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Can distributed ledger technologies be used to simplify reference data processes for telecommunications service providers?

Centralised and distributed ledger technology has had much press coverage in the past months when it comes to cryptocurrencies. There have been a number of applications in financial services and more recently in the telecoms industry, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone trialling blockchain for roaming payments, i3 Forum launching a blockchain Numbering Plan Initiative, Orillion and Risk & Assurance Group’s collaborating on a Blockchain Wangiri Fraud solution and only in the last few days Vodafone announcing an initiative to utilise blockchain to verify its suppliers.

So, there should be no reason why such technologies could not be used in the telecoms and utilities industries to improve data quality and operational efficiency?

Could distributed ledger software support the collaborative management of reference data?

Today everyone has heard of blockchain, but blockchain is just one form of distributed ledger. A blockchain is essentially a shared database filled with entries that must be confirmed and encrypted. It is like a highly secure and verified live working document, each document entry/reiteration/minor version dependent on a logical relationship to all its predecessors. Although blockchain is a sequence of blocks, distributed ledgers do not require such a chain, a distributed ledger is decentralized to eliminate the need for a central authority.

Reference data is a major challenge for corporations, be it a financial services business, a utilities company or a telecommunications service provider, the need to support consumer demand, comply to legislation and regulatory requirements, in parallel look to automation and the replacement of legacy IT systems to improve business efficiency. The myriad of legacy and newly implemented systems within these businesses mean that they each have their own unique and proprietary records, inevitably this means costly inconsistencies that are not reconciled across the entire business and operations. Without correct reconciliation, this could affect billing accuracy, service quality, financial reporting, regulatory requirements that could either directly impact the consumer experience, corporate profitability, company reputation as well regulatory penalties.

With a distributed ledger model, participants could interact with reference data after distribution, with any proposed changes requiring validation by the underwriter to ensure the ledger provided a single, indisputable record of all data related to the entity. Such technology could be used to allow IT, business, operations and network management to view in real-time which parties on the ledger have created, issued or proposed amendments to the data record. Using distributed ledger technology as a shared reference data management backbone could make practical sense providing the additional aspect of reference data lineage and data origin, and what happens to it over time. A benefit when looking at analytics and insights from the data.

Quality of data has continually grown in importance and relevance in past years as the reliance of data to make insights and differentiate the business in highly competitive, fast changing industries such as telecommunications. Many industries still rely on legacy systems and processes for their back-office activities - often through manual procedures to manage and repair inaccurate and vague reference data whilst continually undertaking large transformation projects to update and replace these ageing systems. 

With many telecommunications organisations working across multiple regions, countries and continents, and looking to maintain ‘one network’ environments, migrating this function to a cloud environment makes further practical sense. 

Reducing the need for duplicate reference data costs and improving data latency, will ultimately lower costs and reduce operational risks across the business. Removing the need to reconcile multiple copies of data with a sophisticated and agile solution in the cloud will remove the headache caused by working with a hybrid of legacy systems and processes whilst adopting new transformation technologies and services which many telecommunications service providers have to reluctantly accept is their 'modus operandi' for the near future.