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December 2015

A Wholesale System that Adapts its Level of Automation to the User

A Wholesale System that Adapts its Level of Automation to the User

B/OSS software has always come in two basic varieties: customizable and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS).

Large carrier organizations have generally favored customizable systems, such as the Amdocs billing platform.  And the virtue of customizable is that the software can be tailored to a large carrier’s unique and mature processes.  The downside, of course, is its high expense: a systems integrator needs to keep the software and processes in synch.

Now the COTS option is less expensive, but it’s weak on customization, forcing the telco to adapt its processes to the software instead of the other way around.

But imagine if you could simply configure COTS software to fit the automation needs of a particular staff person’s level of expertise or training?

Well, that great idea is now being implemented by Oculeus, the Frankfurt-based developer of international voice management tools.  The CEO of Oculeus, Arnd Baranowski, joins us now to explain this and other innovations his company is driving in wholesale.

Dan Baker, Editor, Telexchange Journal: Arnd, to begin, it would great if you give us a quick overview of Oculeus, the company.

Arnd Baranowski: Sure, Dan.  We got started in 2002 developing a solution for a German carrier, then in 2004 we formed Oculeus and today serve 100 customers large and small.  Some customers run as small as 500,000 minutes/month but others run beyond 1.5 billion minutes.  Our customers include operators such as SFR France, Telecom Austria, Optimus Portugal, Orbitel Columbia, and Datora in Brazil.

Our solution, Captura, is a full wholesale solution — routing, price list management, billing, quality monitoring, and traffic controlling.  It’s all that a wholesaler needs to get up and running.  In fact, some of our customers own nothing more than a switch and our solution.

As a company, we are entirely self-funded and this gives us great independence to call our own shots and seize opportunities.  Our staff is small — only 25 people — but we are still able to offer nice things such as 24/7 support.  Up to a few months ago we did all that from our European offices, but today we also have offices in Asia and the Americas — north to south.

OK, wholesale systems is a relatively mature software category today.  A number of much larger players compete in the space.  So how has Oculeus been able to gain traction?

I think we’ve done well because our strategy is to develop a good product and not get distracted.  The principles of our go-to-market strategy are these:

  1. Offer a full-featured solution out of the box — A small software firm can’t afford to develop one-off solutions for individual customers.  So each of our customers gets the same full-featured wholesale solution: a two-person company guys gets the same product as SFR France, for example.  Whatever is needed to run the business comes with the solution.  The customer doesn’t have to pay for extra engineering hours to get it up and running.
  2. Price based on volume and modules -- The only difference between one customer and the next is that the price each pays is based on the volume they do.  In this way a company can start from zero and grow with their requirements with or without buying more modules in with the solution.
  3. Rely on word of mouth advertising — Sales and marketing can add a big expense, so we rely mostly on affordable pricing, word of mouth advertising, and customer recommendations.
  4. Get customers to fund enhancements — There’s nothing more risky in the business than pouring R&D into system enhancements that are not paid for.  So we encourage customers to come to us and ask for specific modules they find useful.  We say, “Yes we can do that” and as long as it’s worth adding that enhancement to our broader product, the charge is covered by the Update & Service Agreement which contains the very same SLAs including the cost of system enhancements and updates. 

    Now once the enhancement is ready, it becomes part of our product.  In this way, our Captura product contains the know-how today of around 90 companies around the world.
What do you consider the strong points of your wholesale product?

I would say our routing management is very strong.  It can handle any kind of routing: the standard A to Z, CLI and non-CLI, ISDN and non-ISDN — you can even do hour-of-day routing.

Another key area is reporting.  Even in complex networks, we correlate the in-leg and out-leg of a call and create one record, so you always have a complete overview of the traffic on the reporting side.

In billing, we offer complete A-to-Z billing, reverse charge billing or bi-lateral billing.  Our bi-lateral module contains full bi-lateral simulation and bi-lateral net cost calculation.

We have even added an anti-fraud capability.  We initially developed this for Telecom Liechtenstein in years past when the operator had massive fraud.  So that module has evolved to the point where it not only detects the fraud, but allows our customers to share fraud profiles with each other.

In my recent conversation with consultant Jan Dingeouts, he talked about the big efficiency push in the wholesale back office.  Lower margins are forcing a move to greater automation and doing more with fewer staff.  How do you address this challenge?

Well, we begin by recognizing that each organization — and even section within the wholesale department — has different automation needs.

You know, automobiles are starting to offer the ability to set the type of ride you experience.  So you can set the car to ride more comfortable or more sporty.  This is what we are trying to achieve in our software.  We let our customer decide the level of automation in various sections of their business.

This need cuts across carriers large and small.  It’s really a function of the experience people have in the various wholesale functions.  For instance, someone is responsible for importing price lists.  Another person owns routing.  But the people manning those positions are constantly changing.  When a person is new to a position, they must learn to walk before they run.  So the level of automation they are given is adjusted.

The point is not to make users redundant: it’s to give users the freedom to focus on their business.  The more versatile you are, the better chance you will do good business.  But the point is to match the level of automation to the person in each job, and this is very important since people tend to juggle several jobs these days.

Arnd, I understand one particular area where Oceleus is innovating is in the managing of price lists.  But what’s particularly challenging about that area?

Well, it follows from what I just talked about: the need to match automation with staff skills.

Managing price lists is an area of the wholesale business where you find quite a bit of personnel turnover.  At small carriers, it’s usually an entry position.  Then as new people mature on the job, they are moved to maybe account management, sales, or routing management.

Now beginners tend to make mistakes when they import price lists.  And since that’s the basis of routing, those mistakes can lead to serious problems.  And even if you tell people to import price lists a certain way, the complexity of the task can lead to problems.

So the ability to import price lists more securely and accurately is critical.

Telarix has developed a standard price list interface called iXLink that’s popular across the industry.

Yes, iXLink became a standard because it’s supported by many large customers who expect to receive data in that format.

The beauty of our solution is you don’t have to conform to any particular format at all.  You simply use the system you are comfortable with in-house.  The average user simply uses the spreadsheets or other data files they use locally and the intelligence in the solution loads them up accurately to any target format required.

We’ve developed this capability over the last year and a half — and it’s now very solid.  So in two or three months we plan to make it also available as a standalone product.

Supplier Price List Importing

How does this universal price list translator/reader work?

What it does is read price lists from email accounts, or directories.  It then provides the data into a normalized format allowing every company to quickly and easily use it.

All the user needs to do is download the solution and install it.  If the price list is in an Excel sheet, for example, it opens the file, scans it, and saves whatever is in the columns.

It then identifies which columns supply the codes, destinations, and prices.  It then compares this information with its memories.  And where it finds something new, it loads that into the system.

All that will be handled automatically by the system.  You don’t need a central server or something in the cloud.  Everybody who has a computer at home can download the solution, install it, and if the company wants to make use of the information imported, it then can export into a standard file which can be imported into their existing routing management solution.

The standalone system will detect mistakes and is smart enough to learn by itself.

The user only needs to define the directory where they place the Excel files and the solution will simply start without any configuration and scan that directory.

If the system has questions, it will prompt the user and the solution will contain a mapping feature, so companies may add their own code scheme into this solution and then even map the prices so it’s ready for use in an LCR system.

Thank you, Arnd.  I think you’ve shown how there’s always room for fresh innovation, even in a software market considered mature.

Copyright 2015 Telexchange Journal

 

About the Expert

Arnd Baranowski

Arnd Baranowski

Arnd Baranowski founded Oculeus in 2004 and has been the sole managing director ever since.  With his background in aerospace technology, Arnd brings over 20 years of experience in software engineering and development of innovative solutions.

Under the premise that every problem has a solution, Arnd and his team continue to develop effective system solutions for managing telecommunications and quickly responding to the ever-changing needs of the global market.   Contact Arnd via

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  • The Flight to Quality: How Test Call Generation Enables Service Differentiation in Wholesale Voice and SMS interview with Robert Wiesheu — Wholesale margins are so thin that price needs to make room at the negotiating table for the growing importance of voice and SMS quality.  Test call generation systems are the key to measurement and this interview explains where and why test calls are expanding on the global telecom scene.
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  • International Call Routing: A Challenging Area to Master, But Payoffs Can Be Big interview with John Fitzpatrick — International call routing offers a completely different set of challenges than the common practices found in North America.  This article explains the many issues faced in international LCR from imprecise routing and number portability headaches to dispute problems and the flood of wholesaler rate sheets that must be rapidly made sense of and implemented in the routing plan.
  • Dynamic Call Routing: The Market Enabler that Allows VoIP to Improve with Age interview with Neal Axelrad — Least cost routing (LCR) has matured greatly in recent years.  Today’s routing is far more dynamic because of new real-time capabilities.  This article explains technology advances that instaneously re-routie calls based on real-time intellgence gathering from the network.  Also discussed are template-driven rate addendums, SaaS delivery, and the economics of LCR.
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