OSS Consolidation Part 1: Examining Service Management (Fulfillment and Assurance)

Starting with a few definitions:

  • Service Fulfillment systems support processes that ensure service providers give requested services to customers in a timely and correct manner, so called Order-to-Cash cycle.
  • Service Assurance solutions monitor service performance based on the customer’s view, not the network manager’s view, based on defined key performance indicators (KPIs), key quality indicators (KQIs) and service-level agreements (SLAs).  These solutions help service providers connect network, service performance with the end-user experience, so called Customer-Assurance cycle.

Although Service Fulfillment and Service Assurance play complementary roles, there is a disconnect between these two functions in service providers’ infrastructure. This hinders the service provider’s ability to improve the customer experience, reduce support costs, accelerate time-to-market of services and assure smooth introduction of launched services from day one. Hence the focus upon the integration of Service Assurance and Service Fulfillment solutions, sometimes termed Service Management, which enable service providers to have an end-to-end view of services data, without the need for replication of data across fulfillment and assurance systems.

The goal of the service provider is to provide any service on any network to any device. There are also many more services, with service bundles being frequently modified, sometimes in real time. It is therefore no longer enough to manage the customer, the network or the resource. It is now important to manage the service as an entity in its own right. In addition, service data is usually held in several systems in a service provider’s environment such as a legacy fulfillment or assurance system, and the many subscriber management system silos. By linking service fulfillment and assurance, service providers have a single view of services data.

So Service Management appears to be growing out of the consolidation of these functions, more general industry consolidation, and the trend to delivering a broader integrated BOSS (Business and Operational Support System) solution.  An example of this consolidation is Subex that acquired Syndesis last year.  Syndesis is a service fulfillment platform for Triple Play services.  After the acquisition Subex created a service fulfillment and assurance division focused upon ‘service agility’ (the ability to provide better services and multiple services) for what Subex terms “operational dexterity” which falls into this category of Service Management.

Just to make things a little more complex, within Service Assurance is a function called Service Management (though I more frequently see it being called Service Monitoring these days) as the software systems that measure and monitor services including the overall quality of each service and its business impact on a particular set of customers. Service management systems enable CSPs (Communication Service Providers) to generate granular reporting capability by each customer and service to validate service level commitments. Key quality indicators are measured in each specific network domain to alert CSPs of degraded network performance leading to unsatisfactory customer experience.  The main vendors are HP, IBM (Vallent), Telcordia, Agilent, Ericsson and Nokia accounting for about 60% of the market.

But moving back to the broader definition of Service Management, competition in this space comes from providers focused on Service Fulfillment, Service Assurance and Service Deliver Platform providers.  It’s a complex competitive landscape.  Just focusing upon Fulfillment as an example, some of the big players are, Amdocs (Cramer), Ericsson, HP, IBM (Vallent, Micromuse), Oracle (BEA, Metasolv, Portal), Sybex (Syndesis), Telcordia and Wipro.  In the small and medium sized company landscape
are about 20 suppliers in this segment, shown in the attached table, let me know if there are any mistakes.  This table analyses each from their technology focus (VoIP, IMS, Triple Play / IPTV, DSL / HSD, and IP VPN / Ethernet), customer focus (ISP / xVNO, Broadband, Mobile and Cable), region focus (EMEA, LATAM, APAC and NAR), and functional focus within Service Fulfillment (Inventory, Mediation, Order Management, Work-Flow / Provisioning, Activation, Catalog, Self-Serv, and Service Tools).

Now in addition to the Fulfillment landscape there is an equally complex Assurance landscape and an even more complex Service Delivery landscape, which I’ll not tackle here.  Rather to wrap up this article I thought I’d finish on the few trends I see emerging:

  • Consolidation of functionality.  Just like enterprise IT, as mature functions are subsumed.  For example, once upon a time a service provider would buy a VoIP fulfillment platform, now multi-service fulfillment is the norm.
  • Emergence of managed solutions.  This is coming more from the Service Delivery side of the competitive landscape.  Rather than buy a license and pay an SI, we’re starting to see solutions (particularly in self-service) being managed by the technology provider on behalf of the service provider; which saves costs for the operator and the technology supplier, especially for those with scale.
  • Consolidation of companies.  The big guys like Oracle and IBM have recently bought some of the medium-sized suppliers; but we’re also seeing consolidation amongst the medium sized suppliers, e.g. Sigma Systems buying C-Cor, and Subex buying Syndesis, as they race to achieve scale.
  • Best of Breed components do not generate a Best of Breed system.  Tier 2/3 markets have generally focused upon all-in-one solutions because of limited scale and cash.  Tier 1 operators have generally implemented a ‘best of breed’ component approach.  However, as we’ve seen in several cases, which I’ll not name here, having a kitchen full of Michelin chefs does not necessarily result in a meal worthy of a Michelin star.
  • Strong push with most operators to control their escalating BOSS spend on both legacy and new services.

This sets up an interesting phase in OSS consolidation, where we have three major functional segments of the BOSS industry starting to merge, a strong push to control BOSS costs from operators, emergence of business models (managed services) which require scale, and a push-back on the rational for best of breed components.  By the end of this year, I think I’ll need to be updating the small-medium fulfillment landscape again.