The DIY Dream, Deferred

MAYBE ITS PART OF THE RUGGED individual, American Dream ethos, but very few of us can resist the opportunity to do things ourselves. Whether its putting in a new kitchen or learning how to knit, DIY is hot. Resellers and master agents are on top of the trend, implementing self-provisioning and self-management for their own channel partners and customers. But the supply chain breaks down on the other side: direct electronic access to carrier systems remains the final manual link in an otherwise automated world.

The ability to link directly to networks and back-office systems via one end-to-end interface eliminates the need to manually transfer data from one program to another to monitor accounts and associated expenses from various providers. Its a capability resellers and master agents are craving. We have built this provisioning and ordering functionality for our agents and have, in turn, gone to the carriers to ask for the same thing, so they enter the information and we dont need to touch it, says Daniel Lonstein, COO at reseller AireSpring Inc. We havent been able to gain much traction on that, so we still have manual processes to get things done. If we could gain direct electronic access, it would revolutionize the model for everyone in the distribution chain.

Despite channel pressure, carriers are slow to embrace the DIY dream. For instance, the Qwest Business Partner Program offers Q.Marketplace, an online portal that is a repository for all manner of account management functions. But the company has only somewhat automated the provisioning process. We get requests from our partners all the time for self-provisioning, and while we would like to do that, there are challenges, says Laura Principato, Qwest Communications International Inc.s acting director of marketing for the alternate channel organization.

For one, Qwest cannot provide direct access to the ordermanagement system for in-region orders. So they enter the information via the portal that then goes to a provisioning center that approves them, then sends on the info to our systems, she explains. Sarbanes-Oxley has prohibited self-provisioning on that side.

When the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed in 2002, it required publicly traded companies like Qwest to safeguard internal controls relating to business processing and reporting, ensuring only appropriate users have access to systems used to provide financial processing and reporting. This encompasses the back-office provisioning, order-management and billing systems.

Thus, granting and removing user access to those systems is an ongoing process, requiring authorization and control check each time the process is initiated, approved and finalized. The complexity of ensuring compliance makes it difficult to obtain a level of assurance that appropriate user access has been maintained.

Its a bit less complex on the out-of-region side of the house, and Principato says Qwest does grant direct e-bonding access to its premier master agents that have dedicated the majority of their business to Qwest. We give them the opportunity for a certain level of employee access, because we want to selfenable them as much as possible, she says. Still, manual intervention persists in some cases, due to the internecine tangle of back-office systems and the breadth of the service portfolio.

There are systems restraints in some cases, and also the sheer complexity of the products is a barrier, Principato says. Focused, specialized products like call-center suites are easier to enable, but when you get intertwined services, it may impact multiple levels within Qwest, so we have partner managers in lieu of automation, to be the interface and provide project management.

Despite the complexity, its in providers best interests to overcome the challenges, says Francois Depayras, vice president of sales and marketing at Ensim, a software vendor focused on enabling service providers to deliver and manage hosted services in an indirect channel environment. Existing services are cash cows, but declining, he explains. So everyones looking to launch new services, but the cost affiliated with that can be huge. They need to improve their margins by reducing the cost of operations and support, and a big target should be the management of resellers and channel partners, where too much manual processing persists.

The EnsimUnify platform offers 15 connectors to next-generation applications via partnerships with companies like Broadsoft and Sylantro. A carrier can hook into the platform to deliver a hosted service, and Unify, in turn, is extensible via APIs for things like billing, order management and provisioning. It was a no-brainer to also write the ability to extend self-provisioning to resellers and master agents into the platform.

So if a carrier is working on getting IPTV deployed, we take care of the back end of things, says Depayras. We can have a portal ready for their resellers in half an hour, and their resellers, and the tiers below that. Its all automated within the system.

For now, direct integration with suppliers remains a rare thing, although there are signs this may change. Self-provisioning is something were starting to see more of from the suppliers, says Chris Barton, president and CEO at Wholesale Carrier Services Inc. (WCS), which aggregates 80 suppliers for its partners via a state-of-the-art, private-label, back-office platform. Especially the newer companies, says Barton. And two of the major five are going to portals for customer support next year, so we see self-service from the carriers as an evolving trend.

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Verizon Business offers three ways to e-bond, but for now only a few resellers have electronic access.

One major operator is working on its own systems for direct systems access. We want to eliminate the swivel-chair effect, says Mark Chodoronek, executive director of customer enablement at Verizon Business. He says Verizon is transforming its business model to improve processes, provide a common interface for transactions and unify service management for customers and partners. It has rolled out an e-bonding portfolio for high-volume accounts, and has some e-bonding relationships with its reseller partners to enable self-provisioning of LEC orders. Chodoronek says it will be an ongoing initiative to expand that number. The whole idea is to move down the path of better information, he says. Offering the data they need and access to business functions is absolutely something we want to enable as we go down this e-bonding path.

The Verizon eBonding platform enables customers to monitor their networks and be automatically notified in the event of a problem, make changes to their services, monitor trends and pay bills. A suite of application integration and data-exchange tools includes trouble management, circuit testing, order status and inventory reporting. Users can link to Verizon Business via their own systems or, for a monthly fee, via a turnkey Web Services gateway that functions as a service bureau.

Tapping a new distribution channel, Verizon added a third option for e-bonding in October, after striking new relationships with six providers of telecom expense management (TEM) software: Cerylion Inc., MBG Expense Management LLC, PAETEC Communications Inc., Rivermine Inc., Tangoe and Telesoft Corp. Users can access Verizons systems via the TEM interface, rather than having to maintain a separate portal for Verizon. Now users can provision service or generate a repair order through these service bureaus, which in turn are electronically connected to our infrastructure, rather than the user having to enter data in two places, Chodoronek explains.

The company says it will expand the strategy to businessprocess outsourcing companies and other hosted providers that could in turn impact master agents and resellers with relationships with those companies.

Like building your own deck, the effort for carriers to enable self-provisioning is big, but the payoff is worth it in terms of cost savings as well as satisfaction. Complete process automation would be a holy grail, says Vince Bradley, president, founder and CEO at World Telecom Group. The fact that its so difficult to get a supplier to allow e-bonding is the last barrier to building the most efficient, accurate and lucrative sales channel possible. Everybody would win if they would just implement it.

AireSpring Inc.
Cerylion Inc.
MBG Expense Management LLC
PAETEC Communications Inc.
Qwest Communications International Inc.
Rivermine Inc.
Telesoft Corp.
Verizon Business
Wholesale Carrier Services Inc.
World Telecom Group

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