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Evolving Web Portals to Personalize Self-Provisioning

For telecom companies, the Web is an ever-evolving tool. Simple pricing and information Web sites have given way to online price quoting and password-protected account access. The idea of customer self-care via a Web portal continues to develop. This will be addressed in a session titled, Billing and Customer Support in a Self-Provisioned World, which intends to take attendees beyond slick graphics and nifty color schemes, and talk about what it takes to make self-administration work.

The idea is to show attendees that a portal isnt about the glossy front end, but to show what it really takes on the back end to be useful, says Mpower Communications (Booth 611) Russ Shipley, new technology officer and session moderator. I will outline the five priorities to think through as you design a portal, and be the glue for the discussion, and I will ask each panelist some probing questions on five or six themes.

Each panelist at Shipleys disposal will bring a different perspective on self-provisioning. WilTel Communications Group Inc.s (Booth 122) Paul Savill director of data services, will draw on experience with WilTels customer Web portal, Direct Network Access (DNA), which has about 400 customers using it. Customers can order new services, view circuit-level performance and open trouble tickets. DNAs pricing tool allows customers to generate up to 45 network design solutions at one time, including least-cost routing and local access options to meet their specific business needs. Pricing is created using customized rate plans, and performance reporting provides utilization data on VLAN and circuits.

Back-office systems and support are making business more streamlined and efficient, says Savill. He notes that reducing calls to a call center can save significantly in operational expenditures. If a wholesale customer can go in and look at private-line services, enter two addresses and get an end-to-end price quote, theres a value to that. Also of value are things like looking up estimated delivery dates, launching orders and the ability to check in to get a real-time update on where it is in the process, whether its been sent to the LEC yet, etc. And auto-notification if a circuit is down we send a call to a pager, cell phone, and so on. And the customer actually can go and pull down a billing estimate, so they can be timelier in billing their customer.

While these tools are there to exploit, there are considerations in creating them that need to be taken into account. Panelist Kent Steffen, president and CEO at OSS vendor Telution Inc. (Booth 832), notes that ongoing evolution in self-provisioning presents challenges for carriers. He plans to present case studies of some service providers that are on the leading edge of self-care, to look at issues that exist now and those that will come down the road.

There is now an evolution from self-provisioning and self-care, moving to service control, explains Steffen. Thats driven by IP-based, customer-configured communications that change on an ongoing basis with functions like find-me/follow-me. Self-provisioning used to be about the network. Now its about the applications that ride on top of the network.

As edges of the networks get smarter (a consumer can put a $59 box on the line that allows him to do VoIP), carriers lose much of the control they had in a centralized switch environment, and that presents back-office challenges. Peer-to-peer configurations and IP services break down a lot of that centralized model, says Steffen. This is a new era of personal communications, and self-provisioning will become important as people determine which services play across televisions, mobile devices, PCs, the phone and so on.

Self-care also opens up opportunities for marketing. Ron Whaley, vice president of sales and marketing at OSG Billing Services (Booth 524), will tackle opportunities with bill presentment in a self-provisioned world. OSG performs print-and-mail services for billing as well as electronic billing and presentment. Ill demonstrate how one can make incremental revenue through the bill, for things like Caller ID, conference calling and cell phone services, says Whaley. We use graphics and highlight colors as a way to educate the customer. Carriers can use the bill to explain new things, Wi-Fi, for example, and to migrate the customer to new offerings.

The use of the bill becomes more dynamic in an online environment. Flagged data in the billing system helps us utilize it to create customized, one-on-one relationships via the bill, so we can analyze the services a customer has and present offers accordingly. It offers a personalized touch that marketing-driven providers can really capitalize on.

The session will provide a forum to share challenges and to educate the industry on what is necessary as self-provisioning evolves. We as vendors supply the solutions, and well talk about what is possible today and what carriers can do tomorrow, says Whaley. This is a perfect forum for a lively look at the future.


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