|B/OSS Insider Blog|
Retaining Data: Turning a Cost Into a Business Advantage
By Timo Ahomäki
On Sept. 27, it was reported that Vodafone presented the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security's inquiry on issues around data retention in Australia with a warning. Specifically they warned that retaining detailed information on mobile data usage could involve a significant cost for operators.
This cost comes in two forms.
First, there is the cost of the physical storage itself. Although in confined quantities this may be relatively cheap, on the scale required by most operators the cost of data collection and storage quickly grows to an extortionate level.
Second, and those most relevant to the warning heeded by Vodafone, there are the costs associated with managing and maintaining such a large body of detailed user data. Similar to any company that deals with "big data," operators are faced with problems to do with access, security and privacy, as well as various legal complications.
The data required to be stored is generally not limited to billing data but also includes detailed transactional history. While drastically increasing the volume of data, the storage of complete calling-party details together with IP tracing information also brings forward many security risks and privacy concerns. For governments and the tabloid media, not to mention criminal organizations, the temptation for data mining must be vast.
For example, the American government is currently pushing the boundaries set for access to collected operator data. Touching on the privacy issue from a legal perspective, the outcome of this dispute could open the floodgates for many other agencies around the world to request access to data for security purposes. Therefore, the cost of facilitating these requests could rocket.
Even if operators accept that resistance is futile, the main problems still come back to one fundamental issue: Governing bodies currently do not have a definite and legislated plan of how this data will eventually be used. Until this is decided, it is hard for operators to plan how best to optimize the huge amounts of data that they are storing.
However, while authorities fight over how this data should be used, perhaps by accepting their fate, operators can begin looking for potential business advantages that may come from storing such huge amounts of information on service usage.
A great example of this in action is Amazon. After sending a service request via the Amazon website, the customer is called directly by its helpdesk where the problem is often solved quickly over the phone – rather than through a long and costly email chain. The clever part here is that Amazon is utilizing the vast amounts of user data collected over the past few years. They are therefore able to offer a level of personalized customer service that is available from few other organizations.
The key to this success, as always, is being prepared. For those operators in the market for a new BSS system, it is probably wisest to assume the worst and factor in a data collection and retention plan complete with designs for privacy and security right from the start. With such large volumes of complex data being managed, implementing this effectively further down the line is often simply not feasible.
The problems associated with managing "big data" are not unique to operators; however, the correct implementation of a BSS system from the outset can allow operators some form of profit from what is otherwise a costly venture. As many European countries already deal with the gathering and storage of customer data, it is whether this cost is reversed to a positive business advantage that will determine which operators sink and swim.
Timo Ahomäki is chief technology officer, Tecnotree Corporation.