Managing the changing nature of mobile customer and product lifecycles

Listening to Amdocs explain the rationale for the changes that it had made in its CES 9 integrated software suite for telecoms operators and service providers, launched on 5 February, I was struck by how the relatively inward-looking world of telecoms IT and network operations is being turned inside out, and how vendors of OSS and BSS are helping.

Mobile operators (MOs) that want to build revenues from data services beyond basic connectivity are realising that enabling efficient delivery of smartphone and tablet apps and content by third parties is one way to do this. Rather than developing services themselves, they can put in place technical and commercial arrangements with app developers and content owners to the mutual benefits of both parties – and the customer.

There is a range of relationships that MOs will put in place with such partners. For instance, for some time operators have recognised the appeal of some social networking sites and have reached deals to ‘zero rate’ the data required to access specific social networks, as well as ensuring apps are preloaded onto new phones. This type of deal has typically involved bespoke technical arrangements managed by the MO’s networks and IT teams; commercial arrangements could vary.

Direct carrier billing for app or content purchases is another way that mobile operators have been able to work with the “over-the-top” players that now feature prominently in the smartphone services value chain. Many such arrangements are likely to emerge and evolve as the balance of power in the commercial relationship changes.

API platforms can be put in place to make it easier to establish many more relationships of this and other kinds, in a simpler way than building custom interfaces between the MO and the partner (see Simon Sherrington’s post on APIs).

In addition to building revenues, operators can use third party products and relationships with third party providers to help them manage churn. Churn is a consistent challenge for mobile operators  as contract customers often look to move to another operator or mobile service provider at the end (or possibly even before the end) of their contract. Prepaid customers also change provider from time to time.

Operators have come up with ways to retain customers (at least the valuable ones) by thinking carefully about tailoring offers not only towards the end of contracts, but continuously. This activity is closely related to the continuous need to upsell customers to higher-value contracts and to sell them add-on services. (I will return to the effectiveness of this activity in a later article.)

But mobile operators – who are seeking to understand more about their customers by collecting and analysing the ‘big data’ that accrues during the many transactional and network events that the operator is party to – must manage, or at least be aware of, the other relationships that their customers have with all the third-party providers.

Customer lifecycles almost certainly won’t overlap, and many relationships exist pretty much independently of the customer–MO relationship. (They may well involve other access services and devices, such as WiFi, fixed broadband, desktop  PCs, laptops, and connected TVs.) Some relationships are persistent. Some involve recurring activity and spend. Some are one-offs. Some are intermittent.

Overlapping lifecycles

In order to create compelling offers for their customers, mobile operators must have as full a picture as they can of the state of the multiplicity of relationships that they have a part of – in other words they have to try and understand all the different blocks in the diagram above.  This enables them to dynamically evolve their services so that they stay fresh and relevant to users.

In this context it is important for an operator to realise when an offer or extra benefit it is providing may be losing its appeal. A mobile contract may be ongoing, but free access to an over-the-top service may no longer be attractive – for instance because a customer’s usage of that app is in decline. The operator will want to replace that offer with a new, more compelling proposition, in order that the user will continue to value the service. The operator must therefore be able to spot when new apps or services are growing in popularity, and be able to proactively promote, add, remove, or substitute those new over-the-top services, on a customised basis for customers. But any customised development, or even human involvement, kills the business case. Product and service management catalogs need to be able to deliver an automated approach to this dynamic service provisioning.

The role of the operator’s product catalog and service platforms needs to be extended in functionality to deal with product lifecycle management (creating, changing and retiring products at an ever-increasing rate), and in scope to cover not only those products and services that are created by the network operator, but those provided by third parties. This is not a trivial task.

OSS/BSS providers are developing a range of systems that can help operators to deal with this increasing complexity. For instance

In summary, there is significant work for operators’ IT teams to do if they wish to support their transition from a provider of access to new services and applications to an essential and financially valuable partner in the delivery of those services and applications.

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