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Microsoft’s new customer care ecosystem promises agility without vendor lock-in

Microsoft's strategy promises an ecosystem of specialised systems that can create a comprehensive solution for CSPs.

Microsoft unveiled its latest strategy for the telecoms market in 2010, based on the cross-industry Microsoft Dynamics CRM system and a growing ecosystem of traditional telecoms billing and customer care vendor products. Now the strategy is starting to bear fruit – and it may well change the basic market dynamics of customer care in the telecoms industry.


Microsoft’s latest telecoms strategy is very practical

In March 2010, Microsoft announced a new approach to the telecoms market – a Customer Care Accelerator for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It provides a toolkit and framework that other vendors can use to pre-integrate their products with Microsoft Dynamics CRM and to provide process automation.

Microsoft then began a series of announcements with other telecoms vendor specialists for joint solutions with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, including Alcatel-Lucent, Convergys, Ericsson, MetraTech, Redknee, Tech Mahindra and Tribold, which will provide other customer care functions and integration services. Other partnership announcements are expected to follow – particularly collaborations with speciality vendors that provide targeted CRM capabilities, which can be integrated with the basic Microsoft Dynamics CRM system to provide as fully featured a solution as desired.

These partnerships are creating an entire vendor ecosystem around Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It will allow vendors, or systems integrators, to offer a much broader solution than they otherwise could. This elevates them from being niche players to acting as providers of more-complete solutions. Such solutions can now include basic, but highly scalable, CRM functionality with desktop and application integration, as well as inter-application orchestration of multiple vendors’ systems. The arrangement also allows Microsoft to do what it does best – provide software technology – without having to make a large investment in order to enter the telecoms space.

For communications service providers (CSPs), the Microsoft ecosystem offers the possibility of a flexible customer care solution that offers high functionality while avoiding vendor lock-in. In this approach, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system provides the basic CRM capabilities, while other vendors provide the associated advanced features, which are integrated with the Microsoft software. The system includes tools and framework solutions that systems integrators and vendor can use to integrate and automate the federated data architecture, the operations workflows that transcend the individual applications, and the customer care agent’s desktop.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is only at the beginning of its major growth phase, but the customer care ecosystem that Microsoft has built is already comparable in size to those of the largest players in the market, such as Amdocs, Huawei, Oracle and SAP.

Weaknesses in the Microsoft ecosystem

The Microsoft strategy is currently weak in three major areas.

  • Microsoft’s technology base is a barrier to sales for many CSPs that have not yet accepted Microsoft technology as part of their standard operating environment for mission-critical applications.
  • The ecosystem has a strong product and service management catalogue component, but it does not have a telecoms-specific data management architecture, which is necessary to support the CSP’s rapid introduction of new services.
  • The Customer Care Accelerator lacks a catalogue-driven customer order orchestration function that can be easily adapted to new services. Other ISVs can provide such components, but they are so basic to the architecture that some level of standardisation is desirable.

The promise of the approach: agility

The promise of the Microsoft strategy is an ecosystem of specialised systems that take advantage of modern service-oriented architecture (SOA) techniques and can create an overall, comprehensive solution for small and large CSPs. The component systems can be integrated easily, start small and grow large, start with basic features and become more sophisticated, and provide automated processes – all without running the risk of vendor lock-in. It would be a ‘mashable ecosystem’ of component systems.

Reliability and scalability have always been paramount to CSPs. Now, agility is being added to those requirements – and a vibrant vendor ecosystem excels at offering that.

This Insight article is a summary of Analysys Mason's Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s ‘mashable ecosystem’ may change the telecoms customer care market.