Technology used to be a byword for innovation, but recent setbacks such as the enormous cost of 3G licences and the delayed rollout of broadband networks means that today's service provider senior management tend to consider `innovation' as more closely associated with `financial burden.'
As consumer demand for faster, cheaper, content-richer services continues to expand, service providers are increasingly forced to juggle service expectations with budgetary constraints. The solution is to get the network of today to act as the technology of tomorrow, while continuing, of course, to provide service at yesterday's prices. The ideal technology puts the customer at the heart of the operation, relegating the network itself to the status of an unseen enabler and a silent provider of valuable service and business intelligence that can shape customer demands and mould business strategy.
Getting more from the infrastructure without paying more is a key challenge for local mobile and fixed-line operators. Network management becomes a daily exercise in 'fire fighting,' with operators struggling to locate the cause of a network outage before battling to address the problem. Moving from a network to a service and business focus whilst balancing operational constraints and shrinking resources may seem an admirable yet somewhat unattainable goal.
To be successful, ICT operators must shift their focus firstly away from managing the network and towards delivering the service, then further upwards, towards enriching that service information to create the business intelligence necessary to drive company strategy. Today's service assurance solutions can rapidly consolidate the diverse network systems, platforms, applications, equipment and best-of-breed software that characterise wireless and telecommunications networks, and so quickly strip away the network noise, pinpointing network faults and decreasing the mean time to repair.
The end result is an overview of the network data that is most essential for running the services. But it is still just data, and data that is usually just logged, filed and forgotten. Unwittingly, most service providers already have the capacity to move towards service management rather than fault management through relatively simple integrations that string together data from the network, customer relationship management (CRM) packages, trouble ticketing systems, billing applications and provisioning solutions. By auto-populating trouble tickets with customer specific fault information for example, IT operators can quickly associate network outages with the services they impact, and accordingly prioritise that service by customer, region or product. New streams of revenue can be realised, more proactive service level agreements can be established and new products can be quickly brought to market.
The next stage is to further mine the service information to build a picture of the business, its customers, strategy and key differentiators. Through the intelligent enriching of network data with information drawn from the business - for example, service information and data drawn from customer-facing packages - service providers can distinguish those customers with a high level of consumption; the services that are likely to increase average revenue per user (ARPU) and the way that customers want to consume those services, as well as uncover a host of invaluable business drivers.
And, more importantly, they can realise these drivers in realtime, enabling service providers to quickly identify and capitalise on customer trends, market conditions and technological developments.
Unlocking the inherent intelligence in the infrastructure that allows the network to become obscured, highlighting instead service, product and customer, will be the challenge facing service providers moving into a new era of network management. Those service providers that are able to use the network to shape business direction and strategic goals will be the companies that emerge from this tough economic climate with a strong, sure product offering, a loyal and consistent customer base, and a seemingly intuitive feel for market success.
Eric Jorgensen, Micromuse continent director – Africa