OSS/BSS: Change no More a Dreaded Word

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Telcos are going through a complex phase. The demand for new services and VAS

are driving them to invest more. While the emphasis has so far been more on the

network and marketing aspects, experts are pointing out that it’s OSS that

will actually make or break telcos. Operations already involve multi-vendor

technologies and protocols. Also, several services are coming to the fore, data

as well as voice… not only services but also value-added services, which

telcos are doing to distinguish from others.


The old OSS model worked well with the limited set of services, but the new

realities are demanding the need for an integrated OSS. The VOICE&DATA panel

discussion on OSS/BSS revolved around this central theme. The panel comprised

Arvind Pandey, CIO, Hutchison Telecom; PV Ramadas, CTO, HCL Infinet; AK Bhargava,

GM (IT), MTNL; Anil Tandan, V-P (network services), Idea Cellular; VK Mahendra,

DDG (IT), BSNL; SK Pillai, head (customer care), Escotel; and Peter van der

Fluit, V-P, (software global business unit), HP. Ibrahim Ahmad, executive

editor, VOICE&DATA, moderated the discussion. Highlights:

How Important is OSS

Ibrahim Ahmad, VOICE&DATA:
Today we are talking about tele-density

of 4 or 4.3, including fixed and cellular phones. Applications are voice and

hardly any other VAS is being offered. So the question often asked is: should

operators be worried about OSS/BSS? In this context, is OSS/BSS really very


AK Bhargava, MTNL: Growth follows certain phases and in the first phase the

focus was on network deployment. It couldn’t have been otherwise. The utility


OSS/BSS increases when the network grows. It’s not that the OSS/BSS systems

were not existing earlier. At MTNL, for example, in the eighties when the

customer base was reasonable, things began with billing. In the nineties, the

focus was on service assurance. Now, the focus is on next-generation OSS/BSS.

And it’s not that the scope is a tele-density of 4, our target is 7 by 2005.

Q&A: Role of System Integrator
Rahul Rastogi, IBM: Do you need only a system integrator or something more than that? My question is from two aspects. One, the operator is interacting with the customer. Two, the systems are interacting with the network.
Pandey: From telecom perspective I don’t see the role for the typical system integrator in an IT company because here there is a great deal of convergence between GSM and the Internet and voice and data. So the system integrator has a role to play that is much wider. Moreover, processes are getting standardized. There is a big consulting role in terms of putting or standardizing those processes across the telecom industry.
Bhargava: The other factor is the domain experience. The integrator will be required to interface the network mediation devices and fraud management, and have the experience of working with the operators. The integrator will not only bring in the products but the experience and enrich the existing employees, in terms of training, preparing them for a change over, and purifying the system.
Mahendra: As a system integrator, we see a role of an end-to-end solution provider. But for the project of large magnitudes, the matter doesn’t end where you provide a solution. It has to be managed. And now the trend is that more and more things are being outsourced. So naturally right from the conception stage, there has to be a complete management. There should be a complete roadmap of the event going to take place in due course of time. In addition, professional consultancy has also to be provided because we lack in this regard. Therefore, the role of SI is not only IT-centric but too large than that.

SK Pillai, Escotel: Voice is the main reason why a customer gets created

today. That will continue to be the case for the next 2-3 years. But voice is

becoming increasingly unprofitable. The profits on voice are being challenged

today because the tariffs are dropping everyday, whereas the margins on

services like SMS are very high. It’s time for networks to now focus on the

increasing usage of SMS by each individual customer. And here, the role of OSS

is only second to customer education.

Anil Tandan, Idea Cellular: To satisfy the customer, a lot of backend process

is required so that relevant information can be provided to the customer and

that is where various aspects of OSS/BSS become very important. I think most

operators have undergone changes in their billing systems in the last six years.

As the networks become big, OSS will become more important.


Ibrahim Ahmad: I think customer care has been a big issue for ISPs too. In a

couple of cities customer groups have gone to TRAI saying that they have a

problem as far as services are concerned. So how are ISPs looking at OSS and how

important is it for them?



chief information officer, Hutchison Telecom
“There is a need for a very high degree of configurability in billing solutions. Most of them are not configurable today.”.

PV Ramadas, HCL Infinet: The biggest challenge for us is to find ways to cut

down costs because we are in a highly competitive environment. Therefore, we

have been of the view that we must have an integrated OSS to ensure that

whatever we commit to the customers is integrated with our process and

operations. We are very seriously looking at centralizing, creating a network

operations center working through a centralized call center. We are working

towards a global integration of systems and processes.


VK Mahendra, BSNL: As a monopoly operator, we have had a system in which we

took many things for granted. Now, with the multi-operator scenario coming in,

it has become a big issue to retain the customer. And once the customer-focused

services are offered, the importance of a good OSS system is being felt. Also,

we are realizing that there are many areas where we can plug in the revenue

leakage. Therefore, essentially we must have a proper OSS system that takes care

of customers’ needs and also allows the network to grow.

Arvind Pandey, Hutchison Telecom: We do feel that there is immense pressure

on OSS/BSS systems, in terms of service creation or in terms of real-time

activation, but what is mostly being offered today is point solutions. We need

to start looking at solutions of a more integrated nature.

Ibrahim Ahmad: I think we have got the idea of the sentiments of the industry

as far as their views on the OSS/BSS are concerned. As a solution provider, what

is your take on this Peter?


Peter van der Fluit, HP: Well, let me start by giving you some data points

here. Out of every dollar or euro or rupee spent on software by service

providers, about 30 percent is related to OSS/BSS. This is on a worldwide basis.

Now, why is that?


head, customer care, Escotel
“Voice is the main reason why a customer gets created today. That will continue to be the case for the next 2-3 years.”

Once you have a customer, retaining the customer becomes important and once

you retain the customer, increasing the revenue from the customer takes

precedence. And that means adding more levels of services. But having more

suppliers offering the same set of services puts a natural pressure on costs.

That means that you need to be very efficient and any inefficiency in the

organization needs to be taken away. And how do you manage all this? How do you

roll out these services? Being proactive is better than being reactive...


Pace of Deployment

Ibrahim Ahmad:
There seems to be unanimity among the panel on the criticality of

OSS/BSS. Another question: are we happy with the speed of OSS deployment in the



Van Der Fluit

vice-president, software global business unit, HP

“Openness goes hand in hand with standards. We are actively participating in standards committees for that purpose.”

Arvind Pandey: No, frankly I don’t feel that the pace has yet increased in

terms of integrated OSS/BSS solutions. Yes, there is a lot of pace in terms of

point solutions. My take is it will take around two years for that to happen.


SK Pillai: It takes six months to use all the utilities that OSS delivers.

From that perspective, I am quite happy with the pace of deployment.

Ibrahim Ahmad: Do you see a lot of investments going into OSS/BSS in the

current phase?

SK Pillai: Certainly. Our experience is telling us a lot of things that we

can deploy and that would be useful to the customers.

AK Bhargava: What we are seeing is an implementation lag, which is natural

because when you move along and shift to a new system, there would be an

implementation lag.


general manager (IT), MTNL
“How much can you scale and invest. And how much time delay will it lead to? All this is very apprehensive.”

VK Mahendra: This requires a lot of investment. So, a right beginning has

been made. It will be a time consuming affair. Its gaining momentum now and the

operators are definitely aware of this thing. So, naturally speed will pick up


PV Ramadas: I think that the challenge to have OSS is very high in the sense

that while everyone believes that OSS is the way to deliver services,

unfortunately there is no single standard by which everything works together.

So, in order to get best benefit out of OSS, which one should do, the investment

ultimately becomes high, and so many times, the management is not agreeable that

because it doesn’t see immediate results. So there has to be some amount of

standardization. Unfortunately that kind of a scenario does not exist. I think

it’s a challenge for people who are developing OSS systems.

Anil Tandan: I totally agree with Ramadas. On the network management side,

things are quite standardized, but when it comes to billing and other things

there is too much of customization, too much of business process orientation.

This varies from company to company. Unless the systems become simpler and

clearly deployable, the cost of customization becomes more than the cost of

basic software. I agree that once you deploy it, it takes time for you to learn

it to be really be able to exploit its features.

Ibrahim Ahmad: So, you are also conveying that there should be caution in the

whole approach to OSS/BSS. People should not be rushing into it…

Anil Tandan: No, I am not saying that. There has to be a balance between the

customization of OSS/BSS vis-à-vis changing the business processes to meet

business solutions. Otherwise, the time lag between what you conceive and what

you deploy becomes very long.

“For implementing or integrating OSS today, what would be your minimum expectation from the solution vendor?”

How Good Are Existing Systems

Ibrahim Ahmad:
We are going to talk about the actual status of OSS/BSS in the

country. What do the panelists feel about the existing OSS/BSS that we are

running today? How satisfied or dissatisfied are we with it? Are our overall

departmental issues being taken care of in the existing OSS/BSS systems? Are

they in tune with the organizational goals of rolling out new services and

enhancing customer satisfaction and optimizing revenues? Basically, what it

means is that the head of finance in any telco would like to know if OSS is

identifying non-performing assets in the organization. The marketing guy would

like to know if he could sell and deliver the new services created by OSS. The

network head is also interested because the network is the orchestra and OSS is

the conductor and the mediator. Billing would also be equally very crucial here.

The customer buys and experiences. Billing leaves a bad taste. You are inviting

churn. Customer care is again very crucial because customer care can be only as

effective as the OSS that is underlying, and the intelligence and CRM

capabilities that it has.

Arvind Pandey: Well, that’s rather difficult to say because you’ll never

be satisfied with the kind of changes in technology happening all the time.

There is a constant struggle both in terms of meeting the customer expectations

and putting a technology in place that can match that expectation. You

definitely need an open architecture. Unless you start replacing the legacy

system with more open architecture, it would be really difficult to have the

right kind of OSS/BSS solutions in place. There is a need for a very high degree

of configurability in terms of billing solutions. Most of the billing solutions

that are stable today are not configurable. Those that are, do not have the

market presence and operator will take a risk in going for those kinds of


AK Bhargava: Basically, the push of OSS/BSS is internal. There is a need for

internal efficiency, need for compression, need for productivity increase. That

generates an internal push. The external push comes through the customer’s

expectations that we have talked. That’s the reason why we need to go on to

the next generation.

VK Mahendra: If you ask me from the BSNL perspective, I will say that we

realize that the system that we have is very old, it needs changes. From time to

time, we have been adopting the changes also. In billing, we have changed three

systems in the last seven years. But the system is not adequate. It requires a

lot of changes and that is why we are now going in for a completely new system

which will take us into a new generation system and prepare us to face the

competition very well. We have to be very proactive in exploiting the OSS


PV Ramadas: I would also like to stress upon the issue of standards. I see a

tremendous challenge for the OSS/BSS vendors to talk together in order to

deliver the solution.

Anil Tandan: As far as billing is concerned, it is totally event-based

billing rather than being content-based. There is so much VAS that is being

provided. But each is being taken as a single event and the consumer is being

charged for that. On the data side, I think there is a need for greater

standardization both in terms of how you bill it and how you monitor and

maintain the network.


“We are going for a completely new billing system which will take us into a new generation and prepare us to face the competition very well.”

SK Pillai: Let me give a background of the system that we are using. For the

last six years, we have been using the same billing system and one of the

biggest complaints we had was its inflexibility. There were a lot of options we

wanted to give to the customers. It could be modified but at a tremendous cost,

and therefore we would not go for it. We are now considering changing over to a

new billing system that is serving most of our needs. So to that extent, I think

that in the future we are going to have flexible systems.

I think there is lot of opportunity in the area of data mining. We can

identify which customers are using which kind of services. Based on that we can

target new products at right people.

Ibrahim Ahmad: Peter, with the kind of feedback that we have got from the

panel, can you throw some light on the international experience?

Peter van der Fluit: The openness goes hand in hand with the standards. We

are actively participating in standards committees for that purpose. One of the

challenges is that there is high level of innovation and a large number of small

parties. This makes it very difficult to agree on standards. But we are working

on it. We invest about 24 percent of our revenues in R&D from a software

perspective. Every year we are adding more and new functionality. But being

realistic, we need to work and build.

Ibrahim Ahmad: Are you satisfied with the kind of solutions that are on offer

today? If not then what is lacking? Also, if your organization is in the process

of implementing or integrating OSS today, what would be your minimum expectation

from the solution vendor?

VK Mahendra: As pointed out by the panel, standardization is one of the main

issues. Wherever we have tried to introduce different solutions, we have

realized that the mismatch of the two systems is creating the biggest problem.

So, there is a need to have proper standardization for different products that

are available today.

Anil Tandan: The solutions available in the market are quite okay but what I

really feel is that some of the solutions are not country specific. Vendors

should be able to come up with those features faster. Also, the solutions should

be easy to implement and configure. The customization is really a very long

drawn out process.

PV Ramadas: I want to add that there is a scare. What happens if the whole

system fails? How do you disaster recover or back up systems? How do you fall

back? Is there an easier way of doing it? How do you integrate legacy equipment

back into the system? I do expect that OSS vendors look at the integration

aspect much more.


chief technology officer, HCL Infinet
“There is not enough standardization. I see a tremendous need for the OSS/BSS vendors to talk together for a solution.”

AK Bhargava: The fact is that we are apprehensive because when you move on to

new systems and by the time you set them up, the new technology is already old.

So how ambitious should your deployment be? Also, how much can you scale, how

much should you invest, and how much time delay will it lead to? All this is


SK Pillai: We have just finished evaluating a lot of billing systems. Most of

the wish list was answered. For issues that were not answered, vendors were

willing to do the customizaion. By and large, the new technology is there to

meet what you possibly need and implement. I am clearly satisfied.

Arvind Pandey: On the OSS front, we do see a lot of options, and they are

definitely very configurable solutions. Whether those systems can have

inter-operator talk and give a message in real time, I am not aware of.

Centralized Vs Decentralized

Ibrahim Ahmad:
A related issue here would be standardization of OSS/BSS across

telecom circles and companies and centralized versus decentralized billing

systems. So what should be the approach here according to the panel?

Arvind Pandey: I think there is a need to standardize. If you have to offer

the services at the rate you need to offer, you have to really leverage all that

you have in terms of infrastructure to be widely used. And although there are

huge issues involved in terms of implementing that, but conceptually it has to

be standard and to some extent, there are things that need to be centralized by

the operators nationally.

SK Pillai: Standardization makes sense if the companies are on the look out

for acquiring other companies, it makes the transition easier. In a competitive

scenario, a standardized approach actually robs you of differentiation. A

service differentiation is lost if you have standardized system across networks.



vice-president, network services, Idea Cellular
“Unless you strike the right balance, the time lag between what you conceive and what you deploy becomes very long”.

Anil Tandan: Standardization as a concept certainly is a requirement and I

think it should be followed. My opinion is that for issues pertaining to billing

fraud management, and CRM, there can be some decentralization. When it relates

to subscriber services, and online services like online fault management or

security issues, there should be total integration.

Peter van der Fluit: It requires a very smart approach between centralized

and decentralized entities to figure out an optimal solution. Also, there is the

branding aspect. Do you want to position yourself as one brand or you want to

have multiple brands? Clearly, you don’t want to create services that can

easily be purchased as a standard piece of software by others. You want to

create services, which have a competitive advantage. So you may want to keep it


Deepak Kumar