Modern Networks and Self Service Portals

With today’s critical emphasis on job creation in the US and elsewhere, it is important to examine the relationship between economic growth through employment and the inexorable rise of optimization in corporate environments.

Network modernization and the rise of communication environments is an apt microcosm of that paradigm.  I would like to examine those modernization trends with you and discuss the evolution of carrier portals as a critical vehicle to achieve the benefits associated with applied communication technologies.

Significant among those changes has been the technological migration from basic private line and packet networks (Frame Relay/ATM) to MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) – based Virtual Private Networks (VPN).  VPNs offer customers an inherent benefit of optimization precision through Class of Service (CoS) designations.

In addition, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon now offer customers a wider range of adjacent services designed to add value as well as build sustainable customer relationships and competitive firewalls.  Managed Hosting, Internet Access, Security Services, Platform as a Service (PaaS) Machine to Machine ( M2M) and Virtualization are good examples of carrier offerings that have gain IT wallet share and have expanded the management scope of corporate telecom staffs.  As with VPNs, usage visibility is critical and fundamental to the effective management of these services and, as such, carriers must provide it to their customers.

While emerging services such as those noted above represent significant change, it is important to note that there is still a very large base of packet and private line networks in place.  The management of those networks, however, is functional in nature – reliant on basic fault, ordering and provisioning management.

This functional management, while remaining critical to network reliability and performance, lends itself to an optimal approach through the use of carrier portals and electronic bonding connections. What effect do these dynamics have on the IT ( and more specifically telecom) workforce?

The transition of work associated with the management of legacy networks from manual to online portals actually can be fairly seamless and offer customers multiple efficiencies.  In a manual environment, for example, customers generally must contact their carrier representative or call an 800 number to open a trouble ticket or place an order.  In this world, potential problems loom.

First, there is an inherent time delay due to call backs from representatives or call center queues. The timetables for alarm resolution or order provisioning are delayed as the requests work their way through carrier operational processes. In addition, billing errors can occur downstream causing customer payables reworks and receivables issues for carriers.

By contrast, online portals allow customers to enjoy access to carrier maintenance and ordering systems and processes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Back-end flow-though portal functionality allows customer input to be imported directly to carrier systems -minimizing errors and transposition. On-line billing and analysis functionality provide customers with detailed efficiency in reconciliation, trending, variance identification and dispute management.

When considering the management of the evolving service environment discussed earlier, however, the equation changes significantly.

For example, VPN transport allows customers to deliver voice, data and video traffic in an optimized manner and, as such, require the IT manager to be in closer touch with his or her business partners to ensure that the network design supports the core and departmental competencies of the firm.

Here I’d like to emphasize two points:

  1. Each of these management opportunities require visibility into the environments which are being managed.  Carrier self-service portals can perform this role as they move beyond functional capabilities and offer customers robust performance reporting and network monitoring.
  2. Portal applications should provide users with functional integration.  For example, as network engineers identify optimization opportunities, those opportunities need to be turned into order requests that can be quickly (near real-time) provisioned, monitored, and tracked for billing integrity.

When considering these trends, incorporating self-service carrier portals into IT processes and organizations is both useful and necessary as an integration enabler and driver of efficiencies.  The challenges that remain, however, are decidedly human ones. Technology drives us, as always, to the difficult conclusion that while we may need fewer workers, the ones that we will need will require a different, informational kind of mind.

However, as budgets begin to be distributed across departmental units, IT managers must build larger and better business liaison functions within their organizations to ensure the interoperability of departmental and enterprise applications and networks.  And the continual evolution of network, hosting and Software as a Service (SaaS) environments will require sophisticated project management skills and capabilities.

Taken together with the utilization of online carrier portals, these changes offer enterprise IT departments and workers great opportunity when the elements are combined in a cost-effective, optimized manner.

What do you think?  What opportunities do you see in today’s marketplace for IT managers?  Do you see technology eliminating jobs?  What is the best approach to take regarding that?  We look forward to hearing your opinion.
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team