Big Data in Telecom: The Need for Analytics

By Bob Hockman

Networks have become a strategic asset, the lifeblood of organizations. Once considered a “techy thing,” networks are now mission-critical for every member of the organization – from the IT manager to the marketing VP and the CEO. An increasing number of companies now recognize the impact network quality has on the customer experience and, in turn, on the bottom line.

Providing a great customer experience every time is vital for limiting churn and building loyalty. This has led many organizations to adopt a strong quality assurance program to test and monitor all contact center services. This is particularly important in environments that must support multichannel and multiservice applications. The complex configurations needed to enable voice, video, and data to share network resources puts a tremendous strain on bandwidth and creates problems that can be difficult to isolate. And the proliferation of mobile devices has added an entirely new set of issues and customer behaviors.

Network testing and quality assurance monitoring is important for creating and maintaining a great customer experience. However, these solutions capture a tremendous amount of information about customers, networks, and operations. To try to make sense of all the data, managers constantly create reports with a slew of KPIs (key performance indicators), including average hold time, peak chat volumes, queue lengths, and IVR satisfaction rates. While this provides a certain amount of understanding of daily operations, companies can do better. Advanced network analytics that correlate and trend multiple data points and KPIs over multiple dimensions offer real insight that companies can use to gain greater control over expenses, resolve issues more quickly, and plan more effectively.

Using Analytics to Troubleshoot: Troubleshooting issues in multiservice networks can be extremely difficult. Typically, technicians will check the health of individual network elements or review a standard set of KPIs when they learn of a problem, but it is rare that an issue stems from a single system and most issues tend to be intermittent. Because issues are hard to isolate, they can even lead to nasty disputes between technical personnel. However, an analytics engine with advanced slicing and dicing capabilities may reveal hidden problems. For example, sporadic voice quality issues could be examined from a variety of angles to determine the root cause. If they are coming from callers in certain area codes, it could indicate a problem with a specific carrier. If they occur after being transferred from a specific voice portal, it could indicate an incorrect setting on one server.

Proactively performing this type of network analysis enables companies to predict problems and correct them before they affect customers. When actual failures do occur, multidimensional network analytics, coupled with the ability to drill into micro events, significantly reduces the time it takes to repair the problem. This can also reduce churn and support costs. The ROI (return on investment) for this type of solution is easily calculated and quickly realized.

Controlling Costs: Expense control is on everyone’s agenda these days, and understanding end-to-end network traffic patterns can help. For example, when companies originally transitioned to IP communications, they realized a significant reduction in their phone bills. However, as solutions evolve – due to enhancement, acquisition, global expansion, or the incorporation of virtual agents – routing schemes become more complex. Many times, calls are directed off the network and back again during this process. Standard monitoring solutions will show each of these calls as “complete,” giving no indication that a problem occurred or that unnecessary toll charges were incurred. Only a complex analysis of traffic patterns will reveal opportunities to easily cut costs.

Going beyond standard contact center metrics provides greater visibility into individual business unit performance. Instead of reading a report that outlines average call stats, it is far more interesting to understand how long a VIP customer spends talking to a dedicated agent or how often people request certain types of information, such as mortgage rates. Some questions the contact center can gain insight into through analytics include:

  • Are these individual groups fully satisfied with self-service options?
  • How are different customer segments interacting with the company?
  • Do VIPs prefer to make calls where potential customers prefer online chat?
  • Are these preferences changing over time?
  • How are social media and mobile phones affecting customer behaviors?

When this type of intelligence is correlated, it paints a detailed analysis of network performance, enabling managers to pinpoint infrastructure investments to strategically enhance those experiences. It also helps marketing and sales departments refine their strategies and develop new business models to capitalize on evolving customer needs.

An Effective Commitment: A strong commitment to quality assurance is the only way to ensure a great customer experience and effectively manage technology in today’s evolving, multiservice environments. Getting it right with pre-deployment testing ensures that solutions will work as designed when released to customers. Keeping things right with ongoing monitoring ensures quality and availability. Now network analytics provides an opportunity to do what’s right with actionable information for smarter decision-making throughout the company.

To be effective, companies need a solution designed to handle “big data.” No one wants to hire a team of database analysts and wait three days for an answer. Companies need a network analytics solution that quickly manipulates information and presents it in a meaningful way for specific job functions. This includes:

  • Being able to see trends and drill into micro events to give troubleshooting technicians an edge
  • Having holistic, end-to-end insight into network performance to enable more effective planning and optimization of technology investments and greater control over costs
  • Using executive dashboards and trend reports to provide management teams with the intelligence they require to exploit customer needs and find new profit opportunities

With analytics, doing what’s right – from the control room to the boardroom – will give companies an advantage in any market.

Bob Hockman is the vice president of product management with Empirix.

[From Connection Magazine November 2011]

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