Did You Forget Something? Assuring Revenue in an NFV/SDN Environment

Gone are the days of simple voice and data services. Now service providers are offering things like home security, transport tracking and connected car capabilities. The growth of the internet of things (IoT) is changing the definition of what it means to be a service provider. With more partner related services and the complex billing scenarios they create, new business models and revenue streams are popping up all over the place. These new services create complex pricing strategies that include the likes of revenue sharing, zero-rated and sponsored services, elastic pricing, loyalty points, pro-rated services and others.

Going Virtual: The Move to NFV/SDN

Network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are a critical part of this complex puzzle, changing how service provider networks are shaped and how they perform. All-IP networks and the introduction of virtualization means that network functions are being decoupled from the infrastructure on which they run, and with SDN, the data plane functions are separated from control plane functions. This means proprietary equipment will be replaced by commodity hardware and software hosted in the cloud. This change is happening for many reasons, namely cost savings and added flexibility, and it is also leading to new CSP revenue streams, not just from new data services, but from leasing or renting infrastructure.

While most of the talk around NFV and SDN is focused on the network side of the fence, what will be the impact on the financial and business side? Network virtualization will also drastically change the way service providers do business. SDN/NFV places even greater demands on the business backend. Most legacy OSS/BSS systems were not designed to deal with the performance requirements of network virtualization. While billing systems are being updated, many of today’s revenue assurance (RA) solutions are outdated and becoming increasingly obsolete.

NFV based billing brings a new level of flexibility and speed to how new services are delivered, priced and paid for, but it also requires comprehensive interfaces between the operator’s business policies and the network orchestrator, the MANO. Needs will change in a virtualized environment, including the ability support new variables related to customer entitlement, partner billing, SLA and KPI requirements and pricing parameters for both the static and elastic aspects of NFV billing, to ensure the accurate allocation of virtualized resources.

While many service providers are currently going through an OSS/BSS transformation, in order to ensure their systems are up to date and able to manage these changes, many of the legacy systems will remain in place. This creates incredible complexity. An endless combination of events will need to be collected across various networks, then filtered, collated, correlated, aggregated, formatted and transformed, resulting in a dynamic, automated operations model with various layers of information that need to be exchanged in real-time. Needless to say, with all of this complexity and changes to the network, systems, services, business models, partners and payments, there is an inherent risk of things going awry.

Revenue Assurance to the Rescue?

As BSS systems get uplifted, there is often one critical area that gets overlooked – revenue assurance. While new billing systems are being implemented to support new digital services and complex IP environments, revenue assurance often comes as an afterthought, but this is exactly when it is needed most.

Not Your Father’s Revenue Assurance.

Many service providers already have revenue assurance teams and tools in place, but they are often outdated and not able to manage today’s complexity associated with the huge volumes of new services and orders to provision, activate and manage. Information inconsistencies lead to revenue leakage, and they need to be identified and stopped. Today’s revenue assurance solutions need to be more holistic- looking not just at xDRs, but at the entire business. Today’s automated auditing tools can provide the ability to audit high volumes of costs and margins in real-time, proactively identifying, recovering and mitigating revenue leakage in the end-to-end product life-cycles. But RA systems need to go beyond that, and also audit and provide assurance across other areas of the business, including partner incentives, supplier costs, customer collections, equipment management, order handling, customer problem handling, service problem management, bill inquiries, workforce management, resource trouble management and even traffic analytics.

Real-Time Requirements

In an NFN/SDN environment, real-time, elastic billing becomes more commonplace. Concrete controls need to be put into the prepaid management process. This can only be done by monitoring the real-time usage and processing of payments to verify the accuracy of balances and anomalies in the IN (Intelligent Network) such as negative balances, duplicate or invalid balances, and very small or very large top-ups and adjustments such as promotional credits. With the growing number of partner relationships and new content and services, there also needs to be a way to ensure that bills are fully validated for total expenditures, as well as for all components of the full invoice. And new controls need to be able to be quickly created and supported so that partner KPIs and SLAs can be validated and enforced.

Next-Gen RA – The Enterprise Business Assurance Approach

Enterprise Business Assurance (EBA) systems (like WeDo Technologies’ RAID) work exactly the same way as a car dashboard, only instead of being designed for a car, they are designed for companies that want to run their business more efficiently. According to each company’s strategy, software sensors are designed and strategically placed into company departmental operations such as Human Resources, Marketing, Sales and Finance. A dashboard with a host of “warning lights” is designed to let you know about the overall status of the company. In today’s quickly changing, complex telecom environments, this is especially critical. By taking an end-to-end business assurance approach, service providers can stay a step ahead of the complexity and know instantly if their business if performing optimally.

This article was originally published on the WeDo Technologies Revenue and Business Assurance Blog. It has been reproduced with their permission.

Carlos Marques
Carlos Marques
Carlos is a Vice President at Mobileum, a leading provider of telecom analytics solutions for roaming, core network, security, risk management, domestic and international connectivity testing, and customer intelligence. He is responsible for product marketing for Mobileum's risk management products.