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October 2016

Boosting Customer Support: The Value of a Modern Inventory & Ticketing System for Special Circuits

Boosting Customer Support: The Value of a Modern Inventory & Ticketing System for Special Circuits

Managing special circuits well is crucial for serving enterprise and carrier customers.

Special circuits, of course, are the high capacity voice or data circuit used for transport.  They connect a corporate office to its branches or backhaul mobile traffic from cell towers.

But managing special circuits effectively is tough because it involves: 1) off-net circuits; 2) highly diverse technology (Ethernet, optical, TDM); 3) SLA tracking; 4) maintenance notices; and 5) constant change in contracts and circuit availability.

Lacking a first class special circuit system, it’s easy for customer support to falter.  And if issues for enterprise or carrier customers don’t get resolved quickly, there are many competing providers who are just a phone call away.

So how do you get a handle on customer support issues in special circuits?  What are the key benefits of an advanced circuit management system and associated trouble ticketing?  This is the subject of my interview with Todd Twete, Vice President of Sales at Montana-based KADENCE.

Dan Baker, Editor, Top Operator: Todd, I guess the first question is: what kinds of operators require a dedicated network inventory system that manages special circuits?

Todd Twete: Dan, special circuit management is vital to ILECs, CLECs, and carriers who operate a data center.  But it’s especially key to middle mile providers because of the size of their inventory and the SLA requirements of their carrier customers.

For instance, a customer of ours is Vision Net (www.vision.net).  They provide that rural exchange connectivity and they are a pure wholesale provider owned by the eight ILECs who operate in Montana.  Vision Net does no consumer/residential business: they are strictly providing that middle mile or wholesale component.  Just about everything they do is special circuit – and almost all of that is leased from other carriers.

On the enterprise side they also supply middle mile solutions for banks, hospitals, universities and other carriers.  And as you’d expect, their technology runs the gamut from fiber and Ethernet to TDM and they rely on their eight ILEC owners to do the last mile piece.

Now because so many circuits are not part of their own network, they negotiate and renew contracts all the time.  Not only do they need to know which customers are on which circuits, they also need all the details of leased circuits and when their contracts expire.

The costs associated with not having an accurate inventory can be very high.  The danger is whenever a customer terminates service and goes to a different provider, the off-net circuit is no longer generating either traffic or revenue – yet the lease payments are still being made.

This is a very common problem.  A couple years ago, when our parent company, the ILEC Blackfoot, acquired another rural operator, an audit revealed the company they acquired was paying out $80,000 a year on stranded circuits no longer serving any customers.

This shows why visibility into contracts is critical.

So what were the challenges Vision Net faced when they decided to go with the KADENCE solution?  Why did they opt to invest and jettison their legacy?

Well a number of reasons, Dan.  I’d say the top reasons were three: 1) to save money with a SaaS solution; 2) to have full visibility of their network, including which customers were utilizing which circuits and were they had capacity; and 3) they wanted better maintenance notification to serve their enterprise customers.

So let’s first talk about the virtue of a SaaS platform.  As we all know, with traditional software you rely on internal IT resources to install the system, buy the hardware, and perform the on-going maintenance.  But with a SaaS solution like ours, all those costs and overhead of maintaining the system are handled through KADENCE’s cloud and data center.

Now cost savings were also very important to Vision Net.  Like so many operators, Vision Net had built a system in-house to track special circuits.  And in their case they used an employee who had strong software development skills.  In fact, the solution was very good and served Vision Net for many years.

However their in-house system was high cost.  Not only was the cost of hosting the software high, the person who developed the solution was spending nearly 100% of his time maintaining and enhancing the app.  And this was a highly skilled employee.

You mentioned “maintenance notification” functionality.  What’s that about?

Well, Vision Net not only needed to lower their operating costs, they wanted to insert new capabilities and properly notify customers about maintenance issues.

Many tier 2 and 3 operators struggle with letting the customer know when they have planned maintenance or outages on the network.  And when the circuit is off-net, the other operator’s maintenance schedule is going to affect your customer, so they need to be notified.

Trouble is, most circuit management systems can’t readily determine which customers are on which circuits.

But here’s where the relational and SQL-friendly nature of our KADENCE database offers a key benefit.  It allows you to readily understand: which customer is on which circuit, who has an SLA in place, and many other circuit details.

Then, via a three-step wizard, the user can walk through the process of determining which circuits are undergoing maintenance, which customers are on those circuits, and what we want to tell them in our email messages.

Lots of overhead is involved sending out these notices.  In fact, a customer of ours had a full-time equivalent employee spending most of his time on these maintenance notifications.  And if you look at the pay scale of that person at 30 hours a week, that’s a major cost.  Plus a number of operators are parking that information in Excel spreadsheets which doesn’t allow easy sharing of that info.

So the advantage of our solution is it’s integrated and available to everyone and it automates the maintenance steps, making it far easier to fire off the maintenance notices efficiently and in a timely way.

OK, if special circuits is one of the more complex, dynamic and multi-sourced areas of the comms business to manage, it pays to automate that.

Yes, for most operators, their special circuit inventory is a blend.  Some circuits are easy to control because they are part of their on-net footprint.  But there are invariably one or more components that are customer-driven.

Take a regional bank who is doing business with you.  Some of the bank branches can be served in your normal network footprint, but there are other branches in other regions or states that are off-net so you need another carrier to service them.  If your Missoula, Montana bank has a branch in Seattle, Washington, there might be multiple operators in the mix providing off-net components for that Seattle branch.

I understand KADENCE recently introduced a trouble ticketing system that complements your circuit management suite.

Yes, every carrier has a trouble ticketing system, but how many are really efficient and fast at helping you isolate network issues and resolving these problems across departments?

The power of our ticketing system is it’s directly tied to the details of our circuit management database and inside plant.  So we can open and relate tickets based on a circuit, a customer, or a location, such as a central office, co-location, fiber hotel, or customer prem.

In effect, the system adapts itself to the needs of different departments.  A front-line rep in sales, for instance, will want to open a ticket based on the customer’s name.  However if I work in the NOC, I might not even know who the customer is, so I start to diagnose based on a circuit or a piece of equipment.  So no matter how the ticket is opened up, it can viewed and tracked in whatever way the user chooses.

When it comes to repair and trouble management, not all customers are the same.  How does your ticketing system differentiate, say, a VIP from a normal customer?

Dan, that’s achieved through business rules or customized workflow.

Let’s say I’ve got a special group of tech support people assigned to VIPs or enterprise level customers.

Well, what you can do is automatically escalate a trouble ticket, so maybe you decide that for VIP customers you want to skip Tier 1 support and put the customer directly in touch a Tier 2 support person who specializes in helping VIPs.

The system fully supports that kind of flexibility.  We also have a timer feature.  So if an issue hasn’t been resolved by certain time — 30 minutes, 90 minutes, or whatever – you can trigger an escalation.

One final point, Todd.  The Verizons and Sprints of the world have massive deployment of cell towers and they usually rely on an ILEC provider to provide the backhaul special circuits.  So what does an ILEC need to be concerned about in this area?

Well, if you are doing business with the large mobile carriers, your contract certainly has an SLA that will specify a certain throughput, availability, packet loss, and jitter rate.

Now the Tier 1 providers are tough customers.  In fact, they want the provider of wireless backhaul to proactively report to them whether they are meeting SLA requirements or not.  And if you don’t meet the SLAs, the financial penalties of the large carriers are very stiff – in the thousands of dollars.

Now the KADENCE platform is not a network management system, but it does integrates with NMSs and ultimately arms operators with the intelligence to meet these SLAs and control special circuits in a professional manner.

Add it all up, and I think our customers would tell you that investing in a modern, cloud-based circuit management and trouble-ticketing system is one of the best customer support and retention moves they’ve made.

Copyright 2016 Top Operator Journal

 

About the Expert

Todd Twete

Todd Twete

Todd Twete joined KADENCE in May 2013.  He brings more than 20 years of national sales, marketing and executive management experience to the company.  He is focused on corporate revenue growth through strategic business relationships and product development.

Todd previously served as the VP of Sales & Marketing for Merlin Information Services and the General Manager for national Internet and VOIP providers, Clearwire and DigitalBridge Communications.  Todd is a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.   Contact Todd via

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