Managing the life cycle of digital products through product catalogue

This evolution of customer expectations is being fuelled by cross-vertical drivers. When customers receive good or personalized experience in any context, from any business, then this experience becomes the benchmark against which they judge others. Offering the best experience in the telecoms market is therefore no Longer sufficient, because CSPs are being judged against pure online businesses and retailers, and not just against other CSPs.

The result is that both consumers and businesses now expect products and product bundles to meet their needs more exactly, and at the same time want faster delivery of the products they buy. Customers don’t want to wait, and they also want more choice, more control, as well as the ability to make changes to what they’ve bought to customize it to their needs. They also expect consistency in terms of products, prices, offers and promotions across all the channels they are using, and are quick to expose inconsistencies between channels.

These wishes present huge challenges to the product infrastructure of Digital Service Providers (DSPs) which are faced with managing a far greater volume of products, massively increased velocity (in the form of faster product launches, faster fulfilment and so on), and much greater variation in the range of products being offered.

Variation and volume mean that the DSPs will not be creating all the products, or all the product elements, themselves but will increasingly need to collaborate with third parties. This means that their product infrastructure will have to accommodate third party products and thus balance between openness and collaboration versus security and control.

Changing customer behaviour will also see customers more actively managing their products – ordering more frequently, configuring what they’re using, and monitoring their usage and spending – which means supporting infrastructure will have to adapt to support not just internal users but partners and customers as well.
The challenge is that while product strategy and customer expectations are rapidly changing, much of our legacy product infrastructure was designed for an entirely different

product paradigm whereby there was a much smaller range of products, which were launched at a fairly leisurely pace, were tested and retested to ensure their quality and viability, and had long lifespans (and thus product retirement was less of an issue).

There is often duplication in product infrastructure – with multiple product catalogs each supporting a different line of business or different product portfolio – due to tactical buying and M&A activity. Manual effort frequently stitches together multiple siloed systems into an end-to-end process, with people being used to bridge any gaps between systems.

However, this manual or semiautomated approach to managing products causes problems that impact on both the customer experience and business performance. For example, there is huge scope for errors, the process is slow and prone to delay, and fixing problems can be arduous. From a business perspective, this type of suboptimal process raises costs. Not only are unviable or long dead products maintained after they should be retired, but errors result in costly rework (costly both from an OPEX and customer experience perspective). Meanwhile, poor visibility over the end-to-end process means product opportunities are not maximized and financial forecasting and compliance is made more difficult.
And if product infrastructure is siloed by service type or channel, then it becomes very hard to deliver a consistent and designed omnichannel experience Research by industry analysts’ Telesperience has revealed that CSPs currently express dissatisfaction with every stage of the product lifecycle management process, with retirement, design, and evaluate & plan being the areas CSPs say they experience most delays and problems1.

As we have said, these problems are not new; but margin pressure, competition and changes in the product landscape mean that any existing inefficiencies are becoming unsustainable, and old faithful workaround – such as throwing staff at the problem – no longer work because they don’t scale, are too expensive and can’t handle the new demands from both the customer and the business.

1Telesperience benchmarked the performance of current product management processes and found that 81% of CSPs experienced delays in product retirement, 75% in product design, and 72% in evaluate and plan. Seventy-eight per cent of CSPs said they were dissatisfied with how long it took for them to launch a product, and 72% were dissatisfied with the cost of launching a product. For more information and a free copy of the benchmark please email Tracy Monday at

The question, of course, is how can CSPs break the cycle and deliver a product engine which fuels growth? How can they move from an inefficient or suboptimal process today, to a streamlined and efficient system that enables their digital ambitions?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is starting from the same place. A minority of CSPs have extremely agile product processes in place already and may only require small improvements and adjustments. These CSPs are well-positioned to move forward confidently to digital service provision. For the rest, though, an old problem is resurfacing: how to manage the transition to support their new business goals and deliver a streamlined product infrastructure while still keeping ‘the Lights on’ for their legacy business?

In the past, vendors have advocated taking a single catalog approach to drive the product management process, and to provide ‘a single version of the truth’. This certainly increases efficiency, but the price of this approach is a major data migration effort as multiple catalogs are brought together. An alternative is to use a federated approach to the problem, which leaves most of the Legacy in place but uses a federated catalog – a master catalog – to bring the data together. This is less risky and helps CSPs to get to the business benefits faster. The CSPs can then migrate or switch off subordinate catalogs as they wish – maybe ‘grandfathering’ them over time – in a more controlled manner and at a time of their choosing. This approach means the data migration no Longer acts as the gatekeeper to the desired business and customer benefits.

Once the CSP has a reliable product catalog acting as a single source of product truth, they can then align other systems into an automated process. This may involve a self-service portal at the front end, with automated flow-through from order-to-fulfil and order-to-cash.

For CSPs focused on the business sector the ordering process has traditionally been more complex and they may have different presales requirements to their consumer proposition – for example, requiring quotations to be produced. B2B CSPs can address this by adding CPQ solutions which automate enquiry capture, pricing and quotation, although it should be noted that adding CPQ won’t deliver better results unless there’s a reliable source of product information to feed the process.

The good news is that whether on the B2C or B2B side of the business, adapting product infrastructure to the new demands being placed upon it can be done taking a more controlled, business-centric and less risky approach using an orchestration Layer. This creates a win-win situation which enables business-centric and customer-impacting transformation without the risk profile of traditional big-bang rip-and-replace approaches.

Some new product challenges that will need to be addressed

• More self-service options and higher levels of automation to speed order-to-fulfil, meet customer expectations and reduce costs

• Delivery of self-service, self-configuration and self-management will enable higher levels of personalization and meet customer expectations, but result in large volumes of small and continual changes that will be impossible to sustain without high levels of automation

• Higher volumes and greater variety of product will need to be managed – exposing inefficiencies in legacy processes.

• Demand for greater product velocity is increasing from both marketers and customers.

• Third-party product elements and solutions will become part of the mix, leaving DSPs to figure out how they will manage these.

• Omnichannel experiences require consistency across all the channels customers are using, which can be achieved using a single catalog -delivered via either a centralized or federated approach.



Nirmal heads sales for SunTec across APAC & ANZ region. He has been with SunTec for more than 8 years and established working relationships with the Tier 1 Banks in Singapore, South Africa, India and Malaysia.

Prior to joining SunTec, Nirmal worked with 3i Infotech & SGD Software Technologies (now part of 3i Infotech) providing Anti-Money Laundering & Capital Market solutions to various financial institutions & capital market intermediaries.

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