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SDN and NFV: End-User Service Benefits Is What Matters | Part 4

Moving to a world where the policies that drive the network and billing are aligned with benefits experienced by the customer

In my last blog, I looked at the ways in which Software-Defined Network (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) enhance flexibility and allow for greater services mashups, and I ended with the question of how billing and compensation will support these new capabilities.

With the ability to program the network more or less at will, no one will want to sit around waiting for someone to write some new code to enable the billing system to do its job. According to an Accenture survey of CIOs across the globe, 92% of communications providers indicate that billing prevents the rollout of new offers. Given that service providers spend over $20 billion per year on billing, it is clearly not an issue of underfunding. It is an architecture problem that only gets worse as the velocity of services increases. Billing that depends on traditional systems will then become the main roadblock to service flexibility and rapid deployment. The MetraTech platform is designed to be programmed by business users and already mirrors the SDN and NFV vision for programming the network at the BSS level.

Furthermore, we can expect far more interaction between the network and the billing system via the control plane. Product managers will be able to define triggers based on network events, chargeable events or billing status that can be combined in rich and novel ways to provide customers with automated discounts and offers based on their use of the service. These can also be used to drive the network to provide greater capabilities or QoS enhancements or restrictions, all driven by those triggers. We call this Behavioral BillingTM. It will become increasingly necessary to work with a billing solution that is programmable and able to capture any type of chargeable event or trigger as soon as it is plugged into the control plane.

SDN and NFV, when implemented, will demand billing systems respond in near real-time to accommodate new types of billing events and to take policy-driven actions in response to a continuous cascade of triggers passing in both directions across the control plane. If your billing system has been around for a while, you should perhaps think about its ability to leap into action to meet the demands of this new network environment.

A final thought. Remember the customer, the end user? Those customers are not very interested in the underlying network or configuration and management policies of the network service provider. Customers expect their services to be defined in terms of customer-oriented features and benefits, not in terms of network functionality. In the past, service providers were often tempted to differentiate services in terms of network capabilities, technology, bandwidth or topology. This may be becoming less common, but the thought is still out there. Abstraction of the control plane makes the exact nature of the underlying technology irrelevant to the product manager too. What matters is the service: end-user service benefits, service quality and service pricing. Could it be that product managers will all start thinking like their customers? If so, SDN and NFV could be moving us into a world where the policies that drive both the network and billing are nicely aligned with benefits experienced by, and valued by, the customer. For that reason, we will bill for benefits, not for technology.

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud, BUSS. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda was CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. At MetraTech, Esmeralda was responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution for enterprise and SaaS products, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of resource and service control software, now part of Extreme Networks.

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