling, telecoms need to excel at their own fundamental skillset: the order-to-cash process.  In this article, a leading consulting firm explains its methodology for taking operators on the path towards order-to-cash excellence.  Issues discussed include: provisioning intervals; standardization and simplicity; the transition from legacy to improved process; and the major role that industry metrics play.
  • Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs interview with John Frame — As revenue from telephony services has steadily declined, fixed network operators have scrambled to support VoIP, enhanced IP services, and now cloud applications.  This shift has also brought challenges to the provisioning software vendors who support the operators.  In this interview, a leading supplier explains how it’s transforming from plain ol‘ OSS software provider to packager of on-net and SaaS solutions from an array of third party cloud providers.
  • Telecom Merger Juggling Act: How to Convert the Back Office and Keep Customers and Investors Happy at the Same Time interview with Alan Burgess & Curtis Mills — Billing and OSS conversions as the result of a merger are a risky activity as evidenced by famous cases at Fairpoint and Hawaiian Telcom.  This article offers advice on how to head off problems by monitoring key operations checkpoints, asking the right questions, and leading with a proven conversion methodology.
  • Is Order Management a Provisioning System or Your Best Salesperson? by John Konczal — Order management as a differentiator is a very new concept to many CSP people, but it’s become a very real sales booster in many industries.  Using electronics retailer BestBuy as an example, the article points to several innovations that can — and are — being applied by CSPs today.  The article concludes with 8 key questions an operator should ask to measure advanced order management progress.
  • NEC Takes the Telecom Cloud from PowerPoint to Live Customers interview with Shinya Kukita — In the cloud computing world, it’s a long road from technology success to telecom busness opportunity.  But this story about how NEC and Telefonica are partnering to offer cloud services to small and medium enterprises shows the experience of early cloud adoption.  Issues discussed in the article include: customer types, cloud application varieties, geographic region acceptance, and selling challenges.
  • Billing As Enabler for the Next Killer Business Model interview with Scott Swartz — Facebook, cloud services, and Google Ads are examples of innovative business models that demand unique or non-standard billing techniques.  The article shows how flexible, change-on-the-fly, and metadata-driven billing architectures are enabling CSPs to offer truly ground breaking services.
  • Real-Time Provisioning of SIM Cards: A Boon to GSM Operators interview with Simo Isomaki — Software-controlled SIM card configuration is revolutionizing the activation of GSM phones.  The article explains how dynamic SIM management decouples the selection of numbers/services and delivers new opportunities to market during the customer acquisition and intial provisoining phase.
  • A Cynic Converted: IN/Prepaid Platforms Are Now Pretty Cool interview with Grant Lenahan — Service delivery platforms born in the IN era are often painted as inflexible and expensive to maintain.  Learn how modern SDPs with protocol mediation, high availability, and flexible Service Creation Environments are delivering value for operators such as Brazil’s Oi.
  • Achieving Revenue Maximization in the Telecom Contact Center interview with Robert Lamb — Optimizing the contact center offers one of the greatest returns on investment for a CSP.  The director of AT&T’s contact center services business explains how telecoms can strike an “artful balance” between contact center investment and cost savings.  The discussion draws from AT&T’s consulting with world class customers like Ford, Dell, Discover Financial, DISH Network, and General Motors.
  • Mobile Broadband: The Customer Service Assurance Challenge interview with Michele Campriani — iPhone and Android traffic is surging but operators struggle with network congestion and dropping ARPUs.  The answer?  Direct  resources and service quality measures to ensure VIPs are indeed getting the quality they expect.  Using real-life examples that cut to the chase of technical complexities, this article explains the chief causes of service quality degradation and describes efficient ways to deal with the problem.
  • Telco-in-a-Box: Are Telecoms Back in the B/OSS Business? interview with Jim Dunlap — Most telecoms have long since folded their merchant B/OSS software/services businesses.  But now Cycle30, a subsidiary of Alaskan operator GCI, is offering a order-to-cash managed service for other operators and utilities.  The article discusses the company’s unique business model and contrasts it with billing service bureau and licensed software approaches.
  • Bricks, Mortar & Well-Trained Reps Make a Comeback in Customer Management interview with Scott Kohlman — Greater industry competition, service complexity, and employee turnover have raised the bar in the customer support.  Indeed, complex services are putting an emphasis on quality care interactions in the store, on the web, and through the call center.  In this article you’ll learn about innovations in CRM, multi-tabbed agent portals,  call center agent training, customer treatment philosophies, and the impact of  self-service.
  • 21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation by John Konczal — Selling a mobile service is generally not a one-and-done transaction.  It often involves several interactions — across the web, call center, store, and even kiosks.  This article explains the power of a “cross-channel hub” which sits above all sales channels, interacts with them all, and allows a CSP to keep the sales conversation moving forward seamlessly.
  • Building a B/OSS Business Through Common Sense Customer Service by David West — Delivering customer service excellence doesn‘t require mastering some secret technique.  The premise of this article is that plain dealing with customers and employees is all that’s needed for a winning formula.  The argument is spelling out in a simple 4 step methodology along with some practical examples.