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Back Office Systems Take Center Stage in Driving Consumer Experience
Neeraj Vyas
Sunday, August 1, 2010
It is a game where hundreds of billions of dollars are table stakes. The question is who owns customer loyalty and mindshare and thus is the driver of consumer adoption? Increasingly, in this game, the operators have been marginalized and are facing the real danger of being relegated to the sidelines and reduced to merely a data pipe while the consumer mindshare and loyalty gets split between the device and the content providers.

Over the last couple of years, operators have struggled to reinvent themselves and move up the value chain to ensure customer loyalty as well as drive additional revenue. To this effect, they have realized that one of the most important pieces of the ‘consumer experience’ puzzle is the Operations and Billing Support Systems (OSS and BSS). It is these systems that are literally being reinvented to offer customers entirely new kinds of services, from VPN and IPTV to VoIP, rich multimedia content, and more. Service providers need to, and actually are, making huge investments into upgrading to cutting edge OSS and BSS systems.

For the consumers; this translates into pure bliss with respect to new services being available while, at the same time, the quality of experience (QoE) for their existing services is taken to a whole new level. Especially with the 3G coming into play in well as managing consumer experience through innovative solutions.

In India there are numerous possibilities that can be realized for which OSS and BSS will be critical. For instance, it could be possible in the near future for the customer to start and stop VAS services at will and be accurately billed for them on a pro-rated basis. This is a far cry from a couple of years ago when activating a specific service meant that a consumer had to either wait for a new billing cycle to begin or pay for the entire month even if the service was used only for a few days. One of the more interesting services possible with the newer systems is seamlessly transferring content across screens so that if a user is watching a cricket match and needs to step out, the feed simply switches to displaying it on their phone as they move out of the house and then shows up on an in-car entertainment system as the user drives off. Another possibility could be seamlessly transferring calls from a mobile phone to a landline as the user walks into their home or office, thus negating any network reception issues.

As OSS and BSS systems become better integrated, customers can also expect better troubleshooting of their problems. Earlier it took a very long time to pull data across various systems while the customer waited without service (often on phone listening to endless ‘on-hold’ music). As these systems get integrated better, not only can service providers quickly trouble shoot reported problems but actively monitor the systems to anticipate and fix them before the customer even realizes that a problem exists. Solutions are evolving to monitor services from the phone and other handheld devices. QoS focuses on the service provider’s ability to provide service, but management of the actual experience offers a new level of identifying service problems, from issues related to coverage at a particular location to problems with a particular vendor phone to general or specific application or service issues for how a service is received by the user. These advances will greatly assist operators in immediate identification of QoE concerns and allow them to rapidly address the problems without the subscriber needing to complain.

OSS and BSS have come a long way. Today, the user can view their usage, invoice, balance minutes, payments, and so on in realtime and through the channel of their choice (online, IVR Voice, or SMS) providing them a consistent experience. As the new next generation networks and technologies are getting deployed, the OSS and BSS are playing a big role in enabling the next generation services that allow the customer ultimate control to choose what service they want to use, how they want to use, and when they want to use.

Another potential reason for customers seeing significant improvements in their mobile experience is mobile number portability (MNP). The biggest barrier to subscriber churn is the pain of having to change their phone number and lack of MNP creates a lock-in for customers which MNP rollout will remove. This will mean that operators will be forced to differentiate and create meaningful services that will create a value-based lock-in for subscribers and make them think twice before switching to a different provider. A simple example could be an operator creating an app or SMS based service that helps the customer by-pass IVR and call centers and instead directly manage toggling their value added services.

Looking ahead, as operators build their customer loyalty and upgrade to cutting edge operations and billing systems, it is easy to imagine every service provider becoming the gateway to all customer content needs as well. Operator’s OSS and BSS systems will spread out and integrate with various content providers (like video, music, magazines, and news services) while doing away with the need for multiple bills and payment steps by consolidating everything into a single bill that they will deliver to the customer as part of the mobile service. Operators that are into triple or quad play services will be able to leverage their multiple engagements even more and reduce customer pain by providing a unified seamless service as well as billing and payments.

Thus, with operators focusing heavily on the end customer experience, the OSS and BSS systems have taken center stage and will see explosive growth, which is great news for consumers as this will translate into meaningful services, significantly improve the quality of service, and most importantly enable accurate and unified billing across multiple services.

The author is the Vice President of Business Development, Aricent
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