Over the last 3 years, adoption of Service-Oriented Architecture has advanced with the maturity of the technologies, standardization of specifications, identification of challenges and establishment of best practices. The benefits of adoption are also being demonstrated by several case studies put forward by enterprises around the world.
However, very little literature based on experience is available on how SOA benefits a particular business domain. SOA in Telecom - is the first of a series of papers being released by Torry Harris that describes the benefits of SOA in a Business Domain. The initial section of this document covers the challenges faced by the Telecom Industry and how SOA benefits the industry. The subsequent sections analyze specific business scenarios and illustrate the role of SOA in each scenario. We hope this document will assist in your quest for realizing the true benefits for SOA.
Telecom and SOA
The Telecom industry of today is very proactive in offering innovative propositions by consolidating their data and voice services both through fixed and mobile networks. The need is for innovative services that enhance personal communication and entertainment. Entertainment through Telecommunication medium is a fast growing area and has become the driving factor for the introduction of new features in the phone. Equally important are the communication needs of the business users who require seamless network connectivity, uninterrupted access to mails and information. The high market demand for new services is also becoming price sensitive.
But more often than an enterprise would prefer, introducing new services dynamically is time consuming and a high cost affair. The challenges present themselves as a discord between business requirements to the solution delivered due to disparate systems integration (for 3rd party connectivity), islands of integration spanning across the enterprise architecture, application bloat and longer implementation duration.
This calls for an IT infrastructure that provides the agility to swiftly introduce new services dynamically and amend existing services based on market uptake – at a lower cost to the enterprise from an implementation and maintenance perspective. Apart from the IT Infrastructure, the requirement is also for a common language between the business and the IT team. A successful implementation of SOA delivers both the agility in the IT infrastructure and the enablement of IT to deliver business services instead of just code.
SOA when adopted across the IT infrastructure introduces innumerous possibilities and opportunities to the operator to increase the revenue and deliver extreme customer service. For core network operators it allows for 'renting' the applications to the MVNOs along with the networks, the ability to share their existing IT assets as services to other operators (like providing Fraud Management Capabilities), seamlessly integrate with new partners and dealers which could be from physical retail dealers to leading online retail stores or efficiently outsource functions like inventory management/shipping of handsets and much more.
Business Scenarios – Telecom
The following sections illustrate scenarios in the business areas that can be benefited by the phased approach adoption of SOA. The first section on Fraud Management also describes governance, granularity, choice of partner and the implementation model, which are applicable for the other business scenarios as well.
Fraud Management System (FMS) a key system in the operators' IT Infrastructure to decrease the revenue loss due to fraudulent activities is a potential candidate to SOAize. They play a role both when signing up a new subscriber and also when the subscriber uses the services offered by the operator. Whether bespoke (custom built) or off the shelf, these systems usually involve huge investments from the operator with respect to both the infrastructure and development/support effort.
Through the adoption of SOA Principles in the FMS, the system can be potentially used across the entire Telco Infrastructure and provide the capability to the operator to extend their Fraud Management services to other operators/MVNOs. Further introducing changes in the business process and rules across the infrastructure will be a seamless effort.
The typical workflow in a FMS is represented in the following diagrams,
One of the other benefits of adopting SOA in the FMS infrastructure is to deliver the technical enabler for reusing the FMS across the IMS infrastructure. A brief on IMS is as follows,
IMS & the Fraud Challenges
IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is the transformational step in network development with the potential to reshape and radically improve consumer experience, while reconfiguring the value chain to the benefit of service providers. IMS is seen as a way of rapidly introducing services through standardized interfaces, lowering the setup time and the cost of the equipment while maintaining the quality of service and security. It is integrated with voice and data network and adopts many of the key features of the IT domain.
However, with the IMS architecture in place, the vulnerability of the networks to fraudsters increases significantly. Threats like stealing data bandwidths, call hijacking, denial-of-service, etc. might be introduced. Only a comprehensive set of security functions, which can be seamlessly executed, will be capable of addressing the above.
The SOA Way
SOA is almost always best realized through an evolutionary process – an ongoing conversion of services that increasingly perform autonomously and thereby can be reused. This evolutionary approach does not necessarily mean a long drawn out exercise, it simply means that a sequence of steps have to be defined. The steps could be progressively larger and address a wider range of use cases, as each successful installation is completed and seen to work.
1.) Model Business Tasks & Processes
a. Typically the business functionalities of a Fraud Management System are both part of another business process (like a new Subscription) or have its own business process (in the case of Fraud Detection and Correction)
b. Either way, the existing business tasks & the processes for Fraud Management have to be revisited to provision for the business requirements of the IMS infrastructure and potential use by third parties outside the operator's network
2.) Create Services for Functionalities offered by FMS
a. Model Services from existing functionalities to map to the specific Business Tasks. For instance in the 'Fraud Detection and Correction' business process mentioned earlier, 'Blacklisting a Handset' will be a business Task. The application functionality which executes this task will be modeled as a service
b. Where a relevant functionality doesn't exist for a Business Task, new functionalities have to be implemented and services modeled from them. For instance in the converged world, where the subscriber might be using multiple offerings from the operator, new functionalities (and services) might have to be created to suspend all the offerings
c. The services created will be based on SOA Principles, vis-à-vis, loosely coupled, composable, interoperable, discoverable, reusable and autonomous
d. A registry at this stage is key, as services are being developed. From a functionality perspective, the registry stores the description of the service so that these services can be discovered by incoming service requests (from other services or the orchestration layer)
3.) Create Services for Functionalities offered by IMS
a. To enable the seamless integration of the IMS layer with the FMS, services are to be created to expose the functionalities of the IMS Layer
b. One of the mostly widely adopted approach is to use Parlay/X Web Services (the other is SIP Servlet based Web Service)
c. Parlay/X is a more comprehensive set of telecom based web services and is supported by a multi-vendor consortium formed to develop open, technology-independent APIs that enable the development of applications operating across multiple, networking-platform environments. Also, Parlay approach allows the service provider to provide sophisticated services over a legacy network, thereby allowing a competitive capability while, through network migration the network becomes IMS capable.
4.) Make the Environment Scalable
a. Potential latency issues are to be examined as a result of re-use, dynamic composition of services and content heavy XML.
b. Further the potential security issues in exposing functionalities as services to external parties have to be analyzed
c. Based on the proposed system usage, projections on the transaction and throughput levels have be to forecasted
d. These considerations will determine the classes and types of products to be used in the enterprise architecture – both software and hardware
e. One of the benefits in adopting SOA path is the ability to add on hardware infrastructure as required as the load increases
5.) Implement a RIA (Rich Internet Application) based presentation layer for the Fraud Analysts
a. From Wikipedia – RIA are Web Applications that have the features and functionality of traditional desktop applications.
b. In the market there are several vendors who provide solutions to deliver RIA
c. Though not a necessity for SOA, RIA will primarily assist the Fraud Analysts to dynamically and efficiently configure the governing rules of the FMS through a thin client (a web browser)
The term “governance” has been emphasized in SOA. The purpose of SOA is to avoid conformity between applications in the IT Infrastructure. Diverse users with varying priorities are now being driven to re-use the same assets; hence it is logical that a federated structure be created. The tools and products available in this category allow the creation of enterprise-defined repositories of the services available, published within acceptable standards of discovery. Further Governance also refers to the definition and enforcement of the policies that govern the execution of the Business Processes (like the level of auditing, securities, etc.)
Apart from the products used for Governance, it is essential to form a Governance Body that comprises of the stakeholders in the organization. This body will be the one stop shop for defining and monitoring the 'rules of the game', so as to say.
Granularity of the Services
Service granularity if often the most talked design aspect during the implementation of a SOA based solution. The SOA Adoption in the Fraud Management System would have to be evolutionary with benefits being delivered with every milestone. So, during the initial stages, the services can be modeled as coarse grained and over time can be broken down into finer grained services.
If however during the initial analysis of current and foreseeable requirements, there is no need to further break down a coarse service, then don't. There is a balance to be maintained between the granularity of the services and optimum performance.
The four primary functionalities offered by a FMS are,
1.) Fraud Detection
2.) Fraud Investigation
3.) Fraud Prevention
4.) Fraud Measurement (Metrics)
In the initial phases of the SOA Adoption, coarse grained services can be modeled around these functionalities. In subsequent phases, these functionalities can be further drilled down to form fine grained services. Let us take 'Fraud Prevention' and examine how the services will be modeled over time.
1.) In the example, the business process which will be invoking the services will now have the flexibility to just choose the specific functionality required instead of invoking a coarse service which has the ability to deliver all the functionalities. Further, by separating the 'Audit Trail' functionality into a separate service, enables its reuse as and when required by not only 'Fraud Prevention', but might be even 'Fraud Detection' or the others.
As services are broken down into fine grains, the ability to 'mix and match' increases significantly paving way for reuse and quicker implementation cycles.
Choice of Partners & Implementation
Being an evolutionary approach it is critical to choose the appropriate partners both from a product and service (development partner) perspective. There are several products in the SOA World that address similar needs, varying in the level to which these needs have to be addressed. For example, some level of authentication and authorization functionality could already be built in your web application server. An, ESB introduced at a later stage, for transformations and integration is also capable of providing this functionality to a greater depth and range (for instance, enforcement of security policies on every web services consumed).
For the implementation, offshore service partners with the due credentials on SOA and the right size for nimble and effective customer service would be good fits. Reason for offshore, is to bring in both the cost effectiveness and value propositions as enterprises are looking for partners who will share its business goals and go the extra miles required.
Having chosen the suitable offshore service partner, the model of execution will be similar to a typical offshore/onsite with variations brought in by the requirements for service modeling, agility required and changes in the test methodologies for SOA. For instance in SOA Implementation, Performance Testing are also carried out earlier in the development cycle to cater for early detection of latency and bottleneck issues. In the following diagram, the section marked in the translucent dotted area represents the iterative process that will be involved while delivering the services for the identified Business Process.
Apart from lowering operating costs, this will provide a one-stop solution to the challenges posed by the increased activity on the network and also by the increased and new capabilities of the fraudsters. By architecting the solution based on SOA, the integration between the FMS and IMS can be made seamless. Further new business rules, security filters can be applied simultaneously across the BSS and IMS layers, effectively and efficiently. From a revenue standpoint, the upgraded FMS can be used to service MVNOs and geographically spread sister concerns.
Customer Management System is the crux of the BSS Layer. Within that, the two key areas of focus are 'Cost to Serve' and 'Single View of Customer'. While the latter aims at increased customer satisfaction and sales through up/cross selling, the former focuses on lowering the operational cost and call centre optimization
There are several technical approaches to enable the realization of benefits from both 'Cost to Serve' and 'Single View of Customer'. However, adopting SOA in your IT Infrastructure increases the possibilities of introducing new services and marketing ideas dynamically reaching the customer quickly and efficiently – at a lower operational cost.
Cost to Serve
'Cost to Serve' reflects the cost to serve and support a subscriber and lowering this cost increases the ARPU. One of the avenues to decrease the cost is by empowering the subscribers with the ability to manage their accounts by themselves – through the web channel or IVR and reducing the number of calls made to the CSRs aiding in call centre optimization. Though a majority of the operators have self-service incorporated through the web channel, introducing amendments or new services to realize the greater potential of the web self-service is still a challenge – with respect to time to market and high IT costs. This is where SOA will benefit.
The SOA Way
How to go about implementing SOA to optimize 'Cost to Serve' and improve the service quality? The key steps to be undertaken,
1. Model Common Business Processes
a. In today's dynamic market conditions, Convergence is a given and being successfully adopted by several operators worldwide. When operators start to offer converged services, typically every individual offering (be it Wireless or Broadband or Fixed or Digital TV) will have its own set of Business Processes and IT Assets
b. The goal is to 'converge' the IT assets also apart from the service offerings made available to the end customers through the marketing channels. The consolidation starts Top Down – to tie the Business Processes together
c. Apart from giving the Business Teams a single view of the operators' service offerings, this step gives the flexibility and freedom to consolidate at the technology level as required over a period of time. Further any changes on the technology side will have minimal or no impact to the end users
2.Automation of Manually Intensive Processes
a. One of the challenges faced by CSRs is the frequent manual intervention required to execute a business process. Manual intervention can be either due to the need to manually traverse across multiple systems to complete a business process or for approvals. In majority of the situations, it is the former. For instance the Upgrade Process (or 'Contract Re-Sign') involves the use of several systems including your inventory management (like an ERP solution), customer management, billing, order processing and provisioning
b. Apart from delaying the response time to customers and getting them frustrated, the manual intervention also inhibits the adoption of the Web Channel as an effective means of customer self service
c. The goal is to analyze the business processes and remove manual interventions to the extent feasible. In doing so, IT would now be able to automate the execution of the process
One of the common analogies for demonstrating the benefits of SOA is how the Lego Blocks can be constructed and remodeled by reusing the existing blocks. Constructing your Customer Management system based on SOA will create the foundation blocks or services which then can be combined in the order you want to create existing business process or new ones. These services promote greater reuse of existing IT assets across business processes and will be shared by the various channels to serve the customer, including CSR, Web, IVR or Dealer.
Let us take two business processes in Customer Management and see how they can be modeled in SOA,
1. Registration of new Subscribers
2. Subscriber Account Management
As illustrated in the following diagram, the two business processes share common services ('Update Profile' & 'Update Billing Info') to deliver the functionalities of the respective process. Further in line with the convergent solution, the business processes invoke both the wireless and broadband services to provide the customer with a complete solution without having to deal with multiple registration cycles. Now if the Marketing Team comes up with a promotion, wherein all pay monthly subscribers who setup direct pay (direct debit/auto payment) are eligible for an additional bundle of text messages, then 'Update Account Details' would have to just invoke an additional pre-existing service 'Update Bundles'.
Being common services across the channels (Web, CSR, etc) the reuse potential is very high. Security Policies can be defined to control the access to the various services through these channels.
With the foundation blocks (services) in place, the possibilities of creating and amending business processes are several with minimal development dollars.
Taking a technical dive, the end to end customer service fulfillment can be achieved by converting the functions offered by the BSS and OSS layers as services and modeling the data consistently. SOA Product Vendors offer highly scalable service delivery platform for BSS and OSS layer functions.
1. Cost Reduction
a. When the web channels start to provide increased functionality and empower the subscriber to manage their accounts and subscription on their own in a customer friendly environment, the calls to the CSRs will reduce. This will aide in Call Centre Optimization
b. Once the foundation blocks are built as services based on SOA Principles, these services can be used to implement a new business process or amend an existing one without significant development cost
2. Greater Customer Satisfaction
a. By implementing converged Business Process, the operator is now able to offer a one step process to sign up in one or more offerings. Though this might be a case in many operators, SOA enables easier IT management from an operators' perspective
b. With the use of technologies based on RIA, the user experience through the web channel can be significantly elevated with user friendly navigation, controls and high end graphics
3. Shorter Time to Market
a. As evidences in the previous illustration, amending a business process or adding new ones is relatively a simpler task, as there is a greater reuse of IT assets at a service level. This lends itself to shorter development cycles for enhancements and modifications
b. With the business processes being modeled as common to the various channels (Web, CSR, Dealers, etc), a change in an existing Business Process or a new one can be introduced simultaneously across the channels
Business Processes to SOAize
Some of the common business processes and their services which can be modeled based on SOA
Single View of the Customer
With the organic development of IT system over years and convergence with other services, it is typical to have the customer related data spread across several IT systems. Further the data would be replicated as required by the individual system to function, for instance several billing systems for one operator is not that uncommon. This spread and replication of customer data is a challenge to efficiently serve the customer and increase the sales through cross/up selling. There is increasingly a need for a 'Single View of the Customer'
The business needs to respond quickly to the competition and market demands; the IT often ends up developing multiple systems that perform the same tasks required through various channels within an enterprise. To take the decisions at certain business processes, various levels of customer information is required; sometimes the customer data is inconsistently created in different operational data stores for each business unit. The customer service applications are developed to build a seamless service delivery environment that connect to multiple backend applications and databases.
The SOA Way
Like the previous example even in 'Single View of the Customer', there are non-SOA ways to achieve the objective of implementing a single view. But, where SOA helps is to achieve the current objective through integration of systems based on open standards and prepare the infrastructure for a seamless introduction of new requirements in the future.
To model in lines with the SOA principles, the following steps have to be undertaken
1.Data & Data Source Analysis
a. Analyze and document the existing data and data sources with respect to their structure (schema), dependencies, integrity, users and performance
2.Model Common Business Process
a. For instance lets consider the case of multiple Billing Systems be it for one service offering (wireless) or multiple (wireless, fixed, etc), one of the essentials is to model a common business process
b. Of course this common process will have business tasks that will be mapped to appropriate services in each offering/billing system. But, having this common process will deliver a single view of the customer
c. Apart from giving the Business Teams and the customer (in case of self service) a single view of the customer this step gives the flexibility and freedom to consolidate and/or reconcile the data sources if required over a period of time. Further any changes on the technology side will ensure to have minimal or no impact to the end users
d. Similar to the common business process for the billing services, business processes can be modeled for other customer related information (profile, subscription details, account history, service usage trends, etc)
1. Increase in Sales
a. With the ability to view the service (wireless, fixed, etc) usage trends, the operator will be able to present to the subscriber either through the web channel (for self service) or CSRs, the various offerings and discounts to aide in cross selling and up selling
b.For instance if the subscriber has a trend of heavy internet usage through the wireless phone, then this information along with a sales offering of a new wireless phone that performs better for internet usage along with an internet bundles package, if presented to the subscriber will be more appealing for her/him. This usage information may have to be obtained from different data sources to present a single view of the customer
2. Greater Customer Satisfaction
a. Would a subscriber be thrilled to access all account information for wireless, fixed and broadband through one portal without having to navigate several forms?
b. Would a subscriber be less stressed and more prompt to make one payment for all the services obtained from the operator?
c. Would a subscriber be excited to receive usage reports from the various services obtained and how he/she can save more or get better deals by opting for the most appropriate packages?
d. These and more are the possibilities
3. Market Trends & Forecast
a. With a single view of the customer, the reporting systems would be able to generate reports more efficiently and quickly
b.Reporting multiple systems are utilized within CRM, it is possible for data sets to be continually updated therefore latency issue will exist
4.Call Centre Optimization
a. It is quite prevalent for the CSRs to jump through several screens in their monitor while they are addressing one subscriber request, be it upgrades, bill enquiry or adding additional services. With a single view of the customer, the CSRs' efforts can be optimized while increasing customer satisfaction by decreasing the need for them to wait for longer durations to complete a request
Service Provisioning is the interaction between a mobile Telco's BSS/OSS Systems and core Carrier Network - it encompasses the activation and subsequent modification of a subscription on the network. Typically these events are handset activations and the modifications may be activation of new services or deactivation of existing services that require a network or handset update.
With the capability offered by the high speed and high bandwidth networks (2.5G/EDGE & 3G Networks), mobile operators have a wide spectrum of innovative services for the end users. But, the challenges faced in provisioning new services include, longer time to market and high IT implementation cost both of which rendered due to an inflexible siloed IT architecture. There is an emergence of business models that calls for content and service combinations that deliver a wide spectrum of capabilities across the networks including Triple & Quad Plays – there's a need for dynamic service provisioning that is flexible, highly available and doesn't cost much. In the SOA world, Service Provisioning as a Business Process which will be composed of services from the various BSS, OSS systems and Network Elements like, Customer Management, Billing, Activation, Supply Chain Management, etc. With the automation of the manual interventions required for provisioning and activation, new services offerings across the spectrum (wireless, fixed, broadband, media service, etc) can be provisioned and activated without additional steps.
Apart from delivering lower operative costs and shorter time to market, architecting the provisioning process based on SOA principles will future proof the infrastructure as the drive for IP based standards are on an increase. Clearly an IP based infrastructure will enable seamless transition of service across mobile, broadband, fixed lines and host of new services based on content.
Be it Single Play or Quad Play, Service-Oriented Architecture plays a key role in transforming the Telecom Company's IT Infrastructure into an agile architecture enabling it to react quickly to the dynamic market conditions.
This document describes the benefits in specific business scenarios when implementing SOA. Service-Oriented Architecture is about seamless integration through loosely coupled services.