Title: Manager of SW Product Management and Deployment, SciCare Broadband Services, Scientific Atlanta

Broadband Background: Ronco has more than 20 years of experience working in the communications industry. He started his career in the cable industry with Comcast in Florida. Since being with Scientific Atlanta, he has held several roles in MSO training, MSO consulting and software product management. His current role includes managing the product lifecycle and deployment of several service assurance software applications including Pointer, Retriever and Service Automation Suite for Video.

OSSs seem a little esoteric, even for cable engineers. How did you come to work with them?

Many industry personnel interact with these systems daily, but do not think of them as "OSS" since those interactions are normally with billing, NMS or provisioning systems. All of these, and more, are components of an overall OSS platform. My work with OSS began about 10 years ago when I worked at a cable system in Florida. This was pre-DOCSIS, and people there were using proprietary modems for network monitoring. In 1999, when I came to S-A, I was involved in training industry personnel on the early digital control systems used for provisioning and managing all the elements to deliver digital video. S-A worked with the major billing vendors at the time to define and develop integration points into billing so that CSRs could perform service provisioning and basic elements of interacting with customer set-tops. The majority of my OSS experiences have come in the last five years while working with providers performing network and operations consulting and as a product manager for several S-A service assurance-focused applications.

The present silo approach to different services seems to aggravate the problem of designing a comprehensive OSS, but the silos don’t seem to be going away any time soon. What’s the solution there?

My opinion is that the silo approach has been a result of an industry constantly deploying new consumer technologies over the last 10 years. It is also representative of the silos created within service provider operations that are focused on successful rapid deployment of new consumer services. Until recently, most providers had personnel responsible for video, data and voice separated rather than having those responsible for all three within the same organization.

There is no simple solution to the silos that exist today. Instead, what I suggest in my recent CT article is a long-term, industry-focused strategy to bring all the silos together through a standards-based approach where legacy systems can be migrated into a single mediation layer with interfaces to legacy systems and user facing applications. We cannot change the past, but we can have an integrated strategy for the future that will ultimately provide for better user and customer experiences.

In your article in CT’s April issue, you suggest that higher levels of customer service will be ever more critical for cable going forward. Would you care to elaborate?

This is absolutely true. As an industry, we are once again faced with fixed line competition, but this time it is a do or die situation, especially now that the cable industry has mastered the delivery of triple-play services and is eating away at the competitor’s core business.

At some point in the near future, the key differentiator for a consumer will not be in the services that are offered but instead in the overall experience the provider delivers throughout the customer experience lifecycle: purchase, delivery, integration, use and support. OSS is the common component in each phase of the customer experience, and falling short in any area could dramatically change a consumer’s monthly purchase decision. For consumers, their experience with the provider and the services delivered must be of high quality while being simple, convenient and valuable.

You also suggest that creation of comprehensive OSSs will need to be an industry-wide initiative. What’s the best vehicle for that, and how best would it be accomplished? (And aren’t the biggest MSOs inclined to just do it their own way?)

If you look at the role CableLabs has played in developing industry standards for voice, video and data, my belief is the industry needs a similar approach for OSSs. There are a lot of moving parts and legacy questions for future OSSs, but I think part of what should be evaluated are models such as TMN (Telecom Management Network Model) developed by Telecordia. The industry as a whole is certainly trying to solve this problem within their organizations, but I would challenge them to start the dialogue across the MSO and vendor communities on how to handle this long term and avoid duplicate efforts that could lead to more fragmentation in OSSs.

It looks like the inefficiencies inherent in many OSS implementations cost serious money. Could you hazard a guess at how much, either at the system level or on a broader scale?

I wouldn’t guess at the cost of the inefficiencies. If you take a hard look at what causes inefficiencies, I think part of the answer would be that the current OSS fragmentation is a key contributor. One question to ponder is, how much cost could be avoided, how much faster could new services be deployed, and how could the customer experience lifecycle be improved if the fragmentation of today’s OSSs did not exist?

But OSS solutions can themselves be expensive, can’t they?

This depends on what aspect of OSS you are evaluating. If you are talking about a wholesale change-out of an OSS platform, which I am not suggesting, then the answer is yes. If we were talking about implementing one aspect of OSS, such as service assurance, then I would say no. There is a significant difference in the approach and investment made when you compare MSOs and telcos, but I think the right answer is somewhere in the middle. If we continue down the current path, I would suggest that it is either pay now or pay even more later.

If a cable operator is shopping for an OSS, what should be on the checklist, in terms of both features and groundwork to be done before buying?

As suggested in the CT article, there are three main elements that should be considered when looking at any OSS enhancements: (1) You cannot have everything right away; (2) closely evaluate the buy vs. build model; and (3) make sure you understand the end user needs.

In the near term, you need to understand how any OSS element will be integrated into your specific OSS strategy and how will users be able to more effectively manage the customer experience lifecycle in a way the generates a value differentiation.

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