Being a better Retailer: Martin Dawes Systems Customer Forum 2008

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of presenting and facilitating at the user conference of Martin Dawes Systems (Martin Dawes Systems), a provider of integrated billing and CRM systems, as well as analytics via their business unit Lavastorm, now rebranded as Martin Dawes Analytics.

Martin Dawes Systems' history is in supplying both large and small operators who want an integrated BSS back office solution. These operators want to avoid the cost and integration headache of the "best of breed" approach. The integrated solution also brings its own benefits, such as enhancing the ability to manage business processes end-to-end. We've picked up in this article some highlights of their products, and some new ideas about how to run billing, CRM and analytics systems based on the debate with the senior execs who attended - from AOL, Vodafone, GSMA, Carphone Warehouse, BT, KPN, Orange, Telefonica O2, T-Mobile, DTAG, Thus...

You can view our keynote presentation on two-sided markets here. Ian Pannell, Chief Architect of the GSM Association, covered the purpose of the organisation, and their key initiatives. You can find details of these on their web site, and the newly announced Mobile Broadband marketing program here.

Dewi Thomas, Managing Director, Martin Dawes Systems

In his opening address, Dewi reminded attendees of the four pillars on which their BSS systems are built:

  • Single point of contact
  • Single view of customer
  • Single point of reporting
  • Single view of product

We are inclined to agree with the company's stratgy. These are the foundation for today's one-sided market model (selling bundled voice, video and data to end users). Furthermore, without these you have no basis on which to construct a two-sided market, facilitating business processes between users and merchants, such as billing or customer care. The key assets of an operator is not its network, but the customer relationship and the data that represents that.

Cato Rasmussen, Head of Solution Strategy, Martin Dawes Systems

Cato had one central, important idea to share, and it's worth close attention.

Traditionally, telco networks and services were vertically integrated. That meant one provisioning and billing system per network. When services are combined to cross networks, you have an explosion of complexity due to the many-to-many relationships. A product that bundles WiFi with DSL and 3G data requires multiple sets of interfaces, data repositories, and business rules, all of which need to be kept in sync. It also creates enormous cost. In the course of his career, Cato has seen telcos with as few as eight billing systems -- and as many as 110.

Furthermore, customers, payment methods and products were (and continue to be) tightly coupled. This is why, for example, we don't see prepaid fixed broadband products, despite their obvious applicability to those with poor credit, or low usage.

This contrasts with banks, who have cleanly separated customers from products. It's perfectly normal to have a savings, current (checking) and mortgage account -- and still expect the bank to have some concept of you personally as a customer. Telcos, therefore, correspondingly need to be able to separate payment method from product. That means creating a pick-and-mix of prepaid, postpaid and "pay now" billing methods, and have these span the entire product set. A single product could have a mix of prepaid and postpaid usage, and that prepaid balance could be drawn down by any of the products.

This frees data from process, and is a key competitive weapon of anyone with an integrated billing and CRM system such as the one from Martin Dawes Systems. As telcos evolve more towards general retail with a "long tail" of niche offerings -- fitting products to customers, rather than the other way round -- these capabilities will rapidly grow in importance.

Gary Steen, Technology Director, Martin Dawes Systems

Gary demonstrated the user interface of several of the company's products. We'd like to pick up on two themes.

Firstly, customer self-care interfaces need to be a lot smarter and sophisticated. For any users of services like Google Mail, responsive "Web 2.0"-type user interfaces will be a familiar norm. For users of telco self-service portals, long waits and fractured user experiences are the norm. Martin Dawes Systems demonstrated their customer self-care interfaces, including features such as interactive chat with support personnel.

The second theme, also on the topic of usability, was based on making it simple for business operations people to configure and use BSS systems directly, rather than having to rely on IT personnel to write cryptic codes in configuration files that are harder to decipher than Linear B. One example demonstrated was their tariff builder.

This focus on usability and user experience continued through the call centre operator's dashboard, as well as using Rich Internet Application technologies to offer Web retail shoppers a 3D "carousel" of phones to browse. Whilst other vendors may have the longest tick lists of features, Martin Dawes Systems appears focused on making what it does offer usable and user-friendly.

Drew Rockwell, CEO, Martin Dawes Analytics

Lavastorm was acquired by Martin Dawes Systems in 2005, and the conference announced the company rebranding as Martin Dawes Analytics. Their focus is process analytics in order-to-cash operations, something of extreme interest in credit crunched times.

The CEO of Martin Dawes Analytics, Drew Rockwell, is as American as the Statue of Liberty. OK, more American that the Statue of Liberty, as that's a bit French. Still, punning on the Obama campaign slogan, he busily distributed "Martin Dawes '08 -- Analytics you can believe in" badges ("buttons" to our American cousins).

His message -- or should we say 'stump speech' -- was simple. Improved analytics let you create cash, preserve cash and enhance business transparency. To prove the point, he went through case studies. Examples included:

  • Near real time monitoring of credit limits through alarms, preventing fraud.
  • Reconciliation of events along the revenue value-chain to reduce billing errors
  • Detecting the one operator in the call centre making the same mistake hundreds of times over.
  • Eliminating fraud from account applications from relatives of delinquent customers.

In discussions afterwards, the secret sauce of Martin Dawes Analytics is that it helps to capture institutional or tacit knowledge. Traditionally someone skilled in SQL (the database query language) will write each business query. This is unlikely to be the same person who understands the business process. It adds cost, time lag, and potentially introduces undetected errors.

With Martin Dawes Analytics, the components of each query are visually modelled and easily combined and re-used. Thus it becomes easy for business analysts, as opposed to IT specialists, to construct analytic queries. Furthermore, those insights into what kinds of queries are important aren't lost inside some SQL script, never to be remembered, and totally forgotten once that employee moves on. Again, the message is that the cost of a BSS system isn't just the purchase and support costs, but the cost of the people who operate it, and the effectiveness of their product.

Customer presentations

Phil Jordan, CIO of Vodafone UK, reviewed the state of the UK mobile market. Vodafone's UK operation is under more strain than opcos in other markets due to saturation and high competition. Meanwhile, Vodafone UK's business plans broadly reflect Telco 2.0 themes -- growth through stimulation of core voice and messaging revenues, new advertising revenues, and growth through improved wholesale products and market share. This means meeting growing demands on the back office whilst also reducing expenses.

On the cost side, his capex budget is shrinking to reflect the realities of the market. That means consolidating and de-commissioning systems. The ultimate goal is one billing system, one CRM system, one rating system, and one provisioning system. The means is through partnerships with suppliers, and the bulk of his presentation was given to describing the principles that they follow, and how that differs from traditional vendor relationships.

Jeff Wollen, Director of the Carphone Warehouse Group, has clearly been reading the right books on business theory. Each company can excel at only one of three core means of differentiation: operational excellence, customer intimacy, and product leadership. The job of a (retail) telco is to get customers. That's a customer relationship business. Therefore activities such as building and integrating IT systems are not aligned with that goal, and must be outsourced as a managed service.

Continuing this theme, he told the story of how by using Martin Dawes Systems he had slashed the implementation time and costs of building his business. His internal IT function was focused on those things that created true value to the business, rather than replicating standardised industry components.

As with Phil Jordan, he emphasised the nature of the give-and-take relationship with suppliers. He appealed for two things: for suppliers to help remove bureaucracy from their processes around product changes, and for suppliers to be willing to take risks and trial capabilities with customers. In other words, become lean and agile.

Attendee interactive feedback

We gathered feedback from attendees on the keynote talks. The first question was (as before) how people viewed the industry's future in terms of revenue, and the strong consensus is of slow decline. This is due to internal and external competition, regulatory pressure, and increasingly utility-like market structures.

When asked to rate the three two-sided market structures (retail platform, wholesale platform and B2B2C VAS platform), all three were rates as being either "strongly" or "very strongly" important to future growth. Again, the VAS platform was highest rated, with a spread of opinion on the importance of new growth via wholesale markets.

Finally, when asked to name the top three BSS initiatives operators need to undertake, there are two clear winners: improved self-care for end users, and an integrated view of the customer.

This links in with what Cato Rasmussen, a Director at Martin Dawes Systems, had to say: "with these enablers, you can start to act like the kind of packager and retailer that telcos need to become, free of billing, provisioning and care systems tied to specific networks or products. If I buy a television, towels and tea from Tesco, I don't need to go through three different checkouts. You win by having the best customer experience, which is far more than just the product in the user's hand."

[Ed - you can meet Cato and the Martin Dawes Systems team in the Innovators Zone at the Telco 2.0 event next week].