Carriers Look to Link Back and Front Offices

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2002-11-04

To cut operational costs while giving enterprise customers greater control over managing telecommunications services, service providers are seeking ways to integrate their back- and front-office systems. Later this year, AT&T Corp. will unveil a customer service portal that permits point-and-click provisioning, said a source with AT&T.

In a period of reduced capital spending, major long-distance carriers, including AT&T and Sprint Corp., are targeting their limited investment dollars at technologies that enable such integration. To squeeze more revenue out of facilities in place, the carriers want to process orders faster using fewer resources, and some said they hope they can do so by taking advantage of business users desire for more visibility into the network.

Work remains to be done in the OSS (operation support systems) of legacy networks, however, before carriers can cede provisioning control of traditional services to customers.

AT&T, in New York, is investing in technologies that will shorten the service provisioning cycle and reduce manual service errors and rework efforts. The spending strategy was announced by CEO-elect David Dorman at an industry forum earlier this month in Washington, sponsored by The Yankee Group. Dorman said the company, after it spins off its broadband unit to Comcast Corp., will spend more on auto- mation and e-servicing tools, among other network management technologies, to allow customers to play a greater role in managing their services.

Before years end, AT&T will launch a customer service portal to eliminate some manual purchase ordering processes, a company official told eWeek. The system will set up billing and ensure that appropriate network lines are available, he said, adding that AT&T has 70 billing systems today. "Its all about flow-through," the AT&T official said. "The key is streamlining it all."

One main reason for carrier delays in providing new services is that between 30 and 50 percent of their purchasing orders contain invalid data, according to Jean Yves Tripier, director of marketing and strategic alliances at Ilog Inc., in Mountain View, Calif. It costs $100 to $200 to rework an invalid order. Ilog develops network management system software that automates much of the order processing to ensure that only valid information is entered.

Another technology that holds promise for integrating legacy carriers OSS and BSS (business support systems) is optical signaling, which Sprint, of Overland Park, Kan., is investing in, according to Kurt Gastrock, vice president of Hosting Solutions at Sprint. Although much work needs to be done, eventually carriers will have a way to offer self-service-style provisioning options for enterprise services and bandwidth, Gastrock told industry professionals at the recent Yankee Group forum.

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