Will 2023 see a rise of best-of-breed BSS, or is best-of-suite still the best way forward for telcos? Richard Doughty weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of each approach for telcos looking to give their backend a new year revamp.
The decision on whether to move to a best-of-suite solution for telecoms BSS or shoulder the integration of a best-of-breed approach is a discussion that has re-emerged as a result of the success of generic SaaS platforms which are now being packaged specifically for telcos.
After years of widespread, large-scale integration failures, the telecoms industry saw a general move to best-of-suite solutions, and all the main BSS vendors adopted that approach, to one degree or another. But now, best-of-breed is back in vogue, with specialist CRM, billing, catalogue, fulfilment and charging vendors offering their wares in the cloud.
However, the benefits of a productised best-of-suite approach are as valid today as they were when the industry adopted them more than a decade ago. The movement of software in to public hyperscaler infrastructure doesn’t change that.
Moreover, the rapid improvement in integration standardisation for best-of-breed solutions is largely offset by the complexity of needing to integrate multiple different public clouds and govern how sensitive customer data moves between them. And with different release cycles from each vendor, constant upgrade and regression testing becomes the norm.
The best-of-suite solution brings many benefits: working end-to-end out of the box; a unified data model with no replication or unnecessary transmission of data; having a single throat to choke; the list goes on.
But there isn’t a single vendor that provides every service or capability that your business needs, so at some point a boundary needs to be drawn between the core BSS suite and the peripheral functions.
Drawing the lines
Several factors play a part in defining the perimeter:
Existing products and capability
It’s common that CSPs might have some point solutions within their existing tech stack that are either fit for purpose, in contract, or otherwise not up for replacement. Frequently seen examples are document formatting and creation, mediation, stock management and provisioning gateways. Often these systems are in use by and serving other downstream functions too, so their replacement has further ramifications.
Where the business wants to retain full control over a platform’s experience and capability. Often seen in the Party or Engagement layer, for digital channels such as online shops, mobile apps, and web-based customer self-service.
Natural break points in User Journeys
For example, well established technical boundaries in the Customer Order Management (COM) and Service Order Management (SOM) layers, with separate product and service catalogues, and distinct orchestration layers for each.
The BSS should be seen as a macro-function, fulfilling the needs of a user journey. Aligning where customer data is used and stored with the systems that are traversed by the customer journey makes sense, encapsulating the data at the journey level instead of the function; having done so, the BSS can serve the business as a single solution.
Using a pre-integrated core
A pre-integrated core BSS can provide the foundation which will then support and simplify key requirements of a digital solution:
Time to deployment
- Accepting orders from any channel, but unifying their fulfilment, enables dynamic transfer of sales across channels (e.g. started online, finished in a shop), allows for standardisation of processes where possible across channels, and supports easy addition of new channels (via third party storefront, APIs, or catalogue tenancy).
Single point of ownership for key customer and product information
- Pre-integration of the core features allows for rapid realisation of benefits. Standing up a full suite, lightly configured for specific use cases enables early commercial launch of new products. Remember – the pre-integrated suite works ends-to-end from catalogue to invoicing straight away.
- Particularly relevant in MVP (Minimum Viable Product) orientated replacements, where an early win is the primary focus, and more sophisticated products can be added through configuration after launch.
- Cost implications are another factor with consideration sometimes given to phased deployments (both positive and negative), all of which are inputs when deciding on whether to adopt the full suite or build more around the edges.
- Data will be used by different applications and decisions need to be taken on data ownership. Mastering within a suite and a data model that is broad enough to handle all components of the customer journey provides a sensible single source of truth. As long as the data is easily accessible through a service orientated architecture, ideally presented using industry standard APIs such as TM Forum Open APIs.
- The advantages of the main repository also manifest themselves in the analytics and insights which can be derived, benefitting from data that is already relationally linked.
- On a more commercial point, reducing the data processing and possibly data handling agreements that the CSP must maintain with their vendors is beneficial too. Having that Single Throat to Choke can be useful from many angles: project delivery, operational responsibility, data protection and risk management.
It’s not always straightforward
There are times when choosing to go with a more distributed approach of point solutions and suites looks likely to makes sense. It’s important to consider how much complexity you’re putting in each.
Some of the heaviest integration between modules in the BSS domain is between CRM components and the charging and billing systems. Customer data, package complexity and service control have only increased in richness and all of that requires data to be shared between these functions. That can be a lot of integration and a lot of discussion on what, where, and who masters that data.
Another key concern is managing multiple product catalogues in the best-of-breed model, where it is common to end up with separate catalogues for the sales system, tariff builders for the charging system, subscription products in a third, and maybe a fourth shadow catalogue for some CPQ. And that’s before you’ve got on to partners and third parties, or worried about service catalogues. Integrating all of that can be hard, keeping it in sync harder still.
Connecting the dots
When planning a BSS transformation, there’s an early decision needed on best-of-suite or best-of-breed.
There’s a core set of functions that really make sense from the best-of-suite model: product catalogue, CRM, order management, convergent charging & billing.
After that, there are valid discussions on what else you might use in the customer engagement layer, partner management, mediation, service management, and so on, but taking those core components from a best-of-suite solution removes the greatest set of integration risks from a project and takes care of the vast majority of customer data.
You can then start building around the edges, possibly with different, more tactical deployments for different markets. For example, a home-grown mobile app, a sector-specific dealer portal or wholesale gateway, or possibly an existing orchestration layer, or analytics and data warehouse solution. All of which best-of-suite vendors can often provide too, in fact Cerillion does supply to many customers, but we know that there can be times where CSPs want to go in a different direction with these peripheral systems.
Similarly, there are a lot of other potential touchpoints in the customer engagement lifecycle; from prospect through to termination, and possibly back again later. For example, we often see a lot of the sales enablement and marcoms tools included within the BSS requirements, and this makes sense – ideally you want a seamless flow from initial lead to first invoice, with all the complex deal evolution and order fulfilment tracked throughout.
But equally people have a lot of preferences in these areas for specialist platforms which have made a name for themselves outside of the telecoms industry and are gaining traction within. These areas include:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Electronic signatures/contracts
- Marketing communications
- Campaign management
- Leads and opportunity management
- Document design and production
- Content management
Cerillion, like a lot of major vendors, does some of these well, some okay, and some not at all. So, these can provide natural breakpoints in function too, though the BSS should be able to integrate easily (e.g. through Open APIs) and ideally surface information form these systems to present it in one place for the CSR.
And for this type of work, Systems Integrators provide an excellent service. These well-scoped integrations are far lower risk, do not require SIs to do a lot of development, and remove the need for the CSP to carry a large development headcount.
SIs can also provide a useful governance layer in the larger programmes. Though BSS is often a large part of a Digital Transformation, it’s by no means the only area that’s impacted across the business. The governance layer on such a programme is likely to be between 12 and 36 months, and requires full time attention; if the CSP is not staffed to run projects of that scale, then using an SI partner in a governance and delivery capacity (instead of as an integration partner) can allow the stakeholders to focus on the core business.
Due to the pre-integration and standardisation inherent in a best-of-suite BSS, CSPs can achieve economies of scale on all aspects of the solution: module licensing, integration, platform costs and support. So, the more modules you take from the suite, the greater the return on investment.
If you’re looking to build with the suite and add more capability then check how the vendor opens-up the platform, be clear on delineation of data ownership and product control, and always look to get as much breadth from it. Better to start with the capability to support all lines of business in the same BSS, and then benefit from the easy configuration and adaption you can do yourself with that suite, once you’re getting commercial benefit from it and know how you want it to behave.