Simplifying and Standardizing Our Stack to Improve Scalability and Ease of Deployment
You know the saying: the only constant is change. We live that saying every day in the mobile telephony business. Customers demand new smartphones and services, and carriers must keep pace with technology and consumer trends.
Customer-facing change is only part of the equation. The Partner Services division at Telefónica Germany manages our sub-brands and provides a platform for all of their offerings. We are constantly changing our backend, including our business support systems (BSSs), to provide our partners with the best technology stack to run their respective brands.
A Solid Core at the Heart of Our Technology Stack
I joined Telefónica in 2012 as the technical lead for our pre-paid stack and then moved to our partner services platform, which uses Enghouse Rator as the core of our technology stack. I’m the application owner, a 360° job involving traditional app development, DevOps, BSS, and network management. My background is in coding, but I play a management leadership role here while also keeping an eye on the technical side of the platform.
We currently run an older version of Rator, a revenue management platform that's part of Enghouse's MVNO solutions. Rator serves as a partner services’ customer care interface, an order management system, and a billing platform. It also powers front-end applications, including our customer-facing self-service portal, and handles SIM logistics. Although it’s a full-blown BSS, we use it as part of a hybrid billing solution alongside an in-house system for our pre-paid brands, while our post-paid services are in a different world and billed exclusively in Rator. It is an incredibly flexible platform that allows us to set up new brands independently without impacting existing brands’ instances of the platform.
We’ve used Rator for years. Although we’re happy with it, it was time for us to upgrade to the latest version to stay on top of upgrades and new features. We are preparing for a Rator upgrade that will modernize our application framework, close security gaps, and move us to the latest version of Java. It will also replace platforms that have reached end of life, including our customer care app, Swing.
Phasing Out Our In-House Stack
Telefónica has a long history with Rator. One of Telefonica’s daughter companies used it to build an independent BSS, marketing, and customer care stack in the late 2000s, and was later integrated into the mother enterprise. It is now used across our operations, and the ultimate plan is to phase out our in-house billing platform and move all our brands solely to Rator.
That’s not to say our in-house stack didn’t work. In fact, there are many benefits to using an in-house stack: You can add or modify code as needed, make improvements quickly, and easily transition new brands to the system. Anyone in an organization can take charge of it. However, in-house applications increase complexity and time to market over the years because you have to continually build on legacy code and develop your systems alongside your primary business functions.
Opting for a third-party stack puts these responsibilities in the hands of a vendor, freeing your engineers to focus on your core business. For these reasons, Telefónica decided to migrate billing to Rator, and it’s why we want to switch all our brands to this platform.
Prioritizing Speed and Flexibility
Migrating our technology stack to Rator is a work in progress driven by a managerial decision. The Partner Services Group was originally a separate daughter company. After Telefónica absorbed us into the main business, we decided to use the same stack for pre-paid and post-paid services. Adopting Rator as the standard over a hybrid solution made more sense because it meant one less system to manage. Both approaches are equally valid from a technological standpoint. However, Rator is easier to deploy and better from a financial and logistical perspective because we need fewer resources to manage it.
Migrating our customized stack to Rator will harmonize our processes and standardize our products, creating consistent internal workflows and customer experiences. However, it will require a change in mindset. In the past, we’ve insisted on getting everything we wanted from a bespoke platform, choosing to custom code and maintain in-house solutions. However, if we manage internal expectations and accept that an external vendor can give us 80% of what we need, we can shift our focus and allocate time and resources to improving business outcomes and building new products rather than managing our billing system.
Giving up the ability to customize improves our speed and flexibility. Whether we’re growing an existing brand or creating a new one, it takes less time to migrate customers to Rator than it does with our bespoke billing system. We can set up unlimited instances on Rator without having to code them, and we can scale quickly while spending less time and money, regardless of the source of growth.
Attentive Service and a Robust Solution
As I mentioned earlier, Telefónica has used Rator for nearly 20 years, long before Enghouse acquired the business. I am pleased that the new parent company has kept Rator’s Danish headquarters and team in place. When companies merge, cultures often clash as the new owners impose their ways of doing things. But we have continued to experience a very calm approach to communication. Even if there’s a problem, the sentiment is, “Relax, it’s no problem. We will take care of this.” When somebody comes back to you in that manner, you always feel good.
The Enghouse team is also very honest and transparent. If there is an issue with billing or we see something that doesn’t make sense, we can speak freely about it, and we always find a solution that satisfies all parties. Sometimes, dealing with vendors can be tiring because they focus on the nitty-gritty stuff, but there’s always been a very positive element to working with Enghouse. They are committed to building partnerships with their customers instead of just selling products. We continue to receive the same attentive, personalized service as we have in the past.
Enghouse is a powerhouse that invests in leading telecommunications solutions providers and also acquired Dialogic—our long-time interactive voice response (IVR) provider—in 2020. In both instances, the change in ownership was transparent to Telefónica, and there was no interruption or reduction in the quality of service and support.
While I appreciate the benefits of our in-house custom-coded billing system, Rator is the right choice for Telefónica because it takes care of everything. It is a powerful BSS that will help us roll out new brands and services by handling billing, customer care, SIM management, and self-service options for our customers. The best way to get a business off the ground is to let someone else code your BSS, operations, and support platforms while you focus on your business and products. If I were launching a new telco, I would talk to Enghouse.