“All Play”: Sigma’s got it, service providers need it…and Amdocs wants to come out to play


Cable MSOs and other broadband providers need to continue growing revenues and boosting profitability to keep investors and other stakeholders happy as they sink resources into new service offerings and try to become everyone’s “friend in the digital age.” Meanwhile, Verizon is working to transform itself from a ‘telco’ into a communications and entertainment company-a model being replicated across the telecom landscape.

So in what is still thankfully a competitive market, it is counterintuitive that so many continue to manage their service offerings in the least efficient, highest-cost ways and place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. They divide and conquer themselves across separate business units, technical teams and B/OSS platforms. On the other hand, it is in keeping with the grand telco tradition of overlaying everything from networks to organizations to OSS. And in truth, it is still, in 2008, difficult to grapple with the complexity of managing bundled service offerings in an integrated fashion. But bottom line? Whether a factor of technology, mindset or both, many simply are not up to the challenge.

One of the reasons they are not up to the challenge is that they and their favored vendors are still trying to nail cable broadband with a telecom hammer. B/OSS products of, by and for “We, the telcos” cannot effectively manage it all under one roof.

One answer to this problem is the service delivery platform (SDP). It provides a common way to introduce and integrate new services into an operator’s existing network and services fabric, slashing the time, cost and risk. An SDP provides a unified view of subscriber data, service configuration and device-level information that strengthens every link in the service fulfillment chain.

An SDP also lets content providers rapidly deliver services users demand by interacting with an SDP’s standard interfaces, which simplify the complexity of the underlying network and systems. Users like consuming services they can see and touch. They like managing them through intuitive, user-friendly self-service portals. Applications requiring bandwidth on demand-movie downloads for example-are virtually impossible without an SDP.

“Sounds great. Where do I get one?”

The closest thing we’ve yet found to fulfilling the SDP Holy Grail is a solution called All Play from Sigma Systems. Sigma has long been the leading service fulfillment provider to cable broadband service providers. It has more than 50 deployments with companies such as Rogers, Telus, Cox, Charter, Cogeco, Shaw, Multikabel, Bresnan and Eastlink.

Sigma began life as an independent software vendor (ISV) and was snapped up by broadband equipment manufacturer Liberate. Then, when its corporate master ran afoul of regulators, it was “liberated” to resume life as an ISV. Preston Gilmer and the team over at Sigma have built something that can actually deliver it all over a single platform: voice, Internet, mobile messaging, video, content services, presence and location services (better known as unified/intelligent communications).

The All Play system touches the service creation, order capture, order management, subscriber policy management, service provisioning and network activation bases. Its activation capabilities extend to CPE and handsets/PDAs. Yes, it even touches the network elements, which remains a Grail-within-the-Grail for B/OSS vendors. To complete the picture, the system lets customers see and control their own services through self-service portals.

Some of us have been shouting in the wilderness for telecom service providers to lead their big-name vendors-and-integrators-for-life into taking new approaches to problems. For example, when you find a vendor, even a smaller one, whose products are complete, have been proven in high-traffic service provider environments and can deliver what you need without years and untold millions in systems integration effort, you should insist that your SI function as a true business partner by shortlisting that vendor and “baking it into” its preferred solutions framework.

I know, it’s crazy, searching for complete solutions that deliver superior price/performance instead of cozying up with the usual suspects whose products cost $5 or more in integration for every upfront software license dollar. Yes, the software “icebergs” look manageable on the surface, but their hidden costs and integration headaches can sink your next B/OSS project. Telcos continue to struggle to become multi-service providers by cobbling together services and software; they should take a close look at solutions such as All Play that may actually get them where they keep saying they want to go.

That Sigma doesn’t already count more carriers as customers tells us that a lot of telcos still don’t get it.

Apparently B/OSS market leader Amdocs does. It has now taken its most important step toward transcending telecom and becoming a broadband-ready provider. Over the last decade, it has acquired next-gen and outsourced billing vendors, a customer care and order management vendor, and one of the most widely-deployed inventory and resource management vendors in Xacct Technologies, DST Innovis, Wiztec and Cramer respectively. And in April Amdocs acquired JacobsRimell, which along with Ceon, has been a capable second fiddle to Sigma in the broadband service fulfillment space. Once it integrates this latest acquisition with its other properties, Amdocs will at long last have a CRM and SDP for converged services.

I think I just heard a tree fall. I wonder if the telco superpowers heard it, too.

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