Automated Service Fulfillment

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As the economic downturn persists, the pressures upon communications service providers to generate new revenues and increase profits more rapidly--while still reducing overall operating costs -- are now more significant than ever. The days of aggressive expansion and network build-out are long gone, and more and more service providers are looking beyond the direct sales force and exploring indirect channels (or resellers) for driving new business. The indirect channel not only provides a much lower cost of sales during these tough times, it also allows for the service provider to broaden its footprint by reaching into previously untapped markets. With the use of indirect channels comes the need for a service provider to more effectively and efficiently manage its pipeline. As a result, the industry has seen the emergence of Partner Relationship Management (PRM) solutions, which are specifically aimed to facilitate the overall commerce relationship between the service provider and their distribution partners, agents, and resellers. PRM encompasses lead and opportunity management, training, forecasting, partner acquisition, funds administration and certification.Using solutions like PRM to improve distribution partner interaction, service providers have seen significant returns on investment through lower lead fall out and improved partner loyalty. At the same time, service providers continue to struggle with the inefficiencies and costs associated with partner-initiated service fulfillment, complicated by the added layer of partner-service provider interaction. With the increasing pressures, both economic and competitive, partners have come to expect business to operate at wire speed. Today, service fulfillment processes for orders initiated through distribution partners are paper-based. They are not integrated with the service provider's mainline service fulfillment process, driving lower the efficiencies gained through PRM solutions. Complex order entry processes for IP and data services can cause significant delays from the time the reseller agent takes the customer's order to when it is submitted to the service provider, despite customer expectations for service delivery. This "briefcase" time, coupled with an already inefficient provisioning process and inaccuracies of the paper trail, prolongs the service fulfillment lifecycle, resulting in a slower time to revenue and potential order fallout. Automated service fulfillment that facilitates a streamlined business exchange between service providers and their partners will be the fundamental difference between the service providers attracting new and retaining current partners, and those who do not. PRM solutions alone only achieve efficiencies half way. To close the loop, an effective PRM solution must be extended and linked into the actual order fulfillment. Integrating opportunity management solutions like PRM with a service provider's fulfillment process enables channel partners to access a single partner support portal for all of their vendor interactions, from product information, and placing and tracking orders.A combined solution eliminates order fallout from failed, misplaced and incorrect orders, lost revenue, and potentially a lost customer. Service fulfillment software solutions in various forms are available today to drive efficiencies in the process --reducing the service delivery time and increasing the profit margin for new services. Most solutions entail in-house development that in today's context is prohibitive. Clearly a commercial platform that can be easily customized provides the best possible alternative. Such a platform that automates the service delivery process should be built on a Web-optimized, n-tier, component-based architecture that enables unlimited deployment scenarios. J2EE-compliant application servers can deliver business logic and provide connectivity to multiple back-end systems. The technology should also be protocol-independent, to provide a consistent, predictable, middleware-independent connection framework in a multi-vendor environment. This will allow data to be extracted and aggregated from different sources, (OSS, databases, etc.), leveraging XML, to then be correlated with the appropriate information in the provisioning and activation processes. There must also be a security model to protect data in Internet applications. This software platform must also support a complete catalog of communications products and services, to allow service providers to immediately create and provide to resellers new services and unique offerings. Robust workflow capabilities are integral to any business process automation and very specifically to the service fulfillment process. Workflow management automates business logic flow between applications, dictating the pipelining of data and the sequencing of events between service fulfillment software and external systems. Complex workflow processes should be supported including parallel, nested, and conditional workflows. Most importantly, exceptions should be easily identified and handled in a consistent, organized fashion.By simplifying and streamlining business process interactions, the efficiencies that can be gained are substantial. In today's environment, profitability is key, driven by satisfied customers and partners and measured by new customer acquisition and retention. To succeed, service providers must shift their focus from network expansion to generating new revenue, pushing the indirect channel into the spotlight. Unlike its direct counterparts that reap the benefits of larger CRM and SFA implementations, the indirect channel has relied on manual & paper-based processes to manage all interactions & transactions that occur between the service provider and their reseller network. If the service provider does not invest in the right technology that specifically address the needs of the telecommunications reseller and the complexities around selling, ordering & delivering new services, the indirect channel risks to loose its potential of becoming a driving force in the sales process. [Steven Domenikos is chief executive and founder of TeleGea.]
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