Salesforce Sets Sights On Telecom

Salesforce, focused on offering solutions to industry verticals of late, has set its sights on modernizing operations in the telecom sector -- with the help of its partners.

The CRM leader based in San Francisco on Wednesday released a Communications Industry Framework that lays out how to best implement solutions built on its platform for communication service providers (CSPs). The framework includes data model specifications, a white paper defining relationships and usage patterns, and API and process documentation.

CSPs have notoriously complex back-end infrastructure that often weds them to the legacy systems they have developed and integrated over many years. But those companies are now competing with new media providers like Google and Facebook, and need software adept at addressing the expectations of increasingly demanding customers in the era of cloud, mobility and social, according to Chris Bauschka, senior director of global telecommunications and media at Salesforce.

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To build a customer-facing solution tailored to their needs, Salesforce and its partners created the standardized blueprint that helps telco operators integrate the Salesforce ecosystem with their complex back-end environments, making it easier to manage accounts, order services and handle billing inquiries.

Salesforce recently launched unique products for the financial services and health-care industries.

But telecom is a different sort of beast, one that calls for a set of specifications to be implemented in conjunction with partners -- not a distinct new product from the vendor, Bauschka explained.

"Telco is a little bit of a different industry," he said, when compared with wealth management and health care. "The back ends, the back office systems, are just incredibly complex."

Because CSPs are inherently network businesses, their infrastructure is powered by hundreds of different systems. That creates an enormous challenge for software providers -- especially those offering cloud-based solutions -- to figure out how their components fit into the larger communications environment.

At the same time, "telco operators understand the core value proposition" that Salesforce offers, Bauschka said, and, with solutions built by its third-party partners, the Salesforce platform is capable of meeting those core requirements.

The Communications Industry Framework, developed in collaboration with TM Forum Frameworx, a suite of best practices and standards from an industry nonprofit, delivers to independent software vendors clear specifications for building solutions for telcos, and to system integrators a guide to deploy Salesforce in those environments.

The framework can be thought of as a bridge between Salesforce and the legacy environments those providers currently use, Bauschka told CRN.

Dan Ford, vice president of communications and media at Vlocity, a Salesforce partner based in San Francisco that builds industry-specific apps on the platform, told CRN that Salesforce and its partners have effectively taken the core CRM applications and data models and extended them to suit the purposes of communications providers.

That project eliminates a traditional pain point when selling solutions to telcos -- understanding the requirements of customizing Salesforce to meet the standards of their industry, Ford said.

"The industry problem that we're going after is that many telcos are increasingly competing with over-the top competitors like Google and Apple and Amazon," Ford said.

To remain competitive, those operators need to deliver a more agile, omni-channel digital experience, he said. But often they're hampered by legacy CRM and business support systems, some of which were built more than a decade ago.

"These are interesting times, when these operators are making the transition from old, cumbersome technology to cloud-based solutions," Ford said. The vast majority of operators have been wedded to on-premises technologies, and "in absence of compelling cloud alternatives, they're likely to stay put."

Richard Britton is CEO and founder of CloudSense, a Salesforce ISV partner based in London that is introducing the framework into an e-commerce and mobile in-app purchasing platform that enables CSPs to sell both physical products and digital services.

Britton, a veteran of the telecom arena, sees an industry undergoing a major transformation, partly brought on by a commodification of its products.

"Telecom is a sector going through an enormous amount of change in terms of the products and services being sold," Britton said. "They have to reinvent themselves, upsell and cross-sell, bundle and package."

Communication providers are looking to introduce smarter subscriptions, intelligent bundling of packages and services, and smart-selling options for products and services to both B2B and consumer customers, he said.

Through its engagements in telecom, CloudSense is seeing commonalities arise between business processes and the data requirements of those businesses, Britton told CRN.

What once was "a huge implementation exercise for systems integrators" that involved "CSPs' spending a small fortune" can be simplified with the common standards and approaches, he said.

"What we've done in collaboration with Salesforce is work out how we each built into the data models with our products to bring this framework to life," Britton said.

Salesforce isn't, at least of yet, introducing the framework directly into its core Sales Cloud and Service Cloud products, instead offering a set of classes for download and opting for ISVs to architect those specifications directly into their managed packages.

But over time, Bauschka said, "we anticipate that aspects of that framework will make it to Salesforce in a variety of ways."