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Order Fulfillment Order Management, Service Provisioning and Inventory

Management

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The article explains some of the basic functions of these systems. However,
this article doesn't intend to provide extensive details. For an extensive
overview of business activities, business process and functions, refer to
standards such as eTOM and TAM at http://www.tmforum.org/.

2. The Realm of OSS/BSS in Order


Fulfillment, Assurance and Billing
2.1 Order Fulfillment
Communications products/services could range from Voice services to IP and
Data services to Hosting and CPE services. Some of the examples of
communications products/services are:

Voice Basic telephony, long distance, toll-free, Voice over IP (VoIP),


Contact Center, Local Access, etc.

Internet Protocol (IP) Internet Access, VPN, Contact Center, VoIP,


Remote Access, etc.

Data Layer 1 Wide Area Network (WAN) Services such as SONET,


Layer 2 WAN services such as ATM, Frame Relay, Private Lines, Layer 2
VPN and Metro Ethernet, etc.

Hosting Custom Application Environments, Disaster Recovery,


Managed Services such as storage, security and network services, Web
Site Hosting, etc.

Order Fulfillment functions are a critical set of activities performed in order


to fulfill customer orders for services in a Communications Service Provider
(CSP) environment.
The following figure shows a very high-level view of activities performed in a
typical CSP environment.

After order entry, validation and submission, orders are decomposed and
sent for provisioning. Upon fulfilling the decomposed orders and appropriate
testing of the circuits, the orders are put into inventory. The following subsections explain the Order Fulfillment related functions and OSS/BSS
systems.
2.1.1 Order Management
Order Management systems are complex systems that allow customer or
customer service representatives to capture and process new orders, modify
existing orders, process customer moves and changes, price quotes and
orders, validate orders, etc., while supporting multiple channels such as
Web, Order template documents and partner applications as well as multiple
lines of businesses.

Order Management includes the following areas:

Order Entry and validation The Order Entry process captures


order details such as package or plan, service address, service details,
customer accounts, relevant contacts and applicable contracts. Data
entered during Order Entry is also validated against predetermined
rules.
Orders can be validated as the data is entered and/or validation after
all the data has been entered. Products/solutions that validate order
data as they are entered and walk the user through the product
configuration process are known as Product Configurators. One of
such tools available in the market is Selectica COnfigurator.

Order Decomposition A single customer order can be decomposed


into one or more service requests, typically based on service types or
quantities, in order to be able to fulfill an order.
For example, if a customer order contains both a VoIP order and a
phone line order, two service requests would be created, one each for
VoIP and the phone line, each of which would be sent to the
appropriate provisioning systems.

Network (WAN) Services such as SONET, Layer 2 WAN services such as

Service Assurance - Fault & Trouble Management, Network


Performance Management, Topology & Configuration Management,
Planning & Testing

One of the major problems service providers often grapple with is that, as
new services are added to the offerings, led by different business units, the
lack of flexible order management platform results in product/service specific
OSS/BSS applications. These in turn result in higher time-to-market as well
as increased costs of maintaining many different applications and systems.
Product catalog based Order Management solutions attempt to solve these
problems by storing and processing qualification rules for services based on
customer profiles, ordering channels, service locations, product
interdependencies, availability, customer eligibility and other business
constraints.
2.1.2 Service Provisioning
Service Provisioning systems are systems used to setup products/services
for the customer after an order for the services has been created and
accepted by the CSP.
Service provisioning activities include specifying the pieces of equipment and
parts of the network to fulfill the service, configuring the customers routing
path, allocation of bandwidth in the transport network, setting up of wiring
and transmission, etc.
Some of the systems that constitute provisioning systems are: Circuit Design
& Assignment Tools, Activation systems, and Field Service Management
systems.
Circuit design refers to specifying whether facilities exist to provide the
service and which pieces of the network equipment and routes the service
shall utilize.
One of the most widely used systems providing Circuit Design facility is
Telcordia TIRKS. Apart from Circuit Design support, it also provides circuit
order control, inventory record maintenance, selection and assignment of

components from inventory, and preparation and distribution of circuit work


orders. The order control module in TIRKS works with a circuit provisioning
system and operates in conjunction with other TIRKS components to assign
facility and equipment information for circuit orders and design circuits.
TIRKS can then provide automated design criteria for certain circuit orders.
The circuit design generated in TIRKS is then communicated to field
operations or automated activation systems for implementation.
Circuit Design and Assignment tools these days often have graphical tools
that allow a user to create services on a network map using mouse clicks
and drag-and-drop rather than drawing maps by hand or using an abstract
set of equipment identifiers displayed in a table.
After a service is designed based on the existing equipment and circuit
inventory, it is ready to be activated. If new equipment or lines need to be
configured manually, a Field Service Management (FSM) system is notified
which in turn dispatches technicians.
Moreover, certain activations can be performed automatically. For example,
issuing commands to ATM or circuit switches to provision circuits, to SONET
terminals to allocate bandwidth, and to a wide array of access devices such
as DSLAMS, Digital Loop Carriers (DLC), or cable modems. For such
activations, Service Activation systems pass the device specific commands
2.3 Inventory Management
Tracking inventory involves tracking equipment, facilities and circuits.
Some examples of information tracked are: the location and quantities of the
equipment, how a piece of equipment is configured and its status, etc.
Inventory Management Systems track both the physical network assets
(such as equipment and devices) as well as logical inventory (such as
active ports, circuit ids, IP addresses, etc.), although not all support both.

By relating usage of network assets to specific customers and services, an


inventory system can help network operations determine the network usage
and available capacity as well as enable automated network design and
planning. Inventory Management Systems also enable Service Assurance
systems to find the impact of a network fault on the customers circuits.
Some tools also have auto-discovery features to automatically check
physical network assets and match the results with the information held in
the inventory. However, these work only with some of the newer intelligent
network elements.

2.2 Service Assurance


Communications service providers (CSP) strive to differentiate themselves
from their competitors by implementing attractive Service Level Agreements
(SLA). SLAs are formal contracts where the level of service delivered by the
CSP to his customer is stipulated. An SLA may specify levels of service
availability, performance, operation, etc. as well as penalties upon violation
of the SLA.
Offering SLAs implies that the service provider has the ability to monitor, act
and report the level of service, in order to assure the quality of services
delivered to the customers. Service Assurance refers to all the activities
performed for such an assurance. The goal of Service Assurance is to
provide an optimal customer experience, that helps retain existing
customers, attract new customers and prevent penalties arising out of
violation of SLAs.
The following sub-sections introduce some of the common service Assurance
systems.
2.2.1 Fault and Trouble Management

Fault Management Systems are designed for detection, isolation and


correction of malfunctions in a communications network. They monitor and
process network alarms generated by network elements (routers, switches,
gateways, etc.). An alarm* is a persistent indication of a fault that is cleared
only when the triggering condition is resolved.
Examples of trouble or fault in a network are damage to an optical fiber line,
switch failure, etc. Such a problem in the network can result in a chain
reaction where many network elements in a certain path produce alarms*.
Fault Management Systems may be either a component within Network
Management Systems or as a standalone set of system and application
software.
The following figure illustrates how fault management works.

and configuration changes to the network elements, Element Management


Systems (EMS), Network Management Systems (NMS) or application hosts.
EMSs are designed to receive and execute commands sent by activation
systems on the devices. EMSs can also feed equipment status data back to
network and trouble management systems. EMSs use protocols such as
Common Management Information protocol (CMIP) or Transaction Language
(TL) or Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to communicate with
activation and other systems.
Activation systems often comprise a library of adapters to various network
systems. They usually also support transaction control, i.e. the capability to
roll-back operations already performed, in case an error occurs.
It should be noted that Provisioning systems interact with the Inventory
systems, both to verify that the required network elements and other
facilities are available, and once the resources are provisioned - to reflect the
changed on-line configuration of the facilities. Therefore, provisioning

systems have close channels with inventory systems. As a result, some


vendors have combined workflow capabilities with inventory management
capabilities in their products.

Network Elements are designed to provide various levels of self-diagnosis.


Older Network Elements might simply send an alarm notifying a problem
while newer Network Elements can provide more precise and detailed
messages. Fault Management Systems may collect alarms via SNMP traps,
CMIP events or proprietary agents, via EMS. They use complex filtering
systems to assign alarms to specific severity levels and correlate different
alarms to locate the source and cause of a problem.
After a problem is identified, the FMS then notifies appropriate network
operators as well as pass the problem information to a Trouble Management
System that in turn logs the problem and issues a trouble ticket to start the
repair process.
The Trouble Management System then sends commands to appropriate
systems such as Field Service Management to schedule and dispatch
technicians to repair the equipment and/or to EMS to reroute network traffic
around the problem areas.
Trouble Management systems also handle automatic escalation, such as

progression of a ticket from minor to major or major to critical, etc., and


support a variety of notification methods such as paging, emails, synthesis
voice dial-out.
Fault Management systems usually provide graphical network displays which
are projected on large screens at the Network Operations Centres (NOC).
NOC operators can see role-based views on their consoles, shortcuts to
operations they perform the most as well as tools to quickly make
connections to EMS to perform any testing or diagnostic operation.
2.2.2 Network Performance Management
Performance Management components in NMS and other Alarm Handlers
monitor applications and systems and collect performance variables of
interest at specified intervals. Performance variables of interest may be
service provider network edge availability, customer premises availability,
response times, packet delivery rate, packet losses, latencies, jitters and out
of sequence packet reorder, etc., to name a few.
One way to capture performance metrics is collecting event logs, CDRs and
other performance data such as counters or timers that the network and
system elements maintain as part of their normal operation. This is referred
to as passive measurement. Performance data is captured by polling MIB
using SNMP or using syslog, (I & II), FTP, EMS feeds, etc. Most passive
measurements report on a single network element.
For example, an Ethernet Switch may have a MIB which provides in and out
data volumes of each port, histograms of frame sizes, number and types of
erroneous frames, central processing unit (CPU) busy status. Associated
Remote Monitoring (RMON) MIB-type data can then list ten most active
users, etc. Performance Management tools can access the data by using
SNMP to poll the MIBs at predefined intervals.

Statistics on performance variables can also be captured via dedicated


network appliances known such as probes and sniffers that monitor or
probe customers local loop connections, packet performance, etc. This form
of performance testing is usually referred to as active testing.
Packet sniffers typically monitor signaling protocols such as SIP and RTP by
inspecting packets on the wire/fiber, using pings, DNS, FTP, HTTP fetches,
etc. Examples include WireShark and Geoprobes.
Probes such as Brix Networks BrixWorks Verifiers and Tektronix/Minacom IVR
tools typically emulate customer traffic in order to test or probe specific
paths to measure the quality of the services supported. Probes could be
either placed into the network or could be built into network elements such
as in the case of Ciscos IP Service Level Agreements tools.
Note that active measurement measures a service, such as application
response time, instead of the internal operation of a network element.
An example of active network performance test is injecting ping (short,
network layer echo packet) into the network aimed at a remote IP address.
Round-trip time is measured if the ping packet returns, and an error counter
is incremented if it doesnt.
Performance statistics captured by active or passive performance tests
are normalized and routed to relational databases and/or data-warehouses.
An alternative is to pass the performance data directly to Performance
Management tools. For example, Concord eHealth could collect performance
statistics from Netcool agents via SNMP polls at a pre-defined interval.
Performance statistics are initially analyzed to determine the normal
(baseline) levels. Appropriate thresholds are determined for each of the
interesting performance variable so that exceeding the thresholds indicates a
problem.

Performance Management tools then measure the performance variables


against SLAs defined as thresholds per application or service, on an on-going
basis. In case of exceptions they report them to alarm handlers. This form of
performance monitoring is reactive performance monitoring. Some tools also
support proactive monitoring by way of providing simulation tools that helps
network operators project how growth in network traffic will affect
performance metrics and plan to take proactive countermeasures such as
increase capacity.
Performance Management tools may also support real-time and historical
reporting. Some CSPs have taken performance statistics of the network
affecting customers circuits to their customer self-service portals.
2.2.3. Topology & Configuration Management
Older networks and systems were static and the network wiring was fixed in
place, and sometimes required long outages while changes to the network
and its configuration were being made. Any error or inconsistency in the
configuration files of different network devices caused problem, and
therefore these changes were well controlled [3].
According to [3], with the rise of IP-based, dynamically routed networks,
network topologies started becoming dynamic. The topology of the network
became dynamic because a few of routers might decide, on their own, to
shift routing patterns, or because a network operator group might add a new
router or switch to the network, possibly without everyone else in the
network operations center being aware of the changes. Instead of static
associations between users and network addresses (as was set in the old
hosts file), DHCP and other techniques allowed users to appear, move, and
disappear without providing prior notice to the network administration.
Most major NMSs therefore provide capabilities to automatically discover a

networks actual topology, which is critical to understand network


performance or root cause of network alarms, etc.
Probes are placed into the network to automatically find devices and circuits.
Also, most network elements provide MIBs that can be polled via SNMP to
discover the network, although discovering the network topology in its
entirety may not be guaranteed. Backup paths, virtual private networks,
MPLS, etc., can make it very difficult to discover actual paths, through
multiplexed links, patch panels, and test equipment [3].
Also, most Topology Management Systems allow the network operator to
provide hints so that the system, for instance, in order that the system can
ignore certain portions of the network. This makes it easier to discover
relevant portions of the network more accurately.
Some service providers may run network discovery routines on a daily basis
to discover any unauthorized changes to the network topology as a result of
security intrusions or unplanned insertion of devices.
Moreover, network elements and computer systems have a variety of version
information associated with them. For example, a workstation may have:
Operation System, version 32, Ethernet Interface, version 5.4, TCP/IP
Software, version 2.0 and SNMP Software, version 3.1. Since multiple
engineers/network operators work on making changes to the network
equipment, tracking the changes manually would be very tedious and errorprone. Configuration Management tools help automates the tracking of the
changes. Configuration Management systems store the configurations in a
database or LDAP server for easy access.
They also enable network operators to change configurations of the network
elements as well as to roll back a change to a previous configuration, if
required.

When a problem in the network occurs, network operators often search the
Configuration Management database for clues that can help solve the
problem.
2.2.4. Planning & Testing
Network Planning solutions help determine when a communication network
needs an upgrade or additional equipment as well as to predict the impact of
changes to a service providers networks topology, configuration, traffic and
technology. They provide simulation tools that help the network operators to
project how growth in network traffic will affect the network performance.
Based on the results and other planning activities, network operators can
take countermeasures such as increase capacity.
Testing is an important activity in setting up a network or customer circuits.
For simplicity in understanding the gamut of testing activities, let us divide
them into the following:
1. Testing of existing network or a change
2. Integration testing of services configured for the customer
3. End-to-end testing of services configured for the customer
Testing the entire network platform - including the equipment, services and
call quality is critical for assessing the system prior to deployment and for
service assurance in production environments [4].
Network testing tools usually simulate a production environment and
generate synthetic voice, video and data traffic, which helps measure
call/data quality, network performance, and the affects of any changes to the
network or increasing traffic or adding new applications. These tests typically
include tests like DNS, HTTP, RTP, Ping, etc. Also, during ongoing operations,
these testing tools enable active testing of facilities.

Another form of testing is integration testing of network setup for the


customer, i.e., routes, circuits, etc. configured for a customer. Network
operators or field engineers perform integration testing of services upon
completion of activations and other provisioning activities. Field engineers
typically use equipment and network element specific applications to
perform integration testing.
Upon completion of integration testing, field operations teams are notified to
perform end-to-end testing. End-to-end testing includes testing of circuits,
both within the CSPs network as well as local access circuits between the
CSP and the customer premises. Some service providers use craft access
systems for the benefit of field technicians access to their internal systems
through a hand held terminal [5]. The hand held terminal helps them to
access loop testing system and to view the complete test summary from
remote locations.

2.3 Billing
IDC [6] defines Billing as: the processing and compiling of charges and
enabling of revenue collection for network usage, feature transactions, and
access charges of the services.Mediation systems collect network usage data
from the network elements and convert to billable statistics.
The following figure depicts a simple Billing flow:

Traditionally, for phone calls, Call Detail Records (CDR) have been used to
record the details of the circuit-switched phone call. CDR includes
information on start time of call, end time of call, duration of call, originating
and termination numbers. CDRs are stored until a billing cycle runs. For IP
Based Services, a new standard is gaining acceptance called Internet
Protocol Detail Record (IPDR). IPDR supports both voice and data.
Billing systems use mediation output to determine charges for the
customers. It is also used to feed other downstream applications such as
Fraud and Churn Management.
2.3.2 Rating
Rating systems calculate the charge for an individual call, IP usage event,
etc. using the CDRs/IPDRs. Rating systems apply charges based on preconfigured pricing rules, applicable discounts and rebates from promotions.
This rating process has grown increasingly complex in recent years. In older
times, it was solely a matter of taking the length of the call, assigning a
price based on the mileage band (calculated by cross-referencing the prefix
of the originating and terminating numbers in a table of values), and
assigning discounts based on the time of day (peak, evening, night), day of
the week, and holidays.
Modern rating systems can assign discounts based on calling circles, provide
flexible rating plans based on size of accounts and increase switching costs
[2]. These serve as strategic marketing tools but can be very complex to
administer and operate.
2.3.3 Billing Systems

Billing systems aggregate rated calls, IP/data usage events, etc. and
calculate customer invoices. In the United States, billing is usually performed
once a month.
Billing systems combine rated records with prior balance information,
payment records, recurring charges (such as line rentals), one-time fees
(such as installation and service charges), promotions and discounts
associated with the customer account, taxes and credits. Overnight billing
batch jobs are among the largest batch environment at a CSPs operating
environment. Each customer is assigned a specific billing cycle.
According to Insight [2], the holy grails of the billing industry are unified
billing and convergent billing. With unified billing, a customer gets a single
bill for all services provided (or billed) by the service provider, appropriately
rated, discounted, and taxed, and a single contact for inquiries and
negotiation.
2.3.4. Interconnection Billing
In the competitive world of communications, service providers often tie-up
with partners, in order to bundle their own products with their partners. This
helps the service providers to provide attractive bundles of products and
services. However, in order to successfully settle interconnect billing
settlements an effective Interconnection Billing is required.
Interconnection Billing products support inter-working of a service providers
billing systems with the corresponding systems of another service provider,
based on interconnect agreements and contracts.
2.3.5. Revenue Assurance
Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management systems verify billing, detect and
identify unauthorized usage of service provider network assets. Some of the

kinds of frauds are Usage and Subscription.


Usage Fraud means that a customer uses the telecommunications network
illegally. This is accomplished either by obtaining a service with no intent to
pay or by obtaining unauthorized access to the network (i.e. hacking or
cracking).
Fraud Management systems typically detect and prevent unauthorized
access to a communications network by analyzing traffic patterns on the
network. Some examples are provided in [8]:

One technique involves analyzing the average call duration or the


number of calls placed to foreign countries to determine whether the
traffic patterns are consistent with a subscriber's call history or
pattern. If a call is inconsistent with the subscriber's call pattern
profile, the subscriber is provided with a report of the abnormal call
activity.

Other methods for dealing with the problem of unauthorized use


involve automatically denying or blocking access to the network when
abnormal use is detected to minimize the subscriber's financial loss.

Subscription fraud means that a customer obtains a service account by


giving a false identity (name and/or SSN) or by giving a false address or
false credit worthiness.
Detecting subscription fraud involves searching recent order and existing
customer data for multiple orders and/or accounts with the same customer
name, SSN, or service address.
Common subscription fraud patterns include:

Change of billing address within a few weeks of opening an account.

Substantial deviation of usage profile of a new user from an average


new user.

Common techniques to control subscription based fraud include threshold


based analysis, inference rules analysis, profile based analysis such as
habitual user profiles and neural networks.
Fraud Management Systems typically read and store usage data from the
service providers network switching equipment and allows queries to be
executed against the data that detect suspicious usage patterns.
They also allow operators to review customer accounts that have suspicious
activity, to track their investigation and record the final case resolution.
It should be noted that fraud is different from revenue leakage. Revenue
leakage is characterized by the loss of revenues resulting from operational or
technical loopholes where the resulting losses are sometimes recoverable
and generally detected through audits or similar procedures [1]. Fraud, on
the other hand, is characterized with theft by deception, typically
characterized by evidence of intent where the resulting losses are often not
recoverable and may be detected by analysis of calling patterns.
Another important class of Revenue Assurance tools includes Churn
Management tools. Churn management is an important area for service
providers that have subscription-based business - due to price wars,
aggressive marketing and promotions from competing service providers, and
customers expectations related to customer service.
Churn Management tools provide functions such as automated behavior
analysis, forecasting and simulation, empirical profiling, churn metrics
capture, that enable service providers to learn which customers are likely to
leave and take appropriate countermeasures.

3. Conclusion
3.1 Summary
OSS/BSS systems and applications automate many of the day to day
operations performed in a communications service providers operating
environment. They optimize the time taken to perform these operations and
make the business processes more efficient.
There are no all-encompassing OSS/BSS systems that can be installed,
integrated, tested and allow the service providers to easily modernize their
end-to-end operations functions.
Service providers, therefore, use all the different approaches: best-of-breed
in some areas, off-the-shelf in some, and home-grown custom applications
in the remaining areas, to modernize and optimize their operations.
More often than not, many of these OSS/BSS systems are integrated with
the others in a point-to-point fashion, as part of discrete projects and
programs, sponsored out of different business units. This leads to point-topoint integration of OSS/BSS systems unless the programs/projects are
planned with a strategic goal.
A side effect of the difficulty in integrating the various OSS/BSS systems is
many of the OSS/BSS systems in a service providers operating environment
may not be integrated at all. For example, it is not unusual to find the
following scenario: when a customer orders a new telephone line, the
ordering system takes the details of a customers order, but a manual
process is present to configure the telephone exchange using a switch
management system. Details of the order entered in the Order Handling
system is re-keyed manually by the technician into the Switch Management
System a process often referred to as Swivel-Chair Integration.

The article provided an overview of some of the core OSS/BSS areas in


Order Fulfillment, Service Assurance and Billing.