How agile is agile – and how agile do you need to be?

 For a long as most in telecoms can remember, ‘agile’ has been the watchword. The latest proponent is real-time specialist Openet who sponsored a survey into the links between agile BSS and agile companies. 86 percent of the survey group understand and agree with the sentiment that agile BSS makes for agile companies. Several years ago, though, the TM Forum adopted the word to describe how a telecoms company needs to stay competitive. And they were not the first.

The 1990s brought de-regulation to telecoms. It was a time when legacy systems meant mainframes. Faced with competitors that could change a tariff within months and for under a million dollars, incumbents invested in ‘point,’ or product focused systems to become more agile and therefore remain competitive.

Changing price plans in weeks and months was agile enough. Back then.

Competition, though, grew fiercer. In some markets such as Hong Kong, companies hired people to keep an eye on competitors’ shops over weekends. If, on a Friday night, one company dropped its prices or came up with a special offer, customers would switch companies in their thousands. In markets such as Finland, the incumbent lost 50 percent market share overnight.

As the market grew and changed shape, telecoms companies had to become ever more agile. MVNOs emerged, competitors came from different industries, content providers became part of the mix. Banks were suddenly competitors, and then they were partners.

Then Google was born. And Netflix, and Facebook and YouTube.

And they, like the banks before them, became competitors, eating away at messaging revenues, taking up bandwidth without paying for it properly. Obviously the greatest threat to the telecoms world.

And now, they too, are becoming partners.

All the while telecoms companies needed to become ever more agile.

And now,again, the question is – how agile does a telecoms company need to be?

The answer is ‘as agile as its partners and more agile than its competitors.’ This will explain why 91 percent of the Telecoms.com survey group believe that real-time network usage reporting and analytics are becoming more important.

This means, as a benchmark, that a telecoms company needs to be as agile as Google. As far as its IT strategy goes, Google virtually cannot ‘see’ further than six months. Telecoms companies, as we know, can happily think in terms of five years. The old model of large IT investments, financially depreciated, made sense – in the old world.

Agility, as the recent in-depth survey by Telecoms.com, sponsored by Openet proved, is linked to BSS. Indeed, billing drives agility. Agility means that telecoms companies need to be able to react to, respond to and control events in ‘real-time.’

The survey looks at the ‘nuts and bolts’ of achieving agility. It looks at questions such as who to buy agile systems off, to achieve greater agility. Should you, for instance, buy systems off Network Equipment Providers or specialist vendors? These are vital questions, and the survey points to telecoms companies (34 percent) wanting to reduce the number of vendors, and 28 percent are leaning towards the specialist vendor as the way to achieve greater agility. But, like many things, each decision will depend on the circumstances.

The survey throws up questions too. Questions such as how much of your company needs to be as agile as Google? The whole company? Marketing?

Each company will have different cultures and challenges. In some instances, a massive overhaul of systems into a real-time environment is the only option. In others, real-time can be an ‘add-on.’

Our industry, as many others, gets fixated. Along comes real-time and we think that everything should be real-time. As well, of course, as being flexible, scalable, convergent and probably bendy.

But some telecoms companies are actually migrating their billing onto older systems. The workhorses of a decade ago are still out there, still with their shoulders to the wheel. For them, this means that the real-time rating can be directed with more precision to the parts of the business that directly benefit.

Encouragingly, telecoms companies are becoming better at migrating their IT environments. Not long ago the classic IT transformation was summed up by the Billing Manager who, head in hands, said “you finish a two year long migration project and everyone sighs with relief, thinking it is over. It is never over.” Now, IT transformations happen with a plan in place that makes the next one easier.

There is a consensus that the role of IT itself – along with the role of the CIO – needs to change. The CIO used to provide IT capability to the business, now the CIO is a business enabler, focused more on customer experience than on desktop machinery. And IT is becoming the ‘playground’ for the business.

Cloud is helping – in many ways. It is reducing the time it takes to test ideas and business models. It is reducing the cost of almost everything and it is enabling IT and the CIO to be agile enough to bring the Finance guys along for the ride so that they can evaluate a business case as it is built.

There is no doubt about one thing. Real-time is now a necessity, however agile you believe you need to be. Whether or not you feel that the whole structure needs to support a real-time environment, the link between agility and BSS has been proven. As one operator said, “we need to become like an internet company, and fast.”

The jigsaw puzzles of telecoms companies’ IT structures are forever shifting, trying to provide that agility we now know is vital. The questions of how and who should provide the BSS to support it will, however, be an on-going issue.

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Alex Leslie
About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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