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QoS QoE and total customer experience

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					QOS, QOE & TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
by James P. Cavanagh, Analyst and Consultant, The Consultant Registry
Business success requires productively and simply leveraging an increasingly rich menu of IP network-based Multimedia, Internet, Communications and Entertainment (MICE) capabilities. Due to the sophistication required to provide, support and manage MICE capabilities they are often purchased as services from a service provider. Because MICE services are critical to business success, organizations of all sizes are evolving to an enlightened, business-focused method of choosing network services and service providers called Total Customer Experience (TCE). This white paper describes the evolution toward a TCE approach and the benefits and clarity that TCE brings to the marketplace.

Network Services Evolution
The Internet began as a “best effort” service where all packets were created equal: a shared alternative to dedicated and expensive leased lines. As data, voice and video multimedia triple play services emerged packets were no longer equal. “Best effort” gave way to Quality of Service (QoS), which prioritizes packets while considering the packet delivery, delay, and delay variation requirements of the associated application. Recently, as users become more enlightened and experienced consumers, emphasis has begun to shift from Quality of Service to Quality of [user] Experience (QoE). QoE either measures, estimates or simulates human users’ opinions of data, voice and video quality.

Who’s In Charge?
When leased lines predominated, engineers provided specifications but the business office purchased the services, usually with little choice of provider. The business office was in charge. Next, in the “best effort” days of IP networking, the business office paid the bill but the network provider actually set the rules and tried to be fair to all parties, giving each packet an equal opportunity to share network resources. Then, the network provider was now in charge. Subsequently, in the QoS era the engineers were in charge. They juggled Type of Service (ToS) bits, ingress, queuing and buffer controls and other technical aspects of IP network implementation and operation to assure that various flavors of data, voice and video traffic receive proper marking, prioritization and handling. The engineers were now in charge. In the new QoE era control shifted from engineers to users - whose expert opinion, or at least a close mathematical approximation thereof became the controlling factor. TCE puts the business office back in charge. By using TCE to measure and compare service providers’ relative scores on solutions, collaboration, delivery, support and billing the process of service provider selection is becoming a more business-centric function: control is shifting back to business management. Before we discuss TCE in more detail let’s take a closer look at an important tool in documenting, describing and enforcing the needs of the purchaser, promises of the seller and penalties for not delivering as promised: the Service Level Agreement.

Figure 1 – Evolutionary Phases of The Internet and IP Networks

Multimedia services are becoming commoditized, as QoE metrics stabilize, prices approach the lowest levels they are likely to reach and the field of competitors becomes packed. Enterprises are searching for other meaningful points of differentiation and comparison besides just price. Truly savvy organizations are responding by adopting a Total Customer Experience approach to service selection. Total Customer Experience (TCE) encompasses the relative value of five key selection criteria that go beyond price. TCE includes availability: solutions, collaboration, delivery, support and billing. TCE will be discussed in more detail after some important background information that sets the scene for a true appreciation of TCE and its benefits.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
The SLA is a valuable tool. The SLA survives the evolution to Total Customer Experience and its role increases in importance. As small to medium enterprises already know the Service Level Agreement is a contract between an organization and an outside service provider. Larger organizations may have an internal department that acts as a service provider. The larger organizations will recognize the SLA as a contract with an external, or internal, service provider organization.

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QOS, QOE & TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
In either case a Service Level Agreement generally describes contract requirements, and penalties for noncompliance, in two broad areas: administrative and operational. Administrative requirements usually include lead times for establishing new services and connecting new sites to the network, decommissioning existing sites and restoration of service in case of service interruption. Operational requirements can get somewhat creative but at the bare minimum provide baselines for service availability, packet delivery, packet delay and delay variation. Total Customer Experience includes the historic SLA requirements but expands them to include baseline performance requirements for a new SLA section that reflects the Five Factors of Total Customer Experience. TCE also redefines “customer” from the end-user consumer of the service to the enterprise or organization that is a customer of the service provider. The Five Elements of TCE are solutions, collaboration, delivery, support and billing. both on the initial delivery as well as on the monthly payments if you were leasing or financing. Although billing should be simple it is often the source of great frustration and, if inaccurate, a big waste of time. We will now take a closer look at the Five Elements of Total Customer Experience - solutions, collaboration, delivery, support and billing - in the context of service provider selection. Solutions There are many questions that one must ask of a service provider to assure that they are providing a service that will solve the problems that you - the customer - need solved. Some of the most important questions relating to the network service solution are:
- Does the internal or external service provider offer a proven, reliable and secure network? - Does the network service cover the geographic areas in which your organization currently operates or might conceivably need network services in the foreseeable future? - Is the service being offered seamless or is it stitched together using many different parts provided by multiple service providers? - Is the service based upon the most current access technologies available such as Metro/Carrier Ethernet? - Are the most up-to-date technologies, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and/or Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) being used? - Are real-time control and embedded network management available via a Web portal?

The Five Elements of TCE
Organizations with sufficient time and resources may well wish to expand beyond the Five Elements of TCE offered here. Specific industries have requirements that vary from this list but the Five Elements of TCE assess needs that are common across most, if not all, purchases of network services. For example, if you were purchasing a house, a car or some other item of importance you would have a similar list. The only difference would be that the details would vary. For instance, if you were buying a car you would want to know that the manufacturer provides a full range of solutions and that the solutions meet or exceed your current and foreseeable future needs. You would also want to be sure that the solutions are based on the best available and most current technologies. If you were buying a car you would certainly want to do so in collaboration with a dealer. The collaboration would most certainly include some degree of customization included in the price of the car, a number of partners from who to get service and a free test drive before you buy. Wouldn’t you want to have delivery of the car where and when you want, with a single person or individual responsible for the delivery of the car and to assure your complete happiness with your purchase? If you were buying a car it would be very important for service to continue after the sale, with proactive customer service, supported by trained professionals and easy access to status and service information. You would also want to be sure that the billing is accurate,
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Collaboration In addition to service, collaboration ranks among the top points of differentiation between network services providers. Some vital questions to consider are:
- Are services defined via a consultative, interactive collaboration process or must you choose from narrow menu of “standard” services? - Does the price of the service include complimentary network design services or are “professional services” or engineering fees charged for all work? - Does the service provider offer a comprehensive list of service partners? - Does the price of the service include proof-of-concept demonstrations and/or allow risk-free trials?

Delivery Consideration of how a system will be installed and implemented is often left out of service provider selection process, but shouldn’t be. Initial provisioning is often time that problems may bedevil the customer relationship and potentially cause financial hardship, interruption to operations and loss of productivity.
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QOS, QOE & TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
It is critical that the service provider’s delivery track record should be closely scrutinized and included as a key selection category. Here are some questions to ask:
- Is there a Single Point-of-Contact (SPOC) for the complete network installation?

Measuring, Interpreting and Comparing TCE

Once the questions are decided the next step is to determine the scale to be applied. Ranking type questions yield far better information than “yes” and “no” - Does the service provider offer complete service questions. For example “Rank the accuracy of the installation at all business locations? prospective service providers’ monthly invoices on a - Is the quality of installation and support the same scale of ‘1’ to ‘5’” is better than “Are invoices accurate?” at all locations? But, should answers be ranked from “0” for worst to “10” - Can the customer specify the service activation for best? Should “0” represent “no answer” and the scale schedule? used be “1” to “5”? Should some percentage scale be used? For the following examples we will use “0” for “no Support Once the system is delivered and “turned up” ongoing answer” and “1” to “5” where “1” is worst and “5” is best. This approach allows a clear middle point, “3”, two support is critical to business success but is rarely better and two worse categories, which is a broad enough considered as a part of the service provider selection range, yet provides sufficient granularity. process. Here are some questions to ask: After the scale is chosen a compareative graphical rep- Are proactive service alerts provided? For all issues or just “major” events? resentation must be devised. Use of the - Are support calls answered live 24x7 by trained engineers? proper graphical - Is trouble call status available via a Web portal? representation will - Can service change orders, updates and cancellations be make comparison, made via a Web portal? comprehension and Figure 2 – 5 Elements of TCE Graph Billing presentation of the A final area that can confound any business results easier, particularly if many different service relationship and should be considered as a part of the providers will be evaluated. In our examples we will service provider selection process is billing. The type of use a five axis grid onto which are superimposed the questions that should be considered are: Five Elements of TCE and our1 to 5 - Is a simple, easy-to-follow, bill provided for all business locations? scale, as shown in Figure 2. - Do all services appear on a single bill with a
- Is there a SPOC for all post-installation issues and ongoing support? single payment amount? - Is billing consistently accurate? - Are questions answered and billing problems resolved quickly and efficiently and fairly? - How long does it take, on average, to resolve disputes? - Is the dispute resolution process simple and fair and does it require a minimum of cost and time on the part of the customer? - Is there flexibility in the way in which payments are made?

Armed with the questions provided here and those of your own you are now ready to establish a system to measure, interpret and compare different service providers on their Total Customer Experience.

The next step is to determine the acceptable threshold values for your organization. This Figure 3 – Selection Baselines will provide clear baselines. Providing baselines before beginning the actual selection process makes service provider selection a “buying” exercise rather than a process of being “sold to”. In other words, by having hard criteria before the selection process begins it is far easier to determine if candidates meet the criteria in contrast to being swayed by each prospective service provider’s sales pitch. Figure 3 represents the baseline that will be used for our example.

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© 2007 The Consultant Registry, All Rights Reserved

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QOS, QOE & TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Now the problem of gathering data: Service provider self-evaluation is rarely the only source. Industry surveys, surveys of user groups or members of professsional associations, calls or site visits to references as well as any industry or government rankings should all be considered. Ideally there is a rough initial elimination round based on broad, easy to measure, criteria such as “Does the prospective service provider offer service in all of our locations?” From the elimination round a “short list” of three or so final candidates will emerge that warrant further in depth consideration. Let’s take a look at three possible finalists and how they stack up. Example 1 The service provider represented in Example 1 scores above the baseline on solutions, collaboration and delivery but below for billing and substantially below for support. Does this eliminate them from competition? Figure 4 – Example 1 Not unless another service provider has better scores in all areas. Example 2 Example 2 exceeds requirements for solutions and delivery but falls substantially below the baselines for collaboration, support and billing. This is the type of profile one might expect to find for service providers Figure 5 – Example 2 with a strong menu of solutions but with little or no flexibility in terms of how the solutions are offered to the marketplace. Example 3 The third set of results shows a limited solution set and delivery, very bad collaboration but great support and billing. If this provider has an existing menu of services that fit the needs of your organization and you are willing to Figure 6 – Example 3 “grin and bear it” through installation cycles they may be a candidate but should be put way at the bottom of the list of candidates. You’re Not Quite Done Yet If you choose to implement these recommendations you will be creating a scientific and unbiased selection process, but you are not done yet. Pricing and contract terms & conditions are, of course, still important in TCE. What is left is to meet with all interested and affected parties, including consultants and service provider representatives themselves, and debate the TCE selection issues. Then, and only then, is it time to compare pricing and contract T&Cs, sign a contract and begin planning.

Call to Action
Business success requires productively and simply leveraging an increasingly rich menu of IP networkbased Multimedia, Internet, Communications and Entertainment (MICE) capabilities. If you have made the strategic decision to engage a service provider to support your business needs then you should immediately implement a Total Customer Experience approach to selection. If you are presently using a service provider, either internal or external, you should consider using a TCE approach to determine if they are truly going beyond best effort, QoS and QoE and meeting your most critical current and foreseeable Total Customer Experience needs.

About the Author James P. Cavanagh has been intimately involved with the engineering, sales support, marketing, design,
installation and training for ATM, Frame Relay, Internet and IP intranets and extranets, optical networking, VPNs, MPLS, VPLS, Carrier Ethernet and DSL as well as having strong credentials in traditional telephony and legacy packet networks. Mr. Cavanagh’s resume also includes work in network security, disaster recovery planning, infrastructure security, and multimedia network engineering and QoS/QoE optimization. Jim Cavanagh is recognized as a leader in application of IP networking technology to 9-1-1, public safety and homeland security and he has also written Internet commerce and security strategy papers for the governments of Bermuda and South Africa. Jim Cavanagh is the editor of books on multimedia networking and network security as well as author of Frame Relay Applications: Business and Technology Case Studies. His current ebook is entitled The Definitive Guide to the Successful Implementation of VoIP and IP Telephony. He is also the author of several popular computer based training (CBT) programs in addition to over fifty articles for trade publications and journals. James P. Cavanagh may be reached at jpc@consultant-registry.com or +1.770.984.5800.

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