Jonathan Kaftzan, Head of Marketing, Amdocs Digital, in an exclusive interview with Techseen discusses convergent charging and digital transformation in telecom. He states that the telecommunications sector is fast adopting the digital economy and in the next couple of years the convergence of 5G and Artificial Intelligence will change the way the consumer and the industry interacts with telecommunications. Amdocs provides customer experience software solutions and services to communications, entertainment, and media service providers. Excerpts
Techseen: You say that telecom software professional service providers still need their classic systems to support their transformation. What are these classic systems? Why and how can they support digital transformation?
Kaftzan: Business Support Systems (BSS) have been supporting telecoms businesses for years. Systems such as billing, CRM and Ordering are still necessary for service providers but they have to evolve; from billing to real-time convergent charging and from CRM and Ordering to true omni-channel digital customer engagement systems. This evolution supports service provider transformation by enabling customers to add and adapt communications services from all areas of the telco landscape, on the fly and in real-time, and they allow customers to interact with their service provider on any channel through any mode of communication. This evolution of the BSS is critical to meet the needs of digital immediacy and empowerment that the digital customer demands.
Techseen: Does the utilization of classic systems reduce the cost of transformation for an enterprise? What are the transformation solutions that are being floated in the market currently that makes Amdocs stand out?
Kaftzan: The cost of a transformation will often be dependent on the starting point and end goal. Some service providers will look to improve one particular part of their business, say the retail store. Others will look to improve all of their customer engagement channels for an omno-channel, multi-modal experience and still others will go for a deep full business transformation that involves the transformation of all elements of the BSS, both back-end and customer facing. Amdocs customer who are using our systems which have been real-time and omni-convergent for years will find they are starting at a better point for transformation than others.
However we have made additional enhancements to our offering that lets the service provider succeed in their transformation strategy. This includes more openness and APIs in our backend systems, support for new business models and digital offerings like OTT and IoT, a digital platform for true multi-modal interaction, our aia intelligence platform which helps our customers bring intelligence to their processes and engagements and the flexibility and user controls that lets the digital customer take control of their experience.
Techseen: In the telecom industry, isn’t convergent billing already happening? Especially in enterprises where there is a need of transparency? How does it connect with digital transformation?
Kaftzan: The telecom industry has been moving towards convergent billing for many years now. The challenge is that as the industry moves towards that goal, the definitions of what convergent means in the context of charging and billing continues to evolve as the demands of the digital economy evolve. It began as a means to unify systems for prepaid and postpaid. It then evolved to mean convergence of lines of business into multi-play. Now it is evolving further and extending into new digital services such as OTT and IoT and a truly real-time experience for all customers over every touch point. A charging and billing system of the digital era cannot be said to be truly convergent if it cannot handle all of these new services on a unified system.
Ironically, many service providers’ BSS systems lag behind in the enterprise space as these customers relied on more customized products and offerings as well as more direct sales and account management.
That, coupled with the relatively low number of enterprise customers as opposed to consumer lead BSS for enterprise to continue to be very customized if not manual systems that could not keep up with the development of the consumer side of the house. Now, with service providers putting more focus on enterprise customers as their core consumer service becomes commoditized, they are seeing a need to provide the same digital and convergent experience to their enterprise customers. Amdocs has put a great deal of effort in helping service providers succeed in this area, in terms of modernizing the product offering capabilities, the Configure Price Quote process as well as ordering of complex enterprise products.
Techseen: Amdocs states that there is a reduction in the cost of ownership when service providers take up convergent billing. How?
Kaftzan: This is achieved through a number of factors. Firstly there is the potential for consolidation of systems, from disparate systems for prepaid, postpaid, wireless, wireline, TV, broadband and other digital services into a single unified system. Furthermore, modern digital monetization systems are run on newer technology that helps service providers keep costs down while increasing scale.
Amdocs Digital Monetization runs NO-SQL databases as opposed to traditional relational databases, which scale better at cost and reduce costly database license fees. A number of functions are run on open source technologies that further reduce capital expenditure. And of course operating on a cloud-enabled architecture reduces dependencies on physical machines and is in turn much more efficient.
Techseen: You also claim that your convergent charging and billing solution delivers real-time charging and scalability in a single carrier-grade system. What is currently lacking in the industry that it needs your solution?
Kaftzan: The key requirement for the industry is to be able to manage all of your revenue and customer processes on a unified system, rather than spate systems for each new service. Service providers are in a hurry to launch new products like IoT and OTT offerings that their current legacy systems cannot handle. That is the key challenge. And many service providers, in their rush to market, are tempted to simply add another system to handle the new services and worry about the convergence of the system into the overall customer experience later.
This solution quickly leads to duplication of processes, and is liable to cause missed revenue opportunities and a poor customer experience. Of course the best would be a convergent system that can already handle these new services, and enable service providers to launch and scale up a new line of business quickly and efficiently.
This is the advantage that Amdocs customers have; a single, real-time system that can handle all of the new services that the telecom industry needs and wants to deploy quickly, and is ready for rapid the rapid growth and high demands of digital consumption.
Techseen: Why do you think carriers are becoming more open to alternate delivery models? What are the challenges they are facing?
Kaftzan: Service providers are dealing with a digital economy that has severely diminished the growth in their core businesses. That has forced them to be more efficient. The digital economy is also filled with new players that are software based and agile in their development of products, and are free to reap the benefits of the major investments that telecoms make in networks and infrastructure. It is this need for efficiency and agility that service providers are looking for, and new delivery models -such as cloud and managed services – for their core systems serve both of those purposes.
Techseen: What are the challenges that Amdocs has faced to convince telecom enterprises to accede to your solution? Is there a gap in awareness/ education or as you state in your white paper, there a need of digital transformation first?
Kaftzan: Amdocs is in the enviable position of being a trusted advisor for the leading service providers in the world. And our customers are constantly challenging us to help them transform from communications service providers to digital service providers. They rely on us for best practices because after all of these years we are recognized as experts in telco BSS. Our Global customer base also gives us a perspective on the possibilities that our customers, who are experts in their local markets, appreciate and we bring that to bear in all of our engagements. But our customers are not waiting for us to tell them where to go.
They are leaders in the telecommunications market and have a vision for what they want to achieve. It is a true partnership that comes from the vision and imperative of the service provider and the global industry leadership of Amdocs that closes any gaps and enables us to drive the optimal digital transformation for each customer.
Furthermore, we realize that each communication service provider is different and has unique needs. Therefore, we need to adjust and accommodate different needs of our customers. For example, even the definition and focus of DSP- digital service provider, varies from one service provider to another. Some service providers or DSPs may focus on consumer experiences and channels, while others might focus on digital services and ecosystem. It means we need to provide different types of solutions, technologies, and services to each of the service providers.
Techseen: One of your biggest communications client is AT&T and recently after its ECOMP has merged with ONAP, reports state that Amdocs’ involvement has bolstered a lot. Which is the next use case for ONAP according to Amdocs?
Kaftzan: To test and verify new virtual services on the ONAP open source platform quickly and efficiently, Amdocs believes the critical next-step for service providers is easy deployment of ONAP through a cloud-based hosting environment that simplifies distribution of open source code. Open source brings unparalleled agility to the market, making it vital that open source contributions are packaged into a mature capability set to fast-track service innovation and extract full value from virtualized networks.
Techseen: What is the next big thing in the telecommunications industry according to Amdocs? Where do you see Amdocs playing a major role in future tech?
Kaftzan: It is difficult to predict the future, but looking ahead to the next couple years, it seems clear that the launch of 5G and the integration of Artificial Intelligence will have a major impact on the telecommunications industry in the near future. 5G is just a year or 2 away and it has the potential to change our lives and how we interact with the world of technology around us. With 5G providing connectivity to billions of devices we will learn what truly ubiquitous connectivity is about.
The telecommunications industry is at the center of that game changing technology and it must do whatever it can to leverage its place in the value chain to maximize opportunities in the digital economy. Amdocs customers are at the forefront of 5G development and as such we must be ready to help them succeed in doing just that.
All of this connectivity creates a need to move past automation to intelligence. Intelligent operations, as well as intelligent interactions with customers. Service providers will need to leverage intelligence in this hyper-connected world in order to not only serve their customers, but delight their customers.