Comarch: "we have to understand the new customer"

Wednesday 7 December 2016 | 09:12 CET | Background
It’s safe to say that the way we communicate has changed rapidly over the last decade. For telcos the transition from an analogue world to a digital environment has not always been easy, but new opportunities may arise. “It’s all about understanding the ‘new’ customer, meeting his demands and getting to market quickly,” says Marcin Dąbrowski, Vice President and head of the Telecommunications Business Unit at Comarch.

Dąbrowski says the change towards a digital world was a natural step in the evolution of the industry. A classic telecom operator would offer services that were 100 percent analogue – this is how telephony or cable TV suppliers typically operated. Even the internet, something digital in its essence, used to be delivered to customers through analogue modems. Gradually, services were substituted with their newer, and in many ways better, digital equivalents. “Aside from a moderate success of ISDN telephony, it was the digitalization of analogue modem-based internet access that marked the beginning of the revolution.”

This revolution opened up the possibility to create and provide completely new kinds of services that are now seen as essential elements of an attractive service bundle. “We are talking about a digital multi-room system, multi-device access, multi-channel DVR (more and more often in the cloud), video-on-demand (VoD), and finally access to OTT services.”

While the possibilities in this new era seem endless, it’s also a tough environment for operators, where they compete with companies such as Google, Facebook, Netflix and Spotify.  At the same time OTT players are now more aware of the fact that only a robust and reliable mobile infrastructure is capable of distributing their services in a way consumers can easily access and use them. But for mobile providers it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the demand, finds Dąbrowski.

“The digital consumer expects to be able to purchase Spotify, Deezer, Tidal or Netflix subscriptions at a preferential price, as well as an unlimited data package that enables the use of those services without limits. Mobile operators are trying to meet those demands, and they have already started offering unrestricted access to Facebook or YouTube, and even – although with understandable reluctance – to the voice or text-based apps that directly impact on their revenues.”

Today’s telco market is a lot more complicated than before and it presents a huge challenge for operators, warns Dąbrowski. “Soon we may find that with the increasingly popular unlimited internet access, all services, even the ‘traditional’ ones, will be supplied by OTT companies. You may wonder, what about the biggest players, such as Google or Facebook who are already experimenting with free internet? Time will tell, but we can be almost certain that the transformation of telecommunications will never end.”

Comarch offers its services to a large number of clients, ranging from local market challengers to international carriers, spread across four continents. Telco customers include Vodafone (Germany), Telekom Deutschland (Germany), Telekom Austria Group (Austria), KPN (the Netherlands) and Telefonica (Global). Comarch offers services including billing and customer care, service fulfilment & assurance, network management & planning, optimizing the experience of VIP and enterprise customers, as well as managing new areas of business such as M2M, cloud and digital service enablement.

Scaling up innovation

An essential element of a digital transformation is to be able to invent and deploy new services to customers in an agile mode, which means that the whole process should take days, not months. According to Dąbrowski there are many ways to make that happen. 

“For example, the NFV/SDN technology solve the issue of lack of resource availability. Telecoms will no longer have to wait for months to find resources to support a new service – these will be available and they will only have to be configured in order for a new service to be deployed on them. Of course, legacy networks will not disappear within a day and will also have to be managed. The new technologies also enable the IT and network/engineering silos to be merged, which will help increase the agility of telecom companies in introducing new offers. Operations will transform into DevOps and take over some of the IT tasks from telecom organizations, or sometimes, from third-party vendors.” 

Dąbrowski thinks that thanks to virtualization, telecom operators will be able to transform their field sites into micro data centres and to offer innovative services and applications, which will make it possible to win back some business from OTT providers. “This can only happen when telcos embrace the main elements of digital transformation: understanding, process automation – which also results in shortening time to market, digitalizing customer journeys, simplifying shopping processes, and offering innovative services.”

Basically, it’s all about understanding customer needs and finding out what they’re willing to pay, says Dąbrowski. This is why Comarch introduced a comprehensive OSS/BSS Data Analytics solution that helps operators gather and analyze various data about their subscribers. With that data telecoms are able to completely reshape the experience of their customers and take it to new levels. 

Last year Gartner named Comarch “challenger” in its Magic Quadrant for Operations Support Systems, saying Comarch “has a visible product roadmap and vision that address key CSP initiatives — such as how CSPs can monetize OSS investments related to SDN/NFV, over-the-top (OTT), big data, IoT and emerging big data industry vertical ecosystems — to grow revenue, improve operational efficiency and customer experience.”

Dąbrowski: “A distinctive characteristic of digital products is that they become popular much faster and on a far greater scale than traditional ones. Millions of new users within days – this kind of success is no longer a shock for anyone. You may have great technology, great service ideas, and care about your customers as much as you can, but if you are too slow, you will not win the race. This is why order management and service fulfillment solutions are in demand right now. Operators realize that they have to automate these processes and consolidate their growing product portfolios in order to be able to manage them efficiently.”

Digital transformation won’t happen overnight 

To be able to release new digital offers to the market, a service provider needs an enterprise-grade Product Catalog and a Service Catalog. Together, they enable modeling of both traditional and digital services (in BSS and OSS, respectively), establishing the terms and conditions of the offer, creating a pricing model, an offer description, and then launching the new service commercially within hours. Comarch’s Customer Order Management and Service Order Management ensure the catalog-driven service ordering and delivery process will be as quick as possible. And the time in which a supplier is able to deliver an innovative product to the customer is the measure of success today, claims Dąbrowski.

“The requirements of service fulfillment are different today than event 2-3 years ago – telecoms seek solutions able to support NFV/SDN concepts and principles. Such a modern fulfillment system has to support hybrid networks, so proper service modeling is key in such a system – and this relates to the complete process, from customer-facing services, through resource-facing services to resources. In OSS we see that CSPs started looking for OSS hat support NFV/SDN and are integrated on a single platform. It is much easier and faster to deploy, maintain and operate new services when implementing them in one system, instead of multiple OSS applications.”

In order management, Comarch sees growing interest in implementing an omnichannel approach, where a customer journey goes seamlessly through multiple devices and applications. 

“This means, if someone starts a purchasing process on his mobile in the provider’s app, but needs to finish it later on their website on his desktop computer, he can do so without any disruption. All information is passed from one channel to another, so that the process is as convenient as possible for the customer.”

One of the key challenges in a successful SDN/NFV adoption is the ability to manage a network made up of both traditional and virtualized elements. Digital transformation is not something that will just happen overnight. It will take many years, during which the hybrid networks will have to be managed properly. 

Comarch aims to help operators hide this complexity by introducing a high level of automation into the equation. The company has already conducted many proofs of concept in this area and is talking to various operators worldwide that are considering implementing SDN/NFV. 

Dąbrowski: “From the business perspective, a key benefit of NFV/SDN adoption is that it allows CSPs to experiment with new services and thus reduce the innovation cycle to keep pace with OTT players. In other words, NFV/SDN should enable telecom operators to introduce new services to market, faster and cheaper than before, it should empower them to test new services with early adopters, and then fine-tune them, without the risk of impacting existing services and damaging the business. The key lies in model-driven orchestration, and a catalog-managed life cycle in which new models and versions can easily be created without the need for heavy scripting by less technology-savvy product managers. Our service assurance solution uses a similar concept to support managing service quality in hybrid networks.”

Speaking of service quality, how is Comarch addressing customer experience in telecommunications

Customer experience is a very broad term and can relate to any point in the so-called customer journey. It is essential that that journey continues in an undisrupted way, from the first decision to purchase a service from a given provider, through the purchasing process, to assuring the highest quality of the delivered service and customer care. Many projects also focus on business-related goals, like improving brand perception, optimizing the network of sales points, etc.

But in fact, one of the most important touchpoints for any telecom business is the network. Detailed information about how the customers use the network, what their behavior patterns are, where they are at a given time and what their needs are, can be an unparalleled tool for improving customer satisfaction. This is why Comarch proposes an integrated assurance approach, based on comprehensive BSS/OSS data analytics. This kind of system enables telecoms to analyze data both from the network and from other OSS/BSS sources, correlate this information, and produce a comprehensive real-time analysis, providing an invaluable insight into the customers’ perception of the provided services.

This kind of real-time information can be used to trigger marketing actions (e.g. generating vouchers to compensate for problems in the network immediately after they arise, sending information to a customer via SMS or a mobile application etc.). The collected data can be used also to generate summary reports, which can serve to prioritize network planning activities and identify and solve hidden problems with the configuration of a given device or the network. Such a comprehensive data analytics platform helps telecom companies improve their overall Net Promoter Score or Customer Satisfaction, as it takes into account the real customer experience when using a given service provided by the network. Comarch also has a dedicated analytics module for machine-to-machine services. It enables operators to gather data that can serve to significantly improve the quality of service in M2M and has been designed specifically to fit the specific needs and aspects of the M2M / IoT business. 

By combining that knowledge with an omnichannel approach or responsive, multi-screen self-care solutions, operators will be able to truly transform customer experiences.

From M2M to IoT

A total of 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and the number will reach 20.8 billion by 2020, according to a forecast by Gartner. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will be connected each day. Market researchers estimate that the Internet of Things (IoT) will support total services spending of USD 235 billion in 2016, up 22 percent from 2015. Services are dominated by the professional category in which businesses contract with external providers in order to design, install and operate IoT systems. This means a huge business opportunity for all players involved, including Comarch.

Dąbrowski: “Service in IoT means not just connectivity - service providers need to build service bundles composed of applications, devices, support, consultancy and connectivity. A modern, end-to-end IoT proposition must therefore take into account some way of measuring real experience and performance at the point of connectivity, as well as the device and application usage – the foundation of the IoT service.”

The Comarch M2M Platform enables mobile operators to provide managed connectivity in multi-national, multi-level and multi-operator environments. The system helps in launching M2M offers for vertical industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, FMCG, energy and utilities, finance and banking, healthcare, manufacturing, public services, security, and transportation and logistics. The Comarch M2M Platform has been implemented by major European mobile operators, including the Telekom Austria Group. In March 2016, Comarch teamed up with Nokia in the fields of M2M and IoT. The companies are working on connectivity management platforms as well as vertical applications services for key industries using Comarch’s experience in the M2M market and its IoT offer. 

“This kind of solution enables mobile network operators to enhance their network service quality and reduce the risk of connectivity issues for their IoT customers. The operators can generate additional revenues by selling premium services with guaranteed highest quality, offer reliable connectivity to prevent customer churn, and provide best-in-class customer service. In addition, such an IoT solution empowers IoT customers with information about real device experience and performance, as measured at the point of connectivity, with predictive actions and maintenance and the opportunity to limit the cost of service level agreements significantly.”

To help telecom providers succeed in this new digital reality Comarch stresses the need for cooperation. One of the prime examples is the contract the company recently signed with the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance (ngena). The aim of this cooperation is to launch a new platform operating worldwide that will simplify handling global B2B customers and manage their accesses and multiple VPNs in a centralised way. This innovative initiative will use both traditional and virtualized network infrastructure to provide these services. Comarch is supporting ngena with a solution that can manage hybrid networks and services within standardized processes, comprising the full life-cycle of enterprise customer solutions, from fulfillment, through assurance, to billing.

Another example is the cooperation with the Saudi Telecom Company. Comarch supports STC in becoming the most innovative IoT player in the region, by providing a M2M platform that will allow the operator to provide advanced connectivity services to IoT companies, OEMs and customers in various verticals, such as the oil and gas industry or utilities. 

“Also, the extensive cooperation with the Telefonica Group includes interesting, innovative projects. One example is merging two mobile networks after the acquisition of E-Plus by Telefonica. Thanks to our framework-based, configurable OSS that ensures a high degree of automation, we migrated both networks into our inventory-based solution in three months. We built network consolidation processes on top of the solution, involving all crucial stakeholders, and we created a ‘golden grid’ network plan, selecting the best sites from both networks.” 

Comarch believes ICT providers have to become service providers themselves to be part of the digital transformation. This means being a partner, not just a vendor, to communication service providers. 

“But the most important thing that we offer and see as unique is being able to combine two worlds,” says Dąbrowski. “To give some examples – ensuring the management of both legacy and virtualized networks with one application, consolidating various BSS systems into a single catalog-driven platform, or offering unified sales and ordering experience for end customers across various interfaces and devices. The digital world is very complex, but ironically – the key to success lies in simplification.”

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