MWD11 – Cloudy with sunny intervals

MWD11 – Cloudy with sunny intervals Management World Dublin, or #MWD11 to use its Twitter moniker, is the TM Forum’s annual extravaganza that has become the largest dedicated BSSOSS event in the telecoms industry. With a packed conference agenda and a bustling exhibition hall featuring the ever-popular ‘forumville’ showcases, it’s hard to catch your breath as you bounce from one appointment to the next. Throw into that a set of TM Forum training programmes and exams, and there are times when it feels like the TM Forum has become something of a religion, with a dedicated following of more than 3,500 disciples at this particular gathering.

I, for one, am a believer. Continuing the great work started by the Global Billing Association (GBA), which was merged into the TM Forum 4 years ago, the TM Forum has become the de facto community for all things billing and customer management, with service providers and vendors working side-by-side to address the challenges of the telecoms industry. 

Digital lifestyles
 
The conference keynotes provided some great insights on the market, with speakers from industry heavyweights such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Alcatel-Lucent, as well as very different perspectives from the likes of Facebook, Ogilvy and Universal Music Group.
 
Stephen Shurrock, CEO of O2 Ireland talked at length about the customer journey to the ‘total digital life’ and how their role is to enable that journey through the innovative use of technology. He also talked about the polarisation of customer behaviour in the current economic climate: on the one hand there are customers who are continually trying to save money – ‘self-optimising’ prepay customers moving to cheaper options; whilst on the other, there are customers who are looking at how they can make the most of new technology.
 
Neil Montefiore, CEO of Starhub, painted a very different picture of the market in Singapore, where mobile penetration is approaching 150%, household broadband penetration has reached 200% (including mobile broadband) and 97% of new sales are now smartphones. Giving some insight into the impact of the rapidly growing tablet market, he indicated the average tablet user in Singapore consumes a staggering 12GB of data per month compared with 1GB for a smartphone. But whilst high growth of data usage may be causing headaches for operators in other regions, all the networks in Singapore have already made the investment in all-IP backhaul so they are much better equipped.
 
Singapore is also at the forefront with its Next Generation National Broadband Network (NBN), which will provide full national coverage by 2013 and offer support for up to 1Gb/sec. The big question for them (and everyone else) is what services will customers need this bandwidth for? Once again the telecoms industry runs the risk of having the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality, rather than using technology to solve real customer problems.
 
The killing of billing?
 
In the keynote for the Maximising Revenue & Customer Experience Forum conference stream, Cerillion’s CEO, Louis Hall, took part in a panel debate on the controversial subject of ‘The Killing of Billing’. Chaired by Tony Poulos from the TM Forum, and alongside Lucas Skoczkowski, CEO of Redknee, and John Aalbers, CEO of Volubill, the panel discussed the dynamics of a changing billing landscape.
 
The thrust of the debate centred on whether online charging and policy management systems could be combined with traditional accounting systems to fulfil all billing requirements?
 
There is no doubt that charging and policy management now form the centrepiece of next generation billing architectures, and the panellists agreed on this unanimously. However in policy terms, we’re seeing the move from simple network-driven policy, such as implementing data caps or throttling, to the desire to use more customer-specific reference data to drive upsell opportunities and an improved customer experience. The combination of policy management, charging and access to the master customer record is a very powerful business tool for marketers.
 
Online or convergent charging systems will increasingly be used for all customers, irrespective of how they choose to pay for their services, but for the foreseeable future there will always be the need for cyclical billing processes. This is driven by the way accounting is done, how tax is managed, how people manage their own money and budgets, corporate requirements for analysing communications spend and so on.
 
You also have to remember that many CSPs are offering an extremely broad array of services over a variety of different networks and often across many different geographies. The job of the billing system is to manage this complexity, provide flexibility in the packaging of these services, and then present usage and billing information in an easy to understand format. No two convergent billing environments are the same and the key is to have BSS / OSS solutions that are flexible and can support business changes easily.
 
Cloud, cloud and more cloud
 
Elsewhere in the conference it was hard to get away from the hype surrounding cloud services, which are being talked up by all corners of the industry. And if it wasn’t cloud services it was talk about the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvotn which threatened to disrupt travel plans. Thankfully, this passed without impact for the majority of participants, but there were a few grumblings about the Dublin weather from some of the delegates. The Irish climate can be unpredictable at the best of times, and it was never going to match the sunshine of the former host city of Nice on the Cote d’Azur, but in my opinion Ireland more than makes up for it with its other charms and local culture.
 
The impressive new Convention Centre Dublin (CCD) made a fine venue for the conference and exhibition, however it would benefit from having a few more local facilities within a short walk. Particularly when it’s a bit wild and windy for making calls outside. Overall, it was a very busy and successful event, and I will be very happy to return to the Emerald Isle again next year.
 
Let us know your experiences from MWD11 by posting your comments below.