Piling products into a shopping cart barely touches the tip of what a cart can truly enable in today’s prevailing e-commerce environment. There’s the valuable data that comes from it and goes into it, the positive customer experience it enables via a seamless journey, and the often bespoke promotions it can offer along the journey to make it truly personalized and engage the customer.
With digitization at the fore in communications industry, many service providers are embracing online business concepts similar to those used by e-retailers, and the shopping cart is an inevitable necessity for drawing in digital-savvy telco customers.
Jacob Avraham, Portfolio Architect, Amdocs, led the charge as lead architect of the development of the completely new Shopping Cart API, which was a part of the latest release of TM Forum Open APIs (application program interfaces).
All the Forum’s Open APIs were developed to help communications service providers (CSPs) manage their back-end systems more easily and create products and services for customers more quickly. I sat down with Avraham to talk in-depth about his involvement in the Shopping Cart API and why it’s so important.
JOB: Give us a little background about the development of the API and Amdocs’ involvement in it.
JA: In Amdocs, we have over 30 years of telecom industry expertise, so when we designed the Shopping Cart API with TM Forum and other industry participants (from Orange, Vodafone, Infonova, IBM, Huawei), we brought to the table the numerous business use cases that we knew from the telecom industry.
The idea was introduced in 2016, around September/October, after which we started to have weekly calls to discuss it and explore the possibilities and logistics. The discussions were eventually concluded at TM Forum Action Week in February 2017, at Lisbon. The larger member team was able to have some face-to-face discussions, much needed seeing as we were from different companies and scattered around the globe. We discussed any open issues and challenges we wanted to consult on. Finally, the Open API was published in August 2017.
JOB: What was your personal motivation helping to develop this Open API?
JA: First I want to open with a general statement in terms of the motivation I had in helping to develop all the Forum APIs I was involved with. Openness is one of Amdocs’ key technology principles; we believe that this is the foundation and the way to develop the technology. We’ve evolved our portfolio to be more digital, and also to make it more efficient for CSPs in their digital transformation journey.
We want to be a real part of this digital evolution; we want to influence it; we want to contribute. We were very happy to see a similar drive at TM Forum, so it was very natural that we worked together to align our efforts.
When we started to look at the Open APIs we could be a part of developing, amongst a few others, we decided to get involved with the Shopping Cart API. It was very interesting because it did not exist in SID [TM Forum’s Information Framework].
In the ecommerce ecosystem the shopping cart is a fundamental entity required to bridge the flow of catalog discovery when you’re browsing a shop/e-shop, and eventually create a product order and then instantiate it to the product inventory. There was a gap in between which this API is bridging. One of our motivations and challenges was figuring out how to close this gap.
In the past we used the Product Order API as the entity, or other shopping cart products. Now we had the opportunity to step in to influence and direct this Shopping Cart API specifically for telcos.
JOB: What were some of the challenges you faced in trying to develop this?
JA: The shopping cart was not designed like the regular, generic shopping cart you’d have at Amazon and eBay. It had to accommodate unique telco scenarios, like modifying the customer’s own telco products. It had to allow configuration of complex telco service products or telco products which are configured differently and have a uniquely complex structure.
The challenge was, in one way, how to have a standardized interface which is simple but also flexible and rich enough to meet all the use cases of the telco, and also to allow flexible implementation on the same interface. So, we had a lot of discussions to see how different implementations can work with the same interface.
Another challenge is that this shopping cart is in between the ‘flow’. It’s like a pivot between the Catalog API and the Product Ordering API, so the structures must be aligned. The same standards and patterns mean a smooth transition between the Shopping Cart API and these APIs.
As it was an entirely new entity, we needed to align it to the model of the Catalog API, and see how this model could be represented in the shopping cart and then transformed to the product order. This was not an easy task because we already had the product order model in place and so we were constrained in a way; limited to the model of the product order because we needed a similar model for an easy transition.
So, on one hand we had a product order, on the other we had a catalog, and in between we had the shopping cart. We had to make sure this transition was easy to do.
There were many discussions in trying to understand whether there were any new patterns we needed to introduce to optimize the relationship between them, before bridging them and making sure they worked well.
JOB: Why do you think the Shopping Cart API is important for telcos to have? What does it do that’s different from what’s already out there?
JA: This was a missing link in telcos’ e-commerce flows in the order capture process. The shopping cart is a fundamental entity we all experience in our day to day life when ordering things online. This entity was missing, it was not there, and there was a lot of discussion as to whether this was needed at all.
We discussed it, and thought that maybe we can use product order for this kind of stuff or something else that already existed. Then we realized that this shopping cart actually has its own lifecycle. You add to the cart, remove from the cart, leave things there for a couple of days, come back to cart; so the lifecycle was different than the product order.
We also realized it’s not just somewhere in the user interface. While not essential in the back end, it’s very crucial to have this kind of entity with its own lifecycle, which at a specific point, can then lead to the product order. Until then, you can manipulate it, change it, save the cart, etc. The shopping cart gives the user more flexibility and power over their telco retail experience.
This API will save telcos a lot of time and effort in creating their own shopping cart experience. It can, of course, be used as a standalone API, but the most benefits come from using it with the Forum’s APIs. All the structures and schemes are consistent, everything is tied together and they will be easy to implement together. It’s not designed in isolation but with the portfolio of the Forum’s other APIs in mind.
JOB: Have you thought of any next steps in terms of developing or implementing this API?
JA: We have started to implement it and are constantly using, testing and developing it. If we find anything we need to extend we will do so. And of course this is our standardized model which and we are promoting its use as much as possible.