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For carriers, OSS can become a competitive advantage, not a cost center

Alan Zeichick | Aug. 21, 2015
Operations Support Systems excel in managing traditional networks, but they can be more, so much more, as we look forward to smarter networks that are more responsive to enterprise customer needs.

OSS. When you see that three-letter acronym, do you think it stands for "Old, Slow, and Stupid"? Operations Support Systems are the exact opposite of what we need to manage networks in today's fast-moving world. Carriers struggle to make their OSS platforms responsive to customer demands for rapid provisioning of services.

Indeed, many carriers, particularly those bolted together from lots of mergers, can barely make their various OSS platforms talk to each other, which makes provisioning intracarrier services nearly as challenging as instantiating intercarrier links. I was recently talking to Jeff Brown, director of marketing at Windstream Communications of Little Rock, Arkansas, who told me that his company made 19 acquisitions over the past few years, and therefore, "We acquired different OSS platforms that aren't network-compatible and not based on open standards. We have a huge task integrating those various OSS platforms. It continues to be a major challenge for us." Ugh!

Make no mistake, OSS isn't broken. Well, most OSS platforms aren't broken. They still do network inventory, service provisioning, configuration and fault management, and we couldn't operate our networks without them. Unfortunately, too many OSS platforms are designed as closed systems designed to be operated with a dedicated GUI. They rarely understand that other networks exist, even when they are connected to them. The OSS are not extensible, and lack the APIs and security features to let enterprise customers – or even partners – access reports, receive fault notifications, and see the network configuration. The OSS certainly don't let customers or partners request new services directly, and don't tie into the carriers' Business Support Systems (BSS) in any sort of flexible, agile way.

Pardon me, but when I envision a carrier's cutting-edge BSS system, I still think of 80-column punched cards. Well, maybe not punched cards, but many are green-screen batch processing systems with rigid coding and inflexible reports.

That's not going to fly, not in the 21st century. Customers don't care that a carrier's network is cobbled together from lots of different smaller networks. They have no patience for putting in a service request and waiting days – or weeks – to get a quote and delivery estimate that might be another month in the future. And they want their status reports right now, preferably on their mobile phone.

Why not update the OSS right away? Everyone wants to, but it's hard. Very hard. And costly, which is a real challenge when carriers are often being hammered by customers to cut prices. Because OSS is traditionally seen as an expense center, not as a competitive differentiator, carrier management is going to put its capital investment elsewhere.


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