Traditionally, the term ï¿½usageï¿½ has been associated with network engineers, billing analysts, scary systems no one understands, and a lot of errors that seem to delay the launch of brilliant products. Being a former billing manager myself, the word ï¿½usageï¿½ spoken in a corporate strategic meeting was enough to gloss over a few eyes and yield a yawn or two. Needless to say, I was never the most popular attendee. If IPTV had been in the product mix ten years ago, that may have changed. I think a new boardroom discussion could be on the horizon.
The collecting and analyzing of usage records could just be the missing ingredient of success for a service provider looking to provide a differentiated (aka ï¿½coolï¿½) IPTV service. The potential of personalization, TV and gaming interaction, customer use information, and low service delivery costs should keep any product manager dreaming of dollar signs. The billing department has long known the potential of having call data to build better products and create calling plans to meet customer needs. Now this knowledge can be used for some the most high level decisions about future services.
Knowing and understanding how and when your customers use your service is arguably the most important attribute to a product management organization. The ability to determine when you have a flop or when your offer is working, based on the usage your customers are generating in real to near-real time, would be a dream for the person who lives and dies by the P&L of IPTV services. Alas, this cornucopia of data does not happen on its own. Defining and deciding what data is important about a customerï¿½s transaction takes strategy and thought from all areas of the company. Accounting will be interested that costs are not out of line; Product Management will be interested in what services are utilized and what features are used most often; Billing will need to bill; and Network Planning will need to ensure adequate bandwidth. The next step will be determining where each one of the data elements is sourced and how to get the data in an aggregate form. With the current architecture of most IPTV test markets,
this represents a big challenge. Most services today are in a limited launch or test mode and comprise a number of vendors that may not necessarily define data in the same way. Several articles have been written about the challenges of getting equipment and software vendors to interoperate on IPTV services. Having 40 people in a room speaking several different languages will never get a problem solved, no matter how much money is thrown at it.
Does having a central standard that allows various network components to create a consistent data model make sense? I am here to say, ï¿½Absolutely!ï¿½ Developing a strategic process and clear definition to glean crucial session information allows the back office to provide clear, consistent information to front office executives about how new IPTV services are being used and what revenue is being generated by bundled services. In addition, information on how services are used in the aggregate is great to have when negotiating agreements with content providers and advertisers. Usage could prove to be one the most effective ways to understand and respond to customers.
Creating accounting standards is akin to ï¿½watching paint peel.ï¿½ It seems that every time I mention a new project and the word ï¿½standardization,ï¿½ I get blank stares and quick watch peeks. The communications industry has associated standards organizations with dinosaurs of the past just trying to survive through meaningless work. Maybe that is the way it was handled for several years, but it has to change. Companies need to be proactive in using solutions that will not only assist their business, but will also allow for the interoperability of equipment, software, and network components of IPTV solutions.
IPDR.org is working in conjunction with other IPTV efforts to complete standards for content usage tracking and data management as quickly as possible. Its consortium of software and services vendors, service providers, and equipment suppliers has created a suite of specifications ï¿½ the Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) solution set ï¿½ that can be used as a vehicle to provide the data to internal resources, which is critical for marketing, billing, network management, and finance. IPDR is an open standard and available for download By member organizations. The IPDR protocol is a ï¿½service-neutralï¿½ specification that supports billing of packet-based services, and can be applied to any IP service and application (i.e., gaming, IPTV, VoIP, and Video on Demand). IT
Kelly Anderson is President and COO of IPDR.org. For more information, please visit the consortium online at www.ipdr.org.