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December 2014

    Mobile and fixed broadband traffic is exploding driven by increasing penetration of broadband infrastructure, smart devices (phones, tablets, phablets etc.) and some compelling internet based applications. All this has brought new challenges to Internet services providers (Mobile operators, fixed line service providers, ISP’s etc.). One of the critical challenges for the Internet Service providers has been the emergence of OTT vendors, who seem to be pushing the service providers towards irrelevance. The service providers with their huge investments are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their relevance. It is a foregone conclusion that service providers will not be able to fight this onslaught by the OTT vendors, so they are now focusing on joining hands with the OTT vendors (if you can’t beat them, join them). Joining hands essentially means that the service providers will need to bring some specific value additions in terms of the infrastructure/services for OTT vendors and consumers.

    One of the compelling areas being explored by services providers is the differentiated “Customer Experience”. Among the many things which have an impact on the user experience, “Caching” systems are most significant. Caching systems essentially work as “mini internets”, where content of the frequently accessed internet sites are stored.  Today, these systems are deployed at various points in a service provider’s network and this eliminates the need to fetch the content from the internet every time content is demanded. This has many benefits for the internet users (consumers) and service providers alike.

    The fact that the content is saved locally and there is no need to fetch content from the internet, the services providers will save on the internet backhaul costs. Faster availability of content to the consumer reduces the time required to deliver the service, which in turn enhances consumer satisfaction. This translates into higher internet consumption, ultimately resulting in more revenues for the service providers. The fact that you are likely to deliver services faster also means that the consumer is likely to release the network earlier, implying other consumer can use the same network more number of times. So caching essentially creates additional bandwidth for the service provider.

    The fact that the above infrastructure is already in place, service providers are looking to find other useful monetization techniques using their Caching infrastructure. The following caching enhancement possibilities will help service providers to increase the potential of monetizing their caching infrastructure.

    Optimized Caching System:

    Given the context of evolution of cloud based technologies, there is a high possibility that most of the service provider’s infrastructures are likely to be moving into the cloud. RAN or the Radio Access networks will remain for some time to come being the last mile access to service provider’s network.  Investments around RAN are very capital intensive and any technology which will help the service providers to save on this will be compelling, especially in these times of uncertainty for the service providers. In addition, if it also helps in improving the customer experience it will be icing on the cake which can be taken to OTT vendors as differentiated value proposition. Incremental capabilities around content optimization with the caching systems (like Image transcoding and device based caching), will offer compelling differentiators. Simple capabilities like image transcoding (which means lossless image compression), can potentially reduce the size of image by 40% which would mean significantly less traffic on RAN. Less traffic on RAN means service providers or operators can delay (postpone) their investments on RAN, while allowing them to squeeze in more customers to serve (ability to serve more number of unique customers), which allows further monetization abilities for the operators.

    Considering the fact that video is more than 50% of the overall traffic today, If the caching systems further support additional optimization capabilities like video/audio transcoding/transrating this could be a compelling value proposition to operators, with multifold improvements in all the benefits listed above.

    Continuing on the optimization theme, the device based caching capability brings in a certain level of intelligence to both optimization and caching capabilities. Once a specific content has been optimized for a device, it is cached. This makes the device specific optimized content available for a similar device trying to access the same content. . So that means we are doing intelligent delivery of cached content, the benefit would be better customer experience which will indirectly result into more revenues explained in the previous paragraph and the ability to delay investments again on the RAN side.

    These simple techniques will go a long way in enhancing the monetization capabilities of the service providers.

    More Monetization: Policy Based Caching systems- “CASHING as Service”

    It is possible for the service provider’s to go ahead and have different kind of agreements with OTT vendors with varying levels of SLA’s.  for example, if they use the service provider’s caching, Caching systems can support multiple channel segregation at  the backend for the request to be routed over premium channels. So in case a service provider has 3 different ISP connections 2Mbps, 4 Mbps and 8 Mbps then,  the service provider has an agreement to deliver differentiated quality of service for a specific OTT vendor then the Caching System can route the request to 8Mbps link. This means OTT vendor is able to create a compelling user experience for its customers and the operators will be able to monetize further, through OTT vendors by offering infrastructure with differentiated capabilities.

    Further, the caching systems can support policy based caching wherein it is possible for the service provider to decide content from which OTT vendor needs to be cached, depending on whether the OTT vendor has an agreement with service provider or not.  So if the OTT vendor has an agreement with service provider, then he can decide to cache the content or not. Coupled with all the optimization features discussed above, this becomes extremely relevant since the bandwidth prices for some ISP’s are dropping down significantly so the backhaul cost saving may not be compelling enough. However, the differentiated customer experience is compelling value proposition which can be definitely be offered to OTT vendors.

    Service Providers Caching Systems will need to support the fulfillment of such a business model, by generating revenue reconciliation reports including percentage hits to the specific OTT vendors cached content and revenue reconciliation reports based on the agreements/SLA’s. It is apt to remember that every transaction processed by the service provider’s caching system, is a transaction saved by the OTT vendors, Which means lower CAPEX overheads for the OTT vendor,. So there is a case for service providers to offer “Caching as a service”.

    Caching and its evolution for further monetization: “Federated Caching”

    As such I believe that the caching as architecture is evolving with philosophy of content close to consumer, Multi tired caching(storage) and Multi layered caching (L1 and L2 caching systems) and intelligent federated policy based caching. These evolutions will demand flexibility which as such we believe will be difficult to achieve with existing appliance based caching systems. The fact that there could be multiple caching systems deployed across various points of the network and across geographies for larger operators it is imperative to standardize the policies across these caching systems in order ensure consistent user experience across their networks. This will mean Policy enforcements across different points of caching using a centralized policy definition framework, with standardized interfaces like 3GPP defined Gx interface. The next generation caching systems will need to evolve to support such concepts.

    With humongous demand for data services, the service provider will need to ensure that their infrastructure is flexible to support scaling on demand. With virtualization technologies, it is feasible to implement an architecture which is scalable on demand which is practically ruled out when it comes to appliance based caching systems.

    In summary, with so many possible evolutions around caching, the basic infrastructure deployed widely by service providers can be tinkered at minimal cost to ensure that additional revenue opportunities are created to exploit the OTT boom.

    December 11, 2014 0 comment
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    Innovation isn’t enough. Today’s customer experience ecosystem (a phrase coined by Forrester Research) is essentially a network of customers, partners and employees. Add a mess of cumbersome rules and disorganized technologies and policies to the mix and what do we get? A lumbering player who cannot leverage existing partnerships and thus by default is unable to effectively respond to market changes.

    So, why is innovation in the spotlight anyway? Isn’t it a given, especially in marketing? Well, it used to be. The rules of marketing have changed. Today, the task of engaging with customers extends beyond just extolling on the product’s cost and quality. To fill their pockets and achieve fat balance sheets, companies need to understand their customers and establish long-term relationships with them, which incorporate their needs and expectations. To achieve this, customer experience management (CXM) is the way to go. You can innovate, but how does the customer know that there is a new offering, a service or just plain vanilla offerings…a new way of doing things?

    Before getting into the nitty gritty of this piece, a few disclaimers are in order: CXM isn’t a technology; it isn’t just a customer touch-point problem. Nor is it just a visibility problem. The best way to define CXM is from a technology perspective. The reason for this is simple-CXM and technologies are two sides of the same coin. CXM may not be a technology, but technology is what makes or breaks it.

    Permit me to travel back in time by a few years. When CXM was just a fancy concept the industry read and wondered about, (let’s call it CXM version 1.0) business intelligence (BI) tools ruled the roost for every company wanting to make a dent in the market. To be fair, the concept worked-for several years, in fact. However, all good things must come to an end and BI tools were no exception. Why? Well, simply put, these tools functioned on a simple premise-i.e. history repeats itself. In this case, companies deploying this tool were convinced that mapping a customer’s usage patterns was a piece of cake, as the consumer in question would no doubt opt for the same service over and over and over again. Except that wasn’t the case. Information silos were the norm of the day. And, needless to say, it didn’t do much to help the company achieve greatness. We called this piece ‘Personalization’. Well, the game now isn’t about personalization, it’s about ‘Intent Management’!

    Moreover, the smart-alec, prominent franchisors at the time used scientific methods to understand which elements of the customer experience drove customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. These solutions were essentially receipt-based survey invitations to solicit feedback from a large number of real customers each month. With a representative customer sample, they uncovered the key drivers of a positive customer experience using correlations and regression techniques. The questions they managed to answer by this approach were: What mattered the most to customers? What was the most important factor in getting them to return and recommend? How effective is each franchisee location at winning customer loyalty?

    As expected, though, this approach didn’t work for too long. Eventually, companies woke up and realized that a shift from a channel-centric, operational mindset to a customer-centric approach is critical for enhancing a customer’s overall experience. The name of the game is transforming today’s existing systems to leverage a ‘unified data architecture’ wherein current data is used to build an intelligence repository that powers innovation and governance in delivering a rich user experience.

    In other words (and without using too much of jargon), marketing in the near future boils down to sophisticated systems being packaged into applications made accessible to end users to meet their customized business and personal needs.

    Luckily, a host of technologies that fit the bill are currently available in the market. Cloud-based services are a prime example. Now, I understand that every techhie worth their salt fervently believes in and writes about this concept until Kingdom come. I am not advocating it as a panacea to all CXM-related ailments, either. Just that it is indeed (without overstating this fact) a very useful tool.

    To illustrate, cloud services enable faster development and delivery of innovations. How? Well, as another example, cloud services vendors like Amazon and Salesforce.com have made it easier for their clients to enhance existing offerings and build new products and services by providing developers components that they can weave into their solutions. This reduces the time it takes to roll out new solutions because the developers don’t have to create all elements of their offering from scratch. So, a company providing cloud ERP services can build a manufacturing process application for its clients and a reporting solutions provider can create a reporting platform, on the back of biggies like Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services.

    This implies that professionals, whose bread-and-butter depends upon CXM are able to enhance the value they deliver to all constituent groups. This is achieved by giving employees freedom of action to deepen their engagement with the business; incorporating partners into internal teams and conversations to improve decision-making; and creating new digital experiences for clients through components pulled from different cloud ecosystems.

    But, wait, there exists a grey area. These guys cannot achieve this single-handedly. Cloud services serving different ecosystem constituents have different owners, often making it difficult to integrate these different platforms. So, a word of advice to these professionals-ensure that you collaborate work with your company’s technology managers to verify the security of these cloud tools, ensure they align with your customer experience strategy, and integrate with the systems from which you need to extract data.

    Equally meaningful and equally overexposed is Big Data. In this context, though, it is a very important part of a company’s CXM initiatives. Once again, how? Big Data can be analyzed to discern an overall level of customer satisfaction using a number of KPI such as NPS. A simple text classification engine can be used to process massive amounts of feedback, and discern whether it is positive or negative. In the same way that text classification can discern customer sentiment, it can also produce insights into any issue a customer may be facing. For example, customer feedback classified in this way can highlight problems with price, quality, individual retail stores, literally anything that can be segmented into recognizable compartments.

    These roles may seem very simple, but, in reality, go a long way in empowering a company to begin closing the loop with its customers. Consumers who are likely to churn can be identified, and referred to some form of customer retention program. Customers can be contacted in a proactive manner, to address any problems they are facing. Big Data can provide insights into the needs and habits of particular customer segments, this provides the company with a way to begin tailoring marketing campaigns to target specific customer groups.

    Net, net, the rise (and rise) of these technologies has proved that effective CXM requires a great deal of agility. This allows the company to respond to customers in real-time and to analyze – and utilize – customer data to determine the best course of action.

    The future is here and it is all about personalization and customer user experience. These are exciting times for CXM, all companies are raring to go. But, remember, “innovation isn’t enough.”

    December 2, 2014 0 comment
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