|Topic:||Getting ready for IP communications assurance|
|Title:||President, Service Assurance-Broadband|
William Burns is the President of Service Assurance-Broadband, Spirent Communications. He is responsible for the globalisation, growth and strategic direction of the Service Assurance division of Spirent Communications. Before joining Spirent, he was the Senior Vice President of Global Marketing, Strategy and Business Development of Tellabs, where he held several senior sales management and sales engineering positions. Willian Burns holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a specialisation in Engineering, from College Misericordia, Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Temple University, Pennsylvania.
With the widespread rollout of IP communications, operators must face the increased complexity of managing IP-based services. These services, whether residential triple play or business systems, present clear operational and technical challenges. Today’s technician, and there are few who are qualified, faces challenges that dwarf those of yesterday. Fortunately, software solutions and network appliances are available to automate the IP troubleshooting process. To provide high-quality competitive services, operators need systems that let lower tier technicians quickly resolve IP platform problems.
Ready or not, IP-based communications are here, promising new service rollouts, revenue opportunities and operational efficiencies. The dawn of IP communications was inevitable. However, what may be a surprise is the increased complexity associated with managing IP-based services. These services, whether the new rage of residential triple play or powerful new business services, present some clear and daunting challenges, many of which will rest squarely on the shoulders of operations technicians. Challenges such as reducing costs to deliver services, managing competitive service offerings and scaling to meet growth, all trickle down to an operation’s ability to deliver and manage services that meet subscriber expectations. It’s a complex IP world Today’s technician faces technical challenges that dwarf those of yesterday. New IP services are more complex and difficult to troubleshoot. Technicians must be able to locate and verify IP service troubles, rapidly diagnose problems and formulate a resolution. This is not unlike yesterday’s technician, but additional expertise is required to address multiple services with variable service level requirements, multiple OSI (open systems interconnection) layers and a host of new routing and switch technologies. These requirements change the picture significantly. The skill level of the operations groups of a few years ago simply does not measure up to today’s IP service management requirements. The increased complexity and subsequent impact on operations poses significant risks to the operational expense savings service providers are counting on. Operations must have technicians that can address not only voice problems, but video and data issues as well, and the skills to troubleshoot these problems across multiple OSI layers. For example, when a customer calls with a VoIP problem, the technician must ask several questions. Is the problem a Layer 7 application issue, a problem of route flapping at Layer 3, an Ethernet Layer 2 issue or a DSL physical Layer problem? If the VoIP call is destined for a PSTN (analog) phone, they must determine whether the source of the trouble is in the IP or PSTN portion of the network. How many of your technicians have five years experience supporting VoIP networks and understanding the new signalling protocols or network elements required to deliver video over IP? The services themselves are new to technicians. If you throw in the transient nature of IP troubles, and the continuous need for service providers to expand the subscriber base, you quickly realise that you cannot hire, train and deploy enough technicians to meet the demand. The IP communications business is born of competition. With traditional voice subscriptions lost to wireless and VoIP providers and the DSL versus cable battle raging, traditional telcos are losing revenues to stiff competition. The residential broadband market continues to be a hotly contested segment, spawning bundled services to attract high-value customers. The competitive advantages of bundled services are the reduced probability of subscribers’ changing service providers and the opportunity to add higher-value, revenue-generating services. This means hitting the issues of complexity head-on. Delivering best-of-breed services from the outset improves the chances of keeping customers happy, building a platform to attract new customers, and of maintaining a stable environment to offer tomorrow’s revenue-expanding solutions. However, this success can only be achieved by addressing the complex, new operational requirements associated with IP. Operational changes Service providers need to recognise the critical role that service management operational support systems (OSSs) play in supporting operations teams. In the past, OSSs were typically procured and deployed as an afterthought to network or service deployment. Budget was typically assigned to roll out the network and turn up the services as quickly as possible in order to start generating revenue. The systems that operations needed to manage the network were often addressed after the services had been deployed and customer complaints had begun stacking up. Competition-conscious service providers recognise the need to invest in service management systems as part of the network and service rollout plan, ensuring that these systems are in place before a service is provided to the customer. In a competitive world, service providers realise they will get only one opportunity to get it right. It is vital that providers make testing of services a critical part of the activation process, and testing and diagnostics an integral part of the ongoing troubleshooting process. Growing the business ahead of staffing requirements The technician assigned today to manually address a customer’s VoIP quality complaint is a high-level, well-trained resource and an expensive one as well. Yet without the proper service management tools, the resolution of the trouble is still left to chance. The technician may find the trouble right away, but the effort most likely will be a long process that will frustrate the customer, consume additional resources and possibly jeopardise future revenue. The operational goals of the typical service provider are to reduce the cost of service delivery, offer additional services to increase overall revenue, while meeting the expectations of the subscriber. To achieve these goals, service providers must reverse a legacy trend, the costly policy of hiring more IP experts than tier one technicians. In fact, the goal would be to empower tier one call centre technicians with the expertise to diagnose and resolve the majority of problems on the first call. This would result in lower operating expense, or Opex, and better service metrics such as mean time to repair. The bottom line is that in order to achieve their Opex reduction objectives, service providers must attract, keep and grow their tier one workforce. The increased technical complexity of IP networks, the subsequent operational impact and aggressive growth projections, make it clear that with current methods, operations will fall short of IP expertise. That is where IP service management can help, by providing tools that empower tier one technicians to become IP experts while growing the business and without hindering operational capabilities. What is it going to take? Service providers need to change the way they approach operations support systems. Getting ahead of the IP game means deploying test and diagnostic solutions that provide operations with a competitive advantage – an advantage that provides the necessary expertise to address the new IP complexity, that enables service providers to benefit from operational efficiencies and that comes from delivering high-quality IP services that meet the subscriber’s expectations from day one. Fortunately, this time around technology is keeping up with the need. Software solutions and network appliances are available to automate the IP troubleshooting process. In fact, today’s test and diagnostic solutions can effectively increase the expertise of any operations centre. These solutions can emulate specific IP services, and give the technician a snapshot into the subscriber’s view of service quality. Armed with advanced test and diagnostic data, technicians can efficiently address the greater complexity, from multiple services to multiple layers. In the not so distant future, IP services will be turned up completely verified, and once operational, diagnosed by an automated expert analysis systems. No turning back There is no turning back for service providers. Service delivery over a converged IP network is upon us. Nevertheless, to reap the benefits of rapid service deployment, competitive service bundles, to realise Opex savings and meet the needs of demanding subscribers, service providers must change the priority they give to service management OSS planning. Diagnostic tools that enable service turn-up, verification, rapid trouble management and automation capabilities need to be part of the implementation strategy. Operations need the tools to enable lower-cost tier one technicians to troubleshoot as quickly and as well as high-priced tier two and tier three IP experts. It is the only way to achieve the revenue growth and Opex savings service providers are counting upon and that shareholders demand.