Growing an Ecosystem

Global Crossings Jeff Callahan, NECs Pat Miller, MicroCorps Brad Miehl, Level 3s Craig Schlagbaum, and Sprints Steve Rowley
Photo by Stephanie Sumner

It takes years for a seed to grow to a sapling and a sapling to a shade tree. Similarly, the idea of building an ecosystem for telecom management is one that Brad Miehl has been nurturing for a long time. As president and CEO of master agency MicroCorp, Miehl has had to figure out how to be the consummate middleman between vendors (primarily carriers, but also managed services providers and gear vendors), their indirect partners (agents, interconnects, VARs and system integrators) that sell and install services and equipment, and their end-user customers. Unfortunately, the newness of this role, which didnt exist until the late 90s, means there has been no guide book. Its been difficult, says Miehl. Something that we learned over the course of doing business is no one is talking together, no one is collaborating.

As any entrepreneur would, Miehl fell back on his experience to tackle this challenge of defining the master agency role. Fortunately for Miehl, that experience was in software development. Before it got into telecom, MicroCorp was a software development firm. It became a member company of the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech in 1989 and a graduate member in 1995. This meant the company could address the lack of collaboration not only with procedural workflow, but a unified, Web-based platform. That platform, called Nautilus, has had many iterations over the years and is now in its fourth version what Miehl calls a complete rewrite. The hosted application manages leads, promotions, quoting, ordering, inventory, trouble-ticketing, moves/adds/changes and compensation all against service level commitments programmed into the system (see diagram on left).

Nautilus manages the communications sales lifecycle from opportunity to compensation, including workflow, status and reporting.

What makes this version of Nautilus different is that MicroCorp looked at the pain points of the various players vendors, partners, customers and how they could be addressed in one system. Each module (e.g., quoting or order tracking) is completely integrated with the others. And, there are dashboards for each that enable monitoring and reporting and accountability that wasnt possible before. Heres an example: Leads come into the system that turn into opportunities that are tied to SLAs so that quotes go out on time. Quotes incorporate all valid promotions. If a customer decides to buy, with a single click the quote becomes an order, which can be tracked and managed against preset SLAs. Provisioned services automatically are added to the Insite inventory module where customers can log in to manage their moves/adds/changes again with SLAs attached (see screenshot on right).

MicroCorps insite application enables agents or customers to manage inventory and trouble-tickets across locations for a complete view.

MicroCorp cut over to the new version in mid-August even though its been finished for some time. Migrating years of data from the old system to the new caused the delay. But that doesnt mean it hasnt seen plenty of use. MicroCorp also decided to license the software to other companies, that might also be frustrated by the lack of communication among the providers in the ecosystem.

Avaya Inc. was the first to license Nautilus in an earlier version for its carrier services division, which it bought with the acquisition of ExpaNets in fall 2003. The gearmaker spun off the unit and no longer uses the software. However, NEC Unified Solutions has taken up the mantel. In November of 2006, the company launched its own private portal based on Nautilus and enlisted MicroCorp as its master agency. The two are not mutually exclusive; one can license the software without becoming a Microcorp agent. NEC Unified Solutions decided two years ago to add carrier services to its portfolio of gear, professional and managed services. The company had some limited experience working directly with carriers and decided to work through a master agent to simplify the contracting, training and management of its carrier suppliers, says Pat Miller, manager of product management carrier services for NEC Unified Solutions. The company chose MicroCorp as its master agency specifically because of its Nautilus and Insite applications. By using MicroCorp and its systems, we make carrier services simplified for the salespeople and the customer. What used to be a nightmare, or at least a headache, has become simpler by letting experts handle it, Miller says.

NEC is using Nautilus for its dealers, NEC Associates, and its direct sales force. Its important to be able to manage all of the opportunities in one place, Miller says. By using Nautilus, not only can an individual salesperson track their opportunities, sales and installations, but a sales manager can track people they are over, and it can be tracked on a companywide basis. In addition, having a central data repository guards against lost data when a salesperson leaves the company; another salesperson can pick right up for account maintenance and renewals, she says.

These basic SFA/CRM and reporting capabilities are appealing to other parties as well. Level 3 communications is using Nautilus to examine its sales funnel. In 2008, the carrier plans to create an API to link directly with Nautilus. Nautilus provides us with an avenue to collaborate all [partner] field activity in an easy-to-read format, says Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels for Level 3 Communications. Nautilus is one of the best custom-built channel support tools that exist today.

Global Crossing Ltd. also has licensed the system in large part to provide these functions for its indirect sales channel, in lieu of the manual processes used today. The carrier plans to implement its private portal before the end of the year, says Jeff Callahan, vice president of indirect channels for Global Crossing.

But Callahan says he has higher expectations for the system, which are in line with Miehls vision of an ecosystem. The ultimate goal for me is to have everyone that touches the ultimate customer experience internally and externally be able to have a single platform where we can track the pre-sales, post-sales activities in one central location, he says, noting the integration of third-party suppliers is key. The number of participants and, more importantly, the level of participation is going to dictate the final value of the solution, Callahan says. The system is only as good as the data put into it, he explains, noting the concept is promising.

Miller also says the single data repository should improve the customer experience by mitigating finger-pointing between vendors and removing the frustration of resolving such issues from the customer. Schlagbaum says the move to IP services is dictating a greater collaboration among service providers and hardware vendors in particular and solutions like Nautilus can help growth in sales and efficiency.

The cross-fertilization among the ecosystem partners already is beginning. Global Crossing and NEC have been talking about interoperability for SIP trunking and related CPE, for example. In addition, Miller says NEC is keen on figuring out how to offer some of its services, such as IP networkreadiness assessments or network security, into the ecosystem either the carriers or partners. Already NEC has begun talking to MicroCorp agents about selling NEC gear or partnering with NEC Associates.

MicroCorp also is bringing professional services to the mix. It has engaged Evotem to provide inventory validation to the ecosystem partners. Evotem can provide end users with an inventory of all of their circuits and associated hardware to upload to the Insite module, which tracks inventory. Services ordered from MicroCorp already are populated in Insite, but other data must be uploaded from a spreadsheet. Evotem can help make sure this data is accurate, so that ongoing management is possible.

Miller is particularly bullish on the Insite application, calling it a huge opportunity. It gives us the ability to bring another level of service. We dont just say that we can sell you a T1 or DS3, but other services and the ability to manage your own services, she says.

Miehl says the Insite application is licensed by NEC, an agent or any other party and then carved up and resold to end users for a fee or free with service however the seller chooses. An indirect sales partner also can use the tool to manage its customers inventories, and if the customer grants access to all inventory, the agent could provide telecom management services.

Insite not only manages wireline but also wireless service, devices, expenses and applications for customers. These capabilities are being used by Sprint to provide its corporate customers with wireless management in an effort to improve the overall customer experience.

Global Crossing Ltd.
Level 3 Communications
NEC Unified Solutions

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