Rigas Parathyras, Liberty Global and Lejla Pljevljak-Rasidagic, ZIRA, look at the benefits of catalog-to-catalog integration.
Product catalog management and product lifecycle management support key goals for multiple stakeholders in modern communication service providers (CSPs):
- Product managers need to launch product improvements, new product lines and innovative products in a timely way.
- Customer experience managers are focused on creating a consistent and personalized product experience.
- Enterprise architects address systems’ overlapping catalog capabilities and duplication of reference catalog data in the IT landscape.
- Project delivery is interested in easy catalog integration as well as fast configuration and migration across environments.
- Marketing operations must react quickly to competition and introduce flexible offers and promotions.
- Product operations are concerned about avoiding overlapping product configurations and ensuring reconciliation of product reference data across systems.
The enterprise product catalog concept flourished over the last 10 years and was considered to help all of the teams above meet their key goals. The idea was that a single user interface should be used for configuring and viewing the product information and be made available to multiple users (all with different technical understanding). This would act as a data information master and eliminate the need for other catalogs in the IT landscape.
The time to market would decrease both for introducing new product lines, but also offers and promotions, as most of the activities are configuration-driven. The road to reach enterprise product catalog nirvana is a difficult one, but once the organization is there, the enterprise product catalog could deliver all the promised benefits.
It’s not that simple
Although enterprise catalogs are offered to simplify the IT landscape complexity within CSPs, in most cases this simplification may not be straightforward. A lot of systems come with their own catalog capabilities and they need a local reference to catalog data in order to work, in a format required by the application. An example is a billing system that requires the local catalog information during a bill run to ensure optimum performance. Such catalogs will not disappear from the IT landscape with the introduction of an enterprise product catalog master.
Though an enterprise catalog is often recommended for speeding time to market, it should be carefully designed so that it does not become a time to market bottleneck. Applications usually include specialized catalog data that is relevant for their functionality. Different catalogs — a content collateral catalog with all images and product marketing descriptions in the content management system, a rating catalog with all different rate plans and tariffs per country and time of day, a resource catalog with bill of materials and sockets, and a video catalog with all TV channels and video content — may not be ideal to be managed in a central system. Introducing these specialized entities in an enterprise catalog may not allow for flexibility for the different organizational units to do their business in a specialized manner. Changes are often required to the enterprise catalog to address different specialized requirements, with catalog ending up being a time to market bottleneck.
Digital disruption may also be another factor which proves that the enterprise product catalog will not be the answer to everything or at least will not be enough. New partnership models may make things even more challenging: Not only is it more difficult to simplify their own IT landscape, as service providers expand their offerings to new digital services that are often managed by different stacks, but CSPs now have to deal with different models of partnerships where catalog reference data is exchanged between systems which also have different mastership models. Selling other partner services and allowing other partners to sell their own services is key to staying relevant, so catalogs have to also work with different models where a different party may often be the one that is defining reference data.
An alternative to the introduction of a single master enterprise catalog is to invest in catalog-to-catalog integration and federation capabilities.
- Rather than eliminating catalogs, keep the existing specialized catalogs required by the different applications to perform optimally but also to maintain relevant information for the different domains. This will unlock the potential of existing product catalogs enabling reusability, modularity, componentization and flexibility.
- Instead of having a single master catalog, applications support open catalog-to-catalog APIs for allowing different mastership models about receiving and publishing catalog reference data information. This reduces costs in integrating the applications with the rest of the ecosystem during project implementation. Bodies like TM Forum are helping to bring standards and best practices to such interfaces.
- Rather than a single authoring process from one system, the providers should define a process for catalog authoring and catalog publishing that enables synchronization of the different data in a bi-directional way, due to the fact there is no single master. This enables automated data propagation and consistent flow of information across the IT landscape. Additionally it allows the repurposing of existing systems including legacy ones and reduces costs by adjusting processes and adding new tools only when necessary.
- Another approach to having an enterprise catalog, is introducing a product catalog hub that has the core product and service information. This is enough to support catalog-to-catalog enablement and publishing across the different specialized catalogs in a loosely coupled way. It is also a key enabler for plug-and-play multiple catalogs into the overall digital framework.
CSPs should carefully evaluate the different options available for improving product catalog management and favor business models that align with their business before making a final decision about their catalog strategy. Although enterprise catalog models sound promising, an alternative which combines a product catalog hub with catalog publishing based on open standards with different mastership models across specialized catalogs is a valuable alternative that should be considered.