Improving Telecom Service With a Customer's-Eye View

IBM's upcoming software tool aims to help telcos and ISPs improve service by viewing their networks like their users do.

Customer service traditionally represents a major pain point for customers as well as businesses. IBM is hoping to soothe some of those difficulties for both, with a planned product add-on aimed at telecom, mobile and Internet services providers.

The secret? IBM's upcoming Tivoli Netcool Service Quality Manager release will offer an enhancement that gives service providers an "outside-in view" of their networks, helping troubleshooters detect and understand problems from users' viewpoints.

"All along the evolution of network management and performance management, we've always been looking at how things look from the inside-out," said Anthony Behan, manager of service provider solutions for Tivoli Netcool.

"For the first time now, IBM is providing a capability for service providers to take a view from the outside in, to begin to understand in an automated way how their customers are experiencing the products they're bringing to market," he told

The enhancement will ship as the Customer Experience Manager (CEM) add-on for IBM Tivoli Netcool Service Quality Manager. Both are expected to ship during the first half of 2008.

When they debut, the offerings will mark the latest stage in a long effort by IBM to better support telecom and Internet service providers. Tivoli Netcool Service Quality Manager is based on technology from IBM's acquisition of telecom network performance management player Vallent last year, and from its earlier purchase of Micromuse, which offered similar services.

"Tivoli and IBM made a big statement a couple of years ago in the acquisition of Micromuse, in terms of trying to make a stronger play in the telecommunications market," Behan said. "With the Vallent acquisition in particular, the company has made a very strong play in the area of service quality management."

When it ships next year, the CEM will offer service managers a "dashboard view" of activity on user accounts, based on customer, location, device, time, grouping and service.

By culling data from both network and service quality management monitoring tools, the CEM can be used to assure that customers are experiencing service at the level expected.

"What we really, ultimately, want to figure out is, 'What is the impact on our customers?'" Behan said. "More than that, we want to understand better how our customers are experiencing the product we're delivering, the service we're providing."

"We want to understand, if possible, before a customer is calling the call center, whether the service has degraded to the point where it is visible to the customer," he said. "We want to get that 'outside-in' view rather than an inside-out view."

As a result, service providers using CEM will be able to quickly diagnose problems when customers call about service problems -- pulling in network data related to the customer's account, including transactional information from both billing systems and the network itself.

The software can also be used to monitor usage problems and potentially alert customers in advance of potential outages.

The CEM add-on also can help providers avoid costly, unnecessary expenses, Behan said. Often, customers may not be impacted by service problems even when network management and quality-of-service monitoring tools report outages or slowdowns.

"The network [of a service provider] itself may be performing in a suboptimal way, but it may be delivering at 100 percent from a service point of view," he said.

In such occasions, providers may spend time and money to correct problems that "have no bearing on the quality of the service [that] customers receive," he added.

While initially focused on the telecommunications provider market, Behan said that IBM plans to adapt the technology to other types of services in the future.

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