ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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  Consulting                 Network Analysts and Consultants
                           "We Have the Experience"
ViewsLetter  on Provisioning           August 2002                  #3

Lead Analysis

Deployed hardware that lacks controllability and element management
software that doesn't address sophisticated service configurations today
limit the extent of provisioning open to automation.  Fortunately,
hardware depreciates and is replaced.  Software improves with later
releases.  These obstacles quite naturally erode with time.

Much harder to change are the attitudes, habits, and dispositions of
people.  When motivated by fear of potential loss , people resist change.
Automation of provisioning threatens  tens of thousands of jobs--from
sales agents to craftspeople to their managers.  Few of the people
threatened with loss of responsibility, respect, or career welcome the
change that poses the threat.

No employee easily abandons hard-earned experience, once-prized skills,
and the steady, solidly middle class paychecks they once ensured.   A new
wave of jobs is coming to support automation.  Retraining will allow some
people to stay on, perhaps even improve their conditions.  Many can't
adapt and will be replaced by a smaller number of people with the new

Unfortunately, automation is necessary to allow public networks to meet
expected demands for service (see issue #1).  That necessity is in the
process of mothering the invention of automation technology, but the
standards-setting bodies don't look at the impact on jobs.  The workers
have seen what is happening since the first Divestiture by AT&T (a 100,000
RIF was only the start).  Until recently, a company in financial trouble
almost always was rewarded for mass firings by a (temporary) rise in its
stock price.  Automation promises executives another opportunity for

We've seen resistance to change within carriers (and of course in other
types of businesses).  Union work rules once defined many jobs (including
those required for provisioning).  Change was slow, occurring at intervals
tied to contract negotiations.  Workers could stick to the rules even if
there were a more efficient process that required less labor.  The company
accepted union contracts with some extra costs as a way to assure workers
that their jobs were safe and gain their cooperation in reaching company
goals.  Under "cost plus" regulation, the extra cost went into the rate
base and actually earned the company additional profit.  Deregulation
upset that apple cart, crushed the apples, then burned the cart.

But work habits persist (that's what makes them habits).  An example came
up in the past year that shows how hard it is to make fundamental change.

An ISDN line in a home office was being billed under a residential tariff
(less expensive than a business tariff).  Then a need arose for one of the
additional features offered only on a business line.  The user called the
phone company and ordered a change in tariff.  Due to the internal
organization of this local exchange carrier (LEC) separate departments
handle business and residential customers.  The change was much more
complicated than expected.

The residential department had to close the account and declare the line
and phone numbers to be available to the business department.  The
business side received what looked like a new order, and applied its
standard operating procedure to provision a new line.  That is, they tore
out the physical wiring for an operating line, and rebuilt the circuit
from scratch--using the same local loop, the same switch port, and the
same phone numbers.

Although the LEC promised no interruption, the user was out-of-service for
a week.  As a result, the LEC incurred the costs of handling many calls
from the downed customer, management time to research the cause of the
extended outage, and a response to the state regulator.  It also lost
normal revenue for the period and waived the service fee to calm the
customer.  What should have been needed was an update to a customer data
base, indicating the new feature ordered and the new billing basis.

What's wrong with this picture?   In part it is the fragmentation of the
LECs customer information--separate agents for each tariff.  The
residential agent couldn't access the business side records from a
terminal in the residential department.  The customer couldn't be
transferred between departments, so the customer had to call the business
side to create a new order.

Curious about the cause of the problem, we spoke with the "business"
supervisor in the central office and asked why they had torn out and
rebuilt a working circuit when only a records change was needed.  "That's
the way we always do it" was the only reason he had.  That is an answer
that harks back to contractual work rules--sometimes called "make work"
rules.  (Before any unionists send a flame, let us pause and sing "I
Dreamt I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," a long-time favorite around here.)

What might an automated system have done?  Ideally, the customer record
wouldn't have to be recreated on a separate system:  all customers records
would occupy a common data base.  To change the billing rate and turn on a
new feature would entail a change to the tariff code and an indication of
the turn-on of the additional feature.  That should take seconds to
complete (including the flow-through to update the ISDN switch
configuration), not disrupt service, maintain the revenue stream, incur no
significant costs for craft labor, and require only a few minutes of an
agent's time (or none, if the customer ordered via a Web portal).

OK, that's asking a lot.  This LEC can't even bill for a monthly flat
rate, which they've offered for years (and the customer bought).  The
billing system insists on timing, rating, charging, and listing on the
bill every local call placed from an ISDN line.  The fact that the billing
software  MUST  work this way reflects another habit of long standing:
bill by usage.  From its earliest days, the Bell System charged by call,
time, and distance.  The first manual cord switchboards had a row of holes
for each line appearance;  the operator moved a peg up one place for each
call, hence the "peg count" as a way to bill by usage.

However, in this modern case, the customer's calls all go to the same
number--a local Internet Service provider (ISP)--leading to bills dozens
of pages long containing identical listings and a huge charge that must be
adjusted manually.  New billing software is being installed--has been for
about a year.  Let's hope it doesn't have to generate a peg count.

Is there hope for labor in telecommunications?  Of course there is, as the
world continues to demand more and better connectivity.  With change comes
the need for new skills, new people in new jobs.  But what of the present
work force, particularly the crafts who keep the network running?
Carriers might consider how newspaper publishers migrated from hot metal
type to computerized composition.  The type setters' union resisted
computers (cold type), to protect the skilled jobs and significant
salaries of its members.  The publishers wanted to set type from the
computer input of writers and editors--no re-keying by typositors would
save time and their entire cost.  To move forward, the publishers
guaranteed all existing typesetters employment to retirement, at their
existing salaries, in related jobs on the computerized systems (these were
bright, skilled people who knew composition and layout).  The same
approach could offer a way forward for carriers, who will reduce overall
costs via automation even if the craft headcount declines from attrition
and normal retirements rather than mass layoffs.

Recent experiences with a LEC show there's much work needed to prepare for
automated provisioning.  But it's not as far out in the future as some
people believe.  In fact, a few carriers have automated provisioning of
some services, or changes to services.  In the next issue we'll get down
to cases and start to look at what is available in software tools.

In coming editions we'll examine these areas in more detail, including
short reviews of specific hardware and software products.  If there's
something in particular that interests you, follow the link below to ask a
question or make a suggestion for coverage in future issues.

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 Updated:  11 June  2003

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