The ever-evolving digital ecosystem and the rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms have propelled telecom service providers (TSPs) to become digital service providers. A vital part of this transformation is building future-ready networks and investing in digital operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) that are efficient, scalable, flexible and collaborative. These systems enable TSPs to manage vi­tal information such as customer and pro­duct metrics, and conduct operations like cus­­tomer relationship management (CRM), customer experience manageme­nt, network management, asset/inventory/configuration management, revenue management and optimisation.
Further, OSS/BSS solutions provide ser­vice fulfilment and assurance to telcos. OSS was previously a stand-alone, mainframe-based system designed for enhancing the manual processes involved in telecom network operations. Today, the inc­rea­sing complexity of services and network technologies has led to a new generation of OSS solutions, which utilise the information available with a TSP for providing ser­vices. Meanwhile, BSS helps TSPs deliver faster time-to-market of new services and is scalable, enabling improved customer service delivery. It is primarily used for customer-oriented tasks, including billing, CRM, order management, and call centre automation. Collectively, these solutions are ena­b­ling TSPs to dig deeper into the digital eco­system and efficiently manage operations.

Key trends and growth drivers
Telco transformation
At present, digital transformation is at its peak, and telcos are increasingly looking at re-examining their businesses. This pro­cess involves chalking out competitive stra­tegies, aligning with new technology trends and investing in next-generation technologies such as 5G, internet of things (IoT) and network functions virtualisation to build smarter networks. Further, telcos are slowly shifting their focus from a systems-centric approach to an end-to-end service-centric one to stay relevant in an intensely competitive telecom space. To enable this shift, operators need to revise their strategies to deliver smarter services that facilitate personalised and real-time co­mmunication, cater to new customer se­g­ments, and are market tested, adaptable, agile and scalable. These strategies need to be coupled with increased investment in digital-ready OSS/BSS.

Need to evolve from legacy systems
Today, the existing legacy systems and pro­cesses of operators have become ineffective in monitoring key parameters of relevance. According to a report by Om­dia, operators are now moving beyond traditional key per­formance indicators such as revenue and profit margins to maintain a competitive edge. In place of these parameters, criteria such as customer experience, efficiency, seamless product delivery, quicker time-to-market and agility have be­come more relevant. However, the wi­de­spread use of legacy systems and pro­ce­sses makes it difficult for operators to effectively meet these parameters. Further, legacy systems have limited functionality and may lead to duplication of information, which can adversely impact the time-to-market of several products. In addition, operators may face challenges such as revenue leakage, inaccurate billing and absence of an omnichannel customer experience while using legacy systems. In this scenario, OSS/BSS solutions are ideal solutions for enabling the digital transformation of telcos.
Enabling digital transformation through OSS/BSS
To meet the evolving business needs, telcos need to invest in making IT systems within the OSS/BSS domain lean and agile. This can be achieved by automating multiple processes and consolidating systems throughout the customer and reven­ue management stacks. Modernised OSS/ BSS solutions enable digital transformation by working on four key aspects:
• Customer experience: They assure an enhanced omnichannel experience for customers via chatbots, self-care portals and applications.
• Operational agility: They enable operational agility by migrating existing applications to the cloud.
• Platform play: They lead to increas­ed focus on platform play and help tra­ns­form operators into service aggregators for third parties. Following this, op­erators can leverage opportunities pro­vided by the IoT domain as well.
• Innovation: They enable innovation am­ong operators allowing them to focus on DevOps to ensure agility and flexibility in operations.
Features of the OSS/BSS model
To enhance digital operations, telcos need to follow a piecemeal approach, focused on the various functional and architectural as­pects of OSS/BSS models.

Architectural aspects
In the digital age, OSS/BSS solutions can help improve customer experience. For this, operators need to couple the cloud-based architecture with various software components that evolve into micro-services. Ensuring real-time communication is another vital criterion. Operators need all the information and applications to be made available and updated in real time. This includes real-time analytics, closed loop actions, real-time charging and policy, real-time service orchestration, and real-time user experience. Another prerequisite is creating a layered architecture, which entails separating applications from data, eliminating data duplication based on a common information model, and using common software components with open application programming interfaces (APIs) between the infrastructure, services and customer layers.

Functional aspects
The key functional aspects of an OSS/BSS solution in the digital age are assured monetisation through digital services, customer engagement by offering a 360-degree view, support for omnichannel services, a convergent billing-centric approach and adoption of the cloud delivery model.

Operational aspects
The operational aspects of the OSS/BSS mo­del include overhauling traditional co­mmercial models and adopting new delivery mo­dels, and drawing on open technologies promoted through open APIs.

Upcoming trends
Cloud-native OSS/BSS
Cloud-native solutions represent a key upcoming trend in the OSS/BSS domain. TSPs are looking to move their OSS/BSS to the cloud in a bid to improve their business agility and scalability and evolve faster in line with the changing market conditions and needs. However, certain challenges continue to hamper its adoption. As per Omdia’s OSS/BSS Evolution Survey 2021, 61 per cent TSPs face challenges due to the limited in-house information te­c­hnology (IT) expertise. There­fore, ma­ny TSPs seek solutions and services from vendors to help their organisations em­brace cloud-native applications. The vendor community has responded to these challenges by providing productised solutions and comprehensive professional services aimed at lowering the barrier to entry for cloud-native OSS/BSS application development.

Transition to automation
Like other key industry verticals, the OSS/ BSS vertical too is moving towards au­to­mation. However, achieving the desired le­vel of OSS/BSS automation requires telcos to develop certain capabilities. These bu­s­iness process automation capabilities will help in making the systems more agile and scalable and also increase service velocity.
One of these capabilities is to enable automation in the field of service provisioning, which helps in ensuring that business and technical rules are applied to a design, thus minimising the need for human interaction. Further, telcos can enable self-adjusting properties in their networks to compensate for interference, congestion and outages. This built-in capability is valuable because it enables networks to react quickly without human intervention. Mo­re­over, big data platforms like Hadoop and analytical platforms like Tableau or Power Business Intelligence are now being dep­loyed within OSS for adhoc reporting purposes and data mining to gain a better un­derstanding of the telecom businesses. In fact, the ability to easily connect data from OSS/BSS stacks and create automated dashboards has become imperative in to­day’s data-reliant world.

Challenges and the wa­­y ahead
While OSS/BSS solutions are finding many takers in the telecom industry, their deployment involves challenges. The rules and regulations around privacy and data security are considered the single biggest barrier to the deployment of BSS in the public cloud. Some TSPs also stru­ggle to understand some legal and compliance issues around the adoption of cloud-based solutions. In some cases, lack of knowledge around new systems is a challenge while in others new platforms can result in existing functions and roles becoming redundant. Another major challenge is the lack of a skilled workforce. In the telco ecosystem, only a relatively small percentage of people in IT teams come from a cloud background and scarcity in internal skills is the main barrier to OSS/BSS adoption.
Challenges notwithstanding, the OSS/ BSS market is poised to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. Acc­ording to a report by Omdia, annual revenues for the global OSS/BSS market will grow from $17 billion in 2017 to $22.5 billion in 2022, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 per cent. Further, the overall growth in the market will be driven by the uptake of more vendor services, which will grow at a CAGR of 6.8 per cent to $17.1 billion in 2022. In the services do­main, the need for managed services and accelerated growth of software-as-a-service will drive revenues for both OSS and BSS segments.