An Analyst's Prejudices
When you peer up at the stars on a moonless night, what do you see? Do you gaze up with wonder at the heavenly chaos? Or do you immediately do a visual google of the skies to spot the Big Dipper?
It's a shame isn't it? We look first for the constellations -- and not for the stars. Centuries of socially-inherited training have taught us what's there to "see". Makes you wonder what the night sky would look like if we could erase everything we ever learned about Betelgeuse and Orion. Perhaps that's what Vincent Van Gogh was after in his painting, Starry Night.
Now, when it comes to blindly following the mind's well-trodden paths, telecom analysts are as guilty as everybody else. And one prejudice I'm sure I share with my analyst brethren is a tendency to see the B/OSS market from a software vendor's perspective. And that should come as no surprise given the money software vendors spend to educate and influence analysts.
But recognize: it's a big prejudice, especially in B/OSS because the role of software is only one aspect of its larger implementation success at the telecoms.
In fact, software and hardware -- by themselves -- shouldn't properly be called "systems" at all. For only when these tools are combined with smart people and wise business processes does a true B/OSS system really exist.
And this is precisely where systems integrators (SIs) step in to perform their magic. Yet, it's curious. When you look at telecom publications, conferences, and other industry media, you notice that SIs don't get very much coverage. Which prompts the question: if the SIs are so critical to B/OSS success, where are the detailed case studies, magazine articles, speeches, and trade show booths to back it all up?
There are many reasons why the SIs don't have a strong public presence and among them are: client confidentiality, competitive secrecy, poor marketing, and the difficulty of explaining a complex B/OSS engagement in a magazine article.
Suffice it to say: the SIs and consultants are hugely influential, but their story remains largely untold. And this is precisely why I'm pleased to present this interview with Sid Hoosein, who recently spent 15 months as a program/project manager for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) implementing a major B/OSS overhaul at Saudi Telecom Company (STC).
You'll find here a highly interesting exposé of the complexities involved in integrating B/OSS at large carriers. The point of Sid's message is clear: implementing a large scale B/OSS is far more than getting your GUIs and XML tables right. And the views Sid expresses are strictly his own opinions and don't reflect the views of TCS or Saudi Telecom:
Dan Baker (TRI): Sid, can you give us a little backgrounder on what sent you to the Middle East? And please fill us in on the client, Saudi Telecom.
Hoosein: Dan, Saudi Telecom Company (STC), the dominant telecom operator in Saudi Arabia has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years. In some ways, it is very backward, but in other ways it is very advanced. Their operations are highly automated, but they are inflexible and are in need of a major overhaul. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) hired me to live in Saudi Arabia and assist the local SI team as their Director of Business Interfaces. It turned out to be a highly interesting assignment.
Saudi Arabia was not what I expected. The country is highly urbanized and has a population of 27 million -- only 6 million less than Canada. Much of the population is concentrated in a few cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah. The STC campus is in Riyadh and a large portion of the STC staff is based in Riyadh.
STC, with an annual revenue of $12 billion and 21,000 employees has become a Tier 1 carrier, close to the size of KPN. The operator is practically the sole provider of landlines in the Kingdom and it has the largest market share by far in wireless too, competing against Mobily and Zain.
What drove the project was STC's goal to become far more customer-centric. And to that end, it's undergone some big reorganizations. As a result, it's had to re-engineer many of its systems to fit the new organization structure and market environment.
TRI: Who were some of the B/OSS vendor players involved at Saudi Telecom Company?
Hoosein: STC's end-to-end order-to-cash system that was built around ICMS, an integrated B/OSS system IBM implemented for STC in the mid-90s. The software is highly customized and has worked quite well for STC, but it was time to replace this with something more modern.
Tata Consultancy Services was the chosen systems integrator for the project. In customer care, STC opted for an Oracle Siebel CRM and the billing piece was awarded to Convergys' Infinys Rating and Billing. Granite from Telcordia was chosen on the inventory side. There are a number of other B/OSS vendor systems involved, but the SI project included implementation of these three completely new software systems.
TRI: You mentioned that reorganization was the catalyst for B/OSS system changes. But what were some of the specific organization challenges faced?
Hoosein: STC is organized into four business units (BUs): residential landline, wireless consumer, enterprise, and wholesale. The first challenge was to come up with an enterprise-wide customer segmentation scheme. And moving in that direction entailed a big shake up over who actually "owned the customer" and associated data.
Historically each business unit had its own systems with its customer codes, customer types, product and service codes and other data such as codes for enquiry, complaints and order types in the Call Centers. The data models in each business unit were different. However, implementing a company-wide CRM and Billing System with a 360 degree view required a single data model for STC's customers both for the Call Center and the Billing System.
Conceiving such a data model was relatively easy. The hard part was actually implementing it, for there had to be agreement on customer ownership and segmentation across Business Units.
Once that was decided, you had the added challenge of mapping the legacy data into the new data model. In addition, the codes for different data attributes were often defined vaguely or undocumented and only certain individuals in the Business Support groups had the relevant information for data mapping.
As a result, data migration became a technical nightmare.
Another issue that needed company-wide agreement was customer treatment policy. Since any STC customer can be both a landline customer and a wireless customer, the credit policies from the different business units could not be different for the same customer. Often, there were no written policies and it was left upto individuals in the marketing department within the BU to come up with the policies that often varied from day to day.
TRI: Sounds like it was a major feat getting all four business units to move in the same direction. How did the actual implementation go?
Hoosein: The term "implementation" implies you have a straight line path from A to Z. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were several projects under way when the SI arrived on the scene and it was up to the SI to implement several overlapping phases.
The TCS project started with the contract awarded for overhauling the Personal (Wireless) Business Unit systems, as this is an important part of STC's business and is a large chunk of the overall revenues. However, the award for Home and Enterprise (mostly landline) System came a year later. And to complicate matters further, the network organization had an ongoing project to implement the inventory system including Fiber to the Home (FTTH). The timeframes for the award of these projects were all different and stretched over a few years.
The cutover for the Personal BU itself was a challenge requiring deployment and testing in different regions, let alone cutting over any systems across different Business Units. Unfortunately, much of business and technical decisions already made by the Personal Business were not suitable for the Home and Enterprise Business Units. Implementing the 360 view in the Call Centers that works across Business Units also turned out to be a big challenge, thanks to on-going changes and differences in opinions as to what the 360 degree view looked like.
We would have loved having a steady goal to shoot for. Instead each phase became a moving target.
TRI: Was there a particular area of the project that caused more pain that other areas? What were the dynamics involved?
Hoosein: I'm not sure there was one particular area that caused more pain. Certainly the Number Management System (NMS) was a choke point in the project. The NMS was first implemented for wireless. The problem was that the complexity of NMS needed on the landline side was an order of magnitude greater than in wireless.
The NMS is tied closely to network inventory where number assignment was based on customer location and the central office switch that served the customer. But what TCS had developed for wireless had to be greatly enhanced for landline use. A tug-of-war eventually ensued between TCS - the integrator, and Telcordia who had the network inventory piece. Eventually it was decided that the NMS developed by TCS would be replaced involving major system changes and rework.
TRI: What areas in the B/OSS required customization of the plain vanilla software to meet STC's needs?
Hoosein: Many customizations were required, actually. And much of it had to do with Saudi Arabia's unique culture and market dynamics.
Thirty percent of the population is made up of expats or foreign workers from counes like India, China, Egypt and the Philippines. What's more, these workers have special telecommunications needs for international calling and other services including money transfer. Prepaid is big with the expat population. Also STC has extensive processes around blacklisted customers, credit checks, discount, and dunning procedures.
Another peculiar market dynamic is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj season brings an influx of two to three million pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Serving the telecom needs of these pilgrims is very lucrative for STC, but has wide implications for the B/OSS. For example, you have unique connects and disconnect rules for the pilgrims. And that translates to special rules for customer care, order handling, provisioning, activation and deactivation.
Another special requirement was around customer segmentation. For instance, privileged customers such as members of the royal family and other government officials require different customer treatments.
TRI: What about the people and program management side of B/OSS implementation? What challenges did you see there?
Hoosein: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very conservative. All foreigners have to abide by the rules and the local customs. The clerics are powerful and can impose severe punishment on any individual that violates these rules, so living and working in Saudi Arabia is a challenge for westerners and others.
The SI project is people intensive. I was surprised at the army of people TCS brought in for the project and they included every job title you can imagine: Business Analysts, Solution Architects, Siebel and IRB product experts, strong Program Management Office (PMO) staff, Business Process Reengineering (BPR) professionals, Data Migration professionals, Hardware engineers and other specialized and skilled professionals. Except for the BPR professionals that were mostly Egyptian nationals, most of these people were from India. I was the only American.
With all these people on the ground in the STC campus, personnel, program and project management was enormously complex. On paper, the Project Plan filled thousands of lines of Microsoft Project items. In reality, what the PMO managed was chaos.
Once again there were many unique constraints. For example, coordinating entering and leaving Saudi Arabia had to be done in step with the needs of the project. TCS used full-time personnel just to manage the Visas of their employees. And often Visas for key personnel were rejected. For instance, the Saudi Consulate with its fickle rules and regulations for Indian citizens made resource management very difficult. During the Hajj season, it was impossible to bring in any new personnel.
Then there were the language and other cultural issues.
People used to the informal work style of Europe and North America faced a bit of culture shock because business meetings with Saudis often entailed elaborate rituals with special protocols. For example, to set up a meeting, an STC employee in the IT organization had to send an official meeting notice to the STC employee in the business organization.
Working the internal politics was as daunting a task as it must be at any large carrier.
The interworking of different groups were based on personal relationships amongst the Saudis and usually based on quid pro quo. I dare say, even a savvy politician like Obama would be challenged to get things done at a large carrier like this because there are so many interest groups to please.
TRI: Sid, thanks for your wonderful insights on the challenges of implementing a B/OSS at a major carriers. Your final thoughts?
Hoosein: We spoke about many B/OSS implementation issues, but I feel I've only scratched the surface. I've gone away from this experience with great respect for systems integrators like TCS who've made major investments and commitments in a market that requires new skills. But after all, that's what problem solvers always do. They take tough problems and turn them over, for the flipside of a problem is often an opportunity.
Sadique "Sid" Hoosein has extensive experience in the telecom industry. Sid held a number of positions at Telcordia Technologies between 1986 and 2001 spanning market analysis, business development, and product management. In his last position at Telcordia, Sid was responsible for Telcordia's offerings in the Customer Care and Billing arena.
Since 2001 Sid has consulted with or held positions with a number of BSS/OSS companies such as Amdocs, Convergys, Telarix, Ventraq (formerly Acecomm) and others. In his most recent assignment at Tata Consultancy Services, Sid was posted in Saudi Arabia and was a member of the leadership team for a large scale project for implementing the next generation BSS/OSS. Sid was responsible for business process reengineering and for validating requirements for CRM, Order Management, Inventory and Billing. He interfaced with many organizations and business units at Saudi Telecom Company for this project.
Sid has an MBA from the University of Michigan, an MS in Operations Research from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technologies in Mumbai, India.
You can reach Sid at: email@example.com