|Topic:||Managed telecommunication services and a vibrant economy|
|Title:||Senior Vice-President & General Manager, Communications Solutions Group|
Mr Thomas White is senior vice-president and general manager of Agilent Technologies’ Communications Solutions Group. White’s experience in electrical engineering began in Hewlett-Packard Company’s London offices, where he started as a staff engineer in the Test and Measurement sales office. Since then, Mr White has held numerous managerial positions in field sales and services as well as in the Manufacturing Divisions in the United Kingdom, was promoted to general manager of the Telecoms Systems Division (TSD) in Scotland and then general manager of the Computer Peripherals Bristol Division. Mr White was later appointed vice-president and general manager of the Communications Solutions Group until his appointment as Agilent’s senior vice- president and general manager, Communications Solutions. Mr White is also Country General Manager for Agilent UK Ltd. White was born in Newark, Nottinghamshire, England. Mr White received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Liverpool University.
India’s growth as a global economic power depends in large part upon its telecommunication infrastructure and high quality services. Telecom operators need strategies for effective network and service management, especially for their highly profitable corporate accounts. Corporations, though, want guaranteed quality of service. To deliver world-class services, telecom operators need OSS–operational support systems. Systems that collect, consolidate, and prioritise information, to present an aggregated, ‘real-time’, view of service quality for targeted customer accounts are essential.
Telecommunication networks carry the lifeblood of modern enterprises. India’s success in becoming a global economic power will be determined in large part by the country’s ability to provide a robust telecommunication infrastructure with high quality services. Until recently, telecommunications in India were a state-run monopoly characterised by severely limited deployment and coverage, serving less than six per cent of the country’s population. However, the country has been making great strides to catch up to neighbours such as China and Malaysia, whose economies have benefited from the opening of their markets and by permitting foreign investment. In 2004, there has been a flurry of activity in India’s telecommunication sector as regulatory and policy changes encourage domestic and foreign investment, competition among players intensifies, and the number of subscribers has grown by double digit rates. Liberalised licensing rules have fuelled a boom, particularly in mobile communications. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or TRAI (2004), reports that of the nearly 4 million subscribers added in July and August 2004, close to 90 per cent were mobile subscribers. While these changes are exciting and crucial to the country’s development, they bring with them the inevitable headaches that beset telecom operators: increasingly complex operating environments, difficult technology decisions, and relentless competition that spawns price wars and customer churn. Telecom operators, if they are to remain viable, must quickly find and nourish a profitable customer base while providing support for a national economy on the rise. Profitable customers are business customers—and business customers demand high quality services. That means, in addition to resolving capital funding and deployment issues, telecom operators have to put in place strategies for effective network and service management. Operator situation today Operators in India, incumbents as well as new players, all have aggressive plans for expansion. Whether they are laying fibre in the ground or putting up towers, they face similar–universal–operational challenges. Equipment costs are high. The network, including the data network used for service delivery, control and monitoring, was installed over time and exists in discrete pockets. Equipment and software have been procured from dozens of vendors and may span multiple generations of technology. Providing limited or no insight into the performance of the network and services, operations cannot be managed efficiently to meet the market demand. Telecom operators in India recognise the need for OSS–Operational Support Systems. Many today are making the transition from the effort to get their networks up and running–a process that requires significant testing and fine-tuning of the network elements–to deploying systems that monitor the health of the network infrastructure, manage the physical plant, and automate operational processes such as fault detection an service configuration. The next step is implementation of service management tools. When telecom operators install an OSS that integrates network and service management components, they gain the ability to deliver world-class services to regional and international customers. Need for service visibility Nearly all businesses of any size depend on communication services; the traditional fixed-line voice, the mobile services that facilitate logistics, the servers that host corporate web sites and email, and the data networks that transport business-to-business transactions. Poor service in any of these areas means loss of revenue, for the business and for the telecom operator responsible who, as a result, may lose a profitable business account. To obtain a picture of how well services are performing for customers, telecom operators require an OSS that can actively test as well as passively monitor services. Active call testing is perhaps the best way to obtain service-quality information early in a service’s life cycle, before commercial launch or during ramp-up when service usage is still low. Active call testing measures the availability and performance of services and it can be used to emulate the experience of customers making calls at different locations in the network. Mobile network operators can use active testing to check the quality of service they are providing their own customers, as well as to customers of their interconnect partners with whom they have roaming agreements. To be most useful, the OSS also should contain a service-management component that can collect, consolidate, and prioritise information, presenting an aggregated ‘real-time’ view of service quality for targeted customer accounts. The service-management component will bring order to the chaos that can overwhelm a network operations centre when different systems in the network begin accumulating data and sending alarms. In a large network operations centre, hundreds or even thousands of alarms may be triggered during a day. Personnel must find answers quickly to some very critical questions: Is there an actual service problem? How does one tell? Are customers being affected? Which ones? How seriously? Should those customers be notified? To provide the answers, the OSS needs the ability to: √ Detect service outages and potential threats to services; √ Correlate incoming alarms and data; √ Assess the impact of the event that triggered the alarm on services and customers; √ Isolate the origin of the problem; √ Analyse the probable root cause. The service-management component can tap into the wealth of data contained in the network by accessing the network monitoring and management components. It can, for example, use information from the fault management, performance management, trouble ticketing, active test, network-probe, usage and inventory-provisioning systems. Data from these multiple sources can feed a centralised analysis engine to create meaningful, real-time information about end-to-end service status. Ideally, the OSS will filter out transient or isolated events and intelligently prioritise service problems, making sure that those with the most serious consequences for customers and the telecom operator’s business are highlighted to be dealt with first. Managed enterprise services Telecom operators in India who deploy broadband data networks- fixed-wire IP networks today and high speed wireless data networks in the future – are able to offer managed enterprise services such as virtual private networks (VPNs). Managed services are a good way to increase revenue and maintain an edge with sophisticated corporate customers. Corporate accounts contribute by far the most revenue per subscriber; however, they come with strings attached. Before corporations entrust critical business functions to a telecom operator, they want guarantees that service quality expectations will be met. The operator, therefore, must be able to document service quality as experienced by each customer and customer account. Most OSS solutions are network or service oriented, but lack the ability to measure the experience of individual subscribers and aggregate the results for a specified group. One approach to doing this is to link data from subscriber service usage records (SURs) and IP data records (IPDRs) compiled from network probes. This data becomes the basis for a high-level, real-time scorecard that presents critical customer requirements along with access to more granular layers of information. The customer-experience measures used by the OSS uncover problems typically not identified through traditional monitoring. For example, a mis-configured firewall could prevent a customer from using a VPN service. The error would not be flagged as a network or service problem though it greatly impacts the customer’s ability to do business. In addition to providing critical information to network and service troubleshooters, the OSS should notify account managers of the steps being taken to resolve any problems that occur with a managed service. The account manager can then convey information to the customer as appropriate to prevent unpleasant surprises. Customer-care representatives should also be alerted so that they can handle incoming calls. Access to fine-grained, detailed data at this point helps them qualify and route reported problems. An automated, real-time method of documenting and reporting service quality–as delivered to the customer–is essential. This would go a long way toward enhancing a particular telecom operator’s attractiveness to the corporate world. Looking to the future Although it appears that India will not soon need high levels of technology to support advanced data services, that view may well be shortsighted. Even though the vast majority of Indians do not yet have basic telephone service, the 40 – 49 per cent reported growth rate of mobile subscribers suggests that the consumer market is growing quickly. More importantly, reliable telecommunication services are essential to the success of many of India’s growth sectors, including banking, shipping, travel and tourism, to name a few. Entrepreneurs have launched the first voice over IP (VoIP) telephony services, and the cost for VoIP calls has been dropping rapidly. Western corporations are notoriously relocating their call centres to India, relying on the country’s ability to deliver an appropriate quality of voice and data services. If India continues to push for open markets and capital investment, there is no reason why they cannot create a robust infrastructure carrying the most advanced services. This will provide vital support for the growing, vibrant, Indian economy. Telecom service management is one investment that can help achieve this goal.