Email a colleague    

July 2013

Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics

Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics

Getting scoop on how mobile operators use analytics is not so hard: just ask the many analytics vendors out there who focus on mobile.

But wireline analytics is not so widely documented, partly because its use in wireline is scattered across dozens of productivity pockets -- network inventory, enterprise business, wireless backhaul, etc.  That’s why I was delighted to interview Tom Nolting, Vice President in support of Billing and Revenue Assurance at Fairpoint Communications, a $1 billion U.S.  LEC.

Tom and I met at the recent Telecom Analytics conference in Atlanta where we discussed several successful analytics apps where Tom’s team is adding value and better serving customers.

Dan Baker: Tom, to start, it would be great to hear a little history of the Fairpoint business.  A few years back most of us remember the major expansion when you purchased the New England assets of Verizon.

Tom Nolting: Sure, Dan.  Back in 2008, FairPoint was predominantly a rural wireline provider.  And yes, we then acquired Verizon’s Northern New England properties which grew the company from 200,000 to 1.2 million access lines.

The migration of the legacy Verizon Systems to our new enterprise operating systems was hugely complex, but we succeeded in reducing 300 systems or more down to only 30.  The cutover happened in early 2009 -- about the time I came onboard -- and immediately the company was in a struggle, losing market share, and went into bankruptcy in late 2009.  But in January 2011 we emerged out of bankruptcy successfully.

I’m happy to say 2012 was a good year for FairPoint: we had four consecutive quarters of strong EBDITA.  We also reduced our operating expenses, improved service levels, and had strong free cash flow.  We voluntarily paid off a portion of our debt which was a signal to investors and community that we were financially stable again and our stock price in the last 12 months has doubled.  By some accounts, the stock could be considered the best performing stock in its class.

Where is the business going these days?

Like most wireline operators, our residential voice has been the bread and butter, but has been in continuous decline.  So how do we make up the difference?  Well, we invested $200 million into a carrier Ethernet network.  That’s a significant investment for Fairpoint, so our mission is now to sell broadband, high speed access, and carrier Ethernet services, particularly toward business / enterprise and government accounts.

Is there a particular area you are getting good value out of analytics?

Billing is certainly one key area.  Analytics has helped us is in rationalizing where the top sources of billing problems lie for our enterprise customer, complex customers, right down to our residential customers.

For instance, we put in a new review process that merges sampled invoices with trouble reports to extract the impacted accounts / dollars impacted.  We could also quickly narrow down the cause to specific order management or process issues.

That allowed us to better tee up and prioritize our IT projects.  Now I’ll admit that the situation didn‘t get better overnight, but at least we now know what problems our large customers face and can track current status, root causes, and the development schedules to get things fixed.

Our analytics team is a small one with assist from two vendors who have greatly helped.  The challenge has been that we spend too much time -- 90% of the effort and resources -- getting data collected and putting it into a format that makes it easy to extract meaning from.

In the last 18 months, however, we’ve done a great job of streamlining that process so the data is packaged, formatted, and put into a very useable and intuitive form without requiring a large staff of people to pour over it.  Our analysts are able to pick out and find meaningful things now.

We also sought out our internal experts and codify their institutional knowledge so the software can look for particular things.  For example, we had trouble with billing jurisdictions and distinguishing our end offices that overlap into another provider’s territory.  We’ve automated that now.

Are analytics vendors knocking on your door, hoping to look at your data and do a pilot study or two?

Yes, we get approached all the time in that way.  And I’m kind of conflicted here because I’ve been on both sides of the fence.  When I worked for a vendor, I was the guy coming in and offering a free analysis to show you where you could cut expenses.

On the carrier side, however, you end up being so immersed in day-to-day operations with finite people resources.  It’s tough to set aside the bandwidth to look at a proof-of-concept.  Now if something is very compelling, we certainly take an interest, but I’m also responsible for weekly testing and running of deployments we’re putting in for customers.  It’s tough to divert your attention and resources from that kind of thing.

What about the sales-to-order-to-cash pipeline?  Is analytics giving you any help streamlining your back office operations there?

Well, one interesting project we kicked off in the year analyzes sales-to-bill data for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs).  Fairpoint has deployed products we feel are very competitive and appealing to those customers and we want to track that more closely.

Now while it’s encouraging to see our bookings to SMBs have picked up, we lack rigor around knowing if those booked sales are converting to actual billed revenues.  I’m also concerned about the pace: how quickly are we getting booked sales into our revenue stream?

From an analytics view, we pull data from Salesforce.com -- our main sales activity repository -- to feed our Siebel order management system.  What this gives us is visibility -- at an aggregate level -- on how well and how fasts our forecasted sales are turning into billed revenue.

This analysis gives us a more accurate look at our sales-to-bill pipeline.  We’ve also discovered many cases where salespeople didn‘t factor in promotions that should be deducted from forecasted sale.

We also noticed that a lot of revenue gets stuck in the delivery chain.  For instance, the customer may be waiting on a piece of thirty party infrastructure to arrive before he commits to us.  Now financially, that a big concern because our network assets are on hold and revenues are not yet flowing.

So we need good information to allow us to make some decisions: we need to quantify the impact of contracts that don‘t materialize on time.

What about wireless?  Lots of small-to-mid-sized operators in the U.S. market are moving to wireless.

We wish we could, but bandwidth costs a lot and we don‘t have the financial wherewithal.  But interestingly enough, we have a great business doing wireless backhaul or fiber-to-the-tower.  As a wholesaler, there are about 1,000 towers that FairPoint runs fiber to.  This is a very attractive business because it entails long term contracts and if a customer, say an AT&T or Verizon, chooses to switch provider, it’s very expensive for them to do so.

So as the demand for mobile broadband increases, we’ve actually outstripped our capacity.  It’s insatiable demand that’s providing a revenue stream that offsets some of the decline in our special switch to access business.

The analytics activities you’ve talking about so far, Tom, are on the billing and operational side.  What about business or customer analytics?

Retaining enterprise customers is a biggie.  We started a program to identify high-risk customers so we can proactively take steps to keep them.

It’s simple things, like looking at contracts that are coming due and making it clearer to individual sales person that you have three months before, say the Ben & Jerry’s contract is going to expire.  In the past, they were not alerted in time.  So we’re getting smarter about that now and have put data into a very usable form for our sales people.  We also give them incentive to migrate customers off legacy services that are expensive for us to maintain — and onto our new products.

We’ve also greatly improved the information salespeople have when they’re in front of customers.  For instance, salespeople must precisely know what can be delivered to the customer -- and this comes back to having a better knowledge of our plant.

Today, our software-based inventory system is rather weak in telling us where copper is, where fiber is, what capacity can be delivered to location to support specific services.  So improving that capability is a big priority of mine.  After all, we compete with companies who are 100% fiber and can often deliver much quicker than we can.

Another aspect of upgrading our inventory software is efficiency.  People in our back office have to manually look at the engineering and map network layouts, so we need to automate that.

Is margin assurance on your radar?

It very much is, particularly for a new venture of ours where we go out-of-territory and use middle-mile providers.

Say, we’ve got a law firm in Portland, Maine who also has offices in Boston and New York.  Well, we’d love to service those locations but we don‘t have network in Massachusetts or New York.  So what we do is contract the middle-mile guys to extend our network.  That’s where margin assurance is key: we need to be smart about how much we pay for all elements of those facilities, both fixed and variable costs.  Is this a profitable venture for us?  What’s the payback: 12 months or 18 months?

Interesting.  Tom, thanks for this nice briefing.  Certainly looks like you’ve got your hands full, but it also sounds like you thrive on the struggle.

Copyright 2013 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Expert

Tom Nolting

Tom Nolting

Tom Nolting is Vice President, Billing and Revenue Assurance at FairPoint Communications.  For the last four years he’s overseen the FairPoint Northern New England retail and wholesale $1.2B billing support functions.  He also led the formation of the company’s revenue assurance program over the Wholesale and Retail markets.  Prior to joining FairPoint, he held leadership roles at Vertek and Lavastorm and was a Director of Wholesale Billing Operations at Verizon.   Contact Tom via

Related Stories

  • Telecom CVM: From Scattered Campaigns to Unified & Consistent Communication with Customers interview with Cretièn Brandsma — Despite the many failures Customer Value Management has faced in telecom, CVM’s future is very hopeful.  A carrier expert explains why telecoms have faltered, how customer experience programs can be revitalized, and where telecoms should invest in better tactics and technology.
  • The Key to Driving 4G Profit: Sell Value, Not Bandwidth by Miri Duenias — Are you struggling to earn a profit on your 4G investments?  Many operators are failing today on the marketing side.  But aligning 4G products with a customer’s personal preferences and desires provides the necessary sizzle to boost sales and earn a handsome ROI.
  • Batting for More Churn Reduction and Revenue Assurance Home Runs interview with Peter Mueller — What’s it like to transform an IT shop to big data and cloud?  In this interview, the CTO of a boutique revenue assurance explains how his firm made the leap.  He shows how project-oriented programs and working with carrier customers to explore RA and churn reduction “hunches” is where much of the action is.
  • Sharing Intelligence, Services, and Infrastructure across the Telecom Galaxy interview with Gary Zimmerman — The telecom industry is an industry of sharing.  In fact, the rise of mobile broadband is driving a greater reliance on real-time intelligence, services trading, and infrastructure exchange.  In this article, a leading info exchange provider explains the value of its services portfolio and points to other interoperability and sharing ideas under development.
  • Data Monetization: Why Selling Intelligence is a Hot New Revenue Stream for Mobile Carriers interview with Joe Levy — Data monetization is a revenue dream come true for mobile carriers: a highly profitable sideshow where the carrier analyzes and sells data it already collects for other purposes.  In this article you’ll learn how operators monetize their data through use cases in corporate advertising and media branding.
  • Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics interview with Tom Nolting — Mobile analytics gets plenty of press coverage, but analytics is just as crucial for wireline operators.  In this article, a billing VP at a leading wireline operator discusses several diverse uses of analytics in billing, enterprise sales/retention, and network partner margin assurance.
  • Analytics Guru: Are Telecoms Ready for the Biz Intelligence Explosion? interview with John Meyers — Business intelligence is evolving from the creation of dashboards and reports to taking action based on a deep knowledge of the environmental context.  The article explores the implications of “big data” in terms of IPTV, storage requirements, hardware, event collection, and deep packet inspection.
  • Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising interview with Humera Malik — Today billing/charging technology has progressed to the point where the usage intelligence, the charges, the user behaviors, and the analytics can all come together in near real-time.  This article discusses the organizational and marketing strategies that enable a operator to create a true “merchandising” system that can revolutionize a CSP’s business. 

Related Articles

  • Telecom CVM: From Scattered Campaigns to Unified & Consistent Communication with Customers interview with Cretièn Brandsma — Despite the many failures Customer Value Management has faced in telecom, CVM’s future is very hopeful.  A carrier expert explains why telecoms have faltered, how customer experience programs can be revitalized, and where telecoms should invest in better tactics and technology.
  • The Key to Driving 4G Profit: Sell Value, Not Bandwidth by Miri Duenias — Are you struggling to earn a profit on your 4G investments?  Many operators are failing today on the marketing side.  But aligning 4G products with a customer’s personal preferences and desires provides the necessary sizzle to boost sales and earn a handsome ROI.
  • Will Real-Time Decisioning Save Big Data Analytics from Overblown Hype? interview with Tom Erskine — Telecom analytics is more than just collecting and analyzing data.  It’s also about taking action — correct action — often in real-time and across a complex provisioning environment.  In this interview you’ll hear how next best actions are creating value in retention and upselling through a more flexible, business-process driven approach.
  • A Big Data Starter Kit in the Cloud: How Smaller Operators Can Get Rolling with Advanced Analytics interview with Ryan Guthrie — Medium to small operators know “big data” is out there alright, but technical staffing and cost issues have held them back from implementing it.  This interview discusses the advantages of moving advanced analytics to the cloud where operators can get up and running faster and at lower cost.
  • The Customer Engagement Era: How Personalization & Backend Integration Leads to a Richer Mobile Biz interview with Rita Tochner — How does a mobile operator move its subscribers to higher levels of spending and profit?  Fierce competition, social media scrutiny, and the high cost of new networks all conspire against these goals.  In this interview, however, you’ll learn how engaging better with customers, getting more personal, and being more sensitive to their individual needs is the path forward.
  • Telecoms Failing Badly in CAPEX: The Desperate Need for Asset Management & Financial Visibility interview with Ashwin Chalapathy — A 2012 PwC report put the telecom industry on the operating table, opened the patient up, and discovered a malignant cancer: poor network CAPEX management, a problem that puts telecoms in grave financial risk.  In this interview, a supplier of network analytics solutions provides greater detail on the problem and lays out its prescription for deeper asset management, capacity planning and data integrity checks.
  • Batting for More Churn Reduction and Revenue Assurance Home Runs interview with Peter Mueller — What’s it like to transform an IT shop to big data and cloud?  In this interview, the CTO of a boutique revenue assurance explains how his firm made the leap.  He shows how project-oriented programs and working with carrier customers to explore RA and churn reduction “hunches” is where much of the action is.
  • History Repeats: The Big Data Revolution in Telecom Service Assurance interview with Olav Tjelflaat — The lessons of telecom software history teach that new networks and unforeseen industry developments have an uncanny knack for disrupting business plans.  A service assurance incumbent reveals its strategy for becoming a leader in the emerging network analytics and assurance market.
  • From Alarms to Analytics: The Paradigm Shift in Service Assurance interview with Kelvin Hall — In a telecom world with millions of smart devices, the service assurance solutions of yesteryear are not getting the job done.  So alarm-heavy assurance is now shifting to big data solutions that deliver visual, multi-layered, and fine-grained views of network issues.  A data architect who works at large carriers provides an inside view of the key service provider problems driving this analytics shift.
  • The Shrink-Wrapped Search Engine: Why It’s Becoming a Vital Tool in Telecom Analytics interview with Tapan Bhatt — Google invented low cost, big data computing with its distributed search engine that lives in mammoth data centers populated with thousands of commodity CPUs and disks.  Now search engine technology is available as “shrink wrapped” enterprise software.  This article explains how this new technology is solving telecom analytics problems large and small.
  • Sharing Intelligence, Services, and Infrastructure across the Telecom Galaxy interview with Gary Zimmerman — The telecom industry is an industry of sharing.  In fact, the rise of mobile broadband is driving a greater reliance on real-time intelligence, services trading, and infrastructure exchange.  In this article, a leading info exchange provider explains the value of its services portfolio and points to other interoperability and sharing ideas under development.
  • Data Monetization: Why Selling Intelligence is a Hot New Revenue Stream for Mobile Carriers interview with Joe Levy — Data monetization is a revenue dream come true for mobile carriers: a highly profitable sideshow where the carrier analyzes and sells data it already collects for other purposes.  In this article you’ll learn how operators monetize their data through use cases in corporate advertising and media branding.
  • Harvesting Big Data Riches in Retailer Partnering, Actionable CEM & Network Optimization interview with Oded Ringer — In the analytics market there’s plenty of room for small solution firms to add value through a turnkey service or cloud/licensed solution.  But what about large services firms: where do they play?  In this article you’ll learn how a global services giant leverages data of different types to help telcos: monetize retail partnerships, optimize networks, and make CEM actionable.
  • Raising a Telco’s Value in the Digital Ecosystem: One Use Case at a Time interview with Jonathon Gordon — The speed of telecom innovation is forcing software vendors to radically adapt and transform their business models.  This article shows how a deep packet inspection company has  expanded into revenue generation, particularly  for mobile operators.  It offers a broad palette of value-adding use cases from video caching and parental controls to application-charging and DDoS security protection.
  • Radio Access Network Data: Why It’s Become An Immensely Useful Analytics Source interview with Neil Coleman — It’s hard to overstate the importance of Radio Access Network (RAN) analytics to a mobile operator’s business these days.  This article explains why the RAN data, which lives in the air interface between the base station and the handset --  can be used for a business benefit in network optimization and customer experience.
  • Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics interview with Tom Nolting — Mobile analytics gets plenty of press coverage, but analytics is just as crucial for wireline operators.  In this article, a billing VP at a leading wireline operator discusses several diverse uses of analytics in billing, enterprise sales/retention, and network partner margin assurance.
  • Analytics Biology: The Power of Evolving to New Data Sources and Intelligence Gathering Methods interview with Paul Morrissey — Data warehouses create great value, yet it’s now time to let loose non-traditional big data platforms that create value in countless pockets of operational efficiency that have yet to be fully explored.  This article explains why telecoms must expand their analytics horizons and bring on all sorts of new data sources and novel intelligence gathering techniques.
  • B/OSS Mathematics: The Quest to Analyze Business Problems & Drive Operating Decisions interview with Matti Aksela — Analytics is the glory of mathematics brought to practical use.  And in telecom, analytics has merely stratched the surface of its full potential.  In this article, you’ll learn how machine learning is being combined with the power of CDR number crunching to optimize mobile top-ups, control churn — and in the future, help telecoms make critical network and operating decisions.
  • Leveraging the RA/FM Platform to Deliver Business Insights to Finance & Marketing by Amit Daniel — Carrier professionals using RA and fraud management tools are getting requests from internal customers who want the role of RA/FM platforms expanded to deliver up-to-date analytics data for finance and marketing purposes.  This article advocates a cross-product layer to serve such broader use cases.  The effect would be to transform the existing RA/FM platform into a combined business protection and business growth analytics engine.
  • A Mobile Marketer Service: Bridging Personalization & B/OSS Flowthrough interview with Efrat Nakibly — Marketing analytics is a prescriptive program for driving  actions such as sending a timely promotion to a mobile subscriber.  But completeness demands that you also be able to provision that treatment, qualify the promotion, and keep billing fully in the loop.  This article shows how a managed services program can deliver such an end-to-end process and manage customer life cycles on a one-to-one basis.
  • Science of Analytics: Bringing Prepaid Top Ups & Revenue Maximization under the Microscope interview with Derek Edwards — Prepaid subscribers are the customers that carriers know the least about.  The operator is not interacting with prepaid customers on a monthly basis.  You’re not sending a bill, nor do you have detailed profiles on these customers, especially in the developing world where customers are buying SIMs at a grocery store.  This interview explains how contextual marketing meets the unique analytics challenge of prepaid customers.
  • Connecting B/OSS Silos and Linking Revenue Analytics with the Customer Experience by Anssi Tauriainen — Customer experience analytics is a complex task that flexes B/OSS data to link the customer’s network experience and actions to improve it and drive greater revenue.  In this article, you’ll gain an understanding of how anayltics data needs to be managed across various customer life cycle stages and why it’s tailored for six specific user groups at the operator.
  • Profitable 3G: China’s Mobile Operators Monetize Networks with Retailers & Partners interview with Kevin Xu — Mobile operators are at the center of explosive growth in wireless services.  But to exploit this opportunity requires IT ingenuity and a broader view on how the mobile user can be served.  In this article you’ll learn the innovative techniques Chinese operators use to monetize 3G networks via analytics and partnerships with retailers, social networks, and advertisers.
  • Customer Analytics: Making the Strategic Leap From Hindsight to Foresight interview with Frank Bernhard — Are your company’s analytics programs scattered?  Is there a strategy in place for customer analytics?  This interview with a leading telecom analytics consultant explains why strategy and planning around the analytics function is crucial to getting your money’s worth.  Topics discussed include: hindsight vs. foresight; an advanced analytics program; and the interface sophistication required to support high end vs. low end analytics users.
  • Meeting the OTT Video Challenge: Real-Time, Fine-Grain Bandwidth Monitoring for Cable Operators interview with Mark Trudeau — Cable operators in North America are being overwhelmed by the surge in video and audio traffic.  In this article you’ll learn how Multi Service Operators (MSOs) are now monitoring their traffic to make critical decisions to protect QoS service and monetize bandwidth.  Also featured is expert perspective on trends in: network policy; bandwidth caps; and  customer care issues.
  • Analytics Meditations: The Power of Low-Cost Hardware and the Social Network Within interview with Ken King — Analytics didn‘t arrive yesterday.  Data warehousing and BI have been in the telecom vocabulary for twenty-five or more years.  In this interview, you’ll gain a perspective on why “big data” changes the game and why social network (or social circles) analysis promises the next level of insights.  Other interesting topics include: segmenting the analytics market, engaging with carrier clients, and upgrading from older- to newer-style methodologies.
  • LTE Analytics:  Learning New Rules in Real-Time Network Intelligence, Roaming and Customer Assurance interview with Martin Guilfoyle — LTE is telecom’s latest technology darling, and this article goes beyond the network jargon, to explain the momentous changes LTE brings.  The interview delves into the marriage of IMS, high QoS service delivery via IPX, real-time intelligence and roaming services, plus the new customer assurance hooks that LTE enables.
  • Shared Data Plans: The Challenge of Managing a Family of Pricing, Revenue Assurance, Fraud, and Network Policy Issues by Amit Daniel — Verizon Wireless‘ recent announcement of its move to shared data plans for families shook the mobile industry.  In this column, cVidya’s Amit Daniel shines a spotlight on the knowhow and analytics tools that operators now deperately need to offer the right  shared data price plans, ensure bandwidth throttling is handled correctly, and address new fraud concerns.
  • Analytics Guru: Are Telecoms Ready for the Biz Intelligence Explosion? interview with John Meyers — Business intelligence is evolving from the creation of dashboards and reports to taking action based on a deep knowledge of the environmental context.  The article explores the implications of “big data” in terms of IPTV, storage requirements, hardware, event collection, and deep packet inspection.
  • Social Networking for Telecoms: How To Enlist Friends and Family as Mobile Marketers interview with Simon Rees — Social Network Analysis (SNA) is about exploiting data on “friends and family” connections to combat churn and win new CSP business.  The article explores how an analysis of the ebb and flow of CDRs, phone calls, and messages, can identify key influencers and drive powerful marketing campaigns.
  • Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising interview with Humera Malik — Today billing/charging technology has progressed to the point where the usage intelligence, the charges, the user behaviors, and the analytics can all come together in near real-time.  This article discusses the organizational and marketing strategies that enable a operator to create a true “merchandising” system that can revolutionize a CSP’s business.