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Beyond Catalog-Driven Order Management

Over the past year or two the term ‘catalog-driven’ has been getting a lot of buzz in the telecommunications industry ordering space. The concept is pretty simple – that relationships and dependencies established in a centralized product catalog should be used by the downstream systems to adapt and adjust behavior pertaining to fulfillment. The premise is that once achieved, a provider would see faster time-to-market and lower operational costs because fewer changes need to be made to the downstream systems when adding or modifying products and services.

The idea of a central catalog determining behavior in fulfillment systems is not a new one – in fact it’s been done for well over 10 years in some form or fashion by the large monolithic providers whose preference is to replace every single system within a service provider’s ordering stack. While there are numerous concerns and issues with that approach, the primary one is the transformation cost and lack of ability to leverage any legacy investments. What is a more recent trend though and more easily digested by most CSPs is the focus of having individual best of breed solutions from potentially different vendors also able to take advantage of this same concept of ‘catalog-driven’ order management through adoption of industry standards such as those proposed by the TMForum along with flexible and open architectures.

A successfully complete implementation of a catalog-driven solution should benefit the CSP in a few ways – operationally their costs should be less due to the smaller number of changes that are needed when introducing new products or services and second, time to market, a key performance indicator today should also be reduced for the same reasons. But in the end the capability of ‘catalog-driven’ order management simplifies the same linear process for change that’s been in place for 30+ years in telecommunications. It is still a static procedure made with numerous methodical steps and gates – it does not provide the ability to dynamically respond to real-time events affecting the ordering systems.

What if our ordering systems could react in real time to changing environments? What if they had the ability to change their behavior to adapt to positive or negative influences on the system in real time? With today’s advanced analytics capabilities that is exactly what is becoming possible. There are three key areas we look to when we consider how having an analytical data-mart built into an ordering platform benefits a provider: intelligence ‘on’ the process, intelligence ‘in’ the process and intelligence ‘driving’ the process.

The ability to provide this level of insight and adaptation to the ordering process means the use of an embedded data-mart within the ordering platform – which is not the same as a business intelligence reporting solution pulling from a snapshot of the active selling database – because that process introduces lags and delays in understand what’s really happening at that very moment. This analytical engine allows providers to become proactive instead of reactive.

Intelligence ‘on’ the process is an evolutionary step from the standard dashboard reporting from BI environments that moves it’s source data from delayed reference to something that already happened to real-time access to what is happening now. It enables users to respond to key trends by viewing dashboards and key performance indicators in real-time. This might provide visibility into views of sales by channel, margin, sales team, sales person, store, region, etc. or it might show backorders and CPE fulfillment issues. Real-time access to this information is critical when supporting large scale roll-outs of the latest super smartphone.

Intelligence ‘in’ the process uses the embedded analytics directly in the workflow gives users access to recommendations based on performance trends, allowing them to make better decisions. It might provide a field sales person quoting a particular item with a pop-up showing previously successful quote discount percentages for that product, category or industry or it might provide customer service representatives with changing customer category information, such as “valued customer“ or in indicator of potential churn, so they can take can provide the appropriate form of appeasement.
Where the real magic happens though, is when we use intelligence to ‘drive’ the process. Now we are talking about changing the behavior of the ordering solution (both order configuration and order management) – in real time – on the fly with automated decision-making. The potential benefits could be endless but let’s talk about a couple of easy examples of how this might work. The order configuration system could determine the maximum discount that can be offered to a customer based upon their individual order and recent credit history. Or the fulfillment system could automatically reallocate constrained CPE or handset inventory to a customer based upon priorities, such as customer types, channel, geography, timeframes etc. Or the inventory promising engine supporting all the sales channels, including online, call-center and stores notices that a particular item is in heavy demand (iPhone 5 anyone?) and it also recognizes that there is sufficient inventory available to service the current demand velocity. The order management solution would change it’s processing logic to support scale instead of demand – by processing each sales request first and then reducing inventory after the fact until it reaches a certain minimum threshold or the velocity of sales recedes. This type of behavior ensures that demand scale spikes in non-constrained inventory items won’t slow down system response and impact customer experience.
Analytical ordering platforms are just beginning to scratch the surface of their potential value – but already companies like IBM through it’s Smarter Commerce approach to selling and fulfillment are already offering the type of capability described above, through an embedded datamart designed specifically to work with the ordering solution. Contact IBM today to find out how your organization can move ‘beyond’ catalog-driven order management.
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