Let freedom ring (and break free from your BSS vendor)

We’re coming up on the Fourth of July over here in the USA, and everyone’s gearing up for parades, fireworks, and consuming an ungodly amount of hot dogs, all in the name of celebrating independence. This got me thinking: when will telcos demand independence from their BSS vendors? While fear of hyperscaler lock-in is the number one reason telcos give for not moving more workloads to the public cloud, they’ve been dealing with real vendor lock-in for thirty years from the legacy BSS vendors they use. These companies have tactics to keep you trapped in their ecosystems and dependent on them for costly customizations, forced upgrades, and no innovation. And as if that weren’t enough, some even force you to buy proprietary hardware!

It’s time to get off the treadmill. And with new cloud-first, SaaS tools like Totogi coming around, it might just be time to finally break free.

Prisoner Playbook

First, let’s talk about how you’ve gotten yourself into “BSS Jail” in the first place. There are three main plays that traditional on-premise vendors use to lure you into their prison, and ideally, keep you there forever.

Tactic 1: Customizations that can only be delivered by the vendor

Almost all BSS systems are heavily customized. Amdocs makes billions this way each year. The initial enticement gives you great “product” pricing, with a software price that is shockingly low, or even free. But to get it installed and working, you spend millions on customization and integration—using only the vendor’s consultants or certified partners. With this approach, “anything you want” is the name of the game, as long as it’s done by the vendor’s own trained army. The majority of the total cost of a BSS system is spent not on the initial purchase, but on maintaining and upgrading the system. Customizations and integration costs can be up to five times the initial software license fee. The more you customize, the deeper the technical debt. A few years later, you realize that your system is so customized that you’re on a Roadmap of One. Eventually, it’s such a tangle that it’s impossible to support or leave. Is this what it feels like to be AT&T?

Tactic 2: Proprietary hardware that’s bundled in

There are very few (none?) situations where enterprise business software needs specialized hardware. But that doesn’t stop our buddies over at Huawei. It bundles its proprietary hardware with its BSS package, forcing customers to buy all needed servers from the company. These deals are typically heavily financed at the onset; the bill really comes due once it’s time to upgrade in a few years. You’re forced to buy the new software version and new hardware, too. What was a really good price a few years ago (but it’s so cheap!) is now exorbitantly expensive. Proprietary hardware is traditionally more expensive to maintain than commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. And because it’s 100% proprietary, you can’t shop around for lower-priced options. What a deal… or was it?

Tactic 3: Forced version upgrades (or else)

Almost all on-premise software has a “sunset clause” in the contract, specifying that you have to stay on a current “N-1” or “N-2” version of the software. Seems reasonable, right? Trouble is, once you’ve customized the BSS, upgrades are a TOTAL PAIN (see tactic #1).You have to re-certify all the customizations against the new version and test everything again (for a price). Maybe you don’t have the budget for this project, or there are higher priority projects going on in your IT group. Maybe your BSS is good as is, and the new version’s features aren’t worth the time and expense of the upgrade project. Not to worry!, says Ericsson; you can stay on your old version if you want to. You’ll just have to pay 3x more because you’re in violation of the sunset clause. Easy peasy lemon squeezy for Ericsson, as it laughs all the way to the bank. A typical BSS upgrade project can take 18-24 months and cost millions of dollars to complete. The projects typically experience overruns and delays during major BSS upgrades.

Is this all just industry gossip? This information is from countless prospects, customers, and RFPs. These BSS horror stories are the reason why CSPs shop around for a different approach. No vendor is going to admit to trapping customers, but we all know this is what they do. This is the dirty little secret of enterprise software in telco. This is not freedom. THIS is vendor-lock in.

How do you get out?

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. To break out of BSS Jail, you need an escape plan.

Step 1: Don’t ever buy proprietary hardware to run your software.

This one is fairly easy to do: just say NO. Now, with the public cloud, you don’t have to buy ANY hardware at all. Select a vendor that runs natively on the public cloud and manages the infrastructure for you. No more OS patches to maintain, hard drives that fail, redundant power to think about… just let a hyperscaler worry about that for you. Bonus: if the package is designed to scale with usage and failover dynamically, it’ll take out a big chunk of the price. Your CFO will thank you, and your IT team will focus on more interesting projects.

Step 2: Look for products that let YOU customize to your needs.

During the buying cycle, ask how (and who) is able to work on customizations. When your vendor opens up its ecosystem to you in the form of accessible-by-anyone APIs, code snippets on its website to accelerate coding, or better yet, AI-capabilities to generate the code for you, then you’re in the right place. This approach allows you to customize your BSS, keep costs low, and achieve the speed you need. What will all those Amdocs consultants do now?

Step 3: Select SaaS products that provide continuous innovation and never upgrade again.

Upgrade projects are some of the most expensive projects in BSS. To get off the upgrade treadmill, pick REAL Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products and save a huge amount of time and money by never upgrading again. Don’t buy packages with a built-in end-of-life that requires an upgrade in a few years to get new features. SaaS solutions like Salesforce and Totogi keep investing in new features while you use them. New features are loaded into the platform—and the next time you log in, you can use them! Plus, these vendors don’t trap you. If you change your mind, you can leave any time and take your data with you.

Just like in the movie Shawshank Redemption, breaking out of jail is going to take time. I can’t promise it’ll be easy to move away from the traditional models, but the best time to start was yesterday, and the second best time is today. Don’t be hostage to your BSS vendor. Celebrate YOUR freedom by busting out of BSS Jail, and make a run for Totogi and the public cloud! 🎆

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