Order Capturing

 Order management  Comments Off on Order Capturing
Oct 222015
 

Today we are going to talk about Order Capturing from the Order Management domain.

What is an Order?

When you ask this question to the customer, he/she will reply, it is the collection of goods and services I am demanding from the provider.

However, from the Provider (and also Order Management) perspective, it is more than that. Order is a complex data structure which includes goods/services that are demanded plus any additional information such as shipping, payment, service location etc. that will help with the fulfillment of the order.

At the end of the day, the primary responsibility of Order Management is to run the necessary orchestration and fulfill an order. It does so by interfacing the infrastructure (network, IT, OSS/BSS), functional groups in the organization, customer and other enabling organizations (shipment providers, payment providers etc.)

Most of the time, the Order’s primary components are the goods/services. These goods and services should be presented in the Product Catalogs, so that the customers can browse and pick the ones they need. At this “selection” stage, we tend not to call these selected items as Order yet, rather we tend to call it Cart. (We also see the terms Shopping Cart and Basket which refers to the same concept)

So, the customer-selected products are placed to a Cart object.  After the customer is done with his selection, this cart should be freeze. This stage is called “Checkout” phase. Most of us know this from our online shopping experiences. At some moment we are asked to hit the “Checkout” button. After the checkout stage, we cannot (or supposed not to) change what is inside the cart. (Why is that? Because Cart belongs to another domain: Catalog Management. The items, the rules between the items, the checks that are done against these items are all reside at the catalog side and we will be using its’ interfaces to construct our Cart object. We cannot change anything in this goods/services list before consulting the Catalog Manager. If we do so, we will break the integrity. We checkout, to leave the Catalog Management domain and enter to another domain: Order Management.)

Can this checked-out cart object be sent to the order management right away? No, because we do not know how to fulfill it yet. We can instantiate the products for that customer but how their rates will be collected? If there are physical goods in the list, where they will be shipped to? Without this additional information, the order cannot be fulfilled. That’s why, the Order Capture platform, will also attempt to collect these details. Some basic validations can also be done at this stage (other than the Catalog Validations, which I will write in another blog post)

The Order, prepared at the Order Capture platform (which includes Cart Information + Additional Information + Customer Information) can now be sent to the Order Management for fulfillment. The OM platform will return an identifier to the Order Capture platform to be used for future queries regarding that specific order. Most of the times, the Order Capture platform is also triggered asynchronously about the key status changes of the order at the OM side (Pending, Error, Cancelled, Success etc.)

Order Capturing, is mostly achieved by CRM systems and Enterprise Portals which allow customizations. In the absence of such system, some add-on tools offered by most of the OM providers can be used. Regardless of the tool type, we should be ready for heavy customizations as each provider’s way of handling the orders differ from the others.

“Smarter” Mediation Platforms to Achieve Customer Experience Management

 Mediation, SQM  Comments Off on “Smarter” Mediation Platforms to Achieve Customer Experience Management
Oct 172015
 

Today, we will revisit an important function in the telecommunications OSS/BSS space: Mediation.

As we know, the primary purpose of legacy mediation has been to collect usage-related files from the network, extract data from them, do transaction-based enrichments and output them to other BSS platforms (which have been primarily billing and charging systems; but more recently business intelligence and other applications). This limited usage of mediation technology is changing.

The mediation layer has been with us since the beginning of the telecommunications industry. From the very start, its primary technological requirement was to maintain scalability, availability and integrity so that the provider would not lose any money. To cope with the increasing number of subscribers, evolving network technologies and more diversified network services, mediation vendors have increasingly had to focus and challenge themselves to improve their hardware and software processing capabilities.

Some mediation vendors stopped at this point: when getting the CDR from the network elements and passing it to the northbound platforms was achieved as efficiently as possible. However, the data that is exchanged between these platforms can provide invaluable insights to the Communications Service Providers (CSP) beyond just billing and charging. That is because the data is related to the end customer and with some additional correlation and enrichment, it can provide a premium input to any Customer Experience Management and Network intelligence initiative too. So, if you have a very fast, highly configurable and scalable mediation platform, why not utilize it for this purpose and more?

The mediation vendors who have seen this opportunity have re-oriented their product cores so that they accommodate functionality that is increasingly directed to adding value at the customer layer. (More limited vendors have integrated their software with third parties to try to come up with solutions that achieve the same goal, but honestly that is not the same thing.) What more innovative vendors have done is essentially to add advanced programmatic and configurable correlation capabilities on top of the performance-proven data collection layer. They have also improved their northbound interfaces as their ” clients”  will not just be billing and charging but, rather, feeding other IT systems that will expect to communicate in IT-like way. These include CRM platforms through APIs, CEM platforms, Performance Management platforms and customer self-care portals.  All these, and others, will require a new generation of database feeds (such as Big Data ones), APIs and Web Service integrations.

The smartest mediation companies have also expanded their reachability by supporting real time data flows. We know that traditional mediation utilizes a store-and-forward mechanism (batch processing) which introduces delays. These delays are acceptable for postpaid billing purposes but if the CSP wants to have real-time information about its customers (and moreover to act on the findings the information reveals), store-and-forward is ineffective. If you want to execute real-time actions on data you need to be able to process the data-in-motion. Injecting dynamic processing logic into the collection layer is one way to achieve this and mediation has become an important answer to the question of “how?”

To elaborate more on what’s going on in this area, I will talk about a vendor whose software supports all the “smart” features that I mentioned above.

DigitalRoute, a Swedish company with over 350 telco customers worldwide positions itself as an OSS/BSS mediation and policy software provider/ISV and its newest “smart mediation” product is called OSS Mediation. The product is built on a technology that has a relatively long history – the company has 16-plus years experience under its belt, and its version control has now reached 7.2.

Its technology conforms to TMForum standards and DigitalRoute frequently participates in Catalyst projects to contribute to standardization studies.  Apart from its standard mediation functionalities, its MediationZone base platform technology has some interesting features make it stand out. Here are some of the unique, “smart” features that are worth elaborating on.

Workflow Capabilities

OSS Mediation is built around a workflow mechanism that is primarily used for designing (through configuration) the required data exchange paths. It provides a graphical workflow environment where the system user is able to drag & drop the flow elements and associate them in sequence with each other. The flow elements themselves are called “agents” and different kinds of agents exist to handle different functions such as collection, analysis, or distribution. An example: Aggregation Agents are agents that can aggregate, correlate and consolidate different flavors of data sources. If you want to combine two sources to output an aggregate result (such as one addressing a KPI), then you insert an Aggregation Agent or even the company’s own proprietary KPI Management agent into the workflow. If you want that KPI to be written in a DB, then you add an agent type called a Forwarding Agent to the workflow sequence.  Agents can be easily configured by the system user to reflect the business rules required. This kind of flow design definitely delivers faster times-to-market.

Real Time Support

OSS Mediation handles real time data sources. As noted, the product is designed to cope with both batch data (CDRs, XDRs, logs, etc) and real time data flows (Active-Passive network probes, AAA systems; basically, socket-based performance data from any network node.) The union of batch and real time workflows is managed in two different ways according to the users preference, by proprietary DigitalRoute technology.  The alternatives are:

  • Inter Workflow Agents: where different data streams are combined by an agent which Is configured to integrate a real time data feed into a batched output format. Handling convergence this way can probably be described as the “traditional” approach.
  • Workkflow Bridge: This propriety DigitalRoute technology works the other way around (in a manner of speaking), incorporating batched feeds into real time output flows. It enables high speed connectivity between different workflows and allows large volumes of data to be processed simultaneously, i.e. it can be used for scaling out on several CPU’s. The advantages of this approach include high availability due to using multiple batch receivers which avoid other, less reliable end points.  A batched workflow can also be seen as a service that is available to other workflows, making it easier to move data to its final destination despite multiple processing services.

It is also worth mentioning that OSS Mediation is configurable to enable integrated with all well-known network probe vendors and this reduces its deployment and development times dramatically. Combined with the workflow capabilities described above, data-in-motion can easily be converted into valuable real-time actions.

Data Persistence and Summarizations

With its advanced data summarization capabilities, OSS Mediation is a good candidate to be an alternative to a probe analytics platform. It also has a KPI Management Layer that allows the user to define individual KPIs that are then collected in tree-like-structures. This means the user can create what can be thought of as “smart” or proactive (rather than reactive) KPIs. The support of multi-dimensional structures enables OSS Mediation to be utilized as an SQM or Customer Experience Management Platform that is able to build KQIs all the way from raw data.

– Big Data & Cloud Integrations

Since network data volumes are not only huge but also fast growing, it is not really feasible any longer to store data on expensive disks such as SANs. That’s why most CSPs are investing in Big Data technologies to store their network-related data. OSS Mediation has built-in integration with these outlets, for example Hadoop. It also has pre-integration with Cloud platforms such as Amazon WS. With DigitalRoute pre-processing in front of Big Data, Big Data solutions can easily become “Smart Data” enabled.

– Integration & Alerting Support

Since OSS Mediation is also a mediation product, it comes with lots of off-the-shelf integrations with network devices, probes, EMS systems, Billing and charging systems etc.  On the top of these, OSS Mediation also provides a RESTful Web Services layer which enables it to integrate with other platforms such as those that handle Customer Experience Management. It also comes standard with some industry approved alerting options such as SNMP.

OSS Mediation from DigitalRoute represents a very good example of what the next generation mediation platforms will look like. Today’s “customer aware” Communication Service Providers will definitely want to utilize products like OSS Mediation to understand their customer usage behaviors. Armed with an end-to-end experience insight, service providers will eventually enhance the quality of the experience they deliver and that will lead to increased profits and reduced churn.

– More Detailed Info For OSS Mediation can be found in the below links. –

Learn more about DigitalRoute’s OSS Mediation by clicking here

Download an analyst report by Stratecast at no charge, “The Platform of the Future,” here

View a deployed OSS Mediation for Customer Experience Use Case here