Today, even the largest communications service providers only support 100 to 200 partners. These partnerships are with large enterprises and involve complex agreements that can take up to a year to put in place. As the Internet of Everything grows, they are going to have to find a way to work with thousands of smaller partners. Nancee Ruzicka looks at how very short-lived partnerships can help.
To compete in the digital world network operators must put themselves in a position to rapidly broker access to a wide variety of partners that will come and go based on demand, economics, geography or some other factor. Very short-lived partnership (VSLP) is a term used to describe the cloud-to-cloud-to-customer arrangements necessary to accommodate thousands of partners.
In a 2015 enterprise study, ICT Intuition found that 95 percent of business leaders surveyed want operators to deliver service bundles that include third-party applications, content, data collection, data processing, security and management services. Operators are beginning to offer bundles by automating and accelerating some onboarding functions and streamlining parts of the settlement process. However most are not yet fully integrated with revenue management systems. This is a start but it’s not the same as connecting with 10,000 or 20,000 partners on the fly.
What are the challenges?
Today, partnership agreements are fixed and can only be changed manually. Clearly that cannot scale to meet the demands of the IoE. To manage thousands of partners dynamically, operators must address obstacles including:
- Trillions of transactions: Operators already handle trillions of transactions, including each minute of use, SMS, call, connect and disconnect, as well as millions of status events from network elements, IT components, customer devices, services, applications and users. Adding thousands of partners means capturing, correlating, analyzing and transferring more data. Increasing the number of transactions, sources and destinations of data requires dynamic processes and intelligent automation.
- Not just the network: Onboarding partners means integrating their products with catalogs, order management, customer relationship management, billing, fulfillment and assurance systems. To take on VSLP partners, operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS) must scale to manage thousands of partners and accommodate hundreds of new and unique service instantiations. The scale of the network is affected, and data centers and OSS/BSS must scale too.
- Nobody rides for free: Each partner wants to be paid. The challenges around accurately collecting transaction data, billing multiple parties, reconciling payments to numerous providers, revenue assurance and fraud are monumental. Operators are rapidly replacing and upgrading OSS/BSS to add flexibility, but not all solutions will be able to meet the demands of thousands of partner relationships.
Operators are anxious to start generating revenue from VSLPs, but they need to adopt a strategy and structure that enables a hybrid, distributed operating model. Otherwise the processes and systems will remain the same – and they were never intended for this.
Customers in the cloud
Operators looking to monetize VSLPs need to act as brokers to cloud products and services from providers of all types and sizes. Acting as the conduit between the cloud and customers takes advantage of the deep relationship operators have with their customers while further reinforcing their brand as a full-service provider.
Most operators act as landlords providing access to infrastructure for tenants. Yet, there is value in offering additional services, and if done efficiently using the cloud, even more revenue can be realized by delivering over-the-top (OTT) services.
For example, some landlords include value-added services like electricity, water and trash collection in the rent charged to tenants. But what if there was a way for tenants to select customized services like laundry, cleaning or dog-walking, which could be bundled into the monthly charge? Tenants are willing to pay for convenience and more likely to stay once they have experienced it.
Operators can do the same by linking customers to cloud partners and becoming the trusted source for any type of service a customer might want. To do that, operators must take their game to the cloud as well and set up partner platforms to accomplish rapid evaluation, certification, on- and off-boarding, and settlements with partners.
How to do it
Operators need a strategy for VSLP that scales and includes:
- Evaluation: They need to determine which partnering opportunities are valid and which are potentially attractive to customers. Product duration, pricing, availability and security of the provider are evaluated up front.
- Validation: Once selected, partners need to be certified to ensure each can be integrated with network and cloud infrastructure. Using an open, cloud-based platform enables rapid integration and ensures interoperability.
- Integration, circulation: It’s not enough to add a partner’s product to the catalog, there must be sufficient integration with product management, billing and care solutions to bundle the product with services. Integration also needs to enable dynamically modifed pricing and configuration parameters, and to correlate transactions with customer billing and partner settlements – and enable activation, support and security.
- Compensation: Billing and revenue management solutions must be dynamically adjusted when pricing changes, promotions end or customers move on. Revenue assurance and fraud solutions must also include partners’ products and services.
Giving what‘s needed
Telcos will need to configure multiple integration platforms to accommodate different types of partners. Delivering movie downloads, for example, is substantially different from managing a city full of traffic light sensors. Individualized platforms can provide the right unique interfaces and actions, from onboarding to settlement (see Figure 1).
As volume increases, telcos can duplicate platforms to handle increased demand, and add platforms customized for new partners and categories.
Interfaces into and out of network operators’ product catalogs, order management, fulfillment, assurance and billing systems can be consistent and presented to the partner platform using standardized APIs, data models, templates, rules and automated workflow.
As changes are made to pricing, bundles or promotions in the product catalog, those same changes are reflected in the OSS/BSS as well as the partner’s platform.
Existing OSS/BSS will be challenged to support VSLPs at scale without partner platforms to address specific integration and configuration requirements.
The communications service providers that can marry VSLP products to their own services and rapidly deliver them to end customers are the ones who will be able to compete successfully with digital native OTT providers.
Network operators have always been able to manage scale.Ensuring they are able to scale to support thousands, rather than hundreds, of partners will very likely be worth the considerable investment.
This article appears in Perspectives 2017: Digital transformation opens new markets. Download the full report free here.