Richard Doughty talks to Alistair Carwardine, Technology Director at M2 Telecommunications in Australia, about how they are working with Cerillion to support multiple retail and wholesale brands on a common BSS platform.
RD: Hi Alistair, and welcome to the Cerillion Blog. Tell me a little bit about M2?
AC: M2 Telecommunications is fundamentally a reseller of telecommunications services. We offer a number of different product types including fixed-wire voice, mobile voice, mobile broadband and various data services.
The customer segments we address cover from consumers through to small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). For our SMB markets typically we’re looking at segmentations of 2-20 seats, and 20-200 hundred seats, and we have a range of services and products that are applicable to each.
M2 has grown significantly since it was formed in 1999. That expansion has come both via organic growth and also by acquisition, and we have a number of different brands in the market. The acquisitions have varied from relatively small customer bases which you’d argue are bolt-on acquisitions, through to genuinely transformational acquisitions.
Our major consumer brands are Dodo and iPrimus, and for our business customers it’s Commander.
M2 Wholesale also targets a relatively small number of other telco resellers with a range of services not dissimilar to the services that we offer ourselves in the retail market. For the future we do look to wholesaling other products and services, and of course that will be led by the new products and services we push out in our retail brands.
RD: So tell me about your role as Technology Director, what’s a typical working day for you?
AC: As Technology Director I have accountability for the information technology and network services technologies, along with all the associated capital investment, all the headcount and the teams that are involved, and of course managing the vendors that assist us with the supply of these services.
It is an unusual organisation; the experience in Australia is that typically technologies are divided into IT and network. However we’ve made a conscious decision that we should bring both of these technologies groups under a single lead, primarily so that we can focus on the development and deployment of the integrating piece of technology, which is the BSS and OSS.
In the current market we’re very focussed on developing products that will allow us to surprise and delight our customers, be they retail or wholesale. These products and services need to be able to be presented in a way via an engine that will enable us to take an order, provision the service, bill and then care for the customer. The delivery underneath it can be by our own network or indeed via over the top services which are provided by alternate vendors, and as a result of that method, we view the integration piece as being very important in the BSS and the OSS function.
That of course means that we want to combine our technologies, which means it makes it a much more straightforward process to have all the technology within a single group.
Our teams are broad: We have an IT team that is focused both on managing technologies that are delivered via commercial off the shelf software providers, through to and indeed, developing, testing and deploying our own bespoke software.
For our networks, again, we have a similar model where we’ll rely on carriers to provide products and services and in some cases, indeed, deliver those products and services ourselves. We possess quite an interesting array of network and technologies.
RD: Australia’s quite a mature market and also a crowded market. What are the current challenges for M2 and where do you see yourselves?
AC: The market here is dominated by an incumbent which of course is a typical experience across many countries. Telstra is the lead provider of most telco services and that’s both across the physical transmission of data and voice, through to the consumer and business products that are, if you like, at the end consumption point.
Telstra has had a number of competitors grow since deregulation in the mid-nineties with the rise of Optus providing fixed, mobile and data services, and Vodafone providing mobile services. Since that time of course there have been a number of other entrants such as IINet, TPG and of course M2.
With the acquisition of Dodo and Primus, M2 has achieved top 200 status in the ASX and that means that we are a healthy player in this market.
RD: You mentioned Primus. That acquisition also sees M2 transition from being a pure reseller into a Telco who actually has some of its own network as well?
AC: To a degree that’s true. Since the acquisition of a number of companies in 2008/9, M2 had started to develop some quite significant data capabilities, particularly with the deployment of a couple of MPLS networks and a voice switch. However, you’re right when you say that with the acquisition of Primus, we suddenly moved into a zone where we have quite a significant network presence and we’re actually now a fully-fledged carrier.
So, on the one hand the competitive landscape is dominated by Telstra as the lead incumbent and Optus and Vodafone for mobile. But the other significant competitive activity is the deployment of the national broadband network (NBN). NBN in a sense is rolling out a variety of high speed access networks. The NBN will provide access to what are known as retail service providers
and these RSPs will then, using the access network, deliver products and services to both business and residential consumers.
This introduces an interesting dynamic. Firstly; it means that the position of Telstra will change, and will move away from being the sole provider of copper access and move to being a RSP. Secondly; every household and every business that’s currently a user of the copper access network will be forced to make a decision. They’ll be forced to choose an RSP of their own. As a result it creates a very significant opportunity for many players in the market to be able to pick up on a change which will demand that consumers, who ordinarily wouldn’t think about their provider, actually have to choose a provider to work with and of course we see this as a big opportunity for M2.
RD: So how does all this translate into your BSS / OSS strategy? What initiatives or projects are you undertaking within M2?
AC: As we’ve grown by acquisition, each acquisition has resulted in us inheriting new teams, new business processes, and of course new systems and underpinning technologies. And all this ends up being quite a challenging ecosystem to manage. Very quickly we are able to consolidate and optimise business processes across brands and across acquisitions as they’re brought into the fold, but it’s a much more complex piece to rationalise the data that’s served by those processes and of course the applications and systems themselves.
So the big focus for the last few years has been to deploy a common BSS that allows us to bring together these disparate systems and allow us to present a single platform that’s used across the business - regardless of brand, business segment and the products and services that we offer. That’s been our driving vision that we should present capabilities in a ‘factory’ or an engine that can be used by M2, in order for it to achieve its business goals, and deliver its products and services efficiently.
RD: By ‘factory’ model, you mean this a sort of multi-tenanted model?
AC: Yes, we have been working on the concept of multi-tenancy since 2010. It’s the idea that we should be able to have a common engine, the factory, that at the front-end is tailored to that individual segment, allowing customers to purchase products and services from a specific brand. In the back office we integrate the delivery of those products and services via a common platform which gives us scalability and the benefits of reduced touch and improved workflow.
The concept of multi-tenancy says that we can, within that single factory, service our customers through multiple brands, resellers and channels.
RD: M2 and Cerillion have been working together now for 4 years. How has the relationship developed and how is Cerillion helping you to differentiate from your competitors?
AC: The relationship with Cerillion is very strong. We set out in 2009 with the vision of a factory that was going to support M2 through the process of acquisition, and to rationalise and deliver a BSS that could be used as the platform for our future.
We went through a very complex and competitive tendering process starting with around 60 vendors initially. This was cut first to a dozen, and then down to a shortlist of 5 that we wanted to test much more exhaustively. Finally we came down to two options, Cerillion and one other, that we put through a detailed review process just to really understand what was going on. And frankly, Cerillion was clearly the best fit for us, and we’ve certainly not regretted that decision and it’s now been a matter of having made that decision how we go about implementing it.
The deployment of a business support system is a remarkably complex task. It’s not a matter of dropping a new technology in; it’s not a matter of rolling in a new application; it’s actually quite a sophisticated change programme that touches all elements and parts of a business. Included with that is the need to be able to meaningfully pull data from the legacy systems and present it in such a way that it can still be used. As always data is king, and this is really at the core of how we’ve gone about deploying the Cerillion solution.
We had a lengthy deployment for our first launch and a couple of salient points there stand out. Firstly, that I was very confident with the Cerillion system, and secondly that the organisation would be flexible and help us through any unforeseeable challenges. No matter how much research and preparation you do, there are always going to be times when you need to make difficult decisions or treat integration issues in different ways that you can’t possibly foresee at the time of a contract. I have a great deal of comfort that we’ve been able to work very well and in a very mature way with Cerillion to get to that point of launch. We also have a high degree of confidence in the way we’ll work together with future migrations, and as our business is changing and as technologies change, that Cerillion will be there to assist us and respond to us appropriately.
RD: Excellent, thank you. Through working with both Cerillion the product and Cerillion the company,
what results have you been able to achieve so far?
AC: We went live first with our People Telecom brand in March 2012. At the time, this brand was about 30% of our SMB base. Once it bedded down, we rolled out our next brand, Commander, starting with all new order intake (NOI) in March 2013. Since that time we’ve migrated and scheduled other smaller bases in our portfolio.
The real strength of Cerillion is the confidence we have in our ability to reliably provision, mediate, rate and invoice our customers, along with detailed reconciliation and assurance processes. Furthermore, we have a platform from which we can build our products and services as we deploy IP based solutions.
Deploying a complex BSS is a multistage process. We’ve started the journey to extract benefit from the implementation, which will accelerate as we grow the base of customers and services in the system.
RD: What do you think is the next generation in terms of M2’s customer offerings and where do you see the business going in the next 3 to 5 years?
AC: As we transition from TDM delivered voice to an IP-based voice product, we need to use different ways to mediate and rate usage of different forms. We also need to use our BSS to deal with different data types. For example, we have a deployment of BroadSoft and there’s an awful lot we can do with that, which we’re also looking to Cerillion to help us achieve. Similarly, we can see some very sophisticated data products and voice switch products that can be deployed, especially to our SMB customers, and we think that Cerillion should be able to help us achieve that too.
RD: And finally, what other opportunities do you see M2 being able to take advantage of in the future?
AC: There’s also a whole range of products and services wrapped up in what you might call Cloud. So these are the delivery of more than just elements of content, more than just very simple services, but quite complex applications and services and value-adds that exist in the Cloud. Every Telco will be considering how they play in the Cloud space and we are very keen to be a part of that. We absolutely need to be able to have a good story there and be able to present products and services that you’d be able to call Cloud in a meaningful way.
And again this keeps coming back to the original concept, the whole idea about why technology is integrated at M2. With the BSS and OSS in the right place, we can present over the top products like a Cloud offering, IPTV or whatever other form of content or service, and make it easy for customers to turn it on or off, to use it or to deny use, and of course do it in a way that’s efficient and billable!
RD: Alistair, thank you very much for your time and sharing your experiences with our readers.