Gregg Hara is Vice President of Business Development in Centina Systems, having joined it in 2009. Gregg Hara has over 20 years in the telecom and OSS software space. He takes the initiative of defining new markets and establishing relationships with key service providers and vendors. Prior to Centina Systems, Mr Hara was Senior Director of Sales for Sigma Systems and earlier, with TeleGea Systems. Mr Hara started his career at GTE and was one of the original members of OSI. Later he served at Micromuse in various roles of solution delivery, sales and business development of Network Management and Service Assurance solutions.
Gregg Hara holds a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in Cambridge, MA.
When Voice is just another app and new ‘killer’ apps are instantly available on all networks - the only differentiator is the quality of customer experience. As a result of bad service experience, most users ‘churn’ without any explanation. To this end, smart service assurance system that enables real-time monitoring is critical. It must have easily customisable KPI and KQI that can be quickly adjusted to be viewed on the ‘dashboard’ as and when needed. A dynamic topology map linked to GIS provides real-time monitoring of the ever-changing network. Linked workflow and automatic notifications enhances responsiveness in focus areas and high-value customers. Thus a service assurance system is an essential tool for differentiation - which is key in attracting and retaining customers.
The Indian communications market is a highly competitive one for operators. With near complete saturation of service providers, CSPs (Communication Service Providers) must compete fiercely in the market, quickly offering new multi-channel and value added services, and effectively assuring those services for customer experience. They must do this without eroding revenues and profits. Customer retention hinges on providing quality service at a competitive price. Dropped calls, slow download speeds, poor call and video quality all affect the customer’s perception and, if not improved, will increase customer churn and reduce revenues.
On the edge of a wireless revolution with broadband everywhere (3G and LTE) and with the relentless growth of competition, service provider differentiation is focusing on Service Quality and Customer Experience. Whereas voice used to be the main or only function of a mobile phone, today, voice is just another app. With the proliferation of the iPhone, Android and other smartphone operating systems across voice services, myriad of real-time services and future functionality we can’t even imagine yet, the customer experience will take centre stage in differentiating one service provider from another. Service providers no longer have an advantage by having a technology or phone or functionality that others do not. Once a “killer-app” takes hold, it will be available on multiple phones and operating systems and all service providers will offer it. The real differentiator for the consumer will be the service quality and customer experience.
Today’s customers are extremely savvy. They are ‘wired-in’ and knowledgeable. The Internet has made it possible to quickly research and access information to make informed decisions allowing information and knowledge to travel faster than ever before. Without any fancy metrics, algorithms and performance tracking systems, consumers know which provider has the best service in each market. Information is free and readily available – and consumers will use it to choose their carriers. Service providers must make it a priority to deliver the highest quality customer experience in order to continue to grow and increase market-share.
As mobile networks evolve, voice calls will be managed like other data services such as WAP, IM, MMS, real-time multimedia, mobile email and texting. The younger generation relies more on texting, Facebook and Twitter rather than voice communication. Customer experience of these various mobile data services is a key influencer for mobile operators to win and retain subscribers. As service offerings grow and customer-base increases, problems such as slow download speeds, delays and dropped calls occur more frequently.
To maintain competitiveness, mobile operators must improve the quality of the subscriber experience. According to statistics, the majority of end users who choose to switch operators do so because they are not satisfied with the service experience. Bad news always travels faster than good news and unsatisfied customers will relay their bad experiences to many more people than their good experiences. Only a small minority will try to work with customer support to resolve their problems. Most will simply switch to a new carrier without giving their service provider the opportunity to keep them as a customer or understand their concerns. For these reasons, customer experience will determine the winner in each market.
With the variety of services and functions a user can access from a smartphone, today’s operators must put an increased emphasis on monitoring performance metrics. To determine and assure the customer experience, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Key Quality Indicators (KQIs) must cover all these services on both radio and IP domains - conversational voice, live streaming video, real-time gaming, email, texting, MMS and any other service.
This, in many ways, is an oversimplified statement. How can today’s operators deliver the best customer experience and how can critical assurance KPIs make the difference for these operators to stay competitive in today’s market? The answer is that communications service providers must effectively and proactively monitor and track service quality and customer experience. They must be able to, through their assurance systems, monitor alarms and performance KPIs from all systems and devices deployed in today’s mobile networks, across all domains: radio, transmission, applications, and IP.
There are also some key issues that CSPs must take into account. These include:
Complete, real-time visibility and access to historical data are essential to effective Service Assurance. As networks converge, it is critical to have end-to-end visibility to pinpoint anomalies, suppress symptomatic alarms and understand the customer experience. This visibility requirement applies at the granular level of interfaces and devices, but also to the end-to-end services and graphical, holistic views of the network.
Most service providers do not employ a dynamic topology map of the network because of the manual effort required to keep maps up to date. Networks change on a daily basis. In order to enable network maps to reflect the health of the network accurately, it is necessary to have a Service Assurance topology map that can automatically update itself as the network evolves. This can be done if the Service Assurance mapping solution leverages GIS (Geographic Information System) latitude/longitude coordinate systems. Most service providers have GIS data in their physical mapping or CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems, or at the very least have address information that can be converted to GIS, and this can be imported or synchronised with the Service Assurance solution to provide an automatically updating topology map view that shows the health of the network in real-time.
Real-time visibility also applies to performance data. Performance data and KPIs are critical to the proactive monitoring of the network. Visibility helps to identify trends and patterns of usage and bandwidth requirements for capacity planning. Real-time performance data can also be highly effective in troubleshooting active problems. A Service Assurance solution must have the ability to monitor performance KPIs in real-time on-demand. As customer service personnel investigate an escalating issue or failure, being able to poll a device in real-time for its ongoing performance KPIs can be essential in determining the cause of a customer-impacting event.
Real-time visibility also provides the ability to identify failures between gateways, trace registrations in the IP domain and track authentication. Solutions with real-time tracing capability enable operators to determine why subscribers cannot access e-mail, identify the cause of download failures and isolate problems with traditional intelligent network services like calling name and number portability.
The Service Assurance solution must also allow for performance and service KPIs to be easily customised and configured with the ability to apply multiple, dynamic thresholds to the data so that performance-impacting trends can be tracked and monitored.
The key to profitability in delivering multimedia services across converged networks is having access to data that allows the carrier to understand the quality of the subscriber experience. To maintain customer satisfaction and ensure the successful monitoring of new services, providers need tools that track service availability and reliability. Equipped with real-time data, operators can identify the source of service disruptions before customer complaints arise and revenue is lost. Real-time statistics for each subscriber are critical to understanding service efficiency and the customer experience.
Configurable automations and notifications
No matter how advanced and customised a Service Assurance solution is deployed, there are always alarms or trends that will be missed if the service provider is relying on company personnel to manually identify all potential issues. In addition, it is not feasible to expect that all network operations personnel will know the appropriate business processes to implement for all situations. Because of this reality, it is necessary for a successful Service Assurance solution to have Workflow Automation and Notifications integrated into the fault and performance monitoring system.
Workflow systems allow the Service Assurance solution to automate the implementation of business processes and protocols in real-time as issues arise or trends are discovered. Here are some examples of workflow automations that could be enforced:
• When a particular pattern of alarms is identified at a particular time of day, an email and/or SMS notification can be sent out by the Service Assurance system to make sure potential customer experience impacting events can be resolved.
• When an alarm or performance threshold is crossed on an interface for a high-value customer or high-traffic node, change the priority of the event to ‘Urgent’ and send an SMS to the NOC supervisor.
• If a transmission alarm occurs on a core router and it is during Shift 1, send an SMS to the transmission group and open a trouble ticket – display the ticket number in the alarm.
A successful workflow system is one that can be maintained and administered without extensive training and advanced programming expertise. The Workflow system should be easy enough for NOC administration personnel to use so that the system can be adapted on a day-to-day basis to the ever-changing needs of the business and supported services.
Real-time Reports and Dashboards
Monitoring a large, complex, ever-changing network can quickly lead to information overload. It can delay fault fixing as users try to access the necessary information to resolve problems. Maximising access to information so that users can quickly tap into relevant data is critical to ensuring the optimum customer experience. Giving the users the ability to essentially create and configure their own User Interface, in the form of configurable Dashboards, allows the operator to have all the information they need at their fingertips.
A successful Service Assurance solution should have the ability for Top-N Reports, Interactive-KPI and KQI charts and trends to be added to dashboards at the click of a button to track any information deemed necessary at that moment based on the current state of the network.
When network performance degrades or worrying trends are identified, time is of the essence and spending excess time trying to find the information you need to diagnose and resolve a problem will impact network performance, extend downtime or cause service degradation. Having the ability to easily configure and view any report, map, alarm view or performance metrics on a ‘single pane of glass’ can have a dramatic impact on improving network performance and, thereby, the customer experience.
While it’s impossible to predict the future of mobile technology as a whole, one thing is certain for the market in India: it will go on evolving and will continuously require support for new services, applications and technology. As competition increases, growing revenue and customer retention will become more difficult. The best way to affect customer retention is to improve the customer experience.
In order for mobile operators to make a dramatic improvement in customer experience, they need to be able to quickly and effectively monitor the experience regardless of network evolution and identify impacts and trends to allow them to take swift corrective action as needed. The best way to do this is to adopt a Service Assurance solution that proactively monitors customer experience and checks the health of services, reducing the time it takes to support new services and technology. More than ever, it’s important to recognize Service Assurance as critical to managing the customer experience.