The explosion of IP has changed the playing field for traditional carriers and operators, particularly in light of the increasing variety of devices and applications driving demand in the unified communications market. I speak with communications service providers throughout the industry, and regularly hear about the effects of these changes, particularly for over-the-top (OTT) service providers. Internet telephony services providers (ITSPs) and wholesale aggregators, for example, are seeking ways to more easily source, as well as unify and integrate, their product offerings in order to more nimbly serve their own customer expectations for a new generation of apps and services.
My daily conversations with these emerging VoIP service providers and customers also reveal that the traditionally slow, manual ‘swivel-chair’ processes involved in procuring and provisioning VoIP services are very labor-intensive. Standard processes for acquiring, activating, tracking and managing inventory such as phone numbers and related features need remedying, especially given their potentially detrimental effect on new and existing revenue channels.
With the potential of SaaS (News - Alert) or cloud-based sourcing and fulfillment process automation for telecom supply chain integration, many OTT service providers are moving beyond traditional methods and typical infrastructure complexities. With the promise of increased operational efficiency and growth across revenue channels, the cloud is enabling ITSPs and wholesale aggregators to source off-net services from their carrier vendors more quickly and even on-demand.
With pieces of the product puzzle residing on different carrier or operator networks, leveraging services from vendors to bring a product to market could take these OTT players months to do otherwise. These realities affect not only sales and customer relationship management, but are also taxing on internal operations when variables like cost, resources and even development work are brought into the mix.
Using conventional standards for inventory ordering and tracking, OTT players can spend hours or even days just trying to find or move inventory around while contending with various B/OSS and activation systems; not to mention accounting for a vendor’s inventory acquisition processes or portals. It is not uncommon for provisioning errors to be compounded; often resulting in phone numbers inadvertently recorded multiple times in spreadsheets or internal CRM systems, billing systems and switch platforms.
When considering methods for automating inventory sourcing, some ITSPs have taken steps towards building or outsourcing the development of in-house solutions, projects which are expensive and time-consuming. These projects typically result in Web-based platforms that integrate internal information systems and general Web tools, such as e-mail or fee-based file sharing sites used to move inventory and orders around.
However, these homegrown solutions often cannot easily scale or integrate with trading partner infrastructure or fulfill specific integration or functionality specifications without significant capital and operational resources set aside for large system integrations. These methods require not only a great deal of resources, but also thorough consideration of other variables that can affect scalability and growth potential over time.
Development projects require internal systems to have protocols for every new vendor or customer relationship—which require new agreements, processes, features, and services to be enabled. There is also the possibility that new APIs would need to be developed or augmented in order to tap into various networks on-demand; in the case of legacy carriers, the technology may not even be available. In addition, depending on the industry knowledge of outside development teams, compliance-related issues may be an issue.
After deployment, system enhancements would need to account for the combination of access, assets, and applications from multiple carrier vendors that are part of the OTT product supply chain. Having to update custom-built solutions in order to orchestrate automation processes across pricing, activation and porting processes built on a point-to-point OSS platform can often constrain long term growth.
Therein lie the underlying challenges of in-house IP service order management and tracking systems. While investing in certain systems and technologies can improve activation and provisioning intervals in-house, without ubiquitous unification and automation of the communications supply chain as it grows, users are left to augment their systems as they expand operational capabilities, supply relationships and product offerings.
Using a cloud-based supply chain integration solution, ITSPs and wholesale aggregators can bypass large, traditional, and holistic OSS deployments and overcome home-grown system constraints. The inherently available simultaneous workflows and common APIs of a cloud-based solution can handle all necessary orchestration, activation and service fulfillment, bonding selected services and features to a number, hosted seat, or OTT application in a centralized location. As a result, these new OTT players can improve the integrity of their products and present best-of-breed apps and services out across their channels far more seamlessly.
Drew Walsh is an account manager at Shango (News - Alert), a community marketplace enabling automated supply chain integration for buying and selling IP-enabled services. To learn more about Shango, visit www.shango.com.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi