Automated Vendor Management
Automated Vendor Management is the function of automating the management of those supplier and partner companies, from onboarding and offboarding them as suppliers to exchanging billing data, purchase orders and invoices.
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A telco will use and work with an ecosystem of third parties; vendors, suppliers and partners, to deliver services to customers. These organisations may provide products and services that are resold or bundled into packages by the operator (for example, subscriptions to streaming services, or technology purchases), or they may be selected and used as subcontractors to the telco (for installation services, or civil engineering works), or they may be used for mobile subscribers when they roam onto other networks.
Vendor Management automation is the function of automating the management of those supplier and partner companies, from onboarding and off-boarding them as suppliers, through importing and integrating their product or service catalogue, exchanging billing data, purchase orders and invoices, to providing service assurance functions and holding regular relationship reviews.
Contracting involves the onboarding and offboarding of a supplier or partner, in order that the company can use or resell their products and services. At this stage, agreement is met on how the two organisations will operate on a day-to-day basis as well as how the relationship will be regularly reviewed. The operational aspects will include topics such as the format, content and update process for the product catalogue; the format, frequency and interface points for interconnect data exchange; the commercial and financial aspects relating to invoicing and payments; and the processes for problem reporting and resolution.
Contracting involves the onboarding and off-boarding of a supplier or partner, in order that the company can use or resell their products and services
Catalogue Management lists the products and services available to resell or use from the supplier and partner companies which must be correctly maintained. These are stored in the telco product catalogue, where they can be bundled and offered alongside other products
Once contracted, the ongoing relationship (Relationship Management) needs support from automation as part of the governance and efficiency necessitated by the complexity of the operation of both Customer and Supplier. The list of products and services available to resell or use from the supplier and partner companies must be correctly maintained.
These are stored in the telco product catalogue, where they can be bundled and offered alongside other products as part of the telco’s commercial catalogue (Catalogue Management).
The vendor will define product properties include the timing, geographic, technology and market segment availability; the branding and descriptive data that could be presented to the customer; and the lead time for provisioning the services. The telco itself must integrate all vendors’ products into their product catalogue.
This includes defining the business and technical rules that are used to map from their products and services to the suppliers’ ones; this mapping may be trivial (where the telco simply resells or bundles the supplier product), or complex (where the selection of one particular supplier’s product over those from other vendors may be based on technology, geographic and commercial decisions that are evaluated at the time of order decomposition).
When the CSP requires to use a vendor’s product – either resold or bundled as-is, or as a component in an end-to-end service provided by the CSP – there will be interaction with the vendor’s Order Capture process to submit an order (Order Processing). Depending on the complexity of the vendor’s product, and on the interface capabilities of the supplier’s systems, this may be a fully automated action, or it may require some manual activities.
The integration with the vendor’s systems will be through a channel (e.g., website, email, etc) previously agreed as part of the Contracting use case. The progress of the submitted order must be managed, and changes both ways appropriately communicated. For some types of vendor product, it’s probable that it may take days if not weeks to complete – especially if the vendor needs to perform civil engineering to deliver it.
During this time there may be multiple changes in the order status, and its forecast completion date, and there may be multiple updates to some of the technology configurations in response to this. As these updates are received by the CSP, the relevant inventory systems must be updated accordingly to accurately track the resource status.
Similarly, the CSP may need or desire to make changes to the ordered product, in response to change requests received by the customer, or changes in the CSP’s own network plans. Upon completion of the order by the vendor, the CSP may undertake an acceptance process to confirm that it is working as expected. Both the CSP and the vendor will need to create and maintain inventory information cross-referencing the identifier allocated to the provided service by both parties.
MNO subscribers will often roam to other partner MNOs, and similarly partner MNO subscribers may roam onto the CSP’s mobile network. As these roaming subscribers use services – browse the internet, send and receive messages, make and receive phone calls, etc – charges are incurred on the visited network which must be paid by their home network.
As part of the Interconnect use cases, on a regular basis there will be an exchange of usage data (CDRs, IPDRs, etc.) with other partner mobile network operators. This data must be collected from a variety of sources, allocated to the relevant partner operator, and then transferred to them in the format agreed, typically e-invoices as part of the Contracting use case.
Invoice Handling is a very complex process ripe with automation opportunity. MNOs will be performing the activity for the telco’s subscribers who have roamed to their network. Upon receipt of this usage data, the telco must validate them, and allocate them to the usage accounts of the individual subscribers, if appropriate. Disagreements between the operators must be resolved using the agreed arbitration process. This too can be effectively automated.
Vendors will issue invoices to the CSP for services provided (Invoice Handling); these may be services provided to the telco’s mobile subscribers while they are roaming, or services ordered by the CSP as part of a service provisioning process.
The CSP will need to validate these invoices and allocate them to the billing accounts for their customers as appropriate. The invoices must then be submitted to the Purchase Ledger use case for payment in accordance with the contract agreement.
Vendors will issue invoices to the CSP for services provided; these may be services provided to the telco’s mobile subscribers while they are roaming, or services ordered by the CSP
There must be ways in which problems with the vendor-provided product can be notified reported and resolved (Incident Management).
Typically, both the vendor and the CSP are likely to detect problems through their own service assurance activities. If the vendor detects the problem it is expected that a notification will be issued to the CSP; the CSP will want to record this notification in its trouble ticket application, and – depending upon the CSP service, the SLA the CSP has with their customer and other factors – the CSP may seek to automatically issue a notification to their customer.
Typically, the vendor and the CSP are likely to detect problems through their own service assurance activities. If the vendor detects the problem it is expected that a notification will be issued to the CSP; the CSP will want to record this notification in its trouble ticket application
If the CSP service assurance activities detect the problem before the vendor notification has been received, the CSP will raise a trouble ticket, perform an initial analysis and diagnostic activity on the fault before identifying it as a vendor issue.
The CSP will then report the fault to the vendor using the process agreed during the Contracting stage. This could and should be fully automated.
As the vendor progresses its own service assurance processes in diagnosing and resolving the fault, updates on progress will be shared between the two organisations.
Depending upon the severity of the issue, the time taken to resolve, and the commercial agreement between the CSP and the vendor, compensation may be agreed, to be reflected in the next invoice from the vendor.
Automation helps organisations minimise latency in manual processes and provide more remediation time, thereby avoiding SLA penalties and compensation claims.
Finally, on a regular basis there will be more traditional Relationship Management activities between the CSP and the vendor. This will review the business, commercial and operational working processes. Data such as number of orders by vendor product, vendor provisioning accuracy and cycle time, invoice and billing correctness, service quality and mean time to resolve faults will be gathered and assessed. Changes to any of these aspects may be agreed and will require implementing in the product catalogue and the integration processes between the organisations.
Alternatively, it may be decided to end the commercial relationship, and an offboarding process will be agreed and executed (Contracting). At the end of the offboarding process, all the vendor products in the product catalogue will be removed, and integrations for service provisioning, service assurance, and billing will be retired. The organisations will need to agree on how – and for how long – existing live services may continue to be operational.