Expert Speak

Aligning your IT with Technology trends

Technology trends

Riding on a wave of technological, regulatory and competitive forces, communication services today are a far cry from the kind of telephony services that were available even two decades ago. Based on trends observed, Balaji TS, Asst. VP at Tech Mahindra analyzes changes possible in the near future.

Networks will be faster

This is perhaps the most clichéd prediction one can make about the future but one, without which, no list of predictions about communication services would be complete. However, the key point to note in this context is the fact that bandwidth available per user may see a 10-fold to 100-fold increase while the changes in the GDP of the region or in the purchasing power of the end users are not going to be commensurate.

Based on past experience, the two major impacts of this glut can easily seen to be the definition of what constitutes communication services and the demographics of network resource consumption. Service providers would be forced to bundle services that would not typically be considered as an act of enabling communications in order to force a larger share of the user’s spending. Also, while it was high ARPU customers such as enterprises and corporations that were the biggest consumers of network capacity in the past, the lower ARPU consumers would also have access to comparable capacities and would find ways to utilize the capacity.

The following are some of the requirements that will need to be addressed by the service providers.

* They will have to ensure that the billing system is designed to serve as wallets and as payment gateways for bundled merchandise.

Customer touch-points, such as portals should serve as store fronts for not only the communications services but also for the bundled merchandise

* The billing solution should be capable of monitoring and tracking transactions in non-communication services – for example, if advertisements are used to generate revenues, there may be a need to measure the audience to which the advertisement had been communicated.

* If any network resource consuming service is launched, the same should be done only with the ability to dynamically monitor and, if legally permitted, control the bandwidth used by lower ARPU services.

Network-independent nature of services

Service providers have already seen the impact of free VoIP services that are offered by Internet-based application service providers like Skype. While communication needs of end-users has not really come down, the availability of such cheaper ‘over-the-top’ mechanisms are likely to become more and more prevalent. This would apply not only to voice products but also other bundled offerings and merchandise that the service provider is likely to offer over a period of time.

Eventually, service providers would themselves recognize the need for defining service offerings independent of the network to which an end-user is connected currently. The following requirements would arise when service providers try to re-package their services independent of their networks.

* The process of subscriber addition would resemble that of Internet application registration process. Thus the customer portal would be integrated with a network directory solution based on which services could be delivered to end users.

* Start-up services may be offered for free. Besides, most services are likely to be offered on a prepaid basis. This is because of the simplification of the customer on-boarding process and the lack of a need for contracted connectivity.

* Service assurance solutions will have to be designed in cooperation with other network providers too so that the services can be offered independent of the network connectivity.

* Since services are being delivered across any available network connectivity there could be requirements for settlement processes and applications.

Service unbounded by national boundaries

With rise in IP-based services, the natural extension to communication services has been that of providing ICT services to large corporate and enterprise customers. In today’s economic environment, most of these customers have trans-world business interests. This has led a number of operators to provide ICT services across various locations of the customer on a global basis. British Telecom and AT&T are prime examples of operators that are known to provide such services to their customers.

The success of international roaming arrangements, as envisaged in the GSM charter, has enabled partnership-based models that enable borderless services to traveling customers. Through similar arrangements and through the act of acquiring properties, many service providers have embarked on this process. A number of service providers in the Middle East, for example, operate services across the GCC region; Etisalat today owns properties from Egypt to India.

With every new property that is acquired and with more common customers across the service regions, many operators attempt to standardize their offerings across the multi-network environment leading to huge costs being incurred in transforming systems in each of the operations. This lays emphasis on the following aspects that operators should look out for while transforming their home operations to support the next generation of services –

* Ensuring that the systems blueprint that is targeted is standardized and is capable of being replicated across the region that the service provider desires to operate in

* Enabling the realization of end-to-end quality of service across the multi-network entity can be a nightmare without a service fulfillment and assurance framework that was built with the recognition of an eventual multi-network environment.

Entertainment is also a form of communication…

As indicated above, the new age service provider is also forced to enter new business areas hitherto not considered as part of communication services. The last 15 years has seen cable companies using hybrid fiber and coaxial (HFC) based access infrastructure to provide cable TV services, as well as, Internet access and VoIP based telephony services. This capability has redefined what could be considered a comprehensive offering by communication providers.

Most service providers have, as a result, entered into DTH satellite broadcast service or have plans to launch IPTV services to their customers. This brings us to another important set of requirements that need to be addressed.

* The content supply chain is complex and requires special protection mechanisms to take care of copyright. Content life-cycle management is a key aspect that should be addressed.

* Entertaining users through television programming being a new business for the communication service providers, another important requirement that should be met is the ability to collect data on customer behavior and analyze the same.

…and, so is digital signage

The entry into television program distribution has also brought service providers into contact with alternate forms of revenue such as those required for advertisement driven revenue. The successful use of such mechanisms on the Internet, such as those used by search engine providers further prove and reinforce the need for such mechanisms to be exploited by communication service providers.

Supporting digital signage services for delivering advertisement and other information through electronic bill-boards, kiosks and other medium is yet another important service that should be addressed. These services make use of a different billing model than that used in communication services and the need for providing support to advertisers so that advertisements could be published with ease is another important consideration for new age service providers.

Hobbies require gadgets

World over, the end user’s personal hobbies and pastimes have been another market that has been close to the communication ecosystem. End users are more connected and plugged into the latest in music, video, games and, even books through gadgets that are available in the market.

The synchronization of these gadgets with third-party application servers for content makes these gadgets communication technology enabled. A natural progression would lead to a personal network of gadgets and services availed transparently across a variety of gadgets.

A part of the management of the personal network, an example of which would be a home network, is another new age requirement that needs to be fulfilled.

Federation of the web, communications and the device

Services getting federated across the web, communications and the gadget devices used by the end user are part of another interesting trend. To achieve a seamless user experience across these elements and enjoy services through the choice of device is another important requirement. Certain services may be offered in a manner where they could be transferred from one medium to another.

There is a need for service orchestration across web, communication infrastructure and the device some of which may be availed from different service providers. Thus, any IT solution would need to support the ability to communicate across service provider infrastructure and should hence be developed into defined and published application programming interfaces.

* Widgets should be available for some of the identified process components such as balance checks, directory checks, etc.

Thin clients with most of the computing delivered from a centralized setup accessible over the Web is likely to be a growing demand that should be investigated and appropriate products formulated

Communication leads to social networking

In this emerging world of 2.0 business models, operators are increasingly finding it difficult to determine its subscribers and to assess their behavior. As indicated above, to retain subscribers and maximize their wallet share, operators must cross-sell and up-sell to multiple subscriber relationships. To do this efficiently, operators must have a consistent and holistic view of customer services, needs and issues – but they are restricted by legacy and stove-piped systems. Conventional strategies are risky & time consuming – operators must work on more disruptive business strategies to mitigate and overcome the challenges.

Integrating social networks with communication services offered by service providers could be one of the important strategies that may be employed.

Going “Green” makes economic sense

As newer technologies pile up on the doorsteps of service providers, the options open for growing their businesses also increases. The ability to vote in favor of a specific roadmap or even an experimental approach of trying various options in parts, while ideal to know where the service providers capital expenditure is going to happen, is not very useful when it comes to modeling ongoing operational expenses.

It is primarily in this economic context, if not owing to the more idealistic ecological context, that going green and reducing equipment footprints, power consumption and cooling needs for equipment makes more sense. Green IT initiatives should be launched along with the ecosystem of equipment suppliers to ensure that there is a clear direction towards carbon footprint reduction. The unpredictability of the Opex model could be adequately offset by a conscious move to reduce carbon footprint.

Also, with growing talks around models that provide carbon credits at national and organizational levels, there could be economic subsidies that are likely to be available for organizations that “go green” in the future. Defining KPIs that align with service providers business interests is an important activity that could reap benefits as carbon credit regimes become a reality.

Everything is in the Cloud

One of the key principles that could be effective in the ‘Go Green’ context would be the ability to give up unwanted computing power and storage capacities. One of the ways this could be achieved is using cloud computing as an integral strategy while designing IT solutions.

The pay-as-you-go model encouraged by cloud computing provides the required insulation against seasonal variation in consumption of resources and hence, solutions like data warehousing and business intelligence computations can be ideally delivered out of cloud computing infrastructure.

End-to-end service quality monitoring in the packet-switched multimedia services world that provides a whole range of merchandise bundled with the supply of communication services is another application that would be ideally suited for cloud computing strategies.

Apart from these, there could be other applications such as sales-force automation, field-force automation and some aspects of CRM that could be delivered out of cloud platforms that enable such services.

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