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While it has never been easy to flawlessly design and deliver networked services, tools have evolved along with service complexity to make the process smoother and more accurate. This report tells the story of how Sprint teamed with its requirements-to-order software solutions partner, Netformx, and transformed from a company with 10 percent of its service designs sent back for rework, to a company with almost no rework.
Arguably, the two most important elements of serving the enterprise market with high-tech solutions are instilling confidence upfront in the sales process, and following through on the recommendations resulting from that process. In other words, communications service provider (CSP) sales teams must possess both the knowledge for determining what solutions and services will best address their prospective customers’ needs, and the skill to compile them in a custom-tailored manner. The provisioning and implementation teams, in turn, need to know that the service designs that get handed down to them will work as promised. There are other important factors to delivering complex network services, but getting the design right from the start improves the odds that all will flow properly from there.
That sounds like a lot of pressure to put on the sales engineers and solutions architects who design services. And it is. In addition, the pressure to get the design right increases as the complexity of the services increases. With the growth of cloud, hosted, multi-national and multi-technology solutions, complexity has reached new heights. However, the associated pressure it puts on sales and delivery teams is unnecessary.
While it has never been easy to flawlessly design and deliver networked services, tools have evolved along with service complexity to make the process smoother and more accurate. This report tells the story of how Sprint teamed with its requirements-to-order software solutions partner, Netformx, and transformed from a company with percent of its service designs sent back for rework, to a company with almost no rework.
To be clear, this transformation did not happen overnight. Sprint and Netformx began working together to improve Sprint’s service delivery capabilities almost seven years ago. The industry and the enterprise customers it serves have evolved since then. The difference between the evolution of the network and telecom industry as a whole, and the evolution of what Sprint calls its Design-to-Win initiative, is that the mission to create a flawless process for service design and delivery never diverged. It proceeded incrementally, without waiver, toward its stated goal, whereas the industry vacillated among competing priorities. Seven years later, the design process, while always a work in progress, has nearly reached its optimal level of accuracy. As network equipment and services change, the rules governing how solutions are built will also change.
The industry spent many years avoiding the idea of mass customization. At the time, it was a wise position to take. Its collective goal, then, was to do the opposite, and streamline processes by creating services of universal appeal. That is not what enterprise users want. They want individually tailored service capabilities. So, Sprint has now embraced the idea of mass customization for the enterprise, and has focused on implementing the processes and safeguards that allow it. This initiative is supported by Netformx’ DesignXpert product, as well as some customization work specific to Sprint. DesignXpert is a graphically-driven desktop application for design and proposal generation.
Why 100 Years of Circuit Design Does Not Provide an Advantage
CSPs used to be the smartest people in the room, when the room was a potential client’s conference room, and they were pitching their networking wares. They may still be the smartest, but now they have company; the customer’s internal team is pretty knowledgeable as well. Today, enterprise customers are not impressed when the salesperson takes their “what if” questions about potential solutions back to the office for a skull session with the engineering team to see if certain scenarios are viable. The sales team needs to make the call in real time, while it has the customer’s attention, and show why it can be trusted with the enterprise’s critical communications needs.
CSPs also used to be the only game in town, but today they have company there, too. Delivering a flawed solution that results in rework and delay simply sends potential customers knocking on someone else’s door.
On average, according to Netformx, the industry error rate for service design is as high as percent. This rate is not only unacceptable for today’s services; it will render the sales pitch for delivering cloud and other on-demand models untenable. CSPs need to be confident in their service designs. The people in charge of the downstream processes must be equally confident they can provision the designs they are given, and that the services will work as intended when implemented on or before the agreed to service availability date.
Answering the “what if” questions from enterprise customers while on-site and in real time has not always been possible. This shortcoming was not the fault of the CSP. Nor was it the fault of the sales engineer. The tools were lacking for on-site sales engineers to accurately apply the hundreds or thousands of rules related to the configuration options from various versions of vendor equipment that may affect a design. In addition, the CSP’s and the customer’s own requirements and rules must be considered. These can be just as numerous and onerous as rules for the network.
Fault for less-than-optimal service design and delivery lies not only with the untidy documentation of pre-determined rules; but also stems from a lack of discipline and rigor around the interplay between departments and functional processes, along the path from design through provisioning, to delivery. Furthermore, service attributes are too easily changed by too many people to properly maintain a consistent view of a service. Even when services were implemented properly in the past, over time a fault would occur or a change request would be generated; and, to resolve the issue, downstream personnel would alter the configuration via an equipment or feature change. These changes did not always filter back to the database of record, and the configuration became out of sync with the intended design.
While the on-demand characteristics of cloud services drive additional need to eliminate rework in the provisioning process, other factors come into play. Cloud-based and other off-net or multi-national services add higher dimensions of complexity. They introduce a new mix of ecosystem partners that have their own rules for how services are put together and how they are priced. Sprint, for example, partners with Microsoft and Cisco for hosted Unified Communications services; and with CSC to deliver infrastructure-as-a-service.2 The CSC partnership signaled Sprint’s willingness to rely on an established cloud partner for infrastructure services, and to support them over its own backbone network. Sprint said it would not have been able to deliver services through these partnerships without the service design capabilities it found through Netformx’s DesignXpert system.
Adding partners also complicates the cost-plus revenue model that many service providers have adopted for pricing cloud and hosted services. To deliver services that include elements from third parties, CSPs must know not only their own costs, but the costs of their partners. This level of visibility does not often exist. Yet, this is how cloud services of the future will be delivered. To avoid creating an environment in which design and delivery turn into a free-for-all of guesswork regarding cost, compatibility, availability, and viability, a solid and accessible design-to-implement tool is essential. Most importantly for the CSP, its sales team must know which partner-enabled services it can offer discounts on, during the contract negotiation phase, and which ones it cannot, in order to maintain overall margins on an enterprise service package.
As CSPs move to address vertical segments of the enterprise space better—something they all say they want and need to do—they must be able to build solutions in ways unique to each enterprise customer. From each according to its requirements, to each according to its expectations. To do this, Sprint is working to enable mass customization for the enterprise. This requires its systems to have checks and balances that prevent design mismatches between the assignment or configuration of a device and the rules built to govern them. This not only prevents errors and rework, but can also identify creative ways to tie devices together to meet unique requirements.
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