The Weakest LinkThe Weakest Link
June 1, 2006
By Khali Henderson
CARRIER-RESELLER RELATIONSHIPS are only as good as their contracts and the links between their systems. Now, some wholesalers are strengthening the electronic connection by including more products and adding more functionality to their Web-based tools and, in some cases, enabling Web Services integration.
Most of the carrier-reseller interfaces in place today fall into two categories. One is an EDI link for transfer of CDRs to the reseller and submission of bulk orders for 1+ or toll-free services to the carrier. The second is a Web-based tool for ordering, checking order status, tracking inventory, submitting trouble tickets and generating reports. The legacy systems have been around since the late 80s and were Web-enabled in the late 90s and early 2000. Electronic bonding largely has been on an individual case basis based on order volume.
Midway through the first decade of the new century, however, these systems are being retooled in varying degrees by leading wholesale carriers in some cases under pressure from their resellers and more nimble competitors.
The Wholesale Markets Group at Qwest Communications International Inc., for example, is planning a migration of its Remote Control Web-based system to Q.Control, the Web-based system used by Qwest Business Markets Group to expose information to business customers and agents. Remote Control includes ordering and order status, but not trouble-ticketing, a feature that will be included in the combined system once completed in the third or fourth quarter, says Derek Koecher, director of the Wholesale Markets Group at Qwest.
Functionality, like bulk ordering, not included in Q.Control will be imported from Remote Control, he adds. We have done a lot of work with Remote Control to make it user-friendly and allow for volume-based business, so we are going to make sure that all of that functionality ends up in Q.Control, Koecher says.
Meanwhile, in March, Qwest upgraded its Q.Pricer tool to include wholesale pricing for dedicated Internet and private lines as well as access loops. It also changed its contract process so that it no longer requires a paper amendment to contracts for these services, so quotes created in Q.Pricer can be turned instantly into orders. The bottom line is its a tool we wanted to get into the ordering machine of our resellers and make that ordering and quoting tool simpler, says Koecher.
Delivering quotes to resellers faster also was the impetus behind recent enhancements to Verizon Businesss Portfolio Webbased management system, which now includes private-line products. This means resellers can request a price quote, including the cost of the access loop, which tends to vary widely, and get the results back automatically without having to go through their carrier sales rep, shaving off critical time to deliver quotes to customers.
If they choose to order from us, they can convert the quote into an order, says Mike Yancey, director of wholesale product marketing for Verizon Business, explaining an added time-saving benefit of the tool. They already have a lot of the information keyed in, so they do not have to rekey it. They just have to add the additional information required … and send the order into our provisioning systems.
Yancey says the company has not yet decided if it will merge Portfolio, which comes from the former MCI Wholesale division, with legacy Verizons wholesale systems. But, he says it is focusing on getting beyond the Web portal-type interfaces. He explains this means allowing customers to enter information into their own systems and automatically interface to Verizon Business, so there is no rekeying.
The company presently offers e-bonding using Web Services for trouble ticketing, circuit inventory, circuit testing and access loop price quoting. Integrated quote-toorder functionality is expected some time next year as is support for additional data products such as dedicated Internet, frame relay, ATM, Ethernet and private IP.
The wholesale division of Sprint Business Solutions Group also is using Web Services to expose access-loop quote-to-order capabilities and other functions of its InTouch trouble-ticketing system and its Desktop Manager Webbased reseller interface so that resellers can incorporate them into their own systems. This eliminates the swivelchair syndrome, says Chris Mullen, group manager of wholesale marketing for Sprint Business Solutions. What would happen is a toll-free or ANI or dedicated line is ordered and the carrier would key it into their systems, swivel over to a Web tool from Sprint and rekey the order and transmit to us, Mullen says.
Sprint began working on Web Services integration initiatives about four years ago and last summer implemented a Web Services management platform. It allows us to reuse or repurpose our Web Services for multiple customers for very little to no IT costs, says Edmund Vazquez, manager of Web Service integrations and SOA implementations for Sprint. Initially, the carrier Web Servicesenabled a few functions like troubleticket status and access-loop pricing. In April, it added MPLS ordering. In July, it plans to expand its trouble-ticketing functions to include creation and modification of repair tickets. Further, Vazquez says all capabilities of Desktop Manager, Sprints Web-based system for ordering switched products are Web Services-enabled.
About 130 customers are integrating with Sprint a process that from first interest to completion takes a few weeks, but most of that time is because of paperwork since the integration itself can be done in a few hours.
Within a year or two years, I see 50- 75 percent integration at a systems level. I think you are going to see a migration from people using Web sites to using their own systems and tying their systems into our systems, says Vazquez, noting the present obstacle to adoption isnt willingness but readiness of resellers systems.
One reseller that has taken the step toward Web Services integration is Trans National Communications International Inc. (TNCI). The Boston-based reseller is in the midst of retooling its own systems in order to provide a single automated order system for its agent channel. Already TNCI has integrated with Qwests and Sprints loop-quoting tools says Len Camara, assistant vice president of IT.
Previously, we would take the requests and manually look them up in the Sprint system and generate a proposal, says Camara, noting quotes were turned around in 24 hours. What the Web Services have allowed us to do is remove all of those manual steps and provide agents with instantaneous quoting.
As a result, TNCI has one person working half-time on a job that previously required two full-time employees. The displaced workers have been retasked to other jobs.
Its also time savings, he adds. Thats really key for us. The faster we can turn these quotes around, the faster they can get it to their customers. Again, we are competing with other resellers often. If we can get our quotes into the customer hands faster and more accurate, we have a better chance of winning that business.
Camara hopes to Web Servicesenable other functions as well. The next step is to integrate Sprints ordering capability, a task Camara expects to complete by the end of second quarter. We expect gains in the process of turning orders around not just the speed but the accuracy. We are not going to worry about doing multiple data entry. It will be a single point of entry that will feed into the systems, he says.
Camara is hopeful more of the carriers TNCI represents will embrace Web Services. If I have a choice and its easier for me and I can get the customer turned up faster, there is an incentive for me to go to other carriers, he says.
Aboard the ARK
ANI Networks Inc., a newcomer to the wholesale market, is turning some of the preconceived ideas about carrier-reseller interfaces on their head.
Our goal is to create a business management tool for the customer, says Diana Johnson, director of wholesale markets for ANI Networks Inc., a Los Angeles-based wholesaler. Johnson is the author of the new ANI Networks Resource Kiosk, ARK, which was rolled out earlier this year to the companys long-distance resellers.
To be fair, the system was built from the ground up and does not attempt to integrate legacy systems, but it includes several unique features other carriers say they are considering for their product road maps.
One of these is a custom dashboard designed just for C-level executives who want an at-a-glance view of their individual companys health via snapshot reports, the company calls gauges. Some reveal prepaid balances and credit limits while others list top destinations, number of calls and durations. The ANI summary report lists total active ANIs and how many were added and lost. Similarly, a financial module allows them to monitor key metrics, such as disputes and credits.
In the days when everyone is fighting over the 2- to 3-cent minute, these little details can impact your survival, says Bill Savage, president of Get Savage Consulting LLC, in a recent Webinar, A CLevel Look at Ways Resellers Can Maximize Margins, sponsored by PHONE+, COMPTEL and ANI Networks. (To view the Webinar on demand, visit www.phoneplusmag.com/webinars.) The approach has to be total. Just concentrating on provisioning isnt going to work. The idea is that you squeeze every CDR to the max.
One of the more ambitious features of ARK is the Trouble Ticket Wizard, which does a turnabout on typical systems where resellers type notes, click submit and pray, says Johnson. She explains that the tool enables an ANI resellers CSR to walk through initial trouble-resolution steps using a scripting tree. If the problem is not resolved, trouble tickets can be submitted to ANI and tracked by the reseller, which can report status back to the user.
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