Changing B-OSS…Time to Give it Away for Free?
Billing and Operational Support Systems (B/OSS) form the heart of Information and communications technology (ICT) service provider business, comprised of how the industry takes orders, provisions network services, tracks and address problems and bills for services. They are among the largest software platforms ever devised, with industry leaders such as Amdocs, Huawei, Ericsson and fifty other vendors in a $17 Billion annual industry; however, a segment declining at approximately 6% (2017 statistics). Not much has changed in the past 20 years, so what are we to do about this?
I am one of those who really enjoy these complex systems; I helped design my first custom B/OSS at Infonet in the mid-1990s and over the years have managed over a hundred integrations and during my Huawei tenure I ran one of the largest back office businesses in the industry.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview with a B/OSS vendor for the CMO job, so it was interesting when one of the interview questions asked was, “with an industry in decline, you grew your Huawei business by double digits…how?” The question and process really got me to thinking about how I might grow this company in a highly competitive market with a myriad of challenges and differentiate it from others.
The typical playbook for growth has been to move to a cloud model, expand sales to virtual mobile operators (MVNO’s), cable companies and managed service providers. At Huawei I did this and extended into adjacent opportunities with my other product lines: IoT (IIoT and smart cities), Cloud (content, application brokers and broadcasters), Finance, Healthcare, Energy and converged infrastructure ecosystems (SAP HANA). I also implemented a global Enterprise Social solution which enabled me to effect a digital transformation and change the business proposition. A significant advantage was my ability to leverage my managed services business.
There are only 309 “big boy” carriers and operators in the world, and Huawei runs 179 of them, making managed services a driver for core infrastructure. Ericsson is the next largest outsourced provider, so not a huge surprise that they are leaders in B/OSS (though we should note Ericsson is losing money and attempting to renegotiate 42 of their service agreements). The others in the industry best find managed service partnerships around the world to improve their fortunes.
I think the larger question would be: what is this company and B/OSS in a Software Defined Network (SDN) “X” as a Service future (XaaS)? In short, communicate a vision for product and business evolution differentiating from the market herd.
SDN and Cloud business success has been built around financial shift and business evolution rather than technical innovation. Historically in ICT, the carrier or operator provisions the network at 110% of capacity. You build more roads to accommodate the estimated number of cars driving in five years. But with SDN, the service provider will only provision 65% or 70% of capacity. They will get the other necessary resources, bandwidth, MIPS, storage, everything, from the customer. At the end of each month there will be a settlement much like we see in the energy business. A BSS function; but where is this vision presented amongst the 50 vendors? I think this represents one of the many missed industry opportunities available.
Having deployed four SDN networks, I think of them as an hourglass, the center of which is the Configuration Management Database (CMDB). This is where the policies and rules for the network elements reside and interconnection with the OSS used for provisioning. Below is all the IT and network components of the service catalog and above all mission-critical enterprise applications (SCM, ERP, CRM, etc.). Each component is virtualized and the containers set-up, combined and torn down millions of times each second in ad hoc fashion (I appreciate this is a 100,000-foot view of the process).
B/OSS controls, monitors, and measures each of the interactions, which is exactly what one wants to achieve in order to effect “digital transformation.” So why not make B/OSS “as a service” and revenue generating for the service provider? Not just the functions of B/OSS, but what it does. When you can monitor and measure every interaction you have the basis for a new paradigm. You can measure and charge, based on either the number of interactions or better, based on the value of the change measured. This is the value proposition presented amongst Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market leaders Falkonry and Aurelius.
When you make transformation your business, your ability to monitor and measure all internal, external, customer, and peering interactions (which is the basis of Enterprise Social) become the foundation of business value. This is what B/OSS are designed to do. Add SDN and you have every digital system integrated. All you need to do is build software hooks for the customer’s ERP, SCM, CRM…everything, every “XaaS” and you have the foundation of selling business and operational support “as a service.” So why not give it away for free? You and the service provider monetize by your ability to measure impact, value and the ability to improve the customer’s business.
For the past 20 years the ICT and Integrated Data Center industry vendor’s market proposition have largely been presented as being a “trusted business partner.” If partnership is the sales proposition of the B/OSS vendor, then perhaps one of the 50-plus will put their money where their mouth is and base their business not on selling a $50 Million software platform (with endless upgrades and customization work), but on the business value they provide their customers, their ability to help their customers manage, operate and optimize their business. Wouldn’t that form a true partnership, differentiate a B/OSS vendor and transform service provider business?
Everyone wants four things: to get new customers, gain more revenue per customer (ARPU), to not lose customers (churn), and remove cost from the business. B/OSS usually focuses on operational cost efficiency, flexibility and in the past decade, revenue assurance and management. But they often sell on cost. It certainly was that way when I arrived at Huawei; however, when you are in the “transformation as a service” business you have the opportunity to reset expectations throughout the value chain.
At EarthLink, churn was a huge challenge with 22% of customers leaving year-on-year. Not having a lot of money, we devised a six-box methodology on a customer propensity to churn, and using B/OSS outputs into Excel we managed to reduce churn 52%. New vendors specializing in this such as Dataiku, Alteryx, Optimove, and others indicate the B/OSS business is primed for building ecosystems and joint ventures with analytic, IoT, unified communications, enterprise social, martech, and artificial intelligence vendors.
Looking at the market opportunity for B/OSS vendors and the ICT industry in general, I find it an exciting time. I see so many different opportunities and directions available, especially so for the emerging market actors. But the traditional approach is not going to work. Building new ecosystems based on monitoring and measurement of interactions with a business proposition centered on the value of management, operation, and optimization of the business will be a key. I suggest one of the B/OSS vendors will break the mold and give it away for free.
Bennet Bayer recently led Strategy & Development at EarthLink and is the former Global CMO and VP of Strategy with Huawei. He has run global divisions with Unisys, BT/Infonet, Avnet, Casio, led three mobile operators and four other CMO tenures with ICT companies.