We need a new perspective on our Subscriber Data

What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase Subscriber Data?

By Chris Goswami, Director of Marketing & Communications, Openwave Mobility. 

Perhaps like many in our industry you have some sense of discomfort. Maybe you imagine multiple servers across your network, using different technologies sitting in separate locations, not talking to one another. You already know that subscriber data which describes the behaviour, likes and dislikes of your paying subscribers is incredibly valuable, but it’s hard to manage, let alone monetise.

The task of managing the profile information of mobile subscribers is of course what we refer to as Subscriber Data Management (SDM). The goal of SDM then is to provide the most efficient means of managing subscriber data, to promote data consistency, consolidation, efficiency, and most importantly, to enable rapid access to this data by authorised applications. These applications may lie within the operator’s network, or increasingly, outside it. Executed well, SDM enables mobile operators to maintain cost-effective internal processes, while providing efficient and secure services to their customers, and can generate new revenues via personalised offers, targeted ads and OTT (Over The Top) partnerships.

So what’s stopping you?

Well this all sounds marvellous but of course its not that easy.

Many operators are reluctant to interfere with their SDM infrastructure in any way. SDM infrastructure is not only mission critical, it’s painfully complicated. Too often the SDM infrastructure has been built up over many years, it contains legacy hardware, software and APISs some of which date back to before we can remember. And frankly, “it works – so don’t touch it!” Just steer clear of it and hope those clever techies don’t break it.

But this kind of thinking will not do. Your subscriber data is your most valuable asset. What other asset could possibly be as valuable, as sensitive, or as lucrative to a mobile operator as the data that describes the very users you serve? In reconsidering our perspective on subscriber data let’s briefly step back and remind ourselves of the pervasive nature of subscriber data to our industry.

Trends that drive the industry

SDM will play an increasingly centric role as telco big-data trends drive our industry in new directions. Think about it: as the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtualization (NFV), new business models, and convergence transform our technologies, re-configure the way our networks function and re-shape even our own organisations, the one constant that cannot change is the need for subscriber knowledge. Rather than rolling out a new technology and then considering where the subscriber data fits within it, we need to place our subscriber data in the centre FIRST and then ask how any new technology fits alongside that.

Here are a few examples of upcoming trends and the subscriber data perspective:

  1. Virtualisation

When it comes to visualising network components, some operators take the operations-led approach, which is to first move applications that need additional capacity or new applications to the cloud. Other operators however are taking a strategic approach – seeing NFV as the opportunity to re-architect their data network the right way. This latter group see the strategic and operational value of centralising and virtualising their Subscriber Data Management systems first.

Of course virtualisation of stateful entities such as a Subscriber Data Management UDR is complex because such systems need to scale in and out while maintaining data integrity, resiliency and other telco-grade requirements. However taking a centralised view –  “SDM as a service” – which can then be offered to all network applications, multi-screen offers, TV, OTTs etc, will reap rewards in the longer term.

  1. IoT

We have all seen the numbers from analysts on the reach, scale and eventual monetary value of IoT. SDM provides the scalable backbone needed for effective IoT deployment.  Specifically, a high-speed, low-latency data aggregation User Data Repository (UDR) provides the IoT components of Directory, Proxy Store, and Message Bus. Furthermore, an SDM with a high-performance data-federation solution provides the IoT Gateway, and lastly, SDM Identity Management software enables the Authentication and Authorisation component for the IoT…. IoT is all about SDM.

  1. Increasing use of Mobile Identity and partnership with OTTs

Mobile identity management is a huge area of growth for both mobile operators and OTT service providers. It provides the link in the value chain between subscribers within the mobile network and OTT service providers. As operators evolve to enable strategic partnerships with OTT services, those who can quickly and easily provide the subscriber’s mobile identity can also offer specific niche services, targeted offers, single-sign-on, micro billing for small purchases, loyalty schemes and so on.

Forward-thinking mobile operators must examine SDM identity management solutions in their networks to protect and extend their role in the value chain.

Thinking that drives the revenue needle

Despite the overwhelming evidence that SDM must be centric to any discussion on data trends and monetisation, in over 10 years of assisting operators in deploying SDM systems we have found that most operators still consider SDM as an operating expenditure – not a revenue generator. They focus solely on the mission-critical, operational nature of SDM in authenticating subscribers and devices before a call can be placed or a data service accessed. Thinking of SDM as an operating necessity is true, but it is not the whole truth.

To put it bluntly, if you are not monetising your subscriber data, somebody else is. For OTT players today their subscriber data IS the business model – without intimate knowledge of subscriber preferences, location, habits, demographics etc., there is no business. To take one example, Facebook’s ARPU in the US now exceeds the ARPU of many traditional telcos in the developing world, and is growing fast. And it’s driven from Facebook’s subscriber data.

Operators don’t need to become OTT-like, and don’t need to mimic pure internet players. But we do need to retrieve our view of the subscriber as central, and subscriber’s data as central. We need to take hold of the view that SDM is a future-looking, revenue-generating strategy. We need to appreciate that SDM demands C-level conversation in our organisations.  We need a new perspective on SDM.

This article is extracted from the e-book New Perspectives in Subscriber Data Management, available free to all mobile operators.