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OSS—Key to Service Provider Success
By Balasubramanian D

Here is a brief insight into the various operation support systems and the different functionality they offer service providers

Operation Support Systems (OSS) enable service providers manage their business critical operations. These systems are business critical because they enable service delivery and quality, impact customer satisfaction and, thereby, service provider (SP) profitability. These systems include customer order management, provisioning, service activation, network management, service and fault management, billing and customer care.

The concept of OSS and its evolution is a carefully studied discipline, which has been put to use in an extensive manner in the mature SP markets of Europe and US. While SPs in India do use some OSS components, typically Network Management Systems, the concept is still new and untried.

Applications such as CRM, DSS are also considered components of OSSs. These can also be classified separately as Business Support Systems (BSS).

Workflow Engine
The Workflow Engine is the heart of an OSS that integrates all the other components together. This is Middleware software, which enables components to talk among themselves and thus ensures seamless workflow and hands-free or automated operation.

Workflow typically involves the order management interface where the customer places his order; the provisioning application which "setsup" the service requested; the service activation application which activates the service requested by the customer; finally the billing application which rates and bills the customer.

Order Management
Order Management is the interface (on the Web, or offline on the desktop) where the customer himself or the SP representative places the order for services. This can be a graphic user interface (GUI) that provides information on the various services available such as Web hosting, bandwidth, content and the accompanying pricing, discount schemes, promotions, etc, which assist the ordering process.

The order management system then breaks down the service order into specific tasks to be performed by various other OSS components to enable the customer to access the service(s) he ordered. The workflow engine then takes over the supervisory role of ensuring that various tasks are performed and sends the feedback to the order management system from where the order status can be obtained.

Provisioning and Service Activation
Provisioning systems track and manage network equipment such as circuits, switches, routers, etc, which need to be activated for providing the service ordered. For eg for a Web hosting service order, the various network elements to be assigned include servers, T1 lines, network routes, etc.

Service Activation systems enable automatic or manual activation of the service ordered. Certain elements may be activated automatically, but others need manual intervention. These systems notify engineers on the service ordered, the equipment involved, where it is located and what needs to be done to activate the service.

Today, systems are available that enable flow-through or zero-touch provisioning and service activation. Such systems, based on the inputs from the order management system, automatically activate service on the network equipments that are required for enabling the service.

Network Management
Network Management Systems (NMSs) are familiar to most SPs today. They supervise and monitor network traffic and collect statistics on performance. They are key tools in any Network Operations Center (NOC). They use SNMP and CMIP to interact with network elements such as routers, switches, etc. NMSs also include trouble identification and

resolution capabilities based on the statistics collected from these network elements. A NMS issues a trouble ticket based on a fault alarm from network elements, and initiates the repair process, which may or may not require manual intervention.

Service Level Management
Increasing competition among SPs has led to the emergence of this new OSS functionality. SPs thrive on service differentiation and the Service Level Agreement (SLAs) they sign with their customers. Typical SLA variables include:

  • Network latency between POP A to POP B
  • Packet Delivery success rate
  • Network availability
  • Proactive outage notification
  • Server Installation time
  • Scheduled maintenance
  • Circuit installation time

SLA Management tools provide SPs with summaries of service availability and details of network events, enabling them to circumvent service outages. A service might be an end-to-end application, a digital transmission service, a business unit, a virtual private network, or an Internet connection. Such tools complement existing NMS and operate similarly. They feature probes that collect event messages from various environments ranging from IBM mainframe systems to SNMP management systems to network devices to applications.

The system enables organizations to manage their environments from an infrastructure and customer-centric perspectives as it links the elements to the services they provide and tracks the availability of the actual services as well as the status of the devices supporting them. Some tools come with remote consoles that the SPs provide to their customers, who in turn can monitor the services they bought, on their own.

Billing and Customer Care
SP billing and customer care (BCC) is different from the traditional practices employed by telecom operators. SP services are real-time, impact much larger number of customers, complex and varied. Billing does not follow the typical 30-day cycle, prevalent with telcos. If an SP is offering a basket of 10 services (dialup, leased lines, VPNs, security services, hosting, co-location, etc), marketing can be innovative in designing cross-service discounting schemes. Customers should have the flexibility to buy his choice set of services, and check his expense online real-time.

Provisioning and billing some services is complex. Take the case of video conferencing, where, in the middle of the conference, the customer wants to increase his bandwidth for better resolution. The SP network should support this request online and also bill the customer for this extended service. If this service is pre-paid then the billing system should be able to check on real-time basis, the balance on the customer's account, compute the fare for extended service, and inform the provisioning system whether the request can be serviced.

BCC systems must have the following key characteristics:

  • Real-time support (for authorization, registration, fraud prevention, rating, discounting, promotions etc.)
  • Comprehensive Web-based customer care and support
  • High scalability (for new services and large customer growth)
  • Extensibility (to integrate with general ledger systems, legacy apps, CRMs, etc that an SP might be using)

Business Impact of OSS
OSSs help address the following key concerns of SPs:

  • How to differentiate services?
  • How to provide superior customer service?
  • How to reduce time-to-market for new products and service?

And more importantly, how to achieve all the above while controlling operating costs?

Balasubramanian D, Product Manager-Solutions, Wipro Infotech can be reached at db@wipro.co.in

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