The (Slow) Rise of Product and Service Catalogs in the BSS / OSS Industry

I don't think the whole catalog 'proposition' has made much progress in the last twelve months. Today, service catalogs and product catalogs provide essential, if a little mundane, data and business process integration between systems. But done properly, they also have the potential to revolutionize how a service provider reacts to market trends. I'm a big fan, but catalogs only have a cult following at the moment.

I've said before that catalogs are an emerging solution, but when I read this Billing & OSS World blog it struck me that catalogs are still being discussed as something new. It's a good write up. Ari Banerjee cuts through the hype and explains in piggy-ducky-horsey language, what catalog solutions attempt to address. But, six years after Tribold was founded and three years after Cramer (now Amdocs) released Service Catalog, why does Yankee Group still have to spell it out for us?

Why doesn't the industry 'get' product and service catalogs yet?

Last year at TMW 2008, the big OSS/BSS vendors had very similar marketing messages, mainly pushing their market-leading-ness, each measured in different ways. None of them were shouting about the next big thing. Only start-up Tribold, who's entire product offering is based on product catalog, were seriously promoting catalog-driven solutions on the expo floor.

Despite this business-as-usual approach, software vendors are investing significant R&D money in catalog development. Telcordia has a service catalog. Oracle has product catalogs and a new service catalog solution. Amdocs has a new product catalog and has consolidated Cramer Service Catalog capabilities in to Service Order Manager and Service Composition Manager. A lot of money is being spent on engineering.

If the industry gorillas want to create a service/product catalog market, they need to make a big noise about it. Instead, to-date, marketing has focused on the status quo: A reliable supplier of OSS/BSS solutions; catalogs offering an incremental improvement to the existing value proposition; reduced 'integration tax'; faster time to market; and so on…

It is difficult to articulate the value of catalogs without using the benefits claimed for previous OSS product releases. After all, catalogs are not solving a new problem as such. Rather, the immediate need is to solve existing problems that have increased in magnitude since the boom in network technology, product offerings and data services. While the magnitude of the problem has increased, so too has the potential value of the solution, compared with traditional inventory + automation solutions. Nail the OSS complexity issue, get it under control, and the service provider finally has the opportunity to turn network flexibility in to product flexibility.

Inventory is becoming a commodity. I don't mean that in a bad way; it's natural evolution. Inventory is essential, but the industry 'gets it', and its profile in bid questionnaires is diminishing to the point where it's pretty hard to compete on inventory capabilities. So, start with catalogs. Create a new value proposition for OSS. No more “inventory centric OSS”, we want “service centric OSS”. Don't sell catalogs as an upgrade to existing solutions built for a ten-year-old paradigm. Vendors, look at how your entire solution can embrace service-driven OSS and sell that.

I appreciate 'service' is a well-worn words in the industry. I'm not suggesting a more service-oriented message at the top-level, expo-stand-banner-level, or staff-polo-shirt-tag-line-level. That level is pretty much saturated with ‘services’ and ‘customers’. What is needed is for the service-centric message to be embraced by product managers, sales-engineers and architects. When we see PowerPoint slides with a “Service Catalog” box in the middle, rather than an “Inventory Database”, we may be making progress. OSS is about delivering services after all. Storing data and executing complex design code are essential, but ancillary, tasks.

When the telco business really understood inventory-centric service provisioning things really took off. Cramer, Granite, Metasolv (and the rest) grew from start-ups to dominate the OSS industry, marginalizing legacy vendors. A similar revolution could happen in OSS. There's start-ups and incumbents with the capability to lead a second revolution in OSS if they're willing to shake things up a bit.