One of the challenges I face in my role at the TM Forum is keeping abreast of all the innovation and advancement of Business Support Systems, especially around billing and customer care. With the acceptance and adoption of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) the move towards all IP Next Generation Networks there is a distinct move away from departmental silos and we are taking a more holistic view of requirements. The biggest movement appears to be occurring in the Tier 2, Tier 3 and VNO space where the expectations from any BSS is to speed up processes, improve service and reduce costs, and that is a tall order to achieve!

For most of us, the best way to see what is available is to attend one of the numerous billing and customer care events held around the world each year, including our own Management World series. Here we not only get to hear about advancements in technology and process, we also get to see them. Telco technology is now very much led by vendors and particularly so in the BSS arena. However, to learn more you have to be able to ‘deep dive’ and with so many vendors and products in the market place this becomes a daunting task.

One other way is to be part of a selection process within an operator looking for anew BSS and I was recently fortunate enough to have such an opportunity. This was a Virtual Network Operator and this was no ordinary method, let me tell you! There was a requirement to make a quick, yet calculated decision in the shortest possible time, and with minimal disruption to the operations. The other critical factor was secrecy, a key element to avoid being inundated by unwanted advances and potentially upsetting existing relationships.

An outside consultant/advisor was bought in to determine requirements and draft an architecture for the complete BSS. This was completed in three weeks, yes, three weeks, and a long list of potential vendors was drawn up. The key requirements were identified and given priority against vendor claims. The VNO prized a strong working relationship with its vendor partner and a flexible architecture that allowed easy integration with their existing customer care partner. Utilising a managed service, the proximity of the partner and good reference customers of similar ilk were the next key items and the list was whittled down even further.

At about this stage an RFI and then an RFP is issued, but as we all know, everyone is compliant on every point in some way so the whole evaluation process is pretty well useless. That was all replaced by a ‘beauty contest’ where the short-listed potential partners were invited to an all day workshop with a set of broad requirements that had to be demonstrated live to the selection panel. That panel was made up of staff from different areas of the operator and they attended only the sections that affected them, thus minimising disruption to internal operations. The evaluations were held off-site and phones and email barred in the room. A tight timetable and diligent, time-conscious staff had the whole process working like a Swiss clock. Four shortlisted vendors, one dedicated day for each, in front of a focussed and well-versed audience who ‘scored’ what they saw. The scorecards had their own hidden weightings as well to ensure that the final result would be skewed towards the key criteria being sought.

The fifth day was used to go over all the results, listen to individual comments and concerns, and collate the whole process into a final list of two, and proceeding to the next stage for pricing and contract discussions. This was set for sixteen working days and a commitment to have the first stage of a system up and running by January 2009. That’s a total of eight weeks from requirements gathering to contract and further eleven weeks to implementation. Not bad!
The part that I found most amazing was the vendor responses and the quality of their systems. Although each was unique in some way, the combination of technology, experience, product knowledge and willingness to participate in a not-so-ordinary selection process speaks volumes about the state of our industry as we move towards NGNs and transformation projects in all types and size of operations. I hope to be able to share the results of the whole process in the months to come.